This beautiful testimony of House of Pearls founder, Terry Merritt, explains how House of Pearls was born.
Testimony of Chaplain Terry Merritt
The greatest sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. “God, you will gladly accept a heart that is broken because of sadness over sin.” Psalm 51:17
My name is Terry Merritt and I was raised in Charlotte, NC. My childhood was very difficult as my father had a drinking problem and he was very abusive to my mom, my brothers and me. My mom always took us to church and I came to know the Lord at an early age. I married at a young age, was very active in the church, and had three beautiful children. After 14 years of marriage my husband and I divorced, and I continued to be active in the church and raise my children.
Approximately 30 years ago my stepfather Buck Moses was murdered in Charlotte. Several months later, 3 men were arrested for the murder. One was a habitual felon Andrea, and one was an 18-year-old boy named Bernard. This trial was much like you see on TV, very dramatic. Andrea turned states evidence (he received 7 years, serving 3. He testified against Bernard his cousin. The DA was going for the death penalty for Bernard. The Lord worked on me during the trial and I had much compassion for this young man and I prayed he would not receive the death penalty. Instead of the death penalty, Bernard received life in prison.
In 1988 I attended at breakfast at the Methodist Church and Rev. Al Lewis, with Covenant Prison Ministry was speaking about the prison ministry. I was interested and shortly after attended a revival service at the prison in Charlotte. Over the next 2 years I ministered at the prison on occasion with the Bible Study Covenant did and went on several Crusade services in Columbia and at other prisons. I did not have my full heart in it as my youngest daughter had ran away and there were literally months that went by where I did not know where she was or if she was alive. In 1991 I had a head on collision receiving several broken ribs, a broken nose, and a closed head injury causing me to loose my short-term memory. Several weeks after my wreck the Lord spoke to me and told me he had saved me and to go about His business, doing his work. I knew he was speaking to me about the prison ministry and from that point on I have been ministering every chance I got.
Years later while ministering at Charlotte Correctional (CCC) some of the men encouraged me to contact Bernard and offer forgiveness to him. They stated you could not forgive yourself unless you were forgiven. I sent Bernard a letter and received a less than encouraging letter back. He stated he was practicing Islam and he was fairly cool to me. I felt as if I had done what the Lord had directed and moved on. During the years I spoke to several officials at the prison concerning Bernard’s whereabouts and asked them to let me know when and if he was being brought to Charlotte Correctional. I did not want to run into him on the yard at CCC without knowing. Also during this time, the Superintendent of CCC spoke to me about Bernard, he had come from the prison were Bernard was and told me Bernard was a great guy and had made a lot of changes in his life.
In 1997 Pastor Dom Duarte and myself began teaching “Life Skills” to inmates at the Union County Jail. This is a 7 week program where men are taught the basics for living in today’s world as a Godly man.Early in 2000 the Lord began speaking to me about going further into the calling He had been bringing me to, that of a Pastor to my flock, the volunteers and those in the jails and prisons. I spoke to both the Pastor of my church and the Pastor at the CPM, Rev. Al Lewis, and they confirmed the Lord’s urging and I was ordained in March of 2000. I would later see how the Lord had been preparing me all along! In late October of 2000 I received a call from the prison programmer stating Bernard was on the list to come to CCC on October 31st. He said if I did not want him to come to CCC to let him know. I told him I was glad he had earned his way to CCC and I would not object. Of course this conversation opened up a lot pain and several sleepless nights.Two weeks later I came to CCC on a Tuesday night for Eagles Fellowship. During praise and worship I felt the Holy Spirit telling me Bernard was in the room. I checked the roster and he was not there. A little later I asked one of the guys if Bernard was there. He said Bernard had just came into the room and I went over again and checked the inmate roster, the last name listed was Bernard . . . I cannot tell you the feelings that came over me, I felt faint. I began to pray and in a few minutes I went over to him and introduced myself.; He was very friendly, kind of quiet, and I went back over to my seat and began the Bible study at my table. During the study he came over to me and asked a few questions such as how my mom was, etc. I noticed during the study how well read he was concerning the Bible.
Thus began our journey into both of our healing. Over the next week or so I had to cover myself in prayer each night as Satan was trying to put nightmares about Buck’s death and about the anguish my mom and the family had suffered, into my sleep patterns.
After a few months, Bernard came up for parole and members of my family were on a campaign to keep him in the prison and asked me to write a letter also. Of course I did not, instead I prayed for God’s will to be done for Bernard. His parole was denied and he was later released in 2009.
My mother had remarried about 20 years ago to a wonderful man named Richard Ruth. I have let Richard as well as my brothers know about my correspondence with Bernard. They do not understand, but they respect my decision. I have not shared this “family secret” with Buck’s family. I know without a doubt that my mother would also extend forgiveness to Bernard, as she was the most loving and forgiving person I have ever known.
There is no doubt in my mind that 20 years ago when I began this journey of ministry, God was preparing me for these times of hurt and pain for both those incarcerated and those on the outside.
I am very thankful that God is continuing to grow me up in His knowledge to be able to extend the hand of Christ to the hurting people of the world. God’s love for me has been ever present for me over the past few years during my dad’s blindness and ultimate death. I have spent a lifetime trying to get approval from my dad and instead I received anger and distain for the things of the Lord. As my dad’s blindness became worse the Lord started working a healing in my dad and in his last year he prayed the sinners’ prayer, and though I did not see much fruit I stood on this decision. The last few months of my father’;s life, we grew closer and a week before he died, he told me he loved me and hugged me.& I finally received his approval, hallelujah.
The Lord has helped me pass His love and forgiveness to many others while working at the UCJ as one of the Chaplains for 15 years since I have been in full-time ministry. It is not by my hand, but His hand through me that this love and forgiveness can be extended! Only God could have changed Bernard. Only God could have changed me and given me the ability to genuinely forgive Bernard. To Him be all honor and praise.
In 2006, a group of men and women began meeting and praying about opening a halfway house for ladies in the Union County area. We met for several months and a couple of years ago we were blessed with a lease for a house for $1.00 a year for 5 years. We have been working on this house and received the proper zoning for a halfway house and the House of Pearls was dedicated and opened on October 4, 2009.
In June of 2009 I left the Union County Jail and am presently working on the House of Pearls. House of Pearls is a 6 month program for ladies who have made wrong choices and want to live a Godly life. Lives are being changed here at House of Pearls and we continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit in the day to day experiences teaching the ladies to become Proverb 31 lady.
We are also doing services in several prisons in the North and South Carolina and I minister to the ladies at the Union Country Jail.
God has brought me to this day to love on people and I believe he has brought me a gift of teaching and guiding others to live a Christ like life in a practical way. I don’t have all the answers but I know Who does and I am excited to see where God may take me, where He leads me I will follow.