Hell or a godsend: women tell their stories

Sydney Morning Herald/March 18, 2008

More young women who say they were damaged by their time in Mercy Ministries have come forward to tell their stories, as further details emerge of the fundamentalist group's questionable practices.

"I have been in the program, too: once in Sydney and the other time at the Sunshine Coast home, where they kicked me out when they caught me trying to hang myself, [saying] I was a risk to their program," Melissa, 24, said yesterday.

"Their methods are harsh. You get separated from the entire non-Christian world: no TV, no newspapers and just three, 15-minute phone calls home a week."

Melissa, who did not want her last name revealed, said she, too, began to harm herself in Mercy Ministries. Since she was kicked out in 2005, she has sought professional care for depression, bulimia and drug addiction.

"I went to another place, one that treated me like an adult and helped prepare me to cope in the real world," she said.

"I saw a lot of girls come and go from Mercy Ministries during my time there - many were in very extreme situations."

Another woman - a 24-year-old from Castle Hill who did not want to be identified - entered the Sunshine Coast house in December 2004, after she developed bipolar disorder and tried to kill herself. "Until this morning I thought I was the only one to have been through this - now I know there are others," she said last night.

She described "eight very long months of sheer hell" in which she was prevented from using prescription medication to help her sleep, triggering debilitating migraines. The staff refused to let her have even the most basic painkillers to cope with the symptoms. "These are only some of the times I was denied medical and psychological help. There are many more," she said.

The Herald invited the former managing director of Mercy Ministries, Peter Irvine, now its sponsorship manager, to give contact details of young women who had successfully graduated from its program. No response had been received last night.

But one graduate wrote to the Herald about her positive experience in the ministry's Sydney house: "I graduated four years ago from the Sydney home after having previously being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and borderline personality disorder. Before I entered the program, my life was in danger - being in Mercy completely changed that around."

Since graduating, she had completed a degree, was part way through her honours year and has been accepted into a doctorate program, she wrote, because of the lessons she learned in Mercy Ministries.

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