The wave has begun to rise. Thousands of eager 18, 19, and 21 year old elders and sisters have risen to the call and are diving into the ocean of missionary work. Wave after wave they are moving forward and flooding the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Change is occurring, and our children are at the peak of it.
But what happens when one (or even many) of these chosen emissaries appears to have missed the wave? They have done all to prepare – keeping themselves worthy, receiving their mission call and even entering the training arena, only to find that there are delays in their departure.
These delays are usually associated with visa applications, but could also involve health issues or something as simple as delayed flights. Whatever the issue, these kinds of delays can be upsetting for both the missionary and his/her family if focus is not maintained. Expectations are high, and when these expectations are not met then discouragement can occur.
I raise this issue now because it is a hot topic. With the influx of missionary numbers there has been an increase in departure delays. Actually, this is nothing really new. Delays have been happening since the inception of missionary work and will continue. But it is certainly a point of concern for many missionary mums and dads – not to mention for the missionaries themselves.
Before I tackle the most oft occurred reason for a delay – visas – I would like to make mention of another reason. That being one of health issues.
Delays Because of Health*
Recently, a missionary mum shared with me an experience her son had when making application for his visa to serve in a foreign country.
“Medical applications to foreign countries require clean spotless ‘bill of health’. My son’s protein level was too high, no thanks to his college diet of hot dogs and top ramen, plus protein drinks (many athletes think this is a healthy drink). It took over 2 months for his body to flush out the excess protein and clear the protein tests. He almost missed his deadline to submit his mission medical papers.
“We need to teach our boys [and girls] to take time to eat healthy, and all the hype about protein drinks is just that – a lot of hype.”
While we think we are obeying the Word of Wisdom, it’s important that our future missionaries realise that there is more to a healthy body than just abstaining from harmful drugs, tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee.
In 2007 the Ensign published an excellent article titled Missionary Health Preparation, written by Donald B. Doty – Chairman of the Missionary Department Health Services. It is an article worth exploring with your future missionary as part of his/her preparation.
Other issues surrounding health may occur while the missionary is in the MTC. One missionary mum told of how her son had an accident in the MTC while playing basketball. His foot was broken and it took several months to heal. Fortunately, this young missionary was able to remain in the MTC for the duration of his recuperation and work in the Missionary Referral Centre. Impressively, he was able to see beyond the accident and the delay as he wrote home,
“Being in the MTC is such a huge blessing! The spirit here is amazing. It is an extension of the Temple. We have apostles and general authorities come frequently! Prophets of the Lord! We are able to do missionary work in the Temple once a week…I’m not upset, I have no reason to be :) I’m pumped to keep working hard here at the Referral Center, I love the missionaries here and the work that is done here…I’ve had injuries before and there’s nothing that you can really do about em’ just smile and work through it…I’m super blessed. Count your blessings everyday. If you do, you realize you can’t keep track of them, because there are so many. That’s the generosity of Jesus Christ and Our Heavenly Father :)”
His words say it all, don’t you think? Look beyond what you don’t have, and work with what you do. Feel blessed and maintain your focus on the work and the Lord’s purposes.
* For some, a long term health issue may mean there is no chance of serving a full-time proselyting mission outside of their hometown. However, by working closely with your local priesthood leaders, there is often a way around any situation, that could mean your son or daughter can fulfill an honorable mission. See the article Missionary Health Preparation for more information.
Perhaps the most common reason for departure delays is because of visas. Some missionary mums have told stories of delays of up to 6 months.
These delays can occur for many different reasons. For every country the church sends missionaries to, there is probably one more unique reason for why there might be a visa delay.
Just six months ago, all visas issued for US missionaries traveling to New Zealand were ceased completely because the type of visa needed for missionaries to enter this country was discontinued. Those NZ bound missionaries in the MTC had to be re-assigned to missions stateside until the issue could be resolved – some waiting for up to 3 months. Today there are no delays and, if all is prepared correctly in the visa application process, a missionary heading to NZ will experience no delays.
