As a former Youth Minister who has taken families, teens and adults all on mission trips I understand that leading a group on a mission trip can be a challenge. We are here to help you through this process in any way possible. You may have already talked to Leah Matthews our Trip Coordinator, if you have not, please reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org she will help walk you through the process of reserving your week and how to register your group. Once registered, Leah will be available for you to reach out with any questions and she will schedule several calls with you to get the trip set up. We ask that you keep Leah's contact info to yourself once you get her number and that you relay any questions from the team to the Leah yourself so she doesn't get bogged down with calls. Leah is a volunteer and she handles all of our Short Term Mission teams so she can get very busy at times. Once you arrive on the island our group will greet you at the airport and guide you through the week so that you can focus on your team and enjoy the trip.
There is no minimum group size, although less than 12 may be combined with another team. We ask that participants be at least 5 years old and anyone who has not finished their first year in High School should be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Any exceptions to this must be discussed with Leah first before the trip please.
Each evening we will have a team meeting lead by our staff, but part of the meeting will be nightly devotions. Something to think about is that except for Saturday and Friday Night the rest of the nights the devotions could be done by your group or our staff your choice. Saturday and Friday night our staff will handle as it is the opening and closing of the week.
I would recommend sooner rather than later that you go and book your flights. Flights do fill up for Puerto Rico so the sooner the better. You can do these either by calling the airlines group desk or many airlines have a group on line form where they will email you a quote. Even though group rates can be higher than if individuals purchased a single ticket, please buy as a group or you will probably be split up. If you have 20 people booked together, and if they are overbooked by a couple of seats they are less likely to bump 20 people off a flight than a single flyer. Also group rates don't require the entire payment for flights in order to gurantee the flight, they usually require a small deposit and the full payment a month or so before the trip. Flights to San Juan are generally full so flights to Puerto Rico can be a little more expensive. Once your airfare is booked please let Leah know so they can update your trip record and we can be preparing your transportation. Also any changes to air schedule please update us as well.
Again, we understand Group Leading can be a challenge and we are here to help in any way possible. Thank you for choosing Vine and Branches Ministries. We look forward to meeting you and serving with you.
Here are some more tips:
- Check thoroughly to see that tickets for each flight/date are identical and that names are spelled correctly. Some places especially San Juan get very particular on if the name is exactly as on the Government ID used.
- Identify the team's luggage by tying either unique ribbon or duck tape on each piece, just makes claiming the bags so much easier at the airport.
- Make sure that all luggage is checked all the way to the final destination.
- Make sure that your whole team wears their Vine and Branches Shirts. At times being a Mission Team does make things go smoothier at the airport and also makes it easier for us to identify you in San Juan.
- When you arrive in San Juan as a group go to the bathrooms in the gate area before heading to baggage claim, you have time. Make sure group is together before you head to baggage claim. SJU is a large and busy airport so stay together.
- We will give you the phone number of the staff member who is going to meet your team at the airport. Any delays along the way please let staff know. If luggage doesn't arrival DO NOT LEAVE BAGGAGE CLAIM go directly to the lost baggage office, once you leave baggage claim you can't get back in. Before you leave we will give you an address to give the office based on where you will be staying.
- Once you get to baggage claim area look out the big windows and you will see our staff in Vine and Branches Shirts waiting for you.
- We will have a first aid kit for small emergencies but for larger ones we have well equipped hospitals near by. While the hospitals will take American insurance sometimes they do require a deposit of $200-$500, so helpful to have a credit card for this purpose.
- While there are no required shots for going to Puerto Rico we do recommend that each participant is up to date on their tetanus shot.
- Now comes the big question many Group Leaders ask us. Is our group allowed to have their cell phones on this trip? We leave the answer up to you since you know the group and the parents that might be concerned about this. Let me just say that even if they are only used at night, it still takes the participant out of the mission trip experience. I know groups that don't allow cell phones at all during the actual mission trip do get more out of their experience. Now some of the teams who don't have access to their phones during the mission trip but on travel days they use them for games and movies and such. Although I will caution you about that as much group bonding can be done during the flights that get lost if everyone has ear buds in. But at last we will leave the decision to you. However you choose to handle the cell phone issue, we do request they are not allowed for phone calls home during ministry time. We also have guidelines that must be adhered to by the group. We expect you as the group leader to go over these guidelines in advance and that we will assume everyone on the trip has agreed to follow them. For emergencies I will give you my cell phone number to give out to families back home and they can always get a hold of me. Also you will see the staff will have their phones as they will need to coordinate times for transportation, food etc. Make sure that you check with your provider but most US cell phone providers do cover Puerto Rico at no cost. However the cell phone service isn't as strong in Puerto Rico as the US so there may be times you don't have services. I will say usually Verizon has issues on the island, but AT&T, Spirit and T-mobile are usually all pretty good.
- Please, please, please, have group meetings before you leave. Nothing is harder than leading a group in a unfamiliar place and they don't know each other. We recommend at least 4-6 meetings so that you can have time to bond as a team and also plan your ministry activities.
- Master Card and Visa are pretty widely accepted on the island American Express not so much and Discover Card not at all.
- Deposit of $50 per person needs to be made within 30 days of booking the date, first payment of $250 per person and tthen a second payment of $250. Leah our Trip Coordinator will discuss due dates for the 2 payments.
- As the group leader you are responsible to collect all the money and send it as a group. All deposits, island cost are to be sent to Vine and Branches Ministries. Ministry cost will be discussed with Leah and she will explain if you need to send that to Vine and Branches.