Girlcott Gloria JeansMarch 20, 2008
Mercy Ministries is an evil christian based ‘charity’ group that ‘helps’ young women suffering from male supremacy by dousing them in patriarchal religion and blaming the young women they take in for everything they are struggling with. If a woman has a problem (eating disorder, self-harm, even having been prostituted or abused) she is told that her actual problem is her relationship with god. That she self-harms etc because she is not strong enough to resist the devil, that she is possessed by demons and that she needs to drive them out. If she is incapable of dealing with her problems in this way then she is weak, she has failed the course and she is sent away in disgrace. Gloria Jeans, a coffee shop chain, are their main source of revenue. The ‘charity’ also pressures the young women to sign their welfare benefits over to them. They are associated with the hillsong church movement.
From the Mercy Ministries website:
Mercy Ministries is a national non profit organisation dedicated to providing homes and care for young women suffering the effects of eating disorders, self harm, abuse, depression, unplanned pregnancies and other life controlling issues.
Mercy Ministries is a structured residential based program that provides professional support from psychologists, dieticians, general practitioners, social workers, career counsellors and daily education from program staff to support the young women in our care.
We provide a holistic program that addresses all aspects of a young woman’s well being; physical, spiritual and emotional. Mercy Ministries is a faith based organisation dedicated to the support of young women in crisis.
At 21, Naomi Johnson was a young woman with a bright future, halfway through a psychology degree at Edith Cowan University, working part-time and living an independent, social life.
Yet she was plagued by anorexia.
With her family’s modest means and her part-time job there was no way she could afford to admit herself into the one private clinic in Perth that specialised in adults with eating disorders.
They had no private health insurance, and there were no publicly funded services in the state. So after much research Johnson found a link to Mercy Ministries on the internet.
Months passed as she devoted herself to going through the application process, pinning all her hopes on what appeared to be a modern, welcoming facility, backed by medical, psychiatric and dietitian support.
She flew to Sydney, thousands of kilometres away from her family and friends, and entered the live-in program.
Nine months later she was expelled, a devastated, withdrawn child who could not leave her bedroom, let alone her house.
Nine months without medical treatment, nine months without any psychiatric care, nine months of being told she was not a good enough Christian to rid herself of the “demons” that were causing her anorexia and pushing her to self-harm. After being locked away from society for so long, Naomi started to believe them. “I just felt completely hopeless. I thought if Mercy did not want to help me where do I stand now?
“They say they take in the world’s trash, so what happens when you are Mercy trash?”
Two months after she had been expelled from Mercy’s Sydney house (her crime was to smoke a cigarette) Johnson ended up in Royal Perth Hospital’s psychiatric unit. From there she started seeing a psychologist at an outpatient program two to three times a week.
“Even now, three years on, I don’t socialise widely, I don’t work full time, I don’t study full time. Even now there is still a lot of remnants hanging around from my time at Mercy.
“The first psychologist I saw rang and spoke to Mercy. She wrote to them over a period of time, just trying to get answers. They were very evasive; they avoided her calls. Eventually she got some paperwork, some case notes, from them.”
Mercy Ministries made the psychologist sign a waiver that she wouldn’t take these notes to the media before they would release them. Johnson has signed no such waiver and, months ago, she posted her notes on the internet, almost as a warning to other young women considering a stint at Mercy Ministries.
Yet for so long she just wanted to go back to the Sydney house, because they had convinced her that Mercy was the only place that could help her.
“It is difficult to explain, in a logical sense. I know how very wrong the treatment, their program and their approach is, but the wounds are still quite deep, and even though I know that they were wrong, there is still a part of you that just even now wants to be accepted by Mercy.”
In the northern suburbs of Perth, in a large, one-storey home bordered by a well-tended cottage garden, the Johnson family is attempting to pick up the pieces of a life almost cut short by Mercy.
With two fox terriers at her feet and doors and windows shut against the relentless Western Australian heat, Johnson – a small, delicate young woman with a razor sharp mind – unveils a sophisticated, nuanced interpretation of her time in the Sydney house.
