Q&A with Paul Mershak, Country Director for Tearfund in Nigeria

Our series of Q&As with country directors continues with Paul Mershak, who is based in Nigeria and has worked for Tearfund for seven years. He shares his thoughts on what motivates him to tackle the many challenges facing his country, why he was encouraged by responses to a recent project and where he would like to see more change.

Paul Mershak Photo: Tom Price

How and why did you start working for Tearfund? 

I started working for Tearfund in 2012 as project manager for Improving Parent and Child Outcome (IMPACT). I became Nigerian Country Director in 2016. Tearfund’s focus, vision and mission for a poverty and conflict-free world is my basic motivation to work. 

Nigeria is one of the most fragile states in a fragile region. I hope that through my work for Tearfund I can play a part in making Nigeria more stable. My work is helping me to achieve my basic calling to serve people in need. A working environment so filled with Jesus’s love and devotion has stimulated me to put in my best at all levels of service. 

What are the key challenges you are facing in your country? 

  • Nigeria’s increased fragility 
  • Nigeria’s increasingly poor governance and a rise in the number of people who are poor despite Tearfund’s effort over the years  
  • Fundraising fatigue from humanitarian donors 
  • Increased use of leathers and plastics blocking drains in towns 
  • Flooding as a result of global warming and excessive rains 
  • The staff team has expanded from six people to 26 since 2016. This introduces new challenges in terms of team management 

Can you tell us about a recent project running in your country that has encouraged you? 

As part of a Church and Community Mobilisation Process (CCMP), a recent envisioning and training by the Abuja chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria went really well. We had waited about seven years to deliver this project. Here are some of their testimonies: 

“I am a bishop but had lost hope in ministry after my branches were affected by insecurity, but now this CCMP has given me hope to move on and to make impacts in both the community and the church.” 

“When I came in yesterday, I was wondering what brought me among these low-class facilitators, but now I must testify that the Lord wants to shape me for a better ministry. Thank God that He allowed me to stay to the end. I will not only send pastors for the training, I will be a trainee as well.” 

People in my state are perishing out of ignorance. Please come and train the churches. I will mobilise 14 churches in 11 communities for CCMP training.” 

“I used to think someone must lay hands on you for an anointing to fall on you. But the CCMP facilitators have shown me that anointing can come through training. I am not just restless but disturbed that I have wasted time on things that are not relevant. I didn’t sleep last night.”

Reverend Emmanuel and members of the environmental committee of the CCMP team at ECWA Gospel Church plant young trees in Kaduna State, Nigeria. Photo: Tom Price

‘The main lesson we have learnt as a team is that God’s timing is the best for any activity, though it’s good to plan.’

What practical advice would you give to others who might be starting out in this type of work? 

The main lesson we have learnt as a team is that God’s timing is the best for any activity, though it's good to plan. My advice is to plan and trust God for his approval. Do not try to open a door where God has not given the key for you to open and enter. 

Which areas are you focusing on in your work? 

As a priority, we want to increase our response to the following three areas:  

  • Youth unrest – through our peacebuilding work with an approach that promotes vocational skills acquisition 
  • Emergencies and humanitarian issues in the north-east and north-central geopolitical zones of the country 
  • Youth drug addiction issues 

Are you introducing any new technology into your work? 

We are using mobile phones to improve our response to maternal health issues. And we are providing solar power in homes, especially in villages, in collaboration with CCMP and projects that strengthen environmental and economic sustainability (EES).

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