When disasters happen domestically—whether fire, flooding, or mudslides —Love Mercy Do Justice works with local partners to help communities with short-term relief and long-term recovery. And Merge organizes short-term mission trips through Serve Globally so Covenanters can go and serve.
How did Merge become involved with disaster relief and recovery?
Cecilia Williams: With the growth of Love Mercy Do Justice and our added capacity, we consulted with Covenant World Relief and Serve Globally, and together we determined that domestic disaster response would transition away from CWR to LMDJ. This provides a clear opportunity for the denomination to support directly affected regional conferences and local churches, and to serve their efforts as they reach out to their affected and suffering neighbors. Domestic disaster response helps to center the church’s outreach in relationship-building with its community (providing pathways potentially for ongoing community development) through meeting felt needs and providing immediate relief, care, spiritual guidance, and recovery.
We received a grant to get started, and as we have undertaken projects the Covenant has responded in the most generous way—giving $1.4 million last year
to disaster relief.
The piece that challenged us was how to get boots on the ground. How do we provide a coordinated effort to get people to the disaster site? This is where Merge came in. After Hurricane Harvey hit, Dale Lusk and the Merge team willingly came to the table and asked what it could look like if Merge partnered with LMDJ. Since Dale and his team are experienced in organizing mission trips and know how to handle the logistics, it is a perfect fit. Merge has provided churches an on-ramp to minister to their own communities in crisis with the full support of the Covenant behind them.
When a disaster occurs, what does Merge do?
Dale Lusk: There are four aspects of addressing a disaster. First, there is rescue, which we are not skilled or trained to do. However, the next three parts—response, relief, and recovery—are all areas we can participate in. For instance, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, we began to organize teams of people within a week or so. We coordinated with the eight local Covenant churches to connect with people in need. It was 24 hours a day for three weeks.
Between November 2017 and last October, a total of 334 individuals from 24 churches and two universities (including North Park) participated in rebuilding projects in Houston through the partnership between LMDJ, the Midsouth Conference, and Merge. We cleaned out and helped rebuild more than 100 homes through these volunteers.
Christine Moolo: One of our big questions has been how to help in areas where we don’t yet have social capital, where we do not have churches or pastors to coordinate with. How can we serve in areas like New Bern, North Carolina, that was devastated by Hurricane Florence last fall? Collaboration with other organizations, such as World Renew, an ecumenical nonprofit, keeps us connected with doing what is most needed and most effective. World Renew handles case management and through them we can coordinate where our teams will go. They also create connections with long-term rebuilding organizations that oversee rebuilding operations. When we collaborate with other expert organizations, we are better positioned to serve those in need in the wake of disaster.
In what other areas has the Covenant been able to serve?
Dale: In addition to Houston and North Carolina we are working with the Covenant Church of Mexico to help rebuild homes in the Tetela del Volcán area after the earthquake there in September 2017. Many families are still in dire need of help.
We are learning as we go and hope that many Covenanters will partner with us in responding to disaster around the country. We are there long after the disaster is out of the news and are committed to serving these communities as long as they need us.