Puerto Rico Response – UMCOR Advance Response Team

Puerto Rico Response – UMCOR Advance Response Team


Bishop Hector Ortiz (second from left) of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico meets with members of an UMCOR advance response team, including Rev. Tom Vencuss (second from right) in Puerto Rico. They are working together to develop a strategy for the training and deployment of early response teams.

From Tom Vencuss:
We have seen the photos of destruction. We have read the statistics of homes and businesses affected. We have heard the complaints of delayed services and neglected persons and communities. What we don’t hear about often enough are the positive things that are happening in this recovery effort. Over the past six days I have had the opportunity to be part of an UMCOR Advance Response Team, meeting with Bishop Hector Ortiz, local churches, and a leadership team from the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico,  working together to develop a volunteer response plan that will assist the church for both the short and  long-term recovery.  

As we traveled from San Juan to the southeast coast, the central mountains, and the northwest, Bishop Ortiz commented, “Everywhere you go you see the effects of the hurricane." There is not a location or community which has not been affected. Now, some 60 days out, power lines remain down so many areas remain without electricity, businesses have closed, more than 20 percent of schools have yet to re-open, and hundreds are leaving the country daily. The Bishop estimates that more than 100,000 have left and he anticipates perhaps as many as an additional 400,000 to depart – many of whom will not return. 

In our travels, perhaps the most striking and encouraging thing is the proactive approach taken by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) and the local Methodist churches. Receiving aid from UMCOR, FEMA, US-based churches and their own communities, the MCPR has established 16 distribution sites from which emergency supplies (food, water, and health kits) are provided. Five locations serve as many as 230 hot meals a day to the most vulnerable in their communities. The meals are delivered by local volunteers. Seven health clinics have offered assistance, including house visits by physicians and nurses.

In addition, more than 3,000 Upper Room devotionals have been included in grocery bags. The church has stated that in response to this disaster, “We have to 'see the other.' In times like this, the church has to rise up and provide hope.”

The church here has amazing talents, passion, and commitment to this recovery. We are working together to establish a structure that will serve the people for both the short and long-term. It is the expectation that specialized early response teams (ERTs) will soon receive the invitation to be a part of this effort. This information and invitation will be posted as soon as it is available.

In the meantime we continue to support and pray for the people of Puerto Rico and all of the persons affected by this year’s storms, wildfires, and other tragedies. As they have said here, In times like this, the church has to rise up and provide hope.