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
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,"
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
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
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
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.