Our eldest son, Josh, is preparing for a mission to the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo East. He enters the Dominican Republic MTC mid-August.
Josh graduated from high school over a year ago and completed his freshman year at college away from home. He didn’t go to a BYU school, but he participated meaningfully in a student ward and institute. He took a few road trips, got a job, and played a lot of pick-up basketball. This summer before he leaves he is spending time on splits with our local missionaries here in SoCal. He is working and drinking deeply the magic of Los Angeles in the summer. He’s excited and happy.
When I ask him if he’s worried about his mission, he says he’s worried about teaching and baptizing. His answer makes me feel relief. How does he already know that these are the only two things worth worrying about?
As always, Josh is doing things at his own pace, with or without our help, ignoring peer influence. I’m sharing how this is all working out just in case someone needs to hear that this kind of timing might be a blessing. Make no mistake: my husband and I were only peripherally involved in Josh’s decision to attend school before a mission. He made it a matter of personal prayer. But I do believe this past year at school has been a key turning point in Josh’s life. Irreplaceable. I don’t know if this gap year is right for you or your missionary, but I’m an advocate of giving it true consideration.
Additional thoughts about missions and the temple here.
Next month the youth in our ward are participating in a missionary month. The Young Women and Young Men leaders have planned special lessons and activities to help familiarize them with missionary life. Many of these will take place on Sunday, others will replace weekly mutual activities. Some of these activities will naturally include our Primary children: families will be inviting youth to their homes for dinner, just like the real missionaries. Families will also be taught by the youth as they practice sharing the gospel.
To help make this missionary month a more full family experience, we’re switching March to the November Sharing Time theme: I Can Choose to Be a Missionary Now. Our sharing time lessons will be pulled from November. We’re also going to send home the following one-page outline with several simple ideas for Family Home Evening. It’s meant to be photocopied and folded in half. I pulled the story from The Friend (July 2016) and the other resources from various spots on lds.org.
It’s so simple that I thought I’d share it below.
Hey guys! I have a friend who is volunteering in Russia where they just changed the law about proselytizing. She sent a quick note hoping for feedback about how to fill the hours with service when she can’t teach! I asked for her permission to share the request here. This is what she wrote:
Hello everybody! I hope all is well. As many of you know there has been a lot of changes in Russia regarding the work. We are no longer able to Preach the Gospel. We are trying to do a lot more service. I know many of you served missions or are currently serving a mission or maybe never served a mission but have done service in the past. I wanted to ask you all for suggestions of what you would do for service or what you did on your missions that worked well. If you could let me know that would be awesome. We have run out of ideas. Also if you have friends or family that you know that have served or are serving in Russia or any other place like Russia that it is a little bit tricky with the law maybe you could talk to them and see what they have done in the past or are doing? Thanks for all your help. If you have any suggestions let me know and I would greatly appreciate it!
– Cecтра Jeanette Bierman
I love this cute sister! If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment here (I approve all comments so don’t be alarmed if you don’t see it appear right away) or send me an email at email@example.com.
Just for more context, here is the letter from Sister Bierman’s mission president:
As you know, laws signed by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, July 7, include a section of regulations and restrictions affecting our customary proselyting efforts in Russia. The new law goes into effect beginning July 20, 2016.
In correspondence, including any of your postings on social media, we kindly ask that you refer to you son or daughter serving in the Russia Samara Mission as a “volunteer” in keeping with the spirit of the new law. We also request that your communications refrain from any negative commentary about the Russian government. Beginning on Tuesday, July 20, the manner in which our young volunteers in Russia Samara perform service will change fundamentally. Instead of proselyting, they will now engage in activities aimed at developing the Church and supporting Church members. They will all serve in Church callings and will build closer bonds with members than in the past. For our part, we will need to strive together to ensure that their service is productive and spiritually fulfilling.
