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:

 

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Advice to New Missionaries and their Mums

How ready is your missionary for the MTC experience…or a mission for that matter?

I just love being connected to so many missionary mums through the LDS Missionary Moms Email Group. I hope that you have taken the opportunity to join one of the many groups out there if you have a missionary preparing, or already serving.

Recently Betty Pearson of LDS Missionary Moms shared with us some advice from various Mission and MTC Presidents on how we can best prepare our missionaries for the field. More particularly, on preparing them to enter the MTC. These are people who see our missionaries coming and going on a regular basis. As a result they have highlighted the key things that may be lacking in some of our missionaries preparations. So here you have a jump start.

While I don’t wish to share word for word what Betty wrote, I have taken the key points from it all and compiled them here for mums and their missionaries.

There is some VERY important information here that will assist in making both yours and your missionaries experience more positive and uplifting. PLEASE share this with other missionary mums and families so that we can assist these noble young men and women to fulfill their callings in the best way possible.

What parents can do to help their missionary prepare:

  1. Give them ‘separation from home and family’ experiences. If they don’t go to college prior to their mission, then find ways that will allow them to experience life and choices without your intervention. See my article ‘Helping Them Find Their Voice’
  2. Let them consistently do their own laundry before they leave. The MTC is a new enough experience for them to handle. If they also have to learn how to do laundry there, then it makes it that much harder to focus on their religious and spiritual training.
  3. Let them prepare meals at home before they leave. They may not have to do much of this on their mission, but be assured that they will have to do it at some stage.
  4. Teach them basic cleaning skills and provide opportunities for them to perform these duties at home before they leave.
  5. Teach them basic food hygiene habits. Having a son or daughter sick on a mission because they didn’t understand how to handle food safely can be distressing to any mother.
  6. Provide them with some basic and easy recipes that they can use on their mission. See my ‘Food Friday’ meal suggestions. This can have future marital benefits too 🙂
  7. Encourage them to exercise every day. A regular exercise regime is a big part of their mission routine. Best to get them used to it before they go.
  8. Provide some kind of routine in the home so that they are prepared for the strict routines of a mission. Key to a successful mission is time-management and self discipline, preparing them beforehand for this is going mean they are far more prepared for a rigorous mission routine.
  9. Remind your missionary that, if he/she is learning a new language, that they will learn that language most in the mission field and not in the MTC – so don’t stress if it all seems too hard.

In addition to the above things that parents can do to assist, there are some other ways that missionaries themselves can prepare:

Knowledge Preparation:

  1. Memorise the 100 scripture mastery scriptures – know the keywords and the doctrine associated with each.
  2. Read the Book of Mormon through – absolute must.
  3. Be familiar with Preach My Gospel – at least read it through and understand its purpose. Attending a Mission Prep. class through Institute will help to familiarise the missionary with the doctrines it contains. Did you know that you can now get a pocket size copy of this?
  4. Know how to look up and search the scriptures using the footnotes, topical guide and Bible dictionary of the scriptures.
  5. Understand the culture of the mission or country they will be going to. They will not get any training for this in the MTC.

Experience Preparation:

  1. Be a faithful Home Teacher or Visiting Teacher.
  2. Complete YM Duty to God, Eagle Scout  or YW Personal Progress programs.
  3. Complete the 4-year seminary program.
  4. Spend time working with the local missionaries – tracting and teaching.
  5. Serve and volunteer within the church programs and in the community. Allows the missionary to give of themselves freely and willingly.

Spiritual Preparation:

  1. Nurture the desire to serve. Read Doctrine and Covenants 4
  2. Study the scriptures daily with real intent and purpose.
  3. Pray daily for the guidance of the spirit to build testimony and conviction.
  4. Bear your testimony whenever possible. Your testimony will be the one thing that you will use daily on your mission. Get used to bearing it and make sure you understand what a pure testimony is.

The most common thing I hear from missionary mums and their missionaries is that their mission experience goes soooo… fast. Before they know it they are returning home. So for me, I think that the more a missionary is prepared before they go, the better the chance is that they are going to make the most of it for the short time they are out there.

For most of them, never in their lives will they again have such an opportunity for both personal growth and the influence in the lives of so many of the Lord’s children on earth. Preparation is key to the optimum success of both these things.

Some related links:

MTC – Missionary Training Center, Provo Utah – Take a virtual tour around the MTC, or just find out what it is all about.

An Army of Faith – Inside the MTC. Produced by KSL TV, here you will find a series of videos on what it is like to arrive at the MTC, live in the MTC and learn in the MTC. A must watch for every prospective missionary and their families.

Next time I will talk a bit about what our roles as parents are when our sons/daughters are leaving for service out in the field.

Cutting the Ties

Some of Susan's Ties

As Elder ‘T’ stood to give his farewell talk just before entering the MTC, you would have been forgiven for thinking that he brought with him his own personal cheer squad. Sitting in the congregation were four of his friends, all sporting the same colour tie as him. These were just five of the 13 ties that Elder ‘T’s’ mum had made he and his friends while he was studying at BYU-I.

