Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Learning to boil water at Mercy Ministries

There has been a situation on my mind that I would like to share.  It happened when I was in the Mercy Ministries Sydney home, and for whatever reason this story has not yet made it's way into my blogs on the subject of Mercy.

Hillsong Church annually hosts a women's conference called Colour Conference, and another big conference called Hillsong Conference.  The Mercy Ministries Sydney home and Hillsong Church were somewhat intertwined.  As far as I am aware, the financial relationship between Mercy Ministries Australia and Hillsong began and ended with Hillsong being a large financial partner, however on a personal level, most staff in both the program and corporate facets of Mercy Ministries in Sydney attended Hillsong Church, or were involved with Hillsong in some way, such as being a Hillsong Bible College student, or being in some way connected to a Hillsong "big wig".  For a long time, Mark and Darlene Zschech were involved with Mercy Ministries at a managerial level right from the early days.  Among the board members were some prominent leaders at Hillsong.  One was an elder and pastor at Hillsong.  There was another woman who was married to a Hillsong elder, and I think she may have been on the board as well.  One of the later "managerials" at Mercy Ministries, Peter Irvine, was a co-owner of Gloria Jeans Coffees, and was involved at Hillsong Church, although I am not sure in what capacity exactly.

Hillsong was hosting their Colour Conference in the beginning of 2006.  During Hillsong Conference and Colour Conference, our normally fiercely private homestead was opened up to hundreds of strangers who would tour the home, poking their heads into our bedrooms and gazing at us sympathetically.  We were the Mercy Girls.

From time to time, we were pointed out as some kind of example of bravery at church as girls doing the "hard stuff" to get healing.  I know they meant it in a nice way, but not all of us liked the special attention at church, having people oggle at us with a mixture of admiration and pity.

Some of us took an approach of comic relief.  When the Mercy van rocked up to church to a crowd of gazing parking lot attendants hoping to make eye contact with us to transmit their feelings of love, some of us would look "troubled".  We were each assigned a different type of troubled.  One was angry/hostile troubled, another rocked back and forth, another patted the back of her own head, another looked scared troubled, all while another girl would sing circus music.

I remember Nancy Alcorn being in Sydney on two occassions during my 12 month stay.  On one of those occasions, she visited the Sydney home, and this day was the day.  We had a major cleaning day beforehand which was usually done bi-monthly.  On major cleaning days, we would do a copious amount of cleaning within a prescribed amount of time, lest we be punished for being too slow.

The morning before Nancy's arrival had been very strange.  There was a staff member who I experienced to be particularly threatening during my time in the Mercy Ministries program, but on this occassion, she tore around the house in terror, ripping things off walls - items such as our art works and even scriptures we had written out on nice paper.  It seemed that in this instance, the tables were turned, and she was the one who was terrified of someone she perhaps felt threatened by.  I had not seen this happen before.  The intensity of her activity increased throughout the morning, right up to the very moment that Nancy Alcorn stepped out of an expensive looking convertible sports car into the classroom doorway.

One of the staff members whisked me right up to the front yard to direct incoming cars which had ceased arriving by this stage.  I suppose I can't know for sure, but the feeling I got was that this staff member was trying to hide me from Nancy.  Perhaps she was afraid I would disclose the time she made me think I was hearing voices when in fact she had me in for a "confession session" with two staff members hiding in an annexed room listening through the door.  Just a hunch I suppose.

Apparently, Nancy thanked the girls for the basket of cards we gave her.  Under staff orders, each of us created a "thank you" card.  Although, even if we had not been instructed by staff to do this and a resident came up with the bright idea, I am sure most of us would have done so anyway.  Nancy then had a picture taken with all the girls, excluding myself, who remained exiled to the front gate.  Following the formalities, the staff member found me and said "oh, didn't such and such ask you to come back in?  Silly her, I asked her to grab you but she must have forgot".

Hundreds of strangers were loitering in our front yard or wandering around our home.  Many girls appeared to be quite troubled by this occurence, given that Mercy is so structured and our contact with the outside world limited and strictly policed by staff and our prescribed shopping buddies.

In our large dining room, the stage was set up that was normally set up for graduations.  Normally, I would not have remembered who spoke or what they said as it was usually a regurgitation of our promotional material, but this person stood out like a sore thumb.  This person was involved with Hillsong, although as I had come from the city campus and Mercy was at Hills, I had not seen or heard much from her before.

This person proceeded to advise the crowd of prospective financial partners that she was very involved with us.  Apparently, she came to do classes with us "all the time", and talked about what she taught us on those countless occasions.  She regurgitated some of the usual (and false) information on our promotional material about the program being run by qualified professional staff, that we see psychologists and the like.  She also told them that we do art classes and cooking classes, and that some of us came into the program "literally not knowing how to boil water". 

I felt shocked and speechless.  This woman had done one class with us, just ONE, in the whole nine to 10 months that I had been in the program up to that point.  She did not even know our names.  Classes?  Qualified professionals?  Boiling water?  Most of all, I felt humiliated as all attention was turned on us with sympathetic gazes and tutting, for those poor souls who cannot boil water.  But thanks to Mercy's cooking classes, we can learn to boil water and live a life of fulfilling our potential to boil water.

As the meeting was winding up and guests were filing out of the dining room, we were standing just outside.  I was still reeling from what had just happened.  I was pretty sure that a person just told complete lies about our program, and staff went along with it, and neither myself nor other residents spoke up.  Could this have been a mistake?  Was it simply a matter of perspective?  I was in disbelief. 

I then heard a resident say something... I can't remember what it was exactly, but I seem to remember it was criticism relating to the situation.  And a staff member within ear shot nabbed her and dobbed her in, and she was promptly led away for a little "chat".

Nancy put her foot to the metal and sped up our long driveway as the outright lies of the spokeswoman were still reverberating in my mind.  I could not make sense of this situation.


  1. And this is exactly what's wrong with Mercy... lies.

  2. You know what my thought always was, when something like this happened? I started to feel bad for the girls who didn't know how to do it. Because we were never allowed to talk about our issues with each other, so for all I knew girls really didn't know how to "boil water". So I always found myself joining all the spectators and being like "omg I feel so bad for that person". But that person probably never existed. I know they used to tell our sponsors at our luncheons, etc, "so many girls come in never even knowing how to make toast" and I would feel bad for that girl, but nobody knew who that girl was, we just assumed she existed. That's their job to make us look weak and pitiful, to gain a ton of profits. That is a part that didn't sit well with me at all, I hate being made to look weak.

  3. And those in power at Mercy actually believe they are inspired by wonder so many ex-Mercy girls/women turn away from God after their time at Mercy, for being made to think that to question Mercy is to question God himself. "Unconditional love" and modeling Christ" are what is promised, but what you get is false and far from Christ. I hope my daughter someday is able to see her experience for what was like you have Sarah, and then be able to help others out of the deep, dark hole that is Mercy Ministries.

  4. oh my goodness, i had forgotten about this! i feel like it might have been me that got in trouble. - frith x

    1. LOL hi Frith!!! Yes, you were the one who got in trouble! Would love to know what you said, and what happened when they led you away. If you feel so inclined to share :)

  5. My daughter is in Hills songs. She has an executive job and lives in the city, but she's lonely and single, in her late 20s. One of the Pastors told her to have nothing to do with me (her mother) as I have been divorced and remarried and therefore in sin and I am a Pastor in the UK. My daughter has cut me off completely. In my opinion Hill Song is nothing but a cult, pretending to be a church of Jesus Christ