The scenes and stories from southeast Texas and Louisiana during the past week have been staggering, and communities of faith throughout the country began responding within hours to the devastation experienced by the communities and their residents from Hurricane Harvey.

2017 ERT Training Schedule

Early Response Teams (ERT) fill a specific need in the early days after a disaster to clean out flood-damaged homes, remove debris, place tarps on home, and otherwise help to prevent further damage while providing a caring Christian presence.

ERTs are not the first-response group of emergency workers, nor are they recovery, rebuild, or repair teams. Under very specific guidelines, ERTs assist survivors, without causing further harm or being a burden to the affected community.

The Desert Southwest Conference of the UMC has a very active Disaster Response network and is already in the process of mobilizing ERTs to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. ERTs operate under protocols that require:

  1. ERTs to wait for an invitation from a community before initiating an ERT trip,
  2. have ERT Certified members,
  3. have ERT defined roles and functions.

ERT trips respond to tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. ERTs begin deploying to disaster sites as soon as rescue and emergency services complete their work. Some ERTs fulfill a specific type of need and serve on “chainsaw teams.” Most ERT trips last from 7 to 14 days.

Disaster Response Coordinator Pastor Fred Heggestad and ERT Trainer Polly Turner are coordinating a series of ERT training workshops in September and are also developing plans for several possible ERT trips to southeast Texas in October. Watch for announcements.

There are many types of non-ERT mission trips. Congregations in DSC have conducted challenging, diverse and fulfilling mission trips for decades. Trips have been domestic, international, adult, youth, medical, construction, recovery and rebuilding, and support. Many, many youth groups from DSC have participated in Sierra Service Project trips as well as other youth mission trips to lots of destinations.

In 2016 DSC groups traveled to and worked in Salt Lake City, Guatemala, Lousiana, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colorado, Ethiopia, Kenya, Peru, Mexico, San Diego, Alaska, Tanzania, New Mexico (and LOTS MORE)! 181 youth and 47 adults from 13 congregations served at Sierra Service Project sites.  Many more congregations sponsored youth mission trips and choir trips of all kinds.


While UMVIM trips are common and well-known in other parts of the country, very few trips in Desert Southwest Conference are identified as “UMVIM” trips. But all mission trips sponsored by United Methodist Churches are UMVIM trips.

One of the reasons why mission trips in Texas or Missouri or Georgia are identified as UMVIM trips has to do with insurance. Churches and mission trip leaders in most Conferences have to arrange for insurance for their trips through a vendor, whether the trip is domestic or international. Mission trip insurance has been marketed for decades through Southeast Jurisdiction and more recently through North Central and South Central Jurisdictions. Most trip leaders have arranged their mission trip insurance through those jurisdictions, registering the UMVIM trip in the process.

The Desert Southwest Conference provides a unique gift to its congregations in the form of coverage of all church activities under an Omnibus insurance policy through Church Mutual. So DSC domestic groups do not have to purchase independent insurance and, thus, do not have to register their trips.

Mission trip insurance for international trips is different. It is not included in the Conference’s Omnibus policy. Leaders of international mission trips have historically purchased their trip comprehensive coverage through one of the Jurisdictions (usually Southeastern Jurisdiction) which DID sell insurance. The Western Jurisdiction began providing mission trip insurance in July 2017 for the first time. Mission trip insurance is available at www.umvimwj.com.

In Desert Southwest Conference you don’t need separate mission trip insurance for domestic trips.

Why the UMVIM Connection?

Since it is not necessary to purchase independent mission trip insurance for domestic trips, why identify as a UMVIM trip? There is no mission trip registration requirement, so why register? Why not just do as we’ve always done and go on the mission trip? Isn’t that what’s important?

I’m glad you asked! Here are three important reasons.

  1. Grant Match for UMCOR: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) uses volunteer hours as a match for grant applications. Hundreds of them. For millions of dollars. Each Jurisdiction is requested to submit an annual report to the UMVIM national office (that’s Una Jones) which provides the information for those UMCOR grant applications. For the 2016 report, the Conference UMVIM coordinators gleaned church websites, church newsletters, Facebook pages, and contacted people whose names had come by word of mouth to identify team leaders, team numbers, destinations, numbers of days of service, type of work. For international trips, data was obtained from Jurisdictional Insurance sales. Youth trip numbers were obtained from Sierra Service Project. There has to be an easier way. Those websites, newsletters, and Facebook pages are interesting, but . . . 🙂  Sponsoring congregations and mission trip leaders are encouraged to let DSC UMVIM coordinators, Lorraine, and Mike Eyer know about your trips at clnwe@gmail.com.
  2. Open Enrollment Mission Trips: Lots of other Conferences publicize “open enrollment” mission trips, i.e., international, domestic, rebuild, construction, medical, educational trips, allowing members of smaller congregations or members of churches that do not conduct trips to piggyback on other trips. One Conference in Tennessee published a spreadsheet with 50 (!) mission trips – dates, destinations, sponsoring congregation, contact person, type of work – open to participation across the Conference. What a blessing to members of small congregations!  If you are planning a mission trip, notify Conference Communications staff!
  3. Celebrate and Promote: I bet you didn’t know that groups from Desert Southwest Conference had worked in Peru and Guatemala and Tanzania and Sierra Leone and Puerto Peñasco and Salt Lake City and Baton Rouge and Nicaragua! Sure those groups celebrated their mission trips within their own congregations, but the photographs and stories and testimonies from those trips should be celebrated in skylights! That also helps to communicate to other churches that trips are doable – financially, physically, and congregationally. And we can all celebrate the opportunities that others have had. Write stories! Send photos!

DSC UMVIM Coordinators Lorraine and Mike Eyer are scheduling a series of UMVIM Team Leader Training Workshops to be conducted in each of the Districts of the Desert Southwest Conference in January and February 2018.  Watch for information on dates and locations.

Team Leader Training topics include:

  • Finding and Selecting a Destination, a Host, and a Mission Project
  • Gathering a Team – Promoting
  • Planning the Trip – Details!
  • Budgeting and Raising Money
  • Team Orientation – Clear Expectations
  • Registering a Mission Trip
  • Insurance and Legal Concerns
  • Returning Home and Reporting – Inspiring your congregation!
  • Special Issues regarding International Trips
  • Youth and Family Trip Issues, including Safe Sanctuaries Policies, Releases, and Background Checks
  • Travel Issues

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Author: DSC Communications

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