Careful and articulate, her struggle with the horror of her descent into despair at the hands of Mercy is only evidenced by the occasional tremor in her hands and voice as she describes her experience. She was sharing the house with 15 other girls and young women, with problems ranging from teenage pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse, self harm, depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
“There were girls who had got messed up in the adult sex industry – a real range of problems, some incorporating actual psychiatric illness, others just dealing with messy lives, and the approach to all those problems was the same format,” Johnson says.
Counselling involved working through a white folder containing pre-scripted prayers.
“Most of the staff were current Bible studies or Bible college students, and that is it, if anything. You just cannot play around with mental illness when you do not know what you are doing. Even professionals will acknowledge that it is a huge responsibility working in that field, and that is people who have six years, eight years university study behind them.”
And while there was nothing that was formally termed “exorcism” in the Sydney house, Naomi was forced to stand in front of two counsellors while they prayed and spoke in tongues around her. In her mind, it was an exorcism. “I felt really stupid just standing there – they weren’t helping me with the things going on in my head. I would ask staff for tools on how to cope with the urges to self harm … and the response was: ‘What scriptures are you standing on? Read your Bible.”
Johnson had grown up in a Christian family; her belief in God was not the issue; anorexia and self harm were. “A major sticking point was when they told me I needed to receive the holy Spirit in me and speak in tongues, to raise my hands in worship songs and jump up and down on the spot in fast songs. I told them that I really didn’t understand how jumping up and down to a fast song at church was going to fix the anorexia, and yet that was a big, big sticking point, because it showed I was being resistant, cynical and holding back.”
Her mother, Julie Johnson, watches as she talks, anxious about the effect of her daughter’s decision to tell her story, yet immensely proud of her courage.
“Naomi was very determined to find somewhere that could help her. We didn’t have private health cover, so our resources were limited, so she searched the net and came across Mercy Ministries,” Julie Johnson says.
“It sounded very promising … she went off to Mercy a very positive young lady who finally had some hope that she was going to come back completely free of this eating disorder.”
And the family was excited, too, pleased that there was someone who could help their daughter beat anorexia. “But unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. They gave her hope and told her they would never give up on her but … in the end she got quite distraught that she was never able to please them.”
Johnson sent her parents a letter telling them she was not very well and that she was very confused with the kind of program Mercy Ministries was running.
“I called and spoke to her counsellor in person,” Julie Johnson said. “She told me that Naomi was lying to me, that Naomi was just rebelling … she was making the wrong choices.”
But instead of taking her mother’s concerns on board, the staff punished Naomi for disclosing anything about her time at the Sydney home.
“They told me that what happens in Mercy stays in Mercy, that what happens between the staff and Naomi stays at Mercy. It is not let out to the family,” Julie Johnson said. “We were isolated, we were not involved in her progress at Mercy, we were just excluded and yet we were a family that wanted to be behind her and they wouldn’t allow us to be.”
The situation came to a head when Johnson returned to the Sydney house after spending Christmas with her family in Perth. She was told she had been seen smoking at the airport and that she was being expelled from the program. Naomi phoned her mother in tears, and the staff informed her they were putting her on the next plane back to Perth.
“She was distraught; she was an absolute mess; her life was in danger. I could hear it, she was capable of anything, the anxiety was so extreme … she was just out of control,” Julie Johnson said. “I said to them, ‘There is no way you are going to send her back on her own, she is suicidal. You will deliver her to me at the airport when I can get a flight over’.”
Mrs Johnson flew to Sydney to collect her daughter.
“She went into that place as a young lady and came back to us as a child. She was very confused, like she was 12 or 13. She shut herself in the bedroom and thought she was nothing but evil. Her self-esteem went down. She thought, ‘I may as well die.”‘
Johnson, now 24, and her mother, know how close the end had been.
They sought help, but got exorcism and the Bible
WHEN Mercy Ministries says it helps young women with “life-controlling issues”, it means in part that it aims to teach them not to be lesbians.
In line with the Hillsong Church’s strict doctrines teaching that homosexuality is an affliction that can be cured, Mercy Ministries is keen to ensure there is no lesbianism under its roof. It issues “separation contracts” to young women who make friends with each other and prevents any form of physical contact between residents.