Currently, to serve anywhere in Australia from the US, a missionary can expect visa delays of anything from 1 week to 12 weeks after they enter the MTC. Why? Not really sure, but perhaps it is just the influx of missionary applications that is disrupting the process. Wow, does that tell you something?
One missionary mum realised how erratic the visa application can be when the MTC group her daughter was to travel with was split up. Some leaving because visas had arrived, some remaining in the MTC, and others being transferred to missions stateside, because their visas hadn’t arrived. Many of them had identical visa timeline applications, but for whatever reason, the visa issue process was not identical.
Humble consideration must be made for those working in the Missionary Travel Department. One missionary mum, reassured by her missionary daughter that she was where she was supposed to be right at that time, consistently resisted the urge to contact the travel department as she recognised that, “…they are overwhelmed and doing all that they can to get all of these amazing missionaries to their called destinations.”
Two factors are overwhelmingly clear with each of those missionaries who are delayed and reassigned for a season. Firstly, 99% of the time they end up where they were originally assigned, and secondly, not one of them regrets the delay in any way. No matter where they are sent, they believe that, that is where the Lord needed them at that time.
This principle is made clear when Elder Bednar reflected on the tender mercies of the Lord, “
“Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits “his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men” (D&C 46:15).
“…the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings.” (April, 2005)
One missionary sister experienced the Lord’s tender mercies through a temporary reassignment when she was sent to a mission within a few hours of where her non-member father was living. While there, she was granted permission to meet with him for lunch, was able to receive some much needed financial assistance from him, and spent some quality time with him that she would not have had otherwise.
Another great benefit to these delays is that when these missionaries do finally arrive at their designated missions they are ready and hit the ground running. With the increase of missionaries serving now, there is a greater and greater need for missionaries to serve as trainers and leaders at an earlier age. These missionaries are often stepping into training positions from the day they arrive -
“…the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence.” (emphasis added)
As Elder Bednar suggests, the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal, individualised blessings and spiritual gifts that are given to each of us. No matter what happens, we should always know that the Lord is in control, and these things happen for a greater purpose and in His time. Wave after wave of missionaries continue to move forward. Whatever wave your missionary manages to catch will be the right one for him or her. As the Lord states,
“I will hasten my work in its time.” (D&C 88:73)
Ways families can decrease the chances of visa delays:
- Read everything in your visa packet very carefully (even the fine print) – every country is different in its requirements and it may mean the difference between where a picture should or shouldn’t be signed.
- Start the visa application as soon as you receive the package.
- Be prepared to submit information and applications more than once.
- Some countries require an FBI check. Many mums have suggested using a ‘controller’ to process this check. It can cost more, but it can cut down the process from weeks to days.
- Don’t get too caught up in dates, times and schedules. Visa applications can be erratic, and may not fit within any kind of ‘missionary’ timeline. Remember, you are dealing with people who don’t understand the ‘Church’ processes, only their own.
- Realise that a countries visa status can change at any time. One day visas can be flowing at a fast pace, the next day they can stop completely. Go with the flow.
- Prepare your missionary for the chance of change. A mission is full of change and disappointments, visa delays are just a small part of this.
- Don’t be thrown out yourself if your missionary is delayed…remember - “…the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence.” Your son or daughter may have something to learn, or someone to connect with because of this delay.
What happens when the visa finally arrives:
- Don’t panic. The church’s travel department has it all in hand. They have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. They will ensure your missionary will know when to go, where to go and what to do.
- Your son/daughter will not have time to visit home before they leave. Treat this move as simply another transfer to another area of their mission.
- You will probably be contacted by either your missionary, the church travel department, or the mission office when the time comes for them to go. Sometimes this contact will be days before they are to leave, sometimes it is a call from your missionary just prior to them embarking on their flight. There is no standard procedure, except that they will go when they go.
- Try to remember to ask for their flight details so you can track their flight. For many parents this is very comforting at a time that can be quite stressful. There are plenty of online flight trackers that offer lots of information. Here are a couple: