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Charity offers new start for women


DEBBIE, a young British woman, became involved with drug-taking when she was 12. Her eventual drug dependency led her into under-age sex, self-harm and suicide attempts.

But, through links with a church, she travelled to the US, and took advantage of a rehabilitation programme offered by the international Christian charity, Mercy Ministries.

She became so passionate about the effect the programme had on her life that she is now one of the volunteers for the new UK project, which is launched officially this weekend.

Mercy Ministries UK is raising £300,000 to renovate an Edwardian property in West Yorkshire. Inquiries are already being taken from young women wanting to take advantage of the specialist services, which deal with what the charity describes as “life-controlling issues”. These include eating disorders, addictions, unexpected pregnancy, self-harming, depression, and abuse.

Mercy Ministries was started in the US in 1983 by Nancy Alcorn, who was concerned by the lack of facilities for young women in trouble. There are now five homes in the US, all with long waiting lists, and two in Australia. The charity is supported solely by churches, businesses, community groups, and individuals. It states that it does not accept any funding that would require it “to compromise the Christian faith element of the programme”.

The director of Mercy Ministries UK, Kerry Slater, said that this had never been a problem, either for funding or for the young women, all aged between 16 and 28, who enter the homes. “Although a doctor or a church or community group may approach the charity to see if there is a space available, the girls have to apply themselves and be comfortable with the Christian ethos. They are not just sent; they have to want to be there and have a desire to change.”

Alongside professional help for their problems, the daily programme includes an emphasis on the Christian message. “For example, a girl with anorexia will be encouraged to learn to love herself, and see that her worth is not in what she looks like. This she will learn through faith in God,” said Ms Slater.

The average stay in a Mercy house is six to nine months. The young women receive professional counselling, which is based on Christian principles, as well as life-training skills. The charity estimates that 90 per cent of women who pass through its doors are rehabilitated successfully.

The house in Oxenthorpe was bought by a private trust, which has offered it to the charity indefinitely at a rent of £5 a year. But £300,000 is needed to renovate it and meet health-and-safety requirements.

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The house in Oxenhope, West Yorkshire, which the charity is converting

The charity has forged links with the Abundant Life Centre in Bradford, where the girls are encouraged to worship each Sunday. “But, of course, we would take them to other churches as well. This is part of the programme,” said Ms Slater.

Towards the end of their stay, the young women start on an aftercare programme to prepare for moving on. This covers issues such as accommodation, work, and training; they are monitored when they leave.

The charity already runs a fundraising enterprise. Online shoppers can browse in the Mercy Store, which offers a range of goods, including books, CDs, and clothing. Supporters can even buy a Mercy bear.

For more information, phone 01274 745427 or visit www.mercyministries.co.uk.

 

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