Nancy Alcorn, the 47-year-old founding director of Mercy Ministries, is sitting in her suburban Nashville office holding a framed paintingand beaming. It's a simple watercolor of a ballerina painted by a girl living in one of the Mercy homes, part of the ministry Nancy established to help girls ages 13-28 who struggle with eating disorders, abuse, addictions, and unwed pregnancy. There's something about the paintingthe innocence of this young dancer, her arms reaching heavenwardthat prompted Nancy to have it framed to hang in her office. Perhaps it's that this hopeful image came from the brush strokes of a teen who had been impregnated by her sexually abusive father, the same man who beat her body into aborting the baby when he discovered she was going to have his child. Despite this young woman's traumatic circumstances, through Mercy Ministries she's discovering the healing that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Nancy's seen enough such stories of God's redeeming mercy to fill a hundred office walls.
But she hasn't always had the joy of seeing such hope come from such dire circumstances. Before the launch of Mercy Ministries, which celebrates its 20th anniversary of transforming young women's lives this spring, Nancy spent five years as the athletic director at a Tennessee correctional facility for juvenile delinquent girls. Following that, she supervised foster care in Nashville for three years. In these government-run programs, Nancy saw girls involved in prostitution, drug use, abuse, and crime return to their destructive patterns as soon as they were released from custody. As a Christian, Nancy knew that because she wasn't allowed by the government to offer these girls the only source of true transformationJesusshe couldn't get to the root cause of their illegal actions.
Tired of not being able to share the saving Truth that ended her own teenage rebellionincluding a five-year battle with bulimia Nancy left government-run services to become director of women for the Nashville branch of faith-based Teen Challenge. There she sensed God lead her to launch a ministry for young women caught in destructive habits and homes. Armed only with a $1,000 going-away gift from Teen Challenge, Nancy moved to Monroe, Louisiana, where she sensed God calling her. She was sure of four things: The ministry was to refuse government funding so she'd be free to share the gospel; she was to tithe on all contributions to the ministry; she was to take in girls free of charge so they'd know the only motivation for reaching out to them was God's unconditional love; and, somehow, God would silence skeptics by providing for Mercy Ministries' every need.