"Mercy Ministries home to close"

This article by Ruth Pollard was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
 
ALLEGATIONS of widespread abuse at Mercy Ministries group homes appear finally to have caught up with the fundamentalist Christian group, which has announced it will close its Sydney home on October 31, citing ”extreme financial challenges and a steady drop in our support base”.

”We are no longer financially viable,” reads a statement from Margaret Stunt, a former Hillsong Church staff member from London appointed as executive director of Mercy Ministries in April.

The announcement came less than a week after the group said it had completed extensive renovations to its Sydney home, including a new kitchen, carpets, light fittings, staircase and deck, painting and landscaping – all funded with donations totalling more than $100,000.

Given that the organisation will close, it is unclear who will benefit from the renovations. A staff member at Mercy Ministries said she was unable to comment.

Targeting girls and women aged 16 to 28, Mercy Ministries claimed – on its website and in promotional material distributed in Gloria Jeans cafes around the country – that its programs included support from ”psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, [and] career counsellors”.

Instead, the program prevented the residents gaining access to psychiatric care, choosing to focus on prayer, Christian counselling and exorcisms to ”expel demons” from the young women, many of whom had serious psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and anorexia.

A Herald investigation last year revealed the women who entered the program were required to sign over their Centrelink benefits and were virtually cut off from the outside world, except for a weekly trip to the local Hillsong Church for worship.

At the time, Mercy Ministries’ then chief executive, Peter Irvine, was quick to dismiss their claims, implying that the victims of the group’s unorthodox and dangerous treatments were not telling the truth.

Since then Mr Irvine has sent an apology to the women featured in the Herald’s articles. ”I would like to apologise for the statements that I made to the press in March 2008. I did not accurately reflect the situation and I regret my comments,” he wrote.

News of the closure was greeted with relief by its former victims, who cautioned that the group was still operating in New Zealand, the US and Britain.

”It is amazing that our little voices speaking out could make a dent against organisations as big as … Mercy Ministries,” said Naomi Johnson, one of the women who blew the whistle on the abuse.

”After all the lies they told about us, this is what we hoped – that Mercy Ministries would be closed so that other girls would not get hurt.”

In June last year, Mercy Ministries announced it had closed its Sunshine Coast home ”due to strategic and resourcing issues”.

Hillsong Church was quick to distance itself from the organisation it had supported – both financially and with key staff and executive officers – since its inception in 2001. ”Hillsong Church has cut ties with Mercy Ministries around the world following an [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] investigation into Mercy Ministries,” said a statement released by the church last night.

A spokeswoman for the ACCC, one of the many investigatory bodies to which the women complained, would not comment or confirm an investigation had taken place.

Written By Mercy Survivors

Support for survivors of Mercy Ministries

16 Comments on “"Mercy Ministries home to close"

  1. Prisoner 1985-1987

    November 7, 2009 at 8:16

    I was one of the very first girls to go through the Covenant Ministries Program, now called Mercy Ministries. I was there for 2.5 years, starting 1985. To this day, I have dreams about the exorcisms that were performed on me for having a “spirit of lust” for being gay. I wasn’t allowed to wear men’s jeans, or be in another room with another girl, with the door closed. When we were sick, we weren’t allowed to go to the dr.–we were prayed for, and then when we were still sick, we were told that “we didn’t have enough faith.” I am SO glad that this website exists because I was so much more screwed up when I left this place, than when I entered. Thank God, the real God, that people are speaking up.

