Conference VIM team brings recovery aid to Puerto Rico

By John W. Coleman

The first Eastern PA Conference Volunteers in Mission team to work onsite helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria is there this week restoring a home in Arecibo. The nine-member, clergy and lay team, from seven churches, including one Lutheran church, arrived Saturday, Nov. 3, worshiped on Sunday at La Roca Methodist Church in Camuy, and began their labors on Monday morning.

The interracial team—with white, black and Latino members—is replacing a damaged roof, removing drywall ceilings infected with black mold, removing extensive debris, and other tasks. They are lodging at a Methodist camp, along with two other United Methodist teams. They are rushing to complete their tasks by Friday and will return to Eastern PA early Saturday morning.

Led by the Rev. Nicholas Camacho, the team arrived bearing gifts: first, a $96,105 check to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (IMPR—Iglesia Metodista de Puerto Rico) from funds raised all year by the Eastern PA Conference through gifts and offerings. While the bulk of it will support the IMPR’s overall, extensive recovery efforts across the island, $5,105 is to be used specifically for critical, unfunded work being done by La Roca Methodist Church in Camuy.

The team worshiped with La Roca’s congregation, highlighted by celebrative music and dance and  Camacho’s rousing sermon on “Hope.” They then presented the check to Carmen Ana Perez, Executive Assistant to IMPR Bishop Hector Ortiz, who was attending the UMC’s Council of Bishops meeting in the U.S.

REHACE, the IMPR’s “social outreach ministries” arm is managing recovery work in three broad regions  of the island, with an expanded local staff, supplies and other resources funded by UMCOR. REHACE stands for Rehacienda Communidades Esperanza (Rebuilding Communities of Hope). Agency staff gave the Eastern PA team a full orientation and onsite guidance, support and supervision, as they have for all visiting mission teams from conferences and churches. Individuals and teams from area churches are also participating in the lengthy recovery undertaking.

Teams from the North Carolina Conference and St. Mark’s UMC in Lincoln, Nebraska, are sharing lodging and meals with Eastern PA’s team at Camp Cumbres del Calvario (Summit of Calvary) in Arecibo, one of three Methodist camps in Puerto Rico.

This is the first conference-wide VIM (Volunteers in Mission) to respond to Puerto Rico’s devastation from Hurricane Maria, which struck in September 2017. Previous teams have gone there from Chiques UMC in Mount Joy, New Hanover UMC in Gilbertsville, and Lampeter UMC in Lancaster.

Funds donated to the recovery effort came from the conference-wide Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again campaign, including District-wide donations and love offerings received at Annual Conference and in local churches.

(We will report more information and observations about this historic conference mission adventure in the coming weeks and in the fall issue NEWSpirit.)

Team Members: Nicolas Camacho (West Lawn UMC), John Coleman (Servants of Christ, Philadelphia), David Page (West Lawn UMC), German Rodriguez Barrial (New Creation UMC), David L. Dempsey (Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bechtelsville), Shauna K. Ridge (Thorndale UMC), Wilbert Labriola (Thorndale UMC), Lee N. Kentner (Hopewell UMC), Herbert Coe (St. Daniel’s UMC, Chester).

Photos by John W. Coleman.