Why did you pioneer Mercy in the UK?
Most people who work for Mercy, work there because they have a story- a reason why they are drawn to what we do, and I am no exception. I first heard Nancy Alcorn- the President and Founder of Mercy Ministries International speak about Mercy, sat in my church congregation in 1999.
As our church stood to its feet in applause, tears streamed down my face and I breathed a prayer: “Lord, if there’s any way I can be part of this, make it so…” And something came alive on the inside of me, purpose was ignited and a seed planted - my journey with Mercy UK had begun.
And then crisis hit my family. My 15 year old sister, Debbie, was on a mission to self-destruct and my parents were at their wits’ end. They could not understand how the beautiful child they had brought up with love and Christian principles was so messed up. It had been three years of a gradual deterioration in her mental health and they had no frame of reference for what could’ve caused such a break down in her well-being. My sister’s school called to say they were about to expel her- she was rude, disrespectful, angry and when she tried to overdose on paracetamol, my parents feared for her life.
It was time for drastic measures and so my parents called my husband and I with a request. Could Debbie come and live with us for a while? Maybe being away from the bad crowd she’d gotten into and starting at a new school and joining our church would help her with a fresh start.
I’d like to say that we said yes immediately but we didn’t. I had a picture perfect dream of family life that did not include an angry, dysfunctional 15 year old. I had left home when Debbie was 9 years old and I really didn’t know who she’d become, nor did I have any concept of what we could do to help.
But God reminded us of our prayer to Him- ‘I thought you said that all you had was Mine? Does that not include your home and your idea of what this next season looks like?”
And so we said ‘yes’. And my ‘yes’ to her became a ‘yes’ to many. When I first heard Nancy speak and my heart had responded with a whispered prayer, I saw nameless, faceless girls who I wanted to help rescue- I never once thought the first broken girl I would ever come across would be my own sister and the first home I would open would be my own.
Within weeks of her living with us, Debbie told me what had happened to her and it broke my heart. She told me she’d been playing in the park, when she was only 12 and a man had befriended her. He was 10 years her senior, drove his own car and showed an interest in her that made her feel grown up and affirmed. Within the space of a few short weeks, he had groomed her into a sexual relationship with him. Only then did it become apparent that he was a drug dealer and that he had plans for my sister that took her from the dream life she had been living, into a living hell.
It was when Debbie lived with us that I began to learn what lies beneath the behaviours of the broken. I learnt what abuse can do to a person, I learnt the lies that victims believe about themselves and I learnt the helplessness of seeing a loved one battle for sanity amid the onslaught of painful memories. I witnessed first-hand the lengths a person will go to, to numb the pain inside.
I learnt about the importance of boundaries, of compassion that’s coated in tough love and I learnt to go to God for wisdom, insight, empathy, grace and all the resources I did not have myself. During this time, I gave Debbie one of Nancy Alcorn’s books: ‘Mercy Moves Mountains’ and though I know she read it, I saw no immediate change.
Eighteen months after reading the book, Debbie rang me: “I need to go to Mercy,” she said. The trouble was that Mercy did not yet exist in the UK- we were still praying, still believing, still fundraising. Nancy had faithfully come to preach at our church and teach us as a volunteer team many times over the years but in terms of actual realisation of the vision for a UK Mercy home, we seemed a very long way off.
We looked around for other options, but Debbie didn’t need a rehab, she didn’t need the mental health services, she didn’t need a place that would simply medicate her symptoms; she needed somewhere that would allow her to reconcile the facts of her abused life with the truth of God’s love. She needed to have an opportunity to experience God’s unconditional love, His forgiveness and His life transforming power. Treatment wasn’t enough- she needed transformation…and so she became the first young woman from the UK accepted onto the programme in America.
It’s been 15 years since my sister went to Mercy in America. She is married now with two children, serving God with all her (restored and transformed) heart and what’s more she is the Executive Director of Services at Mercy UK and I have the privilege of working alongside her every day seeing countless young women’s lives rescued from hopelessness and despair into the loving arms of a God whose love conquers all.