I frequently travel to churches and Christian organizations to share the vision of the need to minister to hurting girls and unwed mothers. Most of the people who hear me speak become enthusiastic about responding to God’s call. Sometimes they commit to supporting Mercy Ministries with their prayers. Sometimes they help Mercy Ministries financially. Sometimes they catch the vision and begin to implement it in their area. Whatever God leads them to do, I am thankful most Christians who listen respond.
Most, but not all.
“I just don’t think the church is responsible for those girls. By having that home available, you are condoning premarital sex. We are simply to preach the gospel.”
I try to reply to such criticisms in a pleasant way. “Don’t you think that the message might mean more if it is backed with actions? And isn’t the message for those who are hurting, not for those who are well?”
Unfortunately I rarely receive a pleasant response: “I still don’t believe the church can possibly care for all those disturbed girls, juvenile delinquents, and unwed mothers—they are the ones responsible for their situations. Besides, we pay taxes for the government to take care of them. Those girls need highly skilled, well-educated professionals. A bunch of Christians with good intentions can’t possibly do much good.”
No matter what I tell them about my own experience, some people have already made up their minds. They simply won’t listen to the voice of reason—or to the voice of God.
There are also many Christians who are aware of the mistreatment and abuse some girls suffer and who want very much to address the problem, but they are not sure what the solution is.
The solution is simple. It is the church. The people of God have the duty and privilege to bring restoration to broken lives.
Loving the Seemingly Unlovable
I think about Tammy and the first time I saw her. The smell almost knocked me over. As Tammy came closer, I saw the filthiness of her clothes. Her hair was matted and looked as though there were bugs in it. I thought, I do not want this girl to sit in my car. In that same moment, conviction gripped me. If this girl sensed my repulsion, we could lose her.
The police had phoned me at the home only minutes before to tell me Tammy’s circumstances.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” the officer said with empathy in his voice. “If you can’t help her, I don’t know where she will end up.”
I receive phone calls like this often. A parent, friend, neighbor, or counselor will call to tell me of a troubled girl he would like me to meet. So getting in my car and going out to bring this girl to Mercy Ministries was not unusual. I had made a commitment to the Lord when this ministry began that where He leads, I’ll follow.
As I drove into the desolate area of the inner city, I recalled the details the officer had given: “We found her at this drug dealer’s house we have been surveilling,” he told me. “We advised her to get out now or she would probably end up in jail. Then we told her about you and Mercy Ministries, and she agreed to get help.”
But now as I stood face-to-face with this seemingly hopeless transient, I saw how much unconditional love I lacked.
I hugged her quickly and tried not to gag from her smell. As we walked to the car, she turned toward me and softly spoke. “Ma’am, I don’t think it is a good idea for me to get in your car,” she said, obviously embarrassed.
“Don’t worry about it, honey. You won’t hurt anything,” I tried to reassure her.
With pleading eyes she added, “Do you at least have something I can sit on?”
“Only this,” I said, and pulled an old jacket out of the trunk.
I crawled into the driver’s seat, and before we were a mile up the road, I felt myself becoming physically ill from the odor. But I couldn’t show my disgust or this girl would think I was rejecting her. As if sensing my dilemma, she said, “I’m sorry I smell so bad. I can even smell myself.”
“We’ll get you cleaned up as soon as we get you home,” I promised her.
Before we got there, I suggested we cut off the air and roll down the windows. Thankfully she agreed.
Uneasiness swept over me. What if the girls don’t receive her? What if they say something inappropriate and Tammy is destroyed? As I pulled in the driveway and got out of the car, the girls were waiting at the door. I had told them I was going to pick someone up, but I feared they would not be prepared for this. Thankfully the Holy Spirit had breathed upon their spirits. I love to watch Him work.
As Tammy took her first steps into Mercy Ministries, she was embraced by examples of unconditional love. For a moment she stood at the doorway, taking in the new surroundings. One by one the girls introduced themselves, and their compassion was evident.
Tammy again apologized for her odor. “I really am sorry I smell this way,” she whispered as she lowered her head.
Sensing her uneasiness, the girls took her hand and led her down the hall.
As the voices trailed off and the girls disappeared into the bathroom, I could hear them offering everything from towels and clothes to shampoo. The conviction I had felt earlier swept over me again. I was supposed to be doing that. After all, wasn’t I the one who stood before congregations night after night telling of the unconditional love we offer here?
But I had not even wanted this girl in my car. That day, as I saw the love of God manifested in its purest form, I realized that the message preached at Mercy Ministries was working. Today it had preached to me.
As I lay in bed that night, the events of the day kept replaying in my head. The girls had not hesitated to touch Tammy’s filthiness, and God has not hesitated to touch ours. I realized the lesson the body of Christ (especially I) could learn from seeing what I had seen that day. If we, the church, could learn to love the seemingly unlovable, our witness would be limitless.
