I was contacted recently by Lisa who told me about her time at Mercy Ministries.
Her story is one that demonstrates very clearly that Mercy Ministries is a cult.
Before you read this please be reminded of the BITE model. This model outlines the 4 main features of a cult:I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control
You will find all of these in Lisa’s Story.
“It has been just over 5 years since I left the Mercy Ministries program. I had my 23rd birthday there in the kitchen of the Monroe, Luisiana home. When I first arrived, I found the Mercy staff to be caring and compassionate. The home was clean and well decorated, and the sleeping and bathing facilities were comfortable. I was placed in what is refered to as the maternity room, ideally a three-bed room isolated on one side of the house for pregnant gals. Oddly enough, I found that all new girls were placed in this room for a probationary period of up to three weeks so they could be observed before moved to the general population dorm. I am a social girl and quickly made friends with all of my Mercy housemates. This was discouraged, and caused me a great deal of grief.
A Mercy girl is expected to behave cordially and respectfully amoung her fellow residents, but is not allowed to share any personal information with the others. We were told that any sharing of personal information, reasons we were seeking treatment, or what we were “working on” in our daily individual treatment programs was strictly forbidden. As a naturally curious gal in a new surrounding, I broke this rule about 800 times. I had quite a bit in common with most of the girls, I was seeking help for an eating disorder, cutting, and suicidal tendencies. I unpurposely brought out the “rebellious side” of many of my roomies, and was immediately pin-pointed as a trouble maker.
Every month or so we would be corralled into the meeting/classroom area for a graduation ceremony in which one of our housemates would be prayed over, give her testimony, and receive the highly coveted “Mercy Ring” often with her family members present. Then with little time to say goodbye to their friends, they were escorted out directly after the ceremony. This was what we were all working for, the final affirmation that we had “won” our battle with our afflictions and were on our way to living an upstanding and productive life. I didn’t make it to my graduation.
About four weeks into the program I became acutely aware of the Mercy Ministry programs flaws. The control levels were fanatical. Every moment of our days were scheduled and nothing was done without immediate supervision. Twice a day we were gathered into the classroom area as a group where we “performed” a praise and worship service followed by two hours of video instruction by either Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen. Praise and worship was a joke, the more emotional and charismatic the better. Our leaders would dance and hop and shake, screaming and “talking in tongues” and more than encouraged us to do the same. If you were not jumping and muttering than you were taken aside and reprimanded for not participating. We never watched any other speakers with the exception of Nancy Alcorn, and our own house leaders.
After these classes, we would meet each day with our supposedly liscenced therapist for one on one work. My therapist was two years older than myself and spent our sessions rephrasing my words and telling me that I was being afflicted by satan and until I could break free I would continue on my path of self destruction. I was given homework in the form of handouts and books selected from the house library–all Joyce Meyer, Nancy Alcorn, and Joel Osteen. They were obsessed with “demonic forces on Earth”. One day they even went through the entire house anointing doorways to cast satan out of the house. They carried little bottles of oil and slathered it in a cross shape at the top of each door. This was initiated because one of the leaders was finding it difficult to pray inside the house. Miraclously she was once again unfeddered after the anointings.
My trouble truly began with a few core friendships. Bored with the constant indoctrination of the “Holy Trio” of video instructors, I took to writing amusing short stories in my notebook during class. My roomies couldn’t get enough of my interactive devotional stories, so I kept them coming. One night at bedtime a leader walked in just as I ended my story and was about to lead my friends in prayer. She freaked out and told us that we were never allowed to pray on our own or with others without having a leader participate. When I asked why, I was told that we never knew where satan was lurking and he may lead us in leading others astray with false prayers or worship. As always, it was pointless to argue, and arguing only led to discipline including but not limited to being singled out in front of the whole house for insubordination, multiple extra chores, restrictions and other devices. Right or wrong, their word was law. They controlled what we ate, when we slept, what amount of physical activity we were allowed, what music and media we were exposed to and even down to the letter we wrote and the relatives we talked to.
Phone calls were only allowed on weekends, and you were only allowed two 10 minute outgoing phonecalls which had to be from a list of pre-approved contacts. This was strictly limited to family. You were timed and had to talk on a phone set up in the hallway next to the house leader’s office so you could be heard. It was terribly frustrating because if you had a significant other or bestie on the outside you couldn’t talk to them unless they managed to get a call through during the very busy weekend phone time, and still you were monitored. Mail was the same, outgoing mail was read and incoming letters were read and packages opened for you. The leaders decided what you could or couldn’t have, including screening all photographs and all of your items were recorded on a belongings list. If it wasn’t on the list, it didn’t leave the program with you. If you wanted to give an item to a fellow resident, it had to be approved by a leader and given as a “gift”.
All religious services were mandatory and we sat together as a group every Sunday at a local church. The service was ridden with faith healings, and dramatic faintings refered to as being “slain in the Spirit”. When a woman was “slain” a golden sheet was placed over her for modesty purposes. This was one of the few times a week we were able to leave the house, second only to once a week exercise at a local gym-provided the privilage wasn’t taken from you, and the weekly Walmart/Mall trip (also supervised–with store restrictions and group accountability).They were big on that, you could earn a lot of brownie points that would make life a lot easier if you tattled on your friends. They had “in house” pets that always brought the tiniest of scandals to light.
To tell my whole story would take ages, even though I only made it through three months. During that time I was made to feel guilty about everything, belive without question everthing I was told by the leaders, and blame others and satan for all of my problems. I was paraded around in the public eye to draw in more money for the Mercy “cause”, forced to wear makeup and inspected appearance-wise daily. I saw a lovely girl struggling with gender issues painted and dolled up in an effort to feminize her and save her from the firey pits of hell, teased and prodded to be the “woman God intended her to be”. Grown women reduced to caddy schoolgirls fighting and backbiting to earn the sparse affection of the house leaders. I witnessed multiple accounts of negative reinforcement, medication witholding, and other illegal activities.
At the begining of month three, I was brought into the house director’s office and told that I was to be given probation for being a trouble maker, guilty of the crimes of leading prayer, creative writing, unruly behavior, insubordination, and many other horrible sins. My privallages were revoked and my homework load was tripled. I had a constant shadow following me around and supervising my daily tasks. I was told that my mother had been contacted and she was extremely disappointed in me. I was not allowed to talk to her by phone or letter, until I made a public apollogy and was publically reprimanded for my behavior. Also I was to divuldge any information I had on a number of housemates concerning a number of incidents or my Mercy days were over. After many tears and a two-day internal battle my sanity won out and I announced that I owuld be voluntarily removing myself from the program. I was then kept in a small bedroom for 2 days until my travel arrangements were taken care of and was not allowed to speak to any of the other residents as it would upset them. After two days I was smuggled out of the house and dropped of at a bus station. That was the last I saw and heard of Mercy.
My one regret is and always has been not being able to leave contact info for all of my Mercy buddies. Since leaving I have found a few of the girls I was with in Monroe, and everyone I have talked to, rather they graduated or not, appear to still be struggling with the issues they went into treatment for. I have good memories and bad memories of my time at Mercy, but one thing is clear, Mercy Ministries shows very little Mercy and compassion for those they are entrusted to care for.