But this was not just a quirky display of solidarity for a newly called missionary.  For Susan Bever, it was the only way she could think to support her missionary son as he dedicated the next two years of his life to the Lord.

After losing her job, and with no means of a steady income, Susan determined to find a creative way to help support him. When discussing her situation with her sister one day, and knowing that her son was about to submit his mission papers, it was suggested that she give tie-making a go.

Having been a seamstress for much of her life, Susan felt confident that this could be the opportunity she was looking for. She declared, “I couldn’t make a financial commitment, because I didn’t have the income to make it… the purchase of a piece of fabric was about all I could do.”

Elder ‘T’, sporting a new tie, and ready to serve…

The term cutting the ties took on new meaning for Susan as she bid her son farewell. Since August 2010, when her son entered the Provo MTC, she has cut, sewn, and sent him at least 3 ties per month; and estimates that by the end of his mission he will have received close to 200 ties.

Not all of them end up around his neck tho’. Elder ‘T’ generously shares some with fellow missionaries, and many of his investigators. When this happens, Susan simply gets back to cutting and sewing some more.

But this is not the extent of her commitment. Susan is determined to share her tie-making talents both at home, and across the globe. She makes ties for many of the missionaries serving around the world from her own ward, as well as sharing them with missionaries serving near to where she lives. It is her way of showing support for not only her missionary son, but for dozens of other ‘s as they spread the gospel.

Recently, through the LDS Missionary Mom’s Email group, Susan offered to trace, cut out, and mail several tie patterns for any of the missionary mum’s who might like to sew a tie for their serving missionary. Each pattern was traced by hand, tailored to measure the individual missionary, and mailed at her own expense (in my case, sent half way around the world to New Zealand).

Since making those first few ties for her son and his friends, she, and her sister Lois, have started up an online tie making business.  “All Tyed Up” gives you an idea of  the extent of her tie-making skills. Susan also suggests that if the tie you are looking for is not there, then it is only a phone-call or email away.

Elder ‘T’ shares one of his favourite tie’s – 8 inches wide!

If you are interested in purchasing a tie from All Tyed Up, then pop on over to Susan’s website and scroll through the huge range she has displayed there. Orders cannot be made through the website, but if you email Susan with your order or questions, she can make arrangements from there.

Some interesting facts about ties:

  1. Not all men are the same size and therefore can’t wear the same size tie – you have to make adjustments for both taller and shorter men. Susan has made a tie small enough for a child – a tiny 42” long, as well as a tie for a 7’7’’ tall man – a huge 78”.
  2. Ties can come in different widths, according to your preference.  Susan makes ties to order, anything from 1 ½ “ wide through to 4 ½” wide.
  3. Ties can be made with many types of fabrics including cotton, cotton-polyester blends, silk, satin, satin brocades, ultra suede, and denim – just about any material can be used.
  4. The only type of tie she would encourage missionaries not to wear are character ties – Spiderman, Pokemon, Little Mermaid etc. But as for which colours not to wear, according to her missionary son, “If she makes it, I will wear it”.
Thank you Susan for allowing me to share your inspiring story. We wish you and your son all the best as he prepares to return home in August.

There is an assortment of ways that we can be missionaries or, at least, support the missionary effort. We are all blessed with different talents and abilities, and it is up to us to find those talents and use them in the unique way that only we can.  Susan found her unique way.

I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience with something that you are passionate about? Please share with us here what your passion is, and how you see it as an opportunity to support the missionary effort.

Mormons in the Spotlight

As most of you would agree, it’s not every day you can link into a global online newspaper and find a major story about a day in the life of an LDS missionary. Let’s face it; it’s hard enough for our boys and girls to get people to open doors to share their gospel message, let alone to have these same people bring this kind of story to their breakfast table.

But this week that’s exactly what I did. This week the New York Times, in their Education section, ran a 5-page spread titled At Age 19, From Utah to Uganda’, that follows two LDS missionaries serving in Uganda.

Now, some of you may feel the hackles rise a bit at the mention of our missionaries and Uganda in the same sentence; bringing back memories of the recent satirical Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”, depicting the follies of two Mormon missionaries in the wilds of that country. But before you discredit this article as riding on the back of this non-LDS production, I suggest it would be well worth reading.

I found the article to be very well balanced in its depiction of our missionaries. Indeed, it follows in some depth their preparation to serve, their training in the MTC, their incredible commitment to the work and maintains faith in their spiritual maturity.

At the same time it shows the human side of our boys in regards to their life before their missions, their struggles with separation from family and friends during, and the temptations that surround them whilst serving.

This article is most certainly timely when considering the current bid by Mitt Romney for the US Republican Presidential nomination. Romney’s rise to prominence has brought the church out of obscurity. As Josh Kron states, “Mormonism is basking in the mainstream spotlight” at the moment.

Up until now Mitt Romney has been low key about his Mormon roots, but with reports emerging that he is on the brink of being nominated,  and with some prominent evangelicals now supporting him, that will probably change.

