Mercy Ministries Melt-Down

The Herald reports…

Mercy Ministries home to close


October 28, 2009

ALLEGATIONS of widespread abuse at Mercy Ministries group homes appear finally to have caught up with the fundamentalist Christian group, which has announced it will close its Sydney home on October 31, citing ”extreme financial challenges and a steady drop in our support base”.

”We are no longer financially viable,” reads a statement from Margaret Stunt, a former Hillsong Church staff member from London appointed as executive director of Mercy Ministries in April.

The announcement came less than a week after the group said it had completed extensive renovations to its Sydney home, including a new kitchen, carpets, light fittings, staircase and deck, painting and landscaping – all funded with donations totalling more than $100,000.

Given that the organisation will close, it is unclear who will benefit from the renovations. A staff member at Mercy Ministries said she was unable to comment.

Targeting girls and women aged 16 to 28, Mercy Ministries claimed – on its website and in promotional material distributed in Gloria Jeans cafes around the country – that its programs included support from ”psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, [and] career counsellors”.

Instead, the program prevented the residents gaining access to psychiatric care, choosing to focus on prayer, Christian counselling and exorcisms to ”expel demons” from the young women, many of whom had serious psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and anorexia.

A Herald investigation last year revealed the women who entered the program were required to sign over their Centrelink benefits and were virtually cut off from the outside world, except for a weekly trip to the local Hillsong Church for worship.

At the time, Mercy Ministries’ then chief executive, Peter Irvine, was quick to dismiss their claims, implying that the victims of the group’s unorthodox and dangerous treatments were not telling the truth.

Since then Mr Irvine has sent an apology to the women featured in the Herald’s articles. ”I would like to apologise for the statements that I made to the press in March 2008. I did not accurately reflect the situation and I regret my comments,” he wrote.

News of the closure was greeted with relief by its former victims, who cautioned that the group was still operating in New Zealand, the US and Britain.

”It is amazing that our little voices speaking out could make a dent against organisations as big as … Mercy Ministries,” said Naomi Johnson, one of the women who blew the whistle on the abuse.

”After all the lies they told about us, this is what we hoped – that Mercy Ministries would be closed so that other girls would not get hurt.”

In June last year, Mercy Ministries announced it had closed its Sunshine Coast home ”due to strategic and resourcing issues”.

Hillsong Church was quick to distance itself from the organisation it had supported – both financially and with key staff and executive officers – since its inception in 2001. ”Hillsong Church has cut ties with Mercy Ministries around the world following an [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] investigation into Mercy Ministries,” said a statement released by the church last night.

A spokeswoman for the ACCC, one of the many investigatory bodies to which the women complained, would not comment or confirm an investigation had taken place.

2 thoughts on “Mercy Ministries Melt-Down

  1. I have to acknowledge groupsects.wordpress for this nice addition…

    Brian Houston writes…

    “I want to inform you of issues that have become increasingly clear in recent days, which have left me personally devastated.

    Mercy Ministries Inc. have informed us that they are ceasing operations in Australia.

    Some of you are aware of Mercy Ministries, an organisation set up to rehabilitate and reach out to young women in need. It has come to my attention in recent days, that investigations into Mercy Ministries Inc. have been ongoing, over what is essentially unclear or misguided communication in relation to their funding and services.

    In the past, Hillsong Church has supported Mercy Ministries through financial donations. A number of individuals involved with our church have also served on the board and/or staff of this ministry.

    Unfortunately, we believe that in the case of Mercy Ministries, concern about the way they delivered their message and services has unfairly affected Hillsong Church by association.

    It is not my place to defend or try to explain what Mercy Ministries has or hasn’t done. Hillsong has done nothing wrong. Hillsong is not under investigation, but a number of key people from Hillsong Church over the years, have been involved in Mercy Ministries.

    It is wrong that anything Mercy Ministries may or may not have done could overshadow so much of what we as a church stand for: Loving God and Helping People.

    To ensure that this does not happen again it is important that we take immediate action to protect the reputation of our church moving forward.

    We will undertake an internal audit of Hillsong staff to identify what organisations or boards they are currently associated with.

    From there, we will be strongly recommending that our executive level staff no longer participate on other not-for-profit boards.

    We will also examine some future guidelines and boundaries for Hillsong staff in regards to their involvement in external boards.

    It is so important that we continue to support and work in cooperation with organisations doing great things in our community and around the world.

    Despite the numerous positive achievements of Mercy Ministries, Hillsong Church will no longer support, or be associated with this ministry.

    Further, we sever any affiliation with Mercy Ministries internationally, and would not be associated with any attempt by Mercy Ministries Inc or Mercy Ministries Ltd, to recommence within Australia, under that or any other name.

    We would encourage those, that any investigation involves, to cooperate fully.

    We will continue to keep the church informed as to any new developments with this situation, and would ask you to continue to keep this in your prayers.
    – Brian Houston, Senior Pastor, Hillsong Church”


    Perhaps the ‘internal audit’ could start with this hearty endorsement of Mercy Ministries and its leaders by Brian Houston at Hill$ong about 4 months after the scandal surfaced.

  2. I was a mercy girl, says:

    “Dear Brian,

    I have been a supporter of Hillsong for over 10 years, and I just really want to write and thank you. I feel so loved and supported now that you’ve released the statement about Mercy Ministries. But Hillsong has always loved and supported me, haven’t they? I could always count on you guys when I needed you.

    After I approached Hillsong pastors and leaders and told them about what was happening at Mercy, it felt wonderful to see Hillsong still advertising them and donating to them. I was especially touched by your display of love and concern for those who Mercy abused when you labelled the reports of abuse as lies and a work of the devil. That was so nice of you.

    But you’ve released a statement about Hillsong not supporting Mercy Ministries anymore, so it’s ok now isn’t it. We should move on. Forgive and forget that Hillsong enabled the abuse of hundreds of young women, including me. Never mention that Hillsong funded them. After all, as ‘good’ Christians, that’s what we should do, isn’t it? Forgive and forget. Never mention it again. Protect the church’s reputation. Protect Hillsong.

    Brian, this is my life that you and Mercy Ministries played with. Do you get that? Do you understand, even just a little tiny bit? Do you care that before Mercy I loved my church, I attended regularly and at times held leadership positions. But over 3 years after Mercy, I still can’t even walk into a church without wanting to run out again. Do you care that I’ve had to quit Uni because of the affects Mercy had on me? Do you care that since Mercy I’ve had to have regular counselling to undo the damage Mercy Ministries did? I’ve been living on weatbix and baked beans because I’ve been so determined to be able to afford and get the help needed so I could get back to at least how well I was before trusting Mercy Ministries. I trusted Mercy Ministries because of Hillsong’s endorsement.

    Thank you for being so loving and supportive in the aftermath of my time at Mercy. It was so lovely to know that I could count on you and Hillsong to help when I needed it. I felt so loved and supported.

    So again, thank you for the statement about Hillsong’s seperation from Mercy. I could tell how genuine your words were in the statement. They were very selfless and showed a great concern for those who were abused and are still trying to overcome their experiences at Mercy. I especially liked the part about how Hillsong hasn’t done anything wrong.

    Past resident of Mercy Ministries Australia”
    i was a mercy girl 29 October 2009 at 9am

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