Personal Musings on Preparing for My Mission

It’s February already and out of the blue I can actually start counting the weeks before our three year adventure will begin. What happened to the idea that the new year would bring me some breathing space after a hectic Christmas and new year?

We are immersed in endless emails, phone calls, medical appointments and skype sessions, with various people and authorities, macro-managing all aspects of our future mission life. Big details which will affect us for the duration of our service.

But this morning I found myself lying in bed micro-managing our experience. The big things seem easy compared to the little things that will have to change. So here are two lists I have put together, of things that will have to change.

The Obvious things:

  1. Read the scriptures EVERY day. Shock, I can hear you say to yourself, that any future mission presidents wife would not be reading the scriptures every day! But in reality I live a real life, and sometimes scripture study loses out to other things. But not now!
  2. Know the scriptures. Oh for the days of my proselyting mission where I could quote almost all the relevant scriptures in the discussions and some…
  3. Always have a two minute talk prepared. Ask any mission presidents wife and this will be their #1 recommendation.
  4. Always have a smile for the missionaries. Not much to change here, I always have a smile for the missionaries. But there may be days where it takes a bit more effort.
  5. Stop talking long enough so my husband can say a few words. It’s become most obvious in the last few weeks (mostly during our Mission Presidents tutoring sessions) that I love to talk and share my ideas and thoughts. Great, but I have to remember that my husband is a little more thoughtful and considers his words more carefully before speaking. I need to learn to take a breath in between sharing so he can share….
  6. Hold myself back from wanting to hang out with the sister missionaries ALL the time. Sister missionaries are the coolest people on earth and I just want to hang out with them…is that such a bad thing for a mission presidents wife?

The Less Obvious Things:

  1. Start carrying a handbag. Currently my chosen form of personal item transportation is my pocket – one for my phone and the other for my credit card and keys. This will have to change in order to carry all those extra emergency supplies…make up, Kleenex, water, nail file, hand sanitiser, moisturiser, electronic devices, hair brush, mirror….eek, possibly the whole contents of my bathroom.
  2. Wear make up most days. From the day we received our call I knew that I would have to step up my personal presentation. I don’t mean to transform myself into model status, but definitely have to focus more on the personal grooming.
  3. Brushing my hair every morning. Hahaaaaa…thought this might get your attention. I am guilty of neglecting this on the odd day where I don’t need to go out..bit like the next one too.
  4. No more PJ only days. It will be three years before I get to have one of these…
  5. Remembering people’s names. Show me a face and I will forever remember it. But give me a name and I struggle. What is the trick to remembering names? I’m sure any of the brethren could tutor me in this…they are amazing.
  6. Learning to ‘glow’ not sweat. Humidity and I just don’t click. This one is going to be tough for three years in the Philippines. How am I ever going to keep that make up on? Note to self – definitely need that make up in my handbag
  7. Wear practical shoes. I’ve always lived a little on the edge when it comes to shoes. Flip flops are my current choice of footwear. But I remember when I served my proselyting mission I splurged on a bright pink pair of suede shoes for tracting in (soon to be replaced by a more practical black pair – not because of their edginess, but because they just couldn’t live up to the rigors). For that day and age those shoes were considered radical…I put it down to the day my mum caved in to me when I was about 7 and bought me a shiny pair of red patent leather shoes instead of the more practical black buckle ones. Ruined me for life 😦

I hope my musings haven’t worried you too much. Just wanted to share some of the thought patterns, and funnier side, of my mission preparations.

signature

Missionary Anxiety and Stress

Missionary looking over city scape

Over the weekend I received an email that really concerned me. The email came through the LDS Missionary Moms group I belong to. It was addressed to all missionary mums (and families) throughout the world and warned us about a growing concern that seems to be affecting many of our missionaries today. I gained permission from Betty Pearson, the moderator of the e-group, to re-post here the contents of that email. I have not changed the wording of the email in any way, and it appears here exactly as it it did when it was sent to me. It speaks for itself, so I will make no further comment on it. *Please note the website that Betty recommends to all future missionaries and their families.

MIssionary Anxiety and Stress:

It is concerning that so many missionaries are struggling with this issue. As parents, perhaps the best thing we can do right now is to help our own missionaries through this struggle, AND, if we have future missionaries, help them understand that they might experience this on their missions, and how to overcome it. They can develop tools right now that will aid and strengthen them during hard times of homesickness, stress, and anxiety. 

Last year there were over 6000 missionaries that came home early because of these kinds of issues. Most did not return to the mission field. There is no single cause, and there is no one solution.