So, whether it’s riding on the back of a popular musical, or even adding depth to current political events, this New York Times article has certainly given its many readers the opportunity to reflect on Mormon religious practices over their morning coffee. It may even help to open a few more doors to our hard working sons and daughters.

In this light it may be time for us to start talking about these same things with those of our friends and acquaintances who are not of our faith. Like Romney, maybe it’s time to step into that spotlight.

You call that an email?

10 easy ways to get your missionary to communicate…

I remember a friend telling me once how frustrated she was that her missionary son only wrote two sentences each week to the family. She felt robbed of a sense of his mission experience and feeling a part of the growth he was undergoing.

While it is important for those of us who are at home to get news from our missionary, the lack of information, from time to time, is probably a sign that your missionary is working very hard, is highly focused, and enjoying the experience.

However, if your missionary finds it hard to write more than a sentence or two every week, or is persistently missing those weekly emails, then there are some things that you can do to encourage a better flow of news and information.

Before listing those things I wish to highlight something that each of us need to remember. In the July 2003 Ensign, Dallas and Marjorie Bradford wrote,

“Once your missionary enters the MTC, everything you say and do should help him or her stay focused on the task and challenges ahead”.

I cannot stress this point more. A missionary’s number one purpose for being where they are is to do the work of the Lord. So all our communications with them should be limited to topics that allow them to maintain their focus. But I will talk more about this in another post…

In doing some research for this post I came across an article from the March 1989 Ensign, under ‘Random Sampler’, that suggested missionaries could purchase, “some loose-leaf paper about half the size of an Ensign page” and slip a piece of carbon paper between a sheet and their journal. Then, by writing in their journal each day, they could also include a copy of their daily journal entry with their weekly letter home.

Well, we have come a long way since then haven’t we?

So here are the 10 top suggestions on how to get your missionary to write more interesting and newsy emails each week. You can try one, or all of them:

  1. Keep your emails simple. Don’t overload them with so much information that your missionary can’t work out where to start to reply to them.
  2. At the end of each email to your missionary, list three specific questions you would like them to answer in their reply email. This is for two main reasons:
    1. Firstly, by separating the questions from the body of your email, it becomes apparent to your missionary what you most want to know about.
    2. Secondly, by putting them at the end of the email, your missionary will be more likely to remember to answer them.
  3. Encourage them to keep a journal if they are not already doing it. Even if it is just a couple of sentences a day recording what they did.
  4. Ask them to bring their journal with them the next time they write an email to you and share one thing they have recorded in it over the last week.
  5. Ask them to attach at least two photos they have taken over that week and include a quick comment about each one.
  6. Ask specific questions, such as:
    • Where did you work this week
    • Name two people you contacted, and what were their responses
    • What is their apartment like, or what do they see out their bedroom window.
  7. Keep your emails brief so they have enough time to answer.
  8. If you can’t get them to write weekly, then get a loose-leaf binder for them to write in as their journal. Then get them to send home some of the pages each month through the mail…that carbon paper idea is looking better every minute.………
  9. …….
  10. …….

Ok, so I didn’t make it to 10 as promised. But I am sure that there are some great ideas out there. PLEASE share them with us here.

What is it that you do to encourage your missionary to write more?

Carry neither purse, nor scrip…

The suitcase of Faith

Our missionary outside the MTC with her suitcase of Faith

It was almost 12 months ago that our family crammed into the family car and drove out to the airport to bid farewell to our daughter, the newest missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Preparing for that day involved, not only concerted spiritual readiness, but also foresight into what clothing needs she would have. Gone are the days when missionaries were expected to embark with, “…no purse, nor scrip, nor shoes…”(Luke 10:4)

For us, that preparation took on quite a unique nature.

While our missionary daughter was already well prepared with much of her personal clothing needs, coming from the fairly temperate climate of the pacific, she was not ready for the possible sub-zero weather conditions of mid-western USA.

As all mothers do, I panicked. My daughter was going to die from hypothermia on some quiet Utah street. Four months out from her departure, and from our humble abode in Sydney, Australia, I could not imagine how we were ever going to kit her out with enough warm clothes to avoid this outcome.

Typically, my daughter seemed to think that she could survive on what she had…

This was probably the first time I had to contemplate the principle of ‘faith’ as the mother of a missionary. But, desperate times require desperate measures…well that’s how I saw it anyway.

Coincidentally, my husband and I were heading out on a trip to General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah just three weeks before she departed. So a plan was hatched…

With shopping list in hand, my spare time while over there was spent ticking off each item. With the help of my husband, and lots of size guessing, I managed to fill one middle size suitcase with winter-ready clothes. Part one of my plan was complete.

Part two required that faith I was fast acquiring…I left the suitcase there. That’s right, I didn’t take it home with me.

My daughter had a total of one day, upon arrival in Utah, to try the clothes on and make any exchanges or adjustments needed. How’s that for an exercise in faith? I say, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

I am pleased to report that I not only managed to please her with my design choices, she actually survived the freeze of her first winter in America.

I am sure many of you were faced with similar decisions when helping your missionary prepare for their adventure. I would love to hear your story here.