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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bringing a Missionary Home

I'd like to share a few tips for parents with children on missions, especially regarding the final and sometimes difficult details of actually getting them safely home.

We've sent four boys on LDS missions, and as I write, our youngest is with us in Shanghai, having survived the 40 hours of travel it took to get him from Piura, Peru to China. As with each of our other sons, I am impressed and delighted with what missionary service has done for him in terms of adding maturity, skills, and increased abilities to serve and succeed. It's a delight to hang out now, though not seeing him for two years (apart from Skype calls with a webcam on Mother's Day and Christmas) has been difficult. Sending him on his mission was difficult, too--so much paperwork, medical tests, clothing to buy, and then the emotions of sending a young man away for two years. But bringing him home is the difficulty that stands out in my mind the most. That's where I have a couple of simple tips, too.

First, let me say I am extremely grateful to the Piura, Peru Mission and its kind leader, President Chad Rowley, and all those who make the mission possible, including a remarkably busy and helpful woman in Lima, Sister Campian, who fights untold battles to keep missionaries legally in the country, to manage their return travel, and to handle scores of details and bureaucratic burdens in a challenging place. It took a huge extra-mile effort from her and others to help my son navigate the complex and shifting requirements for getting a visa to China to see his parents. He came very close to not being able to come here but finally had his visa issued at the last minute. Whew.

I also want to thank Elder Andrew Rainsdon of my son's mission for his kindness. My son was able to return home with a little over $40 in his pocket, largely due to the $40 Elder Rainsdon gave him as an unsolicited and surprising act of kindness when my son just mentioned that his card had expired and I was having difficulty with Western Union (difficulty as in several hours of wasted time with Western Union customer service). My son's bankcard expired before the end of his mission and my several attempts to use Western Union to get money to him all failed, in part because after two failed attempts, my third attempt, aimed at Atlanta, Georgia where he would be passing through, triggered a Western Union fraud alert I guess that blocked any attempt at money transfer by my or by my wife using two different cards, with no chance for appeal or repair, and no chance to move the money I had already spent in vain for Peru to Atlanta.

Bringing each of our four boys home was difficult, partly because the details of their travel and travel dates are often not available as early as parents would like them. Mission departure dates often are affected by the schedules of incoming missionaries from the Provo MTC or regional missionary training centers, and may be affected by other events as well. Trying to schedule and organize companionships as missionaries come and go is complex.

Before the mission:
Tip #1: Have a power of attorney.  The missionary should sign a witnessed properly notarized power of attorney form giving the parents or another appropriate person the legal power to handle things back home such as housing arrangements after the mission, school details, bank account matters, etc.

Tip #2: Understand when bank cards will expire and know what will be needed to get new cards. This can be difficult in foreign countries. Some missionaries, such as my son, find their bank card has expired shortly before they return home, making it impossible for them to take money out of their bank. In some areas, it is difficult for foreign banks to get new cards mailed to the missionary. If a card is expiring, make sure the missionary takes out enough money for the  trip home. Would have been nice in our case!

Tip #3: Make copies of your passport and your birth certificate and leave these with your family or whoever will be making arrangements for you.

During the mission:

Tip #4: Communicate clearly and early with your missionary about travel needs and hopes. Make sure you and your missionary understand the significance of deadlines and dates that may be important in scheduling the trip home. Make sure the missionary understands your hopes and expectations for time together before they travel off to school or some other place.

Tip #5: If your missionary cannot provide useful information, and if you have not received advance information about return dates, go ahead and contact the mission home to inquire.

Tip #6: Be patient and flexible in working with the mission home, but do expect answers and guidance in advance.

Tip #7: If you live in somewhere requiring a visa in addition to your child's passport and want your missionary to go there after the mission, contact the mission home early and explain the process. For China, it involves turning a passport in to a Chinese consulate (the only one in Peru was outside my son's mission--challenging!) and then managing a myriad of details. Be available to rapidly provide information that is needed (this included a letter of invitation, our bank account information [carefully done to avoid fraud risks], and more details).