Dr. Richard Ingebretsen works with many Mission Doctors, and they have compiled a book called, "Missionary Medicine". They also have a website that we highly recommend you visit. They have added sections for depression, anxiety and stress:

Missionary Medicine - A Guide to LDS Missionary Health

In his email to me, he wrote: "Communication is very, very important. The missionary has to have people to talk with and to email with. Families need to be able to communicate with the missionary and the missionary needs someone in the field to talk with. This can be a companion, a missionary friend, a counselor, or a friend from home. The Church has done several things to help. The first is they are allowing missionaries to email friends at home and in other missions. This will allow the missionary to communicate and see how their friends are coping. It also makes a mission more familiar in that they can keep the communication lines open with their support system. 

"It is recommended that missionaries take out a "911 package." In the package they should include pictures, music, and other items from home that will help them when they are stressed out. Any item that would have some special meaning that the missionary can turn to give them strength.

"Missionaries should be taught prior to leaving about the symptoms of homesickness and anxiety and should be prepared to address them ahead of time. Families should be prepared to know that the missionary will have symptoms and be prepared. They should read about anxiety and stress and educate themselves ahead of time. The two chapters in our book were written by one of the psychiatrists for the church. They are pretty good and should be read by parents and missionaries.

"If they are in areas where it is dark much of the year, they can use light boxes where the missionary will be exposed to bright lights. This helps to produce vitamin D in their system. These have been successful.  Vitamin D supplements can be useful for anyone having symptoms.

"Exercise is important as well, if a missionary is not working out this can be helpful. Diet is important as well, but a lot of missionaries who are stressed just don't eat well at all.

"In the end, it might be useful for the missionary to be transferred to a mission closer to home, where the sights, sounds, meals, and language are more familiar. Families can send packages easier and communication is better." NB: Image sourced at LDS.org - Media Library 

The Lords Timing…when a missionary is delayed

Dealing with delay

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.

Visa Delays

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Start the visa application as soon as you receive the package.
  3. Be prepared to submit information and applications more than once.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

 

Historic Missionary Broadcast

Hastening the work of the Lord

Ever since the announcement made by Pres. Monson last October, I have wondered what will happen to missionary work in the world as so many more missionaries start walking its streets. Recently the Deseret News reported that by September 2013, the number of missionaries serving worldwide will jump by 47%. That’s huge!

But let’s look at this closely. Where exactly are they going to go, and what are they going to do? Hey, let’s face it, even 30 years ago when I was a missionary, it was evident that the areas I served in were highly saturated with LDS missionaries. In some cases I was working a whole area within a month. For a missionary who would probably be in an area for an average of 3-6 months, that means working an area almost as many times.

Please don’t get me wrong, I never doubted the work I was involved in, and I don’t doubt the huge impact that this announcement will have on the Lord’s work. In fact, just typing this sends tingles up my spine…it is truly exciting and certainly a sign of the times. But I have to say, I have wondered just how it will work with so many more missionaries saturating the earth.

‘The Work of Salvation’ MIssionary Broadcast

Well, maybe we will find out this Sunday. Over the last week, information has emerged that this Sunday there will be an historic missionary broadcast for all, “Ward and stake council members, their spouses, full-time missionaries, and other interested Church members…” 

I have also heard that this broadcast will change the face of missionary work throughout the world, and is closely linked to the age change in missionary service recently announced.

I don’t know about you, but I think I will be one of those ‘interested church members’ linking into lds.org on Sunday afternoon (well, actually Monday for me) to find out exactly what kind of changes will be taking place. No doubt it will involve, not just the full-time missionaries, but every member of the church.

If you are interested in finding out more detailed information about this broadcast then follow the link to the Church News & Events page. But, in a nutshell, here are the basic details:

The Work of Salvation Missionary Broadcast
Live broadcast of a special session of the seminar for New Mission Presidents.
From the Marriott Centre in Provo.
Sunday 23rd June, 4pm mountain daylight time.
Local leaders have been instructed by the First Presidency to adjust their scheduled worship services to accommodate this broadcast.
Re-broadcasts of this session will be planned for other areas of the world. However, if you can’t wait for that then connect into either lds.org, mormonchannel.org, or facebook.com/lds at the given time to watch it streamed live.

In conjunction with this broadcast, there will also be a new website launched titled, “Hastening the Work of Salvation: A Unified Effort in Conversion, Retention, and Activation” 

signature

His Badge of Honor

Scriptures, journal and Preach My Gospel

Today, while sitting in sacrament meeting, I happened to glance over to where two of my children where sitting. The meeting was fabulous (particularly the speakers) , so I hadn’t planned on diverting my attention for too long. But what they were looking at caught my attention for longer than I expected.

It was my sons journal. I knew he had been keeping a journal – I had often seen it lying around the lounge room and in his bedroom – but it surprised me to see he had it at church. I’m still not sure why he had it there…but I noticed that he and his sister were looking at some photos towards the back.

