My son recently returned from his 2 year LDS mission in the France Lyon Mission. Here are some things that I learned from this experience that might help some new missionary parents.
Before the Mission
- Talk to someone from that country or who served in that mission. They will be able to provide insights into what they should expect, explain different customs, cook you some of the food, comfort the parents. If it is a state side mission they can still tell you about what to bring and what to expect.
- If you don’t speak the language use the many language resources to at least learn some words. Duolingo is a free language learning app that helps you learn basic words and phrases. Also very handy is the lds.org website. You can listen to general conference addresses in a foreign language while reading it in English in a separate window or you can do it reverse. Youtube has a variety of different programs in foreign languages that you can listen or watch and learn . Whatever you learn will help you at the MTC.
- Join a Facebook support group. Many missions have support groups on Facebook. In these forums you will be able to chat with other parents, ask questions of former missionaries, current parents and senior missionaries serving there. In my group some join as soon as they get the call and they are able to many times become friends with other missionaries before going into the MTC. It makes it less scary. Plus you learn things such as what things to bring and what to buy there, if you should bring an ATM card or a credit card, hints on mailing packages, news of transfers, etc…
- Decide what electronic goodies to bring. Find out if you will be using an iPad on your mission. If so, decide if you would like to have a keyboard, a case, cables, external storage, cloud storage. You can purchase these expensive items before and save or you can decide when you are going to get each one of these items. They make great birthday and Christmas presents. My son absolutely loved having the HDMI connector. He said he used it all the time for district and zone meetings as well as for teaching.
- Make sure your driver’s license is good. Of course if you need a passport, make sure it is valid for you whole mission. If you are going to need an international driver’s license get all the paperwork filled out, signed and pictures taken before going. International driver’s licenses are only valid for 12 months. You might want to make sure you get enough pictures for two, plus get two forms signed. Wait to send it to AAA until they need it. If your driver’s license is going to expire while you are gone, make sure you get it renewed before you leave.
- Call your car insurance. You might want to remove your missionary from your car insurance while he/she is gone. Paying for a teenager who is not driving is quite expensive. The agent might say it is bad not to have insurance but underwriters are familiar with LDS missions. Make sure you put him/her back on when he returns and let your agent know that your now 21 year old won’t be drinking because he was serving a LDS mission. (We should have the lowest rates).
- Don’t cancel Health Insurance. In the United States parents can keep their children in their insurance until they are 26 years old. The Church instructs you to keep health insurance. If your child is serving in the US, you will be charged for doctors visits in your insurance. If it is abroad, the church will cover it but if your child needs to come home for medical reasons you will have to cover the rest. Be sure he/she is covered.
- Call your bank. If your missionary will be using an ATM, Debit or credit card make sure the bank knows where he/she will be and until when. That way the transactions won’t get blocked. Also make sure you can access the account. You might have to make deposits or pay bills. Your missionary won’t have the time to check on their balances so help them out and in your emails remind them if they are spending too much or too little. If your child is taking a credit card make sure he/she takes one that doesn’t charge international fees. Instruct them that credit cards they shouldn’t get cash advances, only make purchases. With Debit Cards they can make purchases and take money out of cash machines. Make sure they know their PIN.
- Make sure you defer school attendance. Also before returning make sure to fill out all the necessary paperwork so your child can go back to school. You might have to sign him up for classes so be sure you know his log in. You might also have to fill out FAFSA forms.
- Make copies. Keep a copy of your child’s passport, ATM/Debit card, driver’s license, birth certificate, school ID, health insurance card etc… You never know what you will need or what they will lose.
- At the Airport. Your missionary can call home on the way to the mission field from the airport. You can send a cheap prepaid cell phone or a pre-paid calling card for this sanctioned call. Remember that it is for this one use only. We were out of the country but our son called his siblings collect and it was expensive. So send the card or phone to the MTC before departure.
During the Mission
- Put your child’s location weather on your phone. One fun thing to do is to look at the weather where your child is serving. It always connected me with my son. I could see what time it was, what the weather was like every time I looked at my phone. Plus if he was at a location that would be difficult to spell or pronounce I could always just show it to my friends and they would be able to see where he was.
- “Visit” the apartment and the chapel. After every transfer when I got his new address I’d go to google maps and I would do a street view of his new apartment. I was seeing the street he walked on every day. I also liked looking for the church. One of the areas where he served had the most beautiful chapel.
- Mail important things and packages to the office. Some missions don’t allow missionaries to send their mailing addresses so all you have is the mission address. However, if you do know your child’s apartment address mail all packages and important papers to the office. Many times packages have to be picked up at a central office if the missionaries are not home and your missionary might not be able to do so for days or weeks.
- Learn about the country’s postal service. I quickly learned that it took only about 4 days for mail to reach France from Chicago. I also learned that I could mail small or medium bubble envelopes directly to my son’s apartment without any problems. I also learned that I could pay for the postage online and it would be cheaper. Depending on the weight the flat rate priority mail was cheaper. Figure out what works for your child’s country. A friend of mine had to mail medication to her son in Mexico. Every time they put a picture of the Savior on the envelope, he would receive the package. If they didn’t someone else got his medication. Find out what works. Another friend would pay extra for tracking packages to Mexico and would track all the way to the city’s post office. The missionary never got anything but his mailman did. Learn what works where your child is serving. We were lucky that our son was in France, it was so fast and reliable.
