"Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views"

This article by Stephanie Dumm originally appeared in the Lincoln News Messenger on 14 March 2012, and can be viewed here.

Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views

Photo by Michael Kirby
Girls staying at Mercy Ministries in Jan. 2010 relax after a morning class and before lunch. Mercy Ministries of America’s executive director Cissy Etheridge led the morning class. The News Messenger was not able to get new photos for this story because Mercy would not allow photos to be taken inside the building.

A Mercy Ministries spokeswoman said the following fathers’ claims are false.

When James Smith’s* 18-year-old daughter went to Lincoln’s Mercy Ministries in 2010, he didn’t know she would later sever ties with the family.

Smith’s daughter attended Mercy Ministries to get help with an eating disorder, which he said she’d “struggled with” since the age of 11.

“She had actually been through a couple of treatment centers before,” said Smith, a Minnesota resident. “She had noticed Mercy online and they have a really good website. They boast a 93 percent success rate and have all of these success stories.”

Prior to his daughter leaving for Mercy, Smith said he researched the organization and didn’t like what he saw.

“I found a couple of websites I was concerned about, with people who had problems,” Smith said. “We talked about it and she passed them off as atheists who don’t understand Christianity and Christian-based healing.”

Smith found online articles and blogs ranging from calling Mercy a cult to stories about girls having trouble after leaving Mercy or being kicked out of the program.

“Since then, I’ve found a lot more and I wish I would have known these things before she went,” Smith said.

Nevertheless, Smith’s daughter was 18 at the time so his permission to attend was not needed. She entered Mercy in March 2010 and graduated in March 2011.

In June, Smith said, he received a phone call from a Mercy’s counselor.

“She made it a point to say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not about you guys but she’s having recovered memories of sexual abuse,’” Smith said. “It wasn’t about us; it was about school mates.”

Smith said Mercy had done what’s called “recovered memory therapy” on his daughter, and she said the sexual abuse occurred when she was in third-grade.

“I remember just recalling that it was a controversial subject but we didn’t voice concerns about that at the time,” Smith said. “After that, we stayed in regular communications. We were allowed to talk once a week on the phone for 15 minutes.”

A few months later, Smith said, he and his wife received a letter from their daughter saying she didn’t wish to be contacted by them any longer.

“We wondered why and she said she had her boundaries and that was very concerning,” Smith said.

What was more concerning to Smith and his wife was when they received an emergency room bill in the mail two months later.

“My wife called Mercy and they said she had attempted suicide,” Smith said. “We had not been notified.”

In February 2011, Smith and his wife received a letter from their daughter, saying she was graduating from the program but they were not welcome there.

After graduation, which the Smiths didn’t attend, they received a letter from their daughter “out of the blue, saying I want to come home.”

“She made plans to come back home. She came back and everything seemed OK,” Smith said. “It seemed like we had a good relationship.”

Her visit was short-lived.

“Three days after she got home, she said she was here for a visit and she said we had misunderstood,” Smith said.

Either that day or the next day, Smith said, his wife discovered their daughter’s graduation testimony.

“In her testimony, she said I had molested her from 4 to 17,” Smith said.

He said her memories of sexual abuse by him are “false” and that he never sexually abused his daughter.

His daughter returned to California to live with a Mercy host family, and while Smith hasn’t been able to talk to his daughter, he has spoken with the host family.

“They are not adversarial and they say, when she’s ready, they are encouraging her (to contact her family),” Smith said.

David Miller* had a similar story to tell The News Messenger.

Miller, who is from Illinois, said his daughter attended Mercy’s Monroe, La., facility seven years ago, for help with drug and alcohol abuse.

“My daughter had made some poor decisions while going to college on her own and that brought up drinking and led to drugs. She got kicked out of school at the end of her third year,” Miller said. “She had been raised in a Christian home and her goal was to find a Christian-fix for why she was making these choices.”

His daughter chose Mercy Ministries. While there, Miller said, “mind-regression therapy” was performed.

“In the mind-regression therapy, they try to go back and find something in your past and childhood that triggers you to do this (behavior),” Miller said.

Prior to that, Miller said, the director at the home called to say his daughter would be “kicked out” of the program after eight months of treatment.

“They said, ‘She is too rebellious and can’t have a breakthrough,” Miller said. “I pleaded with them. I said, if she doesn’t find a solution, how is she supposed to move forward with life? They agreed to try for another 30 days.”

One month later, Miller’s daughter wouldn’t return his phone calls, according to Miller. Two months later, he said, his daughter called to say she was graduating but her family couldn’t be there.

“She now tells us what happened after we pleaded. They went through two to three nights of sexual abuse films and talks with regards to young ladies sexually abused,” Miller said.

A counselor sat down with Miller’s daughter and said “I wonder if it could have been something regarding that,” according to Miller.

“The counselor said there’s a breakthrough. They said we’ll have to deliver you from those demons,” Miller said. “After being brainwashed for nine months, these people had convinced her that their word was the word of God and she had to accept their word as authority, as if it was a message from God.”

Miller’s daughter severed ties with the family upon returning back to Illinois, saying she had been sexually abused at the hands of her father.

Miller said he never sexually abused his daughter.

“After 20 months, now she is married and very unsettled and extremely depressed. She said (to her now ex-husband) I miss my mom and dad, and he said that doesn’t sound like someone who was abused,” Miller said. “We met for dinner one night and she broke down crying and asked for forgiveness. She said, ‘I never had any memories of being abused, I don’t know why I said those things.’”

After taking his daughter to the doctor after their reunion, Miller said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is being treated with medication.

“She is extremely productive and just got an increase in her job,” Miller said. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Written By Mercy Survivors

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One Comment on “"Mercy Ministries: Two fathers views"

  1. […] the publications of a series of investigative reporting published by the Lincoln News Messenger (here, here, here and here) as well as a hard-hitting article taken from statements of former Mercy […]

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