Those images took me back to what seemed a lifetime ago. Well, actually it would have probably been less than 5 years ago, but since we had moved countries and settled into a new life in that time, it definitely felt like a lifetime ago.

For as long as I can remember my son has eagerly anticipated serving a mission. The year we brought home his first suit (at about age 5) it included a tiny little missionary badge declaring him to be a ‘Future Missionary’. He wore that badge (and that suit) for a long time. He was proud of it and what it represented; a kind of badge of honor towards his future.

But on further contemplation, I have realised there were many other events that have helped pave the way of his missionary path. Those photos represented one of them. They depicted a time when one missionary in particular made a lasting impression on my son.

The images drew me back to the day that this missionary and his companion – serving in our area – had made a connection with my 13 year old son. This missionary had recognised within him a desire to know what it takes to be a servant of the Lord. Through inspiration, they invited him to walk door to door with them, up our street, and share what it would be like.

I remember the fear I had at the time. Would this harm the utopian view of a young man who had dreams of striding from door to door in his crisp new suit, preaching the gospel to everyone he came in contact with? I tried mentally to go through all the people I knew in the street, determining whether they would present a positive or negative response. But unfortunately (or fortunately in this case) I didn’t know anyone beyond my neighbour next door.

Oh ye of little faith!

That opportunity was perfect for my son. It really didn’t matter what kind of response he got at the doors. The look of pride on his face in those photos said it all. He was living a dream and the missionary who stood beside him represented everything he wanted to be. That experience for my son helped him along the way.

I sit here now and reflect on both the glimpse I had in church today, and the experience my son had those few years ago. My conclusion is this…

While missionaries have a sacred duty to find those who seek for truth and teach them the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ…they also have the ability to affect the lives of many young men and women who are preparing for this same service.

As a mother I am grateful for two young missionaries who came into my home (probably on just two or three occasions) and recognised a tiny flame of desire within a young man. It took a simple invitation to join them for just 1/2 hour, to cement in the mind of my son that this is what he needed to prepare for.

As my son is now in the final stages of preparation to serve his mission (in just over 12 months), I am grateful for their example – that they were inspired enough to lay down some bricks on the road to his future.

I only hope that as part of my sons missionary service, he may be the means of inspiring at least one other young man to do the same. I pray that he will be galvanized enough to identify a similar tiny flame burning within the heart of another future missionary.

Did They Doubt?

My daughter has been home from her mission for 5 months now. Believe it or not, she only just gave her homecoming report to the Stake High Council this past Sunday. No fault of anyone in particular, just life circumstances that prevented it happening sooner.

Anyway, as I reflect on the things that have happened since her arrival home, I {again} realise that life doesn’t always go the way we want, or expect, it. Whether it is challenges the Lord throws in our way to make us stronger, or Satan’s sinister subterfuge; things can derail us if we are not prepared.

Five months down the track and my daughter had expected to be well into the second year of her university studies; picking up where she left off prior to leaving for her mission. But as life would have it, that has not been possible. Instead she was obliged to delay those studies and seek full-time employment for a few months until the start of the new semester in July.

The job she was forced to take was actually very similar to the work she was doing on her mission…like many other missionaries, cold call selling seemed to be a natural progression for her. With similar frameworks of goal setting, door to door approaches, and prepared presentations, it is a familiar pattern to a returned missionary. The only difference being that the rewards are not nearly as good as those on a mission.

Knowing she still had over two months before returning to her studies, about 3 weeks ago I got a text from her while she was out working…

“Mum, I want to quit my job, what do you think?”

The ensuing conversation between the two of us consisted of self doubt on her part, and a need to bring support and encouragement to the situation on my part.

While on her mission, we rarely had the need for these kinds of conversations. For the most, she seemed to manage the few down times on her own, and relished and shared the up times with us.

No parent wants to hear those words of doubt from their child – whether on a mission or anytime else.

So how does a parent instill in their child a sense of purpose, of overcoming doubts and battling debilitating discouragement? Every missionary will undoubtedly have times when those small seeds of uncertainty arise and bloom; many battle with it weekly, some daily.

I won’t go into my own experiences here, but needless to say there was many a day on my mission when my companion and I would be riding our bikes home after a long and fruitless day and my tears surpassed in quantity the pouring rain falling all around me.

The support of family and friends is vital in time of doubt. Having only had one missionary daughter serve so far, I feel inadequate to address this topic as a whole. But I did want to raise awareness of it; especially to those new missionary mums, dad’s and families who may not have considered it.

I also want to share with you a great article in the Meridian Magazine by a father of 5 returned missionaries – Larry Barkduhl – who discusses this topic in detail. It’s a must read for anyone who has sent, or is sending, out a missionary.