The Mission of the Church
Tammy’s story and others like hers are firm reminders to me that it is not enough for us preach a message, pass out tracts or visit door-to-door to evangelize a neighborhood, though those activities may be the specific calling of some individual Christians. The church is commissioned to do works far surpassing these.
The church is called to do the work of Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry He did more than preach a message; He reached out to a hurting and sinful people. In one of His first sermons, Jesus said He was sent not only to preach the gospel to the poor but also to heal the brokenhearted and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18).
And that is exactly what He did.
Jesus fed the hungry (John 6:1-12) and gave drink to the thirsty (John 2:1-10). He exalted the lowly (Matt. 11:25). He consoled the mourning (Luke 24:36). He forgave the criminal (Luke 23:43). He released the captive (Mark 5:1-20). He comforted the imprisoned (Luke 4:18). He restored the fallen (John 21:15-19). He fellowshiped with the outsider (Luke 15:2). He suffered for the sake of His people (Rom. 4:25). He died for us (Rom. 5:8).
Not only does the Bible reveal that Jesus ministered to the needs of the people around Him, but it also points out a special group to whom Christ especially ministered.
As Jesus was touring the countryside with His 12 disciples, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven, several women went along (Luke 8:1-3). Until they met Jesus, these women had suffered from physical diseases and demonic possession. As a result of His work in their lives, they were not only restored but also privileged to proclaim the reality of Jesus Christ. One of them, Mary Magdalene, was honored by being the first to see and announce that Christ had risen (John 20:11-18).
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was actively involved in ministering to people in need through works of compassion. It also demonstrates that the hurt in the broken lives of women was close to His heart.
But that was only the beginning.
Jesus told the disciples, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also” (John 14:12). He commanded the church to follow the example of His ministry by not merely sharing a message of mercy but also demonstrating mercy through their deeds.
And that is what they did.
In the New Testament members of the church performed the same deeds as Christ. They fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty (Acts 11:27-30). They exalted the lowly (1 Cor. 1:26–31). They consoled the mourning (Acts 20:9-12). They forgave the criminal (Acts 9:26-30). They released the captive (Acts 16:16-18). They comforted the imprisoned (Acts 16:25). They restored the fallen (2 Cor. 2:5-9). They fellowshiped with the outsider (Acts 11:1-18). They suffered for the sake of God’s people (Col. 1:24).
The apostles reorganized the very structure of the early church by adding new offices to sustain widows (Acts 6:1-7). They understood that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Because of their experience in godly living, the church gave the women a special teaching ministry (1 Tim. 5:9-10; Titus 2:3-5).
It is clear in Scripture that from its inception the church was actively involved in ministering to a hurting world. It is also plain that the broken lives of women were of special concern to these servants of Christ.
We who follow Jesus Christ and are part of His church are charged with continuing to carry out Christ’s Great Commission in the midst of our present crisis. We must not only share the gospel with our words; we must also address with our actions the hurts and needs that confront us daily. We, not the government, are commanded to support the unwed mothers. We, not the government, are commanded to release the young women in bondage to drug addiction, promiscuity, and other sins. We, not the government, are commanded to bring young women into the embrace of eternal life. We, not the government, are commanded to bring restoration to broken lives. We, not the government, are commanded to be the hands, the feet, and the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ to the world today.
The Heart of the Great Commission
As the people of God and the followers of Jesus Christ, the church is called to bring the message of salvation to those enslaved by sin. This mission means more than merely sharing a message, as important as that is. According to Scripture, the disciples were given broader instructions: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Clearly, the heart of the Great Commission is not just evangelism; it is also discipleship. Though salvation from sin is an essential element of the gospel, it also includes “‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’” (Matt. 28:20). The Lord has charged His church not only with the task of planting seeds but also with the duty and privilege of being used by Him to make sure that what is planted grows to maturity and bears much fruit (1 Cor. 3:6-9.) Just as Christians are called to apply the gospel to their lives, so they are called to teach others to do likewise. We have the responsibility to lay a foundation on which godly lives can be built.
It is up to us. There is no one else.
Nancy Alcorn spent the first eight years of her career working at a correctional facility for juvenile delinquent girls and later investigating child abuse cases. Out of this experience came a driving passion to help broken girls that led Alcorn in 1983 to found Mercy Ministries, a free-of-charge, Christian residential program for girls ages 13 to 28. Her book Echoes of Mercy, from which this article was adapted, chronicles her journey of transforming lives, as does her latest release, Mission of Mercy (Charisma House). To learn more about Mercy Ministries, visit MercyMinistries.com.