MTV Voices recently published the story of Mercy Survivor Chelsea (under psuedonym *Pam) of her time at Mercy Ministries. The original story can be viewed here, and Chelsea’s personal blog can be viewed here.
They took my health, friends and freedom, but I still couldn’t see what was happening.
Hi, I’m Pam*, and a couple of years ago, I moved into a cult. The cult I joined is not legally allowed to use the word ‘treatment’ in any of their wording, because what they provide is not treatment at all. They say they want to help women find freedom and empowerment, but it is literally exorcisms, prayer and underneath it all, mind control. They say it’s a place to go to for ‘proven methods’, but I think they quite literally start brainwashing girls the second they take a peek at their website.
And that’s where it started for me. I had been sick for sometime with an eating disorder and PTSD. I was mesmerised by this Ministry’s made up success rate – and those success stories that promised so much. They told me I could get off my medication, I could be normal. I wouldn’t have to be sick anymore. Slowly over the course of about a year, I began to slowly and surely give everything over to them. They would send me tapes to listen to and I would phone them with check-ins. I dropped out of college, put my life on hold, but during that time I had probably been in a dozen hospitals, just getting more and more sick. They began to tell me that if I entered any more hospitals I wouldn’t be accepted into the program. Not accepted? That was barbaric. But by this time I thought that they were my one and only hope.
I risked my life staying out of hospitals, just so I could go and twelve months later I finally got the call to come and live with the Ministry. I was ecstatic. I had brainwashed my entire family into believing that I was going away as a sick person, and would definitely come back a completely different person. What I didn’t know was how they were going to create that different person.
By the time I got there I had been so trained over the least year that I knew not to ask questions – if things seemed off it was just the Ministry’s ‘way’, they knew what was for the best. I put up with a lot of stuff at first just to get better. Things like talking in tongues, and outcasting ‘spirits’. They would ask me to call my family and ask all these questions, “Are there any homosexuals in your family?”, “Did anyone ever commit adultery?”, “Did anyone have sex before marriage?” They even asked questions like, “Did your mother ever miscarry?”. The list was at least two pages long. They believed that these were generational curses that needed to prayed upon and outcast.
Now, I would probably say something like, ‘What does this have to do with an eating disorder?’, but I just followed along. I tolerated it all, the praying, the weird rules – like their lesbian phobia. We were not allowed to touch at all, not even to help with a girl’s hair. No hugs were allowed and they would randomly and without explanation put girls on ‘separation contracts’. We also were not, under any circumstance allowed to change in our rooms, in case it caused a lesbian to stray. Nothing could be done without their permission. We were not even allowed to pray together unless we asked staff.
At one point, around the three month mark, I had enough. I was withdrawing from coming down off psychiatric medications, and I was tired of being herded like cattle. In the middle of praise I remember just sitting thinking, ‘What is physically stopping me from going to my room right now?’. Mentally they had such a grasp on us. We absolutely were not allowed to leave praise and worship. In fact we weren’t allowed in our bedrooms at all during the day, unless we asked permission to go grab something. But, I just got up and left. I walked right out the door in front of staff and I went to my room.
They told me I had a spirit of rebellion that needed outcast. They locked me down more, putting me on probation, taking away my weekend phone calls and mail privileges. But I continued to ‘rebel’ – horrible, horrible stuff like staying in bed five minutes too long, and walking a mile, when they told us to run. I didn’t have the courage to just leave – I still had the mindset that I was not going to live if I left the Ministry. I did try to run away once, because they wouldn’t let me use the phone, and I went to go find one. They coerced me back by saying that I would shut down all of Ministries if I continued to walk away.
After four months, just after I had come off almost all of my medications, I was released. I was extremely suicidal, with no follow up care and no insurance – since they had refused me my mail. They shoved the medicine I never took into my suitcase and within two hours had booked me a flight (on my own tab of course). I was allowed no contact with the other girls – I was not even allowed to say goodbye to them. Nothing. Girls that I had spent four months getting close to, and I couldn’t even say goodbye. They kept me in a room until I could leave for the airport.
I arrived home a wreck. My parents were devastated. I wouldn’t leave my room, I started abusing the medication they sent me home with. In February, after I got done corresponding with the Ministry about getting me back into the program, I finally said ‘they can’t help me’. Then it clicked – death. I took enough anti-depressants to kill me. But I was found, my stomach was pumped, charcoal was administered and I was stabilized in the hospital for two weeks, then put into a psychiatric hospital for two months in order to get me back on psychiatric drugs.
It wasn’t long after that I heard about other branches of the Ministry being shut down in Australia, so I started to investigate. It was the exact same thing. However, it wasn’t until two years later that it clicked that I was involved in a cult. I started my blog, anonymously writing about my story in the hope that someone would reach out. And they did. I now write my blog and also administrate for a support group of people who get caught up in the same cult. I help other girls come forward and tell their stories – even if it’s just privately, it can be the help they need. It’s really very sad to see some of the stuff that comes out of there. I try to encourage the girls to seek professional help and do my best to educate them on what ‘safe’ help is, as opposed to being dropped off at another Ministry. I have also conquered my eating disorder, stopped the short term drug use, got on the right medications and am an advocate for the mentally ill in general. I think it’s important for Ministry girls to understand that mental illnesses are not just something that can be prayed away – they need treatment, not ‘methods’.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.