- Post updates to your Facebook group. Our group became a great support. Some parents would post updates during transfers so I’d know if my son was being transferred and I wouldn’t get any emails that Monday. Also parents would post pictures. I’d get different pictures than what I was sent. I’d share pictures that they wouldn’t get. You also become friends with the other parents and they can provide you support if there is ever a question or problem.
- Follow the mission blog and other missionaries blogs. It is fun to hear and see pictures from other missionaries. My son’s mission would always post pictures of new missionaries, departing missionaries, mission or zone conferences. My husband followed the blog of a sister who happened to serve in 2 districts with my son.
- Don’t call the mission office over little things. Our son was serving in France during all the terrorist attacks. It was scary but I trusted that the Lord chose someone who could take care of the missionaries no matter what. So I didn’t call the mission office with questions. Within hours we were always contacted with security updates and what they were doing. If I had any questions, my emails were always answered promptly. Make sure the mission office has your correct email address and contact information. If you have an emergency, I am pretty sure they would love to hear from you. We emailed the office when our town was hit with an F$ tornado and our son emailed us back the next day. Email works best most of the time. Only call for emergencies such as deaths.
- Find the best way to send presents. One time my son said he needed socks. So I mailed him socks and some candy and deodorant. It cost me $28. Those were the most expensive socks ever! After that I decided that there were better ways to send him packages or presents. Check if Amazon has service for the country. You might be able to get free shipping if you are a prime customer. Even without the prime shipping, it is much cheaper to mail from France to France. Also look for other vendors in the country. I found that some Ebay sellers from England shipped for the same rate anywhere in Europe. Additionally through the Facebook group I found out about a lady who sends packages to the missionaries. She has something for every holiday and her prices were more reasonable than mailing from the US.
- Let them shop locally. My son fell in love with the clothes in France. He ended up buying several things once he go there just because he liked them better. So don’t send a full suitcase. Your missionary will probably find some things he/she likes better there. Items to wait for would be winter coats (unless you are leaving during the winter), umbrellas, rain coats, galoshes. These items might be better purchased locally. Once again check with your Facebook group if you have questions.
- Food and toiletries. I think one thing your child will miss is peanut butter if he/she is abroad. Find out if there are the same types of toiletries in the country. My son liked a particular type of deodorant so I mailed it to him. He said there were local types he could use but he still wanted his brand. Some countries might not have antiperspirant or different brands of products. Find out what needs to be brought.
- Become friends with people in the mission. Some times members will email you pictures or updates. It is so fun to hear their perspective.
- Pin favorite recipes. My son was so lucky to serve in the south of France. When the members fed the missionaries they would serve them a feast. They cooked some exquisite dishes that he has grown to love. When he mentioned a special dish, I looked for a recipe and pinned them. Now that he is home he can relive his mission. Also he had a Spanish companion and he loved making Spanish food. I was sure to pin the foods he said he would make.
- Enjoy some of the mission foods at your home. There are international stores everywhere or you can order some of the treats online. Eating what your child eats makes the mission real and makes for great FHE treats to share with younger siblings. I have found international foods for great prices at TJ Maxx, Big Lots, Aldi and Ross. Your child will enjoy some of these treats when he gets home too.
Pay It Forward
- Adopt your unit missionaries. We live in a very small branch and the missionaries know that they will have dinner with us every Sunday. They also know that they will spend Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving with us. They are part of our family while they are here. I just hope that another family will adopt my missionary. I can’t control that but I can make sure another missionary mom will be relieved to know that her son/daughter has a mission mom.
- Become friends with your missionaries’ parents. I’ve sent pictures, videos and texts of their kids who are serving here. I let them know how they are doing and they know they have someone they can call if there is a problem. The parents love getting the pictures I send and love hearing a different perspective on their kids. Hopefully someone will do the same for you.
- Contact the parents when the missionaries can’t. We had a F4 tornado hit our town. We had 2 sets of missionaries riding out the storm in our basement. After the first tornado hit, we were the big news that night. It was on every network. I had family and friends calling and texting me to make sure we were all right. I made sure to text all 4 parents letting them know who I was, what happened and where their kids were. The missionaries wouldn’t be able to email until Monday and it was Thursday night. I had some very thankful parents. I am pretty sure the same thing happened with other disasters. This way parents don’t worry and the mission office doesn’t get overwhelmed with calls.
- Support missionaries who are doing it on their own. My son’s mission every Christmas would ask the parents to help send gifts to missionaries who didn’t get family support. Our Facebook group got together to put together packages or you could send some money for presents. Also when sending your missionary goodies, try sending 2 of every thing. That way if the companion doesn’t get anything, your child will be able to share.
- Support Missionaries serving from your ward. My son loved getting cards, letters and packages from our old ward. They adopted him and supported him throughout his mission. Be sure to send missionaries birthday cards and Christmas cards. They will appreciate it.
Your child’s mission will be a wonderful time for your child and for your whole family. Enjoy every minute of it. It goes by so quickly.