  2. Jill

    November 7, 2009 at 9:03

    I want to say so much, but I have a lot of fear about being out of the protection of God and coming against His people etc. I was at Mercy for over a year. At the time it was called Covenant Ministries. They were forced to change their name in the 80s. I experienced asking to go to the restroom, having to confess for something I didn’t do, Having staff accompany me to the bathroom (I wasn’t there for an eating disorder, I was there for drug addiction). I remember the constant lectures, satelite lessons, tapes, Quoting from the little book “God’s Creative Power” and so on. I have not been in a church for years because of this, but have recently joined a more traditionsl one. I have really been dealing with some of the things from 20 years ago that I should be over by now. I’m confussed and frustrated. I think if I say something, I will be talking against God Himself. I was told I could leave at any time, but I was also told that I would nolonger be under His protection because I would be out of the will of God. Oh and there were no qualified persons working at Mercy when I was there. Nancy was the only one that held a degree of any kind and I think it was in social work. Has anyone had to go through reprogramming because of this place? I think I might need to. I really thought all of this was behind me.

  3. Jill

    November 8, 2009 at 5:42

    In reading more on the web. I’m learning that I am not the only person out there that has the fears about coming against Nancy and experiencing her anger. She actually lived at the house when I was there, so we saw her daily and experienced her rath when we did something considered a sin. I was actually able to connect with another person that was there when I was. She experienced the same rejection and treatment I did. I’m hoping she will post on here as well. This has been going on for 25 years and I’m certain that there are hundreds of survivors that are simply afraid to go against “God” by talking bad about Mercy Ministries.

  4. Jill

    November 8, 2009 at 3:04

    Prisoner,

    I’m glad we are able to talk about this now. I wonder how many girls experienced the wrath of Nancy when she was mad. I’ll bet they could not imagin living with her. I am always afraid to approach people in my church now because I’m worried that they will reject me or not have time to even say hello. Fortunately, I take that risk now and I’m never ignored. That is what it is suppose to be like. I can’t believe I stayed away from church for so long because of Mercy. Hummm isn’t that the opposit of their claim? I truly would not have anything to do with an organized group because I was worried that I would be tricked, trapped or held down and prayed over. I wonder how many other people killed themselves after leaving Mercy, like our former house mate. It is crazy. I’m glad your posting on this too. I was so glad to hear that I was not the only one experiencing bad dreams after 20 years. Thanks for posting.

  5. Craig Young

    December 16, 2009 at 1:00

    Just read the news on SMH.

    Congratulations! I’m glad that you’ve finally prevailed after the devastation and
    pain that unpleasant pack of charlatans caused in your lives.

    I’ve written it up for NZ readers at:

    http://gaynz.com/blog/redqueen/archives/795

    XXX
    Craig Young

  6. Heather

    December 31, 2009 at 11:17

    I really do find it a stretch of logic that Hillsong thinks they can cut ties with Mercy Ministries when pillars of their church were helping to run the place in Australia! I’ll pray for these people!!! Hopefully the next ministry is correctly managed.

    Who owned the property that was recipient of $100 000 in donations used for renovations just prior to closing down and going on the market for 2+M dollars?

  7. Sarah

    January 8, 2010 at 2:01

    Jill, so sorry to hear you’re afraid to speak.

    It took me a really long time to be able to begin to verbalise what happened to me in the home. And because i had been so brainwashed about what slander was, about what the will of God was etc, i found it extremely confusing and difficult to speak out at first too. I think i am still overcoming some of that.

    It might help for you to read a book called “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse”. It switched on so many lights when i read it and it helped me understand why i felt so confused.

    Just know that Mercy’s will is not God’s will, and Mercy’s judgment is not God’s judgment. This may take awhile to understand.

  8. Mandi

    March 24, 2010 at 1:31

    Wow Jill and Sarah i’m so overwhelmed and i can so totally relate to the object of being in fear of speaking out and offending or going against God. I was only in Mercy in Sydney Australia for 4 Mnths and during this time i was still suffering medical problems because they were making me eat more food than my body could handle and they declared that God told had told them too let me go but actually God had answered my prayers because i was really asking God to help me get out of there as i was not coping any more so i was glad when i left and i was totally a mess when i left worse than when i went in for a while because i felt like a failure for not finnishing the program and felt like i let god down .there was so much hypocriscy about living in the “Grace” and “obediance” of God’s ways and i do not feel through what i went through and witnessed of other girls that some mercy staff and really the program itself was how really a great example of god’s “Grace” or “Mercy”

