By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 5, 2011) – Merge Ministries, a ministry of the Department of World Mission that has helped coordinate mission trips to numerous foreign countries, has added another country to its list of sites – the United States.
The addition is in part a reaction to the hesitancy of people to travel to other countries, especially Mexico. “As the U.S. economy soured and the violence in Mexico increased, we noticed a plateauing of our number of participants on trips with Merge,” says Dale Lusk, executive director. “Ever since we plateaued in 2008, the numbers have declined.”
In 2010, Lusk met with his mentor, Dean Hovey, who designed the computer mouse for Steve Jobs at Apple some 30 years ago. “Since I was in high school, Dean has mentored me on many aspects of ministry and leadership. At the time we met, he challenged me to start thinking domestically when considering mission trip locations.
“There are plenty of ministry opportunities here in the States,” he said. “The world is coming to us. The population is becoming more diverse. You need to think out of your ‘international trips’-only box and adapt to a new situation,” Lusk recalls.
That eventually led to the formation of Merge USA, which will provide unique opportunities for Covenant churches to minister alongside others in community changing ministries, says Lusk.
“Our vision is to partner Covenant churches with Covenant churches,” says Lusk. “This falls in line with the whole denominational vision of ‘in it together.’ What could be better than encouraging other Covenant churches in their ongoing ministries than bringing in an enthusiastic group of people to partner with them in ministry for a week!”
“The plan is to partner with churches, not do ministry for them,” Lusk says. “As much as possible, the plan is to bring teams to participate in what a local church is already doing, or help a local church be able to start something new they have always wanted to do. Sometimes you just need the numbers to be able to do it.”
The combined ministry would be different than what frequently occurs when churches work together. “Instead of helping a church with ministry inside their four walls, the idea is to partner with Covenant churches involved in their communities in outreach and social justice,” says Lusk.
“We won’t be building new Sunday school rooms. We will be in the community with Covenant churches doing ministry,” Lusk adds. “We also are not interested in doing token ministry with the community. We are interested in churches hoping to further the kingdom of God by making a long-term impact on their communities in various ways, including economic, spiritual and psychological.”
The trips will be organized and run by individuals in the community in which the ministry will take place. The host church will designate a trip facilitator. “Merge will consider these leaders as part of the Merge staff, and all will be included in training and oversight that all Merge staff receive,” says Lusk. They also will receive the support of the Merge USA coordinator, Jen DeCastro, who is currently raising funds to be a short-term Covenant missionary.
Merge USA will provide trips for more than youth groups, which is what most U.S.-based trip organizations do,” says Lusk. “This is an opportunity for an entire church to participate.”
Lusk says he hopes the mission trips will bring churches across the country closer together and develop a greater sense of shared ministry. It gives people a lower-cost opportunity to make an impact for the kingdom of God in a location outside of their own community, and gives local ministry the boost and encouragement needed to continue on in their call.
Several host locations already have been picked. “I have found great enthusiasm for this new venture in the host churches,” says Lusk.
Following are opportunities currently available:
- La Villa Covenant Church in South Texas – the Spanish-speaking congregation has a growing ministry to low-income Hispanic communities of the Rio Grande Valley.
- Walk of Faith Covenant Church in the Mississippi Delta community of Mound Bayou – the congregation ministers to low-income black communities.
- First Covenant Church in Anchorage, Alaska – the congregation ministers to the inner-city population, especially to indigenous people groups. Merge USA began working with the congregation last year and helped it develop a ministry that provides dorm rooms to students from the bush who otherwise would have left school to return home because city campus life was too overwhelming.
- Four Covenant churches in San Francisco, California – located in the city, the congregations include multiethnic, Hispanic and Asian ministries.
- La Vina Covenant Church in Kerman, California – the Spanish-speaking church ministers to the primarily Mexican migrant population in the area.
- Multiple congregations in Los Angeles, California – the churches minister to low-income and ethnic communities.
- Keystone Center of Life Covenant Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – the congregation ministers to the community of Hazelwood, which is a primarily black neighborhood. The church has a YouTube channel that highlights some of its ministry.
Contacts are being made with potential locations in other cities across the country, Lusk says. For more information, email Lusk. An interview with Lusk about Merge Ministries can be found on Covchurch.tv.