LETTERS TO STRUGGLING MISSIONARIES

I am pleased to say that my daughter didn’t walk away from her job that day, but managed to stay the course. I would like to think that it was because of the multiple quotes on success/failure that I sent her that tipped the scales. But in reality I think it was her own sense of understanding, and drawing on her own experience as a missionary, that helped her through it.

But for what it’s worth, here are a couple of the quotes I sent her that day…

‘You have never failed until you give up’  (Wall plaque in my home as I grew up)

‘Don’t confuse psycho-babble for reality’ (I own this one)

‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’ Winston Churchill

‘Your attitude determines your success’ Spoken, I’m sure, by many a prophet and apostle

‘The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today’ Franklin D. Roosevelt.

signature

The Dying Notion of a Sister Missionary

Elder Richard G. Scott quote

In the kitchen, bare foot and pregnant, was how one missionary suggested my life would be better served. As a new missionary it shook me to my boots to think that my sacrifice was not as valid as the Elder’s standing next to me.  In my eyes the only difference between he and me was our gender (and certain priesthood responsibilities). But in a day where sister missionaries were the exception rather than the rule, it highlighted a misconception within church membership that suggested a divide.

But when I look at the statistics quoted recently – within two weeks of the October 6th 2012 announcement there was a 471% jump in mission applications and more than half of those were women – it screams at me that the notion of sisters serving missions has come a long way.

I was delighted to read recently an article titled  A Letter to Girls About Lady Missionaries’  – written by a returned lady missionary way back in 1972 (even before my time as a missionary). While it was on the whole a fair depiction of what it meant to be a missionary in the 70s, the thing that jumped out at me was the suggestion that a sister’s success was based more on how well groomed and presented she was than on what she could do to prepare herself spiritually to teach the saving ordinances of the Gospel. It threw me straight back to that gender comment by the Elder in my mission.

I’m confident we ‘ve come further along the scale of understanding today to be able to identify that there are far more pressing concerns for a missionary sister than how long her hair is, or whether or not she outwardly presents a perfect persona to the mission president after having ridden a motor cycle to an interview in the pouring rain.

Indeed, on further introspection, I realised that I had had similar comments tossed to me when I was determining whether, as a young 20 year old, a mission was the right thing for me. “Oh, a mission is only for those girls who can’t get married”, or “You’re too young and good looking to serve a mission”. As much as that last comment fed my ego, it fell short of allowing me to understand that the decision to serve a mission for a sister is based purely on spiritual enlightenment and inspiration from the Lord – nothing to do with age, marriageable potential or looks.

As the parents of three daughters my husband and I may have unwittingly reinforced this barefoot and pregnant notion. Suggesting to our girls during their teenage years that if they were not married by the age of 21 then we would be encouraging them to consider serving a mission. But let me say in my defence, it was spoken more in excitement on our part. As parents we had both experienced the joys of serving a mission and knew that such an event in their life would not only bless the lives of countless sons and daughters of God, but also bless the lives of each of our daughters. In my heart I really wanted them to taste the bitter/sweet fruits of missionary labour.

However, I’m not here to slander the deeds of the past – be them mine or anyone else’s – just to highlight the changes that have occurred.  History describes our progression as a people. It’s our progression that describes the things we have learnt along the way…

When my daughter announced she was preparing to serve a mission in 2010, much had changed in terms of attitudes and expectations.  Of course as parents we were over-joyed at her decision. But more importantly, amongst her friends and peers there was generally an overall sense of excitement and support; a recognition that this decision had come through sincere prayer and preparation on her part, and not because she had been ‘left on the shelf’.

In 2010, the words of one LDS returned missionary sister, when asked, ‘How is missionary preparation different for women than men?’ reveal the changes in thinking that have occurred in the last 40 years,

“I don’t know that preparation for a mission is much different. You have to be physically and spiritually strong, you have to know the gospel, you have to have a deeply rooted testimony, you have to have a desire to serve and share the gospel. Both young men and young women need all of these things.
Wendi Condie, Montana Billings Mission

More recently, with the announcement of age changes, and new leadership roles for sister missionaries, prospective sister missionaries have greater flexibility of choice, and greater opportunity for input and service. It is wonderful to see that mission organization is fitting in more with the pattern of ward and stake councils. Sisters will now not only have the opportunity serve at an earlier age but also contribute to the success of the Lord’s work worldwide in a more focused and united way.

While I would change nothing about my experiences as a missionary, I welcome the dying notion of the sister missionary of the past. I think it opens the door to a wave of more focused missionaries and closes the divide of the past; missionaries – both male and female – who understand their role, are prepared spiritually to perform their labours wherever they serve, and who work in harmony to extend the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to every one of His children on earth.

Missionary Service – It Isn’t About You

Faith-Header

I’m still reeling from the recent announcement by our beloved prophet, Thomas S. Monson (supported by comments made later by Elders Holland and Nelson), declaring new age limits for LDS missionary service. This modification is going to have a significant effect on missionary work and will greatly expand our efforts to do the work of the Lord.

