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Mercy Ministries

There were probably Christmases past at one time or another in our lives when we received the best Christmas present we ever.  I remember the year that I opened up a box of football cleats and a brand new football. Maybe for you it was a bicycle, the latest game, an MP3 player, basketball, doll or one of those miniature baking ovens that girls used to love when I was a child. The best gift that I ever received, however, came almost a month before Christmas in November of 1975. That was the day Christ gave me a new life. I had grown up in a physically violent and abusive home and that transitioned into an angry teenager who developed a drinking problem. At the age of twenty I met Jesus. Recently I took time to talk to two great young women who had come from dire backgrounds with no hope in sight until they also met Jesus. I also spoke to Nancy Alcorn who twenty-three years ago founded Mercy Ministries of America, the program that saved these young women's lives. 
"I recognized that I was created by God for a purpose and I realized that what happened didn't happen because I messed up," says nineteen year old Katie, a pre-med university student and a graduate of Mercy Ministries' program, "I don't believe that God ordained those circumstances but I believe that God can, does and has brought good out of those things and He will continue to do so." 
Katie came to Mercy Ministries in her early teens a victim of incest. The perpetrators were her father and brother. There were also other men. Katie's next words will shock you even more, "My parents went to church but they were Christians in name only. When we were at home it was a whole different story. My father was abusive. He said that God told him he owned my body. There was a lot of manipulation of scriptures so I really did not trust in a good God." 
By the age of five Katie was already into cutting and by age eight she had her first suicide attempt. Today Katie tells a life changing story that began in a foster home. The people she was staying with connected Katie with an out of state organization named Mercy Ministries. That was late in 2002 and in July of 2003 she was finally enrolled in the program. She tells me the delays were caused because she had continued to cut herself and had been in and out of psyche wards. She had to be more stable before she could enter the residence. 
Katie who is now doing well in school and beams about her accomplishments says, "He (God) will help me use those things to reach others. I feel nothing that I do will be wasted. I feel good about myself. I feel like I am where I belong. I have so much hope for my future. I want to work overseas and I believe that I am capable of doing that. I thank God for that (ability and confidence). I also thank God that through Mercy I was allowed me to find myself and to reach that point. I feel completely different than I did before Mercy." 
Katie recalled her Christmas at Mercy Ministries, "I remember the night we had the Christmas party. The girls were given so many gifts which was amazing but to me it wasn't about the fact that all of this money was spent on me. It was about the people who gave those gifts. They gave them because they loved me and cared about me. That was so huge for me to realize that somebody actually desired to do something for me and found me worthy." 
"I remember watching all these other girls from different backgrounds and in their brokenness receiving the same gifts and the same love. Everybody was crying. It was probably one of the first times that I cried there. I just remember knowing that they (the Mercy Ministries staff) wanted me there and I started to trust them." 
As you are reading this story there is a good chance a lot of you have never really worried about a roof over your head or wondered about your ability to make routine everyday decisions but not so for a lot of young women and men. Katie's voice fills with emotion when she describes who she was when she first appeared on the doorstep of Mercy Ministries, "I didn't believe that I was a human being when I went there so I had to realize, 'Oh look I'm human.' More than that I had to realize that I was created by God and He designed me. I had to learn about myself and I had to learn about the character of God." 
Through the gentle love of the staff members of Mercy Ministries Katie said she learned about God's love and that He would wait for her to heal slowly. "I just kept receiving the kindness and the goodness of those people whether I wanted it or not," she laughingly said. 
Katie also learned another valuable lesson and that was the horrific things that had been done to her as a child were not her fault and not within her control. "I didn't have to be a victim anymore. I had the right to make choices for my own self and my own life. I could be who I wanted to be and pursue what I wanted to pursue. I was an individual of worth. It was really cool for me to realize," she said. 
The seed for Mercy Ministries was planted by God in Nancy Alcorn's heart while she was serving with the Department of Corrections at a juvenile detention facility for girls. "I came to realize that these kids were not much different from me when I was growing up they just needed someone to give them guidance and to help them work through some of the hard spots. A lot of them have been through horrible things such as sexual abuse, traumas, and tragedies and had mothers with addiction problems. (Some of them) had fathers who had verbally, physically or sexually abused them," said Alcorn. 
"My heart really began to cry out to the Lord about it. I realized it was because of the love of Christ that my life had changed. I realized that the same Jesus who changed my life could change their lives but in that (government) system we were told that we couldn't share that message," Alcorn continued. 
It was while she was working on her masters degree years later and while serving an internship at a Nashville women's prison that Alcorn noticed a lot of the same women who had years earlier been in the juvenile facility. 
"I began to pray that there could be a place girls could come to on their own and not because they were sent there. They would choose to come because they wanted a different life. They would want to work through the pain and issues. If we could provide a means for girls to come free of charge then (perhaps) they would come willingly," said Alcorn. 
As she often does while talking Alcorn quotes from a passage of scripture recalling how we are created as new creatures in Christ. "(I wanted) a place where we would have the freedom to share the truth of God's word and forgiveness," she said. 
One of the young women who came to Mercy Ministries for help was Maggie. "When I first came to Mercy I was so drugged that I couldn't even function. I couldn't feel any emotions. I couldn't even look at anybody," she said. Maggie was on a twenty-four hour suicide watch prior to coming to Mercy Ministries. 
Nowadays as you talk with Maggie you can hear the pride in her voice when she said, "I have an apartment with a roommate and I am working. My relationship with God is still growing and I have a life that I could never have imagined. I am able to share with others what a difference God has made in my life and I am able to tell them about Mercy. I am going to church and getting involved with the ministries at church. I love it." 
Mercy Ministries has several residences in the United States and facilities in Canada, Australia and England. All staff training is coordinated through the Head Office in Nashville. This helps maintain consistency. Each facility has an onsite nurse and Mercy Ministries works closely with doctors in each of the cities to assist participants in the program who come from addiction backgrounds or suffer from severe depression. 
In addition to getting a solid spiritual foundation, life skills are taught by professionals who donate their time. The day after I spoke to Nancy Alcorn noted finance author Dave Ramsey was coming to speak to the residents about managing their personal finances. Tennessee Titan's coach Jeff Fisher and his wife Julie recently played host to Mercy Ministries as many of the residents were baptized in the swimming pool at their home. 
Residents are taught about Christ's love and forgiveness. One of the goals is to restore broken lives and rebuild self esteem. At this time of year perhaps the lessons best learned come through Maggie's words, "It's not just all about giving and receiving. I understand the Christmas story. Being there (at Mercy Ministries) helped me to understand the real meaning of Christmas. Now that I understand it I can teach little kids the real meaning behind Christmas. It's not just all about gifts, it's about Christ." 
For the past twenty-three years the residents at Mercy Ministries have come from various demographic backgrounds. They have come from poor families and homes of prominent politicians. They come from families where Christ is an unknown word and families that go to church regularly. The young women who come to Mercy Ministries may be pregnant, have drug addictions or been the victims of horrific and continual beatings or rape. They all have two things in common, they are looking for someone who cares and they want to turn their lives around. 
You may be reading this today and wondering how you can help. Please visit the Mercy Ministries website and then pick up the phone and call. You can write or email but I know if you pick up the phone you will do something now. It doesn't take a lot to help. If you do not have the personal finances or professional resources to help then please add these young women and the staff of Mercy Ministries to your prayer list today. If it was your child wouldn't you like to think that someone cared enough to reach out in love? 

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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