Merge Sees Growth in Local Church Mission Trips

Post a Comment » Written on September 9th, 2008     
Filed under: News
MCALLEN, TX (September 9, 2008) – Dale Lusk, executive director of Covenant Merge Ministries, says he is excited by several trends developing among congregations working with the ministry to do mission work.

Merge, a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church Department of World Mission, coordinates one and two-week mission trips throughout the world.

“Teams are wanting to develop long-term partnerships with communities and focus more on development projects,” says Lusk. “Fourteen of the churches we worked with this year either have developed a partnership, or are developing an international partnership, with Merge as their guide.

“More teams also are willing to go to countries other than Mexico.” This year, 41 percent of the teams went to countries outside of that country. Previously, the most projects outside of Mexico accounted for 26 percent of the trips.

The other top three countries this year were Dominican Republic (13 percent), Guatemala (11 percent), and Jamaica (7 percent).

For the first time in Merge’s history, California was one of the top three states to send teams with Merge, Lusk says. The other two were Michigan and Minnesota, which have been in the top three for five consecutive years.

Four other states sent more teams than ever: Massachusetts (84), Oregon (47), and Connecticut (44). Alaska sent a team for the first time.

Lusk says activities by the teams has been increasingly creative:
•    A gerontologist met with families and the elderly
•    A team taught Tae Kwon Do for the first time
•    One team took 50 children on a weekend retreat and had a balloon ministry with them and another went on a youth retreat with young adults
•    For the first time, a team ministered in a juvenile prison
•    Two teams worked with local youth groups to develop a drama ministry

Teams also are joining in ministries that have proved fruitful, Lusk says. “More teams are wanting to serve in schools. We had teams work with over 2,300 students this year teaching conversational English, science, art, Bible, and physical education.”

Other types of ministries also saw an increase in participation. “We had more medical personnel than usual, including a dental team, first-aid training, and optometrists,” Lusk says. “A couple of teams taught quilting, knitting and sewing to women in the community.”

Between January and August, 1,028 people participated in trips, Lusk says. “This is exactly in line with the previous pre-CHIC year of 2005, when there were 1,025 participants at this time.” The 15-year-old ministry set a record last year with 1,324 participants.

“What is remarkable to us is how we were able to maintain our numbers in a year when economics have caused many other mission organizations and camps to have huge drop-offs in numbers,” Lusk says. “Many teams were smaller than they originally thought, and some cancelled. However, we still did well.”

So far this year, 49 churches have participated in 54 trips. A college ministry, a private high school and two parachurch ministries also have worked with Merge.

The teams worked in Texas and 10 countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Spain.

They ministered at sites that included 40 churches; eight community ministries, including drug and alcohol rehab clinics and ministries to women; six children’s homes, six schools, two church plants and two prisons. The teams also worked alongside Covenant missionaries in Monterrey, Mexico, La Plata, Argentina, and A Coruña, Spain.

More than 11,500 people have participated in trips coordinated by Merge over the last 15 years, Lusk says.

Working with Merge will better ensure the trips benefit host communities and church groups, Lusk says. Merge staff trains teams from each of the churches on how to work with different cultures as well as all other aspects of the trip. The ministry also works with hosts on how to best work with the church groups.

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