Tip #8: Understand options for getting money to your missionary when things go wrong. My experience with Western Union was a disappointment. If you must use Western Union, understand that the information they provide you on how to pick up money may be incorrect. In our case, we learned that a photo ID alone was insufficient. Had they told us that Peru would require our son to have his passport, we could have made other arrangements, but his visa at the time was in the hands of the Chinese embassy in Lima. Sigh.

Tip #9: Make sure you missionary has an international calling card for the flight home with some cash for the trip.

Tip #10: Be grateful for each bit of help and each small miracle along the way, and be grateful for the privilege of having a missionary son or daughter. Don't let the big blessings be ruined by small inconveniences and hassles.


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

For the power of attorney to be effective, you need to have it notarized--a witness signature alone is not sufficient.

Other than that minor detail, this is terrific advice!

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger (大哥) said...

Hi Jeff, I'm a returned missionary and I travelled back home to England from the Singapore Mission. I really can't relate to anything you have spoken about here. Maybe this is because I served back in 2002-2004 and things may have changed now, but all this busy-ness about forms and banks and bank cards was just not part of my missionary experience at all. I didn't have any bank card during my 2-year mission, just relied on the support money each month given out by the mission. There's no reason that my missionary work would require me to be using a bank card! My parents used to send small amounts of cash in letters and parcels (which may have been a little risky, but it worked every time!) which I then exchanged to Malaysian Ringgit. Then details about flying home...I didn't even want to return home, let alone think about any details of flights and airports. My parents met me at Birmingham England airport. Just emailed them my itinerary as soon as I got it (about a week or two before my departure), and flew home. No big deal for me or my parents. I just don't understand the complications that come through on your post on these aspects of being a missionary. (But it sounds like your son had visa entry problems to China, that's a different story). Maybe different missions have different ways of dealing with things. Perhaps as I'm from England, things are different there too. Interesting post, but just doesn't relate to my missionary experience.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Glad it was easy. It was easy for me also as a missionary. But being a parent on the receiving end is a different experience, especially when there are complex travel plans that have to be made but no information is available.

Anonymous said...

Just curious Jeff. Since you are originally from Michigan or lived there for a long time, would it not have been better or easier for your son (and you) to go to Michigan and stay with relatives or friends, and then go to China from the United States, leaving from Michigan? It would have delayed your reunion but might have been easier.

Dealing with the South American countries is difficult. I served a state side Spanish speaking mission and we always had "Visa waiters" (missionaries who were going to foreign countries and their visas had not been approved in time for their departure from the MTC). We had more visa waiters that were going to South America than any other country at the time of my mission. It was easier to get to Korea and other parts of Asia than it was to get in to South America. Sometimes some missionaries that were headed to foreign countries had to stay in the MTC longer while waiting for visas because the state side missions could not take them, and it was almost always the ones going to South America.
Sometimes I was in a foursome because we had two visa waiters stay with us. As did other pairs. In my area a grandson of President Benson's was a visa waiter and was with us for about two months. He was going to South America. It interesting listening to the grandson talk of growing up with a grandfather who was an Apostle then the church President.

Paul said...

Jeff, these are great tips. Of course your experiece living as an expat yourself and having your son join you there makes his return trip more complicated than most.

My own trip home from Germany to the US was complicated enough at the time because of flight schedules and then delays that made what could have been an 8 hour trip about 24 hours long!

I think your best advice is implied: consider what roadblocks may present themselves well in advance and communicate with the mission (not your missionary) to resolve them well in advance.

Glad your son is "home" safe and sound.

Virginia Brown said...

