LA VILLA, TX (March 11, 2010) – As members of Evangelical Covenant churches focus on helping the survivors of recent disasters, much work remains to be done to help the denomination’s oldest Spanish-speaking congregation rebuild two years after Hurricane Dolly ripped apart the area.
In July 2008, Dolly shredded La Villa when the storm seemed to stall over the region. The church was heavily damaged and the homes of several families were destroyed.
A week following the disaster, Midsouth Conference Superintendent Garth Bolinder said of church members, “They are working heroically to take care of their own needs, as well as to help their community. Pastor Allan Serrano has been a special encouragement, going throughout the town to listen to people, pray with people and help them figure out some next steps.”
The congregation had to decide whether their next steps included tearing down their own heavily damaged building, which could not be permanently repaired. Instead they have made temporary repairs while hoping to construct a new facility.
The need for a new building has increased because the church actually has experienced a huge revival since the storm, largely as a result of the way in which the congregation has continued to minister to the community, Serrano says. Attendance has skyrocketed from 50 to 200 people.
Those attending the church, which formed in 1950, used to come only from La Villa. Now people come from 10 different communities, including Monterey, Mexico, Serrano says. “We are packed out every Sunday. There is not enough room for everyone.”
Mission teams from several churches have helped to rebuild the homes of two families.
“What we saw and experienced on this trip was many people using what God has given them, by his grace, to be the living sacrifices God desires us to be,” Steve Pederson, pastor of Zion Covenant Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, told his congregation in a sermon after nine members of his church returned from working in the small town. “And in doing so we learned from each other, and together were brought closer to Christ.”
Other Covenant churches that have assisted include Westmoore Community Covenant Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Brookwood Covenant Church in Topeka, Kansas; and Evangelical Covenant Church of Stromsburg, Nebraska.
More work needs to be done. One family of 12 continues to share two rooms in a trailer, says Serrano. The family is one of many that include believers who have come to faith since the hurricane.
Dale Lusk, director of Covenant Merge Ministries, says obstacles also must be overcome to provide houses for such families. “They’re living in a trailer that’s really not habitable, but they don’t have options right now,” he explains, noting that the trailer is on land they don’t own. “If we were to build them a house, where would that be?”
Constructing homes will cost approximately $30,000 each, if volunteer labor is used, Lusk says.
A little over $2,000 has been donated to help the rebuilding effort, says Lusk. Anyone wanting to contribute financially can send gifts to Covenant Mission Connection, 5101 N. Francisco Ave., Chicago, IL, 60625. Donors should make the checks payable to the Evangelical Covenant Church and write “La Villa Relief Project” on the memo line.
Lusk says construction work would be similar to a “Habitat for Humanity” project. Churches interested in helping should contact Lusk by email or call 956-458-9568.
Thanks to insurance, the church has been able to purchase land on which it can construct its own building as well as athletic fields to attract more youth. At least 55 of the 200 people who attend the church are teenagers, says Serrano, adding that the sports outreach has been important.
The church also has started a program to teach young people music, which also has been successful, Serrano says.