10/15/10 — MERCI Center adds chapel to disaster relief center

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MERCI Center adds chapel to disaster relief center

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 15, 2010 1:46 PM

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Director Bill DeBruhl poses in the new chapel at the MERCI disaster relief center. The chapel was named for C.A. Dillon and is described as a "refuge" by employees and volunteers at the center.

It's a strange fact that people outside of Goldsboro know more about the MERCI Center than even locals do -- and it's a fact that Director Bill DeBruhl and Volunteer Coordinator Bob Pavone are trying to change.

The MERCI Center, an outreach of the United Methodist Church conference, began in the hectic days after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Many people in eastern North Carolina needed help, whether it was in the form of food, water and clothing or a friend to hold their hand through difficult times.

Seeing a need for future disaster recovery preparation, the MERCI Center continued operating after the hurricane recovery ended, and today stands ready to help anyone, near or far, facing a natural disaster.

The MERCI Center dedicated a brand-new chapel last week, and like the rest of its facility, the chapel was established through the hard work of volunteers.

"Inspired by Jesus Christ to a mission of caring, MERCI seeks to alleviate the suffering of those affected by disaster, poverty or adversity," DeBruhl said, quoting the group's mission statement.

DeBruhl and Pavone took over earlier this year as part of a small team of full-time staff members running the center, after the Raleigh-based 501(c)3 group, Banded Brothers, assumed the MERCI Center management responsibilities.

The chapel will be a big part of the center's mission, which embraces new opportunities for evangelism, Pavone said.

At one time, the old building was used for storage and the roof was caving in, he said. A group of Duke Divinity School students worked hard to clean it up, paint it and make it suitable for worship services. The United Methodist Church conference donated backdrops and other items for the chapel.

The MERCI Center is striving to establish itself as a Bible study retreat center for church groups seeking a place to spend a few days focusing on their faith, Pavone said. Already the chapel has been proven a popular site for at least one group seeking a retreat location, and work is under way to create a conference center at the MERCI facility, too, he said. Facilities on-site can currently host up to 48 people at a time.

The MERCI Center provides a wide variety of services to communities in America and around the world. The center has delivered more than 421,200 pounds of goods - medical kits, linens, infant supplies, tents and tarps, water, food and building supplies - to Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake in the country this January. The center stocks "flood buckets," large plastic buckets filled with emergency supplies, and volunteers even spend time sewing clothing for children facing poverty or disaster. The center has collected and dispersed donated goods to Afghanistan, Iraq, Armenia, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and also responded to the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005.

Another major outreach, the Footprints program, gets young adults involved in disaster relief in a very hands-on way.

"We have them build picnic tables to teach them how to use power tools," Pavone said, pointing out a colorful bench, decorated with rainbow-hued footprints, that a group of the participants built.

Hundreds of students have participated in the Footprints program since it was founded in 2003, and each has left their own "footprint" on the large signs decorating the MERCI Center. Duke University Divinity students run the Footprints program to get their own hands-on practice in what it's like to serve in a leadership position in church work.

One very emotional ongoing outreach is the Footprints "cradle" project.

That's what they call the tiny coffins that the volunteers build for infants and send to hospitals, which often don't have coffins made to fit babies, Pavone said.

The center also trains others to deal with aspects of church life and disaster response. MERCI Center offers early response training, mission support, distribution management, church bus training, safe sanctuary training and advanced and basic leader training. The center offers Spanish-language translations of the training on request.

The MERCI Center is partnered with many outreach organizations to accomplish its mission, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response and many others. Local churches that also dedicate time and effort to helping the mission include St. Luke UMC in Goldsboro, Mt. Carmel UMC in Pikeville, Providence UMC in Dudley, Seven Springs UMC and dozens of others across the state.

In addition to the chapel, the center has many plans for the future, including working on bike trails, a spiritual reflection walking trail, cabins, an amphitheater and retreat center.

The chapel was dedicated to former N.C. State announcer Clyde Alvin "C.A." Dillon Jr.