In the weeks and months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the news reports showed extensive damage. The number of people without power remained stubbornly high. United Methodists in GNJ prayed and donated funds. They assembled UMCOR cleaning buckets and organized supplies through the GNJ effort “Esperanza for Puerto Rico.” Having lived through Superstorm Sandy, Greater New Jersey knew the importance of having companions in the journey toward recovery and wanted to help.
Feeling the Christian impulse to be incarnational, people asked, “How can we go to be alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ in Puerto Rico?” The answer to that question has not been simple. With the desire to follow the second of John Wesley’s ‘Three Simple Rules’ – “Do Good” – GNJ has to also taken care to follow the first – “Do No Harm.”
“We needed to make sure that our partners, the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, remained in charge of their own recovery,” said Brittany Rusk, GNJ’s UMVIM Coordinator. “While UMCOR was consulting from the beginning and while Bishop Schol and others went to the island in December to offer lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, it was up to Bishop Hector Ortiz and his team to develop their own strategy for organizing the recovery effort.”
“We needed to be sure that we would not become the disaster after the disaster,” said Tom Lank, Northeastern Jurisdiction Volunteers in Mission Coordinator. “Disaster-affected communities only have so much capacity to receive, house, feed, transport and supervise volunteers. The last thing we want to do is place more of a burden on the community. We needed to be sure that there was a reliable supply chain for the resources that volunteers would need in the reconstruction effort. Due to logistical concerns that was difficult for several months. Thankfully, those problems seem to have been resolved.”
In January, the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico released its guidelines for receiving volunteers. Some of the highlights are:
- Teams be no more than 14 people
- Team members needed to be at least 18 years old
- All team members needed to have Safe Sanctuaries certification
- Duration of the trip should be 7-8 days with no Sunday travel
- Due to lack of access to electricity, the climate, and terrain, team members should all be in good physical condition and not reliant on refrigerated medicines or electrical devices like CPAP machines
- Housing would be bunkhouse-style through Methodist camp and retreat facilities throughout the island
- Translators and meals will be provided by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico
- The full guidelines can be downloaded here.
Initially, trained Early Response Teams were invited (February-April), with the expectation that regular rebuilding teams would be scheduled later.
The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico has now opened up scheduling to all teams, regardless of ERT training. They have capacity to host five to six teams at any one time and are currently scheduling teams from Fall 2018 forward.
“Remember, a storm of this magnitude will require volunteers for up to ten years,” said Rusk. “As United Methodists, we need to be committed for the long-haul.”
If you or your church are interested in serving in Puerto Rico, the first step is to contact Brittany Rusk, GNJ UMVIM Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an individual or do not have enough people to make a full team, she can connect you with other like-minded people in GNJ to combine forces.
Rusk will provide a link to fill out an “Intent to Serve” form that will help our partners in Puerto Rico assess where and when to deploy you. You will be contacted by the U.S.-based scheduler, Jason Frazer. Once he is certain that you are able to meet the criteria set by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, he will work with the scheduler on the island to firm up your dates and venue for service. From that point on, your team will be handled by Bishop Ortiz’s team in Puerto Rico.
Some GNJ churches, pastors, and laypeople have pre-existing relationships with churches in Puerto Rico. If you plan to arrange your own visit directly with a local church, please make sure you still connect through the system and notify Rusk of what you are doing. Circumventing the system that the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico has put in place can strain already scarce resources and create unnecessary competition within their conference.
Do I need a passport?
No. Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory and its citizens are U.S. citizens. You do not need a passport to visit, and Puerto Ricans do not need a passport to come to the mainland.
How much will it cost?
It depends on the size of your team, but a ballpark figure would be $1,000-$1,250 per person, assuming $500 roundtrip airfare.
Can I bring my youth mission team?
Not yet. The current guidelines only allow for team members 18 years and older. As the recovery progresses, this guideline may change.
Do I need specific skills?
All team members are welcome as long as they meet the criteria of the MCPR. However, certain skills are highly valued such as masonry, roofing, electrical, and particularly the ability to work with metal roof trusses.