Recent reports state that LDS missionary applications jumped from 700 per week to over 4,000 within a few weeks of this historic announcement. I’ve watched in my own ward as several young women have rejoiced in the expansion of the age requirement and made preparations to be involved in such an important work at a younger age; one already having received her call just days after her 19th birthday.

The ripple effects of this announcement are spreading beyond the borders of the Church, and are being discussed by member and non-member alike. The world is listening! Recently, a report in the Wall Street Journal even highlighted some of the social and cultural changes that could occur within the Church as a result of this announcement. These include shifts in such things as, dating habits, college enrollments, and even shifts in the marriageable age of our members.

With literally thousands more young men and young women lining up to be a part of this expansion, I think it is important for us to explore just what this will mean in terms of missionary service and the focus taken by our young men and women.

While it’s a time for all of us to be excited about how the work is now moving into a higher gear, a word of caution is needed to ensure we all have the correct focus. Elder Holland, in the press conference immediately after Pres. Monson’s announcement, was quick to remind our young people that,

“This announcement, I say to these young people, isn’t about you. It’s about the sweet and pure message you are being asked to bear and the ever greater numbers God needs to bear it.”

It could be easy for many of our young men and women to get caught up in the hype of the moment, and see this as an opportunity to simply be a part of something historic, rather than considering whether the time is right for them to answer the call.

In the same press conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson declared, “No young man or woman should begin his or her service as a missionary before they are ready”.  Careful and prayerful consideration is a fundamental element of whether an individual is ready to serve or not.

What Qualifies a Person For Missionary Service?

When I think about what it is that qualifies a person to serve my mind immediately goes to the 4th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work…

And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. D&C 4:2-3, 5

Five qualities qualify an individual to serve…Faith, hope, charity, love, and an eye single to the glory of God. These five qualities can be used as a yardstick to measure whether a person is ready or not.

Here is what the scriptures, and some of the brethren, say about each one of these qualities:

FaithNow faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Joseph F. Smith: “…it is necessary to have faith in God, faith being the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness.” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church

Richard G. Scott: “…to employ its power, faith must be founded on something. There is no more solid foundation than faith in the love Heavenly Father has for you, faith in His plan of happiness, and faith in the capacity and willingness of Jesus Christ to fulfill all of His promises…You will gather the fruits of faith as you follow the principles God has established for its use.

“Some of those principles are:

  • Trust in God and in His willingness to provide help when needed, no matter how challenging the circumstance.
  • Obey His commandments and live to demonstrate that He can trust you.
  • Be sensitive to the quiet prompting of the Spirit.
  • Act courageously on that prompting.
  • Be patient and understanding when God lets you struggle to grow and answers come a piece at a time over an extended period.” The Sustaining Power of Faith

HopeWherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. Ether 12:4

M. Russell Ballard: “Moroni, having seen our day, counseled, “Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope.”… (Moro. 10:20.)…As we put our faith and trust to work, hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all that we do. It can even give us the peaceful assurance we need to live happily in a world that is ripe with iniquity, calamity, and injustice. The Joy of Hope Fulfilled

Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Hope has the power to fill our life with happiness…

“Hope is not knowledge, but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future.  It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance…

“…because of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we may hope and be assured that the ending of the book of our lives will exceed our grandest expectations…

“We learn to cultivate hope the same way we learn to walk; one step at a time…We grow in our ability to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost as we more perfectly live the gospel…

“Hope sustains us through despair. Hope teaches that there is reason to rejoice even when all seems dark around us…” The Infinite Power of Hope

CharityThough I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1 

Henry B. Eyring: “…charity is at the heart of the society and is to come into the heart, to be part of the very nature, of every member… Charity is born of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is an effect of His Atonement working in the hearts of the members.” The Enduring Legacy of Relief Society

Joseph B. Worthlin: “Paul’s message to this new body of Saints was simple and direct: Nothing you do makes much of a difference if you do not have charity. You can speak with tongues, have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, and possess all knowledge; even if you have the faith to move mountains, without charity it won’t profit you at all.” The Great Commandment

M. Russell Ballard: “The Apostle Paul taught that three divine principles form a foundation upon which we can build the structure of our lives. They are faith, hope, and charity. (See 1 Cor. 13:13.) Together they give us a base of support like the legs of a three-legged stool. Each principle is significant within itself, but each also plays an important supporting role. Each is incomplete without the others. ” The Joy of Hope Fulfilled

LoveA new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you. John 13:34

Gordon B. Hinkley: “Love is of the very essence of life. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet it is more than the end of the rainbow. Love is at the beginning also, and from it springs the beauty that arches across the sky on a stormy day. Love is the security for which children weep, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and the lubricant that prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death. How rich are those who enjoy it in their associations with family, friends, church, and neighbors…

