Published on June 29th, 2013 | by Grace Elizabeth0
Mercy Ministries: Lives transformed. Hope restored.
Mercy Ministries provides opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and life-transforming power. After visiting the UK home, Grace caught up with Arianna Walker, Executive Director of Mercy Ministries UK.
How do you give opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and life-transforming power?
By providing a six month residential, Christian discipleship programme, free of charge, and in partnership with that girl’s local church. We are open for any women aged 18 to 28, who is struggling with what we call life controlling issues: eating disorders, self-harming, depression, the effects of abuse. We help them by equipping them with the tools that the Bible has made available to us: forgiveness; renewing the mind; time and space to actually connect with God themselves, and work through the root issues of the things they are facing.
What is the most central thing to what you do?
Jesus. I say that without hesitation. It’s not the strength of the programme or the lovely countryside or the kind and happy staff that sets people free, it’s Jesus. What we’ve created here is an environment where Jesus is really difficult to miss.
How many people have you helped?
We opened here in the UK in 2006, since then 150 girls have been through the programme, and that’s going to increase because we started off with only ten bed, but in the last 18 months we have increased up to 20 beds so we are now able to help around 40 women a year. Those women come from all over the UK and sometimes from Europe. We are wanting to increase in size and be able to have other homes in the future.
You said you work with women, who are your core outreach?
The body of Christ, yes that takes the form of the women in terms of the residential programme, but we feel like the answer to the needs of our society are going to come through the local church and our heart as a ministry is to come alongside churches of every denomination, size, and location in the UK, to help them help the women that are in their church. We do that by providing the residential programme, but also, we provide resources, prayer and training for church leaders, ministry leaders and youth workers,. We do whatever we can to strengthen the church’s response to the brokenness of our society.
Does your organisation take a lot of financial support to run?
Yes. We have got three core values in terms of the principles that we are built on: we don’t charge for any part of the programme at all, we give ten percent of all unrestricted donations away and we don’t take any government funding that would dilute the message of the gospel. That’s pretty much the craziest business plan you have ever heard: we don’t charge our clients, we give money away and we’re fussy about where it comes from. Our funding comes entirely from the Christian world, so we have to raise our own funds. Our budget this year is just shy of £700,000. It costs £12,000 for one girl to go through the programme of six months. We do that with individual people giving £5, £10, £20 a month into our work. We also do sponsored events, last year 40 people did a skydive and we raised just under £100,000 with that. We do lots of speaking events at women’s conferences and places like that, so we often collect offerings as well. There are lots of different places our income comes from. Christian trust funds too, and businesses.
How do you keep God at the centre even when times are hard for the organisation as a whole?
That is exactly when we keep God at the centre: when times are hard. It’s not even a conscience decision, it is what and who we are. There comes a point in your journey as a Christian where you are so far outside of your comfort zone and beyond what you are capable of doing in your own strength and with your own resources, that you have no choice but to trust God. It’s like Paul says, “I will boast about my weaknesses, because in my weakness Your strength is made perfect.” We are so aware that the brokenness that these girls face is far beyond human response, we can’t heal their wounds. We can’t heal girls who have been raped, and abused, and tormented: there is no human response to that. We have to go to God, and we have to lead them to God because He is the only one who can heal them, so that keeps us very centred on God.
Where and how did your organisation start?
It started 30 years ago in America, by a woman called Nancy Alcorn. She had been working in prisons and child services for 8 years. In that time she became very convinced of the futility of throwing money, resources and time at people’s problems . It was just treatment and not transformation because she wasn’t able to share her faith: she wasn’t able to have Jesus at the centre. She saw people’s lives continue in a cycle of destruction over and over and over again. God really convicted her through Isaiah 61, which is a scripture that our ministry is built on, it’s about setting the captives free and healing the broken-hearted. That mandate was given to the church of Jesus Christ, not to government agencies, so she started the first home just with a few girls in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1983, since then Mercy Ministries has grown to 4 homes in the US, 1 in Canada, 1 in New Zealand, and this first home here in the UK.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve got lots of plans for the future. We see growth to reach the need that is out there, we see more beds, we need to increase our voice into the issues that women face, we need to increase our ability to equip the church in responses to those issues. We are excited about our plans to expand probably into the South of England with a new home, and even homes in Europe over the coming years.