  9. former abused intern

    October 15, 2010 at 12:36

    Wow, I was an undergrad intern at Mercy in Nashville during the summer of 08. While there were mental health “professionals” there they refused to use evidence based treatments and used only there “biblical counseling” which is even worse than a lot of biblical counseling I’ve seen, the girls who doubted heretic Joel Olsten’s prosperity gospel were punished. I was only 21 at the time, but knew something was wrong, I didn’t have my psychology degree yet but I knew enough to know that you have to use PSYCHOLOGY to do counseling. Though I am now a christian therapist, I rarely use the bible and prayer and only when clients ask me.

    This all makes sense to me know, why they treated ME badly and started keeping me away from actually learning anything (the point of my internship was to learn residential treatment) in retrospect I think they saw me being skeptical and evil forces that run that place must have felt that I carried a spirt a truth, the real truth…because I felt oppressed every day by the staff and the feel of that place….and I am FAR from a pentecostal background (I’m now an Catholic leaning Anglican. )

    I feel so sorry for you Aussie girls, and all the US girls who still feel afraid to speak. I seriously hope that the whole organization falls apart very soon!

  10. misty17

    December 28, 2010 at 6:08

    mercy ministries is crushing the spirits of young women everywhere. i am a gradute and saw first hand the mistreatment of both residents and some staff by inadequitly trained leadership. i think someone should start a forum for mercy survivors. i know for a fact there are atleast 10 nz gradutes that feel they have been damaged by the program and have no one to talk to. mercy survivours need a safe place to disscuss their mistreatment and work towards healing because the guilt and condemnaton programed response to speaking against mercy is so strong it silences many of those who have been most hurt by this program.

    • admin

      December 29, 2010 at 10:52

      Hi Misty.

      Thanks for your comment and for popping by the website.

      If you or other former residents you know are interested in networking with other survivors, send us an email at info@mercysurvivors.com . We have a survivors only email network and it is a good way of getting in touch with others.

      We do have a page on Facebook, but that is more for survivors and non-survivors who wish to publicly support us. If you want to join that, look us up on Facebook.

      I hope things have improved for you since leaving the program.

      MS Team

  11. misty17

    December 28, 2010 at 6:17

    dear craig young thank you for thinking of us new zealanders and posting where is easily acsessable for us. i regret to inform you that residents in the new zealand home who identify as gay are struggling with the new zealand programs approach to homosexuality also. unfortunatly these residents are afraid to speak out gainst the program and acsess help. if you could suggest any organisation here that would be suitable to help these past residents it would be much appreciated.
    yours sincerely misty

  12. counselling services sydney

    April 6, 2011 at 4:09

    Mercy Ministries, included support from ”psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, [and] career counsellors”. Also did renovation of Sydney home, including the kitchen, carpets, light fittings, staircase and deck, painting and landscaping – all funded more than $100,000. then also it finally it came to an end..I am very shocked..

    • MS Team

      April 6, 2011 at 7:24

      Hi CSS.

      It is odd that Mercy went to the trouble of renovating the home, after the majority of their financial partners withdrew their support after the abuse scandal broke. Mercy did not offer support from psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers, and the GP, dietitian and career counsellor were external services. So, it is strange that they would spend $100,000 on renovations but not on the essential services they promised the girls.

      MS Team

  13. […] My first encounter with any kind of inpatient treatment was in a religious rehabilitation centre named Mercy Ministries.  (If you have a nagging feeling that you’ve heard of them before, you probably have). […]

  14. […] help of their PR overdrive in 2012 after they slipped to 3rd place), followed by Wikipedia, a Sydney Morning Herald article on the closure of the Australian homes, the Mercy Survivors website (with the help of a very basic […]

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