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
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.