If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of men. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind…

This principle of love is the basic essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without love of God and love of neighbor there is little else to commend the gospel to us as a way of life.” And The Greatest of These is Love

Pres. Thomas S. Monson: “…we need to extend ourselves in service to our Heavenly Father if we are to demonstrate our love for Him.” How Do We Show Our Love

Eye-SingleIf your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you. D&C 88:67 

Gordon B. Hinkley: “As we look with love and gratitude to God, as we serve him with an eye single to his glory, there goes from us the darkness of sin, the darkness of selfishness, the darkness of pride. There will come an increased love for our Eternal Father and for his Beloved Son, our Savior and our Redeemer. There will come a greater sense of service toward our fellowmen, less of thinking of self and more of reaching out to others.” The Greatest of These is Love

Joseph B. Worthlin: “Each of us must work in harmony with God’s will and create a spiritual climate that will bring Jesus into the midst of our lives; and then we must continue to live “with an eye single to [his] glory D&C 4:5. “ Build it Right

Willing and Worthy Missionaries

This historic occasion is underlined by the words of Elder Holland when he states, “God is hastening His work, and He needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an often dark and fearful world. … You must prepare by personal worthiness and moral cleanliness and you must study diligently to know the gospel you will teach. We want you teaching effectively from the first day onward. And that will require preparation that starts long before you get your call to serve.” Church Lowers Age Requirement for Missionary Service

Faith, hope, charity, love and an eye single to the glory of God is what the gospel is all about. If a missionary can emulate these characteristics in his/her life, then they are truly qualified for the work. It’s clear we are counselled to determine carefully the appropriate time for missionary service, as the new age limits are simply offered as another option. Significant to this determination is the reminder that this change is not about the young people and how fast they can get out there, but it is about the, “…sweet and pure message..” that needs to be brought to the world and how willing and worthy these missionaries are to live it and do it.

signature

Heartwarming Missionary Service

When I began this blog my intention was to focus on the missionary work that our dedicated young LDS men and women are doing across the world. But, a few days ago I received an email from a truly amazing person. He is not someone of our faith, but he is a Christian. In that email he invited me to pray for his missionary service and even invited me to come and visit where he serves.

Located in the southern regions of India, the work that Ananda is involved in is grassroots. He is working to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in some of the most remote areas of the world. In a country that struggles with the demands of an extremely high population and a low economic base, Ananda and his group work to provide both a spiritual base for these people, as well as assisting them in the social and economic realms through the establishment of orphanages, schools, and basic infrastructures such as water and medical care.

I feel really compelled to share with you the email Ananda sent me, as I believe it is a wonderful example of how the Lord uses His children to do His work on earth – even in areas where there are currently no LDS missionaries. The wording of the email was as follows:

I am glad to contact you. I have been doing ministry since 1993 among Tribal’s who are living in Forest and never seemed any salvation in their life. I have 46 missionaries in India, Tamilnadu. We have focused to South India Tribal People. We are conduction Free Medical Camps, Free education center for Tribal children, free self work training program for Tribals. We are following 224 hamlets, tiny villages, and Hilly regions Tribal groups. We have just started 9th church in Tribal area. Please Pray for this construction. Support us to Spread Gospel to all Tribal’s. We invite you to visit our ministry and fields.

—Ananda Kumar

There is probably never going to be a chance for me to visit this place, but my purpose in sharing this email with you is to highlight some of the good that is happening in this world amongst fellow Christians. While our missionaries don’t have the opportunity to reach into such areas right now, it is heartwarming to know that there are Christian people out there preparing the way for the day when full missionary services can reach them. These people are akin to the likes of John Calvin, John Wyclyffe, and Martin Luther; preparing the way for the Gospel to spread to all nations, kindreds and tongues (2 Nephi 30:8).

If anyone is interested in reading more about the work Ananda is involved in then please go and visit the website for the India Village Care MinistriesAlso, don’t forget to pray for their success as they work to meet the physical and spiritual needs of these humble villagers.

Visiting Your Missionary

Today I’d like to talk about something that is not talked about a lot within the realms of missionary work. No, it’s not a controversial subject, but it’s something that a lot of missionaries and their families don’t talk about because they pretty well know the answer.

“Can family and friends visit their missionary while they are out in the field?”

Instant response,  “No!”

So how is it then that we do hear instances of some families (and even friends) actually visiting their missionary in the field? I’m not referring to those families who choose to visit their missionary at the end of the their mission to escort them home. I’ve already addressed that issue in the past (see To Pick Them Up Or Not). But I am exploring whether there is actually an exception to the rule, and if it applies to all missionaries and their families.