How can people get involved with your work?
There is so many ways, they can contact us, go to our website which is www.MercyMinistries.co.uk but in short: we need prayer, we value prayer cover, we need people to pray with us about what we do. We love people to partner with us financially on a monthly basis, even £2 a month, its not much but if everyone does a little bit it really does make a difference. People who know our work well often want to adopt us as their chosen charity and fund raise for us in their own communities: some people do coffee mornings, and cake stalls and fashion shows; little ways of gathering people together and speaking to them about Mercy, and collecting money. There’s so many different ways, it is definitely worth a visit to the website to find out more.
Why do you personally do this?
That’s a long story, but in short, because my sister is a Mercy graduate. She went through the Mercy programme before we had a home here in the UK. She was the first girl to go and be accepted onto the programme in Nashville, Tennessee. They’d never accepted a girl from outside of the US before, but our family had got to a point where we didn’t know what else to do with her. She was self-harming, she tried to kill herself, she was taking drugs, at the time we didn’t know. She was a Christian: brought up in a Christian home, her parents were pastors, and that’s a very familiar story for a lot of our girls. She was met at the school gate by a guy 10/15 years older than her, and he groomed her into a sexually abusive relationship when she was only 12. She was in a relationship with him for 3 years until she came to live with me, and when she did I handed her one of Nancy Alcorn’s books, and that was the start of our passion for Mercy Ministries. After 8 months of the programme she came back and her life was totally transformed, so I know this isn’t just a good idea, this is a God idea, and He uses Mercy Ministries to heal people.
As the executive director what do you do?
My role is to oversee the vision of Mercy Ministries be established here in the UK, so I have the responsibility to ensure that what we do is what we are supposed to be doing, I report to a UK board, I oversee two directors, one in charge of the charity: the business side of what we do, and the other who is in charge of the project: the house and the girls. I spend my time at speaking engagements, doing interviews and writing books. I’m currently writing my second book all about stories of God’s transformation through Mercy.
Our theme at BFT this month is ‘Hurt, Pain and Hope in Despair’ what can you say about that?
Everybody experiences those emotions. Whether you are a Christian or not, whether you are the nicest person that has ever lived, or the most evil, we are all victims of the pain this world carries. We all face adversity and trials, but when we are Christians we are not without hope. We have a God who has equipped us, it says in the Bible that He has given us everything we need for life’s godliness. We have everything we need to be able to navigate through the rough terrain of life. We have His peace, grace, mercy and love available to us. We can overcome fear, and be free, by forgiveness, from bitterness,. We can renew our minds so that they are free from the lies that torment us. We can live life at a totally different level even though we face the same things as everybody else. Christians need to, and have a responsibility to, become whole so that we can bring wholeness to a very broken world.
You say it is by God’s strength that you continue, but are there other things that you see and experience which inspire you to not give up?
People. To be honest, mainly the girls on our programme, just what they face, the giants that they take down, the courage that they show when they overcome some very traumatic experiences that we don’t even want to imagine. Yet, everyday they choose to forgive, to love, the choose life, they choose to allow God to take their pain and turn it into something of great value to use t make this world better for not just them but the people they share their life with too. Every time I see them, I take their testimony, yesterday one was crying and was just bitter and angry, and today she has allowed God to change her. I just look at them and think we’ve got to keep doing what we are doing because lives are being changed and that’s what it’s all about.
If you could say one thing to our readers, what would it be?
Whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through, however hopeless it may seem there is always hope and there is a God who cares, is available to you., loves you and has a plan for your future. Don’t give up.
Arianna is an amazing and
inspiring person to speak to, filled with such passion for the essential work that she does. Mercy is a powerful and important resource to the church, it is incredible to see a pocket of hope growing amidst such dark situations. Follow Mercy Ministries on twitter @MercyMinUKand check out their website
for more information: www.MercyMinistries.co.uk