We recently returned from a senior mission. We were fortunate in our mission to have a senior couple who were experts on higher education (a former state commissioner) and the mission president made use of their specialized knowledge by having all of the returning missionaries meet with them for counseling concerning their future schooling. It was of great help in getting them right back into school, and would be even more valuable for those who now go straight from high school to missionary service. Maybe couples could be called to visit more than one mission for this purpose.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Would not have worked to send him to the US first. We only have him here for 4 full days before he has to fly back to the US. The point of bringing him home was for us to see him in the brief time before he had to return to BYU. Going to the US first to stay there would have added a lot of expense and erased a big chunk of what little time he had.

Patrick said...

I served in the Trujillo Peru Mission back in 86-86. Piura was part of the Trujillo Mission back then. When I came home I managed not to release the travel details to my parents. When I got to the Salt Lake City airport there wasn't a soul there waiting for me. I called up a good friend and he took me home. After two years I walked through the front door to surprise my family. This was a week before Christmas. My mom has never forgiven me.

Bookslinger said...

Some familes move while their son is on his mession and don't tell him.

Bookslinger said...

Aw come on Jeff. You bollixed up the works by requesting he be sent to a country other than his home country at the end of his mission. If he had just gone from Peru to Appleton or Peru to BYU, everything would have been hunky-dory.

But nooo...... you had to have him go to the other side of the world before going "home", making the church's Missionary Travel Department and the Piura mission office go through hoops and do things that they aren't set up to do, and for which they have no SOPs. And the fact that you (I suppose) paid for all those plane tickets, doesn't really give you the right to mess up the work flow of all those other people.

You know (or should know) that church employees are worker-bees like employees everywhere (even Western Union) and when asked to do things out of the ordinary or make "special exceptions" things go awry.

Ya'll could have Skyped when he got back to the Appleton homestead, or when he got to BYU. And then seen him on one of your semi-annual /annual trips back to the US.

I feel sorry for your son, losing all that sleep traveling, the toll that long distance travel takes, the jet lag, etc.

It would have been so much easier, and better I think, to have let him use those days of travel and the couple days he spent in China, to instead decompress back in the US, either back in Appleton or in Provo. Going to a new (new to him) place like China is not a way for a missionary to decompress, especially with all that jet lag, and excitement of being in a strange place.

So, while your tips are good, they all pretty much apply to the "special circumstance" which was literlaly all *your* doing. :-)

Yeah, yeah, I'm sure your son "agreed" to go see you, but there's no way that a newly released missionary is going to turn down a request by his dear parents. He felt obligated, of course.

So..... MY recommendations to future missionaries is this: "Please do NOT try to travel to different countries (especially clear on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD) at the end of your mission. Tour your OWN mission if your parents can make it, otherwise go back to your COUNTRY/STATE/STAKE/WARD OF ORIGIN. And if your parents moved while you were gone, try to go back to wherever your 'stuff' was left at."

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay said...

Bookslinger, thanks for the comments. I'll say that bringing my first 3 sons home to the US also posed frustrations. Parents and missionaries need to be ready for that and be proactive if there will be tight deadlines or other complications to face.

I think that most of my tips still apply to parents in the US. Several were important in dealing with my son coming home from Nevada, as well as sons returning from Taiwan and Argentina, in addition to this last case in Peru. Remember that there are a lot of parents in nations outside the US who want to see their children come home from missions. This is a global church, of course. As for the option of just sending a missionary to school without a stop at home, that is pretty tough on a family and hope it is rare. Go talk to a mother about the option of not seeing a precious son after his mission and instead, just being content with Skype. But we considered that. We considered other options. But with the demands on my wife for her work as a teacher, we did not have the ability to be in the US between the tiime of his mission and the start of school. And yes, coming home to China was his emphatic choice as well. Not easy, very tiring, but he feels it was worth it, too. We did not talk him into it at all.

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger (大哥) said...

Thanks for replying to my comment Jeff, and it was nice to read your replies and to see how well you handled all the comments. Good job!

Duncan In Kuantan

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