I can’t really answer that question with a definitive ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, as I have learned of multiple situations where the answer may be ‘Yes’.

I want to share with you some of the different responses and situations I have received from other missionary mums about this topic, and let you determine for yourself. But let me say up front…I’m not advocating any one of them as being right or wrong (except maybe the official church guidelines as outlined in the Missionary Handbook and the welcome letters from the various missions throughout the world). I just offer these instances as being an exception to the rule – be they right or wrong.

At the end I’ll sum up what I feel is the best approach when determining what is the best course of action.

In exploring this idea I have discovered that there are many reasons why a family member would visit their missionary in the field. So I will try to cover as many as possible.

  1. Official Church Guidelines

I want to begin this discussion with the official word. It’s important that we explore this before any other exception to the rule.

While there is nowhere I can find online and in my research where the church officially comes out with a statement to the general membership of the church on whether visits are sanctioned or not, there are some resources that address this issue specifically to missionaries.

The first being the Missionary Handbook – it states:

“Visits from family members, friends and acquaintances are against Church policy. The impact of such visits may extend far beyond the visit itself, both before or after the visit and among other missionaries. It can often take some time for missionaries to refocus on their callings and their work…help those who may want to visit you to understand the importance of maintaining singleness of heart and mind on the work of the Lord (Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 9:61-62).”

The second is one that often comes in the form of a welcome letter from the specific mission they will be serving in. Reports are that these letters can include the counsel that family members refrain from seeing their missionary in the field, whether it’s planned or “accidental.”

These two sources are very credible and should be prayerfully considered when determining whether a visit is to be made.

      2. Unintentional Visits

Sometimes there are those unintentional meetings. For whatever reason, a family member or friend will simply run into their missionary without meaning to.

Take for example one missionary mum and dad who had regular business dealings within the area their son was serving. On several occasions they had previously visited the area on business without chancing a meeting. They had even attended church on those occasions, believing that the mission area was so large that there was very little likelihood of attending the chapel their missionary was serving in.

However, on this one occasion they arrived at the local meetinghouse for church mid-way between several days of business in the area. For some reason the mum didn’t feel right as they sat in the church car park, so she sent her husband in to search the building in case their son was in there – she didn’t feel right about having a chance meeting.

After searching every room in the building and not finding him there, the husband went to exit the rear door, only to run into their missionary son. In her own words:

“Both stood there shocked! Each not knowing what to say or do – after a few seconds, my husband makes the first move – he walks towards him, shakes his hand, told him he looked great and how proud we were of him, told him we loved him and to serve well, then immediately said goodbye, came back outside with tears in his eyes and drove us away from that chapel.”

How should you handle it?

I think the example above is the perfect way to handle such a situation- as quick and as painless as possible. The missionary responded later to his parents with this comment:

“That was the best surprise ever – I know it was unexpected so I’m going to not hold it against you but it was great to see you dad – you made my day and you look great and thank you for making that quick and as painless as possible.”

How not to handle it?

Absolute care must be taken to avoid all such situations – for the missionary’s sake as much as for mission guidelines sake. Spending time in a missionary’s area in the hope of an ‘accidental’ meeting does not constitute an accidental meeting. Please understand that any kind of unsanctioned meeting with a missionary will only disrupt the purpose of the work and affect their singleness of heart and mind.

However, if this meeting does occur then it is important not to prolong the time you are with them, or distract them by discussing anything more than that which they are involved in.

     3. Intentional Visits

There are occasions where it is possible to arrange an intentional meeting. Generally this will depend on the mission your son/daughter is serving in and the policy set down by the Mission President.  But there are several things to take into consideration if this is to happen.

Firstly, and most important, is an analysis of the reason why you want to visit. Is it just because you miss your son/daughter so much that you feel you need this contact? Is it just that you will be passing through their mission and think it would be fun to catch up with them? Or is it something you know your missionary can handle, and know that he/she will not be adversely affected by the visit?

Whatever it is, it is important to prayerfully consider the motives behind it, the way your missionary could (or could not) handle it, and the affect it will have on the work they are doing.

I believe that in most cases the response to this analysis would be in the negative. But, there are some scenarios where it is appropriate. I am not going to go into them here, as I believe they are personal and individual, and can only be determined after following three steps:

  1. A determination by the parents on whether the missionary could hangle such a visit and whether the visit is really necessary.
  2. Consultation with the Mission President on whether he will allow such a visit.
  3. Consultation with the Missionary (only after permission has been granted by the Mission President).

How should you handle it?

Follow the three steps discussed above (in that order) before making any attempt to meet your missionary. If permission is granted by the Mission President then you should always follow the instructions outlined by him in regards to the visit, such as time limits, locations, and the types of activities allowed during the visit.

How not to handle it?

Never visit your missionary without permission. Never overstay the allowed time for the visit. Never spend time in activities that will distract the missionary from the work they are doing. Never take the missionary outside their area boundaries, or ask them to break mission rules, unless you have permission, and avoid conversations that will not help them maintain their singleness of heart and mind.

    4. Encouraged Meetings

There are unique circumstances where the Mission will encourage family meetings in the mission. Some might find this unusual, but several missionary mums told me of situations where the mission invited them to prepare to come and pick up their son/daughter at the completion of their mission, and in one case, where the mission invited family and friends to attend a special testimony meeting towards the end of their missionaries service.

Generally these encouraged meetings will be planned for the end of a missionary’s service. They are unusual, and you will find that few missions are proactive in this approach. But if your mission offers this opportunity, I would still encourage parents to discuss this with their missionary before deciding to do it. Some missionaries just don’t want family and friends to be there – even at the end. Their mission is personal to them, and for whatever reason they may have, it is important to follow their line of thinking when deciding what to do. After all, it is their mission, not yours.

     5. Friends and Family Close By

It’s a small world in the Church, so it is quite likely that a missionary will have at least one family member, or a friend living close by. It can be so tempting for these family members and friends to want to drop goodies off, or drop in on their missionary on occasion. While the best of intentions are there, these kinds of contacts can still have a distracting effect.

In such circumstances, it is important to still follow the steps shared above – determine the reason, seek Mission President permission and immediate family/missionary permission before making any contact with the missionary. Don’t be offended if permission is not granted, and find other ways to support the missionary.

     6. Siblings/Friends Serving at the Same Time

My daughter had a unique situation in that while she was serving in a northern Utah mission, her best friend received her mission call and was to report to the Provo MTC while my daughter was still serving. Dialogue was opened between my daughter, her Mission President, and her friend about whether they could have a day serving together just prior to her entrance to the MTC. Permission was granted and my daughter’s friend planned to arrive a day early so she could spend the day tracting and teaching in my daughters mission. As things turned out, they were never actually able to have this day together (her best friend met her eternal companion before leaving for her mission), but it highlights another reason why there could be an exception to the rule.

If this opportunity arises then it is important to make sure you have followed the correct procedures. This should also include consultation with the Stake President and Church travel to confirm that this is possible, as well as consultation with the respective Mission President, and in some cases with the MTC. An honorable endeavor, so try to make sure you tick all the boxes before embarking on it or you may be disappointed.

7. Covert Visits

Unfortunately there are some individuals who believe that they can make visits without following the proper order of things. One missionary mum retells a story of how one family decided to surprise their missionary. While they did receive permission from the Mission President to visit, they didn’t mention it to their missionary. They surprised him one day out of the blue (out of nowhere). The missionary described the experience as disturbing and shocking. He did not like it and wished they had not done it.

Another example is of a family who covertly visited their missionary’s area, taking photos of his flat (apartment) and area without him knowing. The first he knew about it was when they sent him the photos in their weekly email.

These kinds of visits have no place in a missionary’s life. They are distractions that a missionary does not need, and they should never be considered as an exception to the rule.

My Final Analysis:

I maintain what I wrote above about the three steps to follow when determining whether a visit should be made:

  1. A determination by the parents on whether the missionary could handle such a visit and whether the visit is really necessary. Prayer and fasting should accompany this. In most cases I would suggest that this is where the decision process ends.
  2. Consultation with the Mission President. A past Mission President reminded me of the huge load each Mission President has in this calling. So remember that every parent who requests permission is adding to that load.
  3. Consultation with the missionary (only after permission has been granted by the Mission President). Many missionary mums told me that their request ended here because their missionary was just not interested in a visit. They wished to maintain their focus, even if it meant sacrificing a visit from their family.

Important too is the fact that, if you are granted permission to visit your missionary, having ticked all the boxes, you should not broadcast it everywhere. This can be upsetting for those families who have been denied a visit elsewhere, It can be upsetting for some missionaries who have been denied a visit as well. Keep the good news to yourself, enjoy the visit when you can, and continue to support the work your missionary, and other missionaries, are involved in.

Finally, don’t be offended if permission is not granted. It’s important to understand that a Mission President has a vision of the bigger picture. He knows and understands the circumstances of his mission, and is fully qualified in knowing what is best for his missionaries. Trust in his judgment and allow the work of the Lord to go forth unhindered. Your son/daughter will never have another opportunity in their life to have such an affect on the lives of the Lord’s children, so allow them the chance to have maximum effect in the work they are doing…sacrifice (by both the missionary and the family) will bring forth the blessings of heaven.

**Thanks for bearing with me on this long post. I felt it important to keep it all on the one page. I invite comments and suggestions on things I may have missed.

**Also, don’t forget, tonight I am releasing my first blog giveaway, so come back soon and sign up for it 🙂