We feel nothing but joy and peace in this effort. We are confident that the Lord will continue to pour forth his blessings on his Saints and upon the Church in Russia. We will see miracles take place and the hand of the Lord made manifest in prospering His Church in this beautiful land. “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail” (D&C 6:34.)
President and Sister Ottesen
Russia Samara Mission
Before they took off for Cambodia, I had my mom and her husband write a list of ways to prepare for a senior mission. I think it’s a really good beginning list. Now that they’ve been serving for about a year, I wondered if they would change anything about their original list. They sent over a few thoughts, summarized below.
First, my mom especially wanted to share that being a senior missionary is nothing like serving as a young missionary. Senior missionaries are much more flexible, choosing options and as they serve. They are much more self directed. Senior missionaries determine what needs to be done and how to use their time.
In addition to the original list, they wanted to add or modify with a few additional ideas. For example, while it’s helpful to serve wherever you can, especially as a couple, it will be important on your senior mission to learn to be flexible in your service. Your mission president may be impressed to change your assignment! Also, they mentioned that it is most helpful to talk to senior missionaries from the mission to which you have been called. Talking to senior missionaries is great, but there are many specifics that can be discovered only from your area. Finally, since senior missionaries have a different set rules to abide by, they mentioned how important it has been to prepare a method to communicate regularly with family. This can take place through email, Skype, FaceTime, or some other free electronic means of communication.
I thought I would also share a few of my mom’s ideas on ways that family members can support senior missionaries! I really love that many of them are simple. It is a relief that helping our senior missionaries is probably best achieved by doing what obviously needs to be done!
1. We have felt family support even before receiving our call. Children and grandchildren have shared in the excitement of opening the call letter and preparing for our mission.
2. We know that children pray for us and our success. We feel this extra support.
3. We receive only positive, encouraging comments.
4. We are grateful for a daughter that is checking on our home and finances. She also sends out cards for birthdays. We have also had children help us order flowers for funerals. It is difficult from a foreign location. There are countless acts of service related to our car, etc.
5. We receive wonderful emails from children updating us on what is going on in their families.
6. We Skype regularly with our children and grandchildren. We have lovely experiences in conversation with individual grandchildren, hearing talks, listening to musical performances and just seeing the babies. We appreciate their preparation and effort.
7. We are blessed with daughters and daughters-in-law that send thoughtful, meaningful packages, especially remembering seasons and holidays.
8. We love knowing that our grandchildren are aware of our mission experience. Besides wanting to serve the Lord and His children, we are serving to impact the lives of our grandchildren.
I can NOT believe that my parents are half way through their two year mission to Cambodia! It is just bananas. They are doing such an amazing job. A little later this week I’ll share some of their updated feedback about how to help and support a senior missionary.
Today, though, I’m posting a super fun Hump Day printable! We sent it off to Cambodia a couple of weeks ago and I swore I would wait until my Mom got the package before I posted it online but I just can’t wait anymore! So, Mom, consider this a sneak preview. I hope you get it soon!
It’s available for you to print below, in an 18×24 version and a super big 24×36 print. These are black and white engineering prints your an have done for under $5 at your Staples or FedEx Office. After I printed ours I had my son Max color it with markers before we sent it off to Cambodia 🙂
Oh, and just in case you’re not interested in sending a full poster, here’s the same image sized to fit standard letter-size paper. It would be easy to print at home and throw into an envelope.
PS: These files are big! There may be a lag when you are downloading. Don’t fret. Wait for a sec. If you’re still having trouble, send me a note.
I’ve been working on putting together an engineering print for my parents on their mission. I think it would be a fun thing to unwrap in a package!
This poster is not the one that is going to Cambodia (sorry, Mom). But I thought I’d share it here with you! Save the PDF onto a thumb drive and take it to Staples or FedEx to have them print it as an engineering print for you–it should cost you less than $5.
For that price, you don’t have to feel bad about folding it up to fit into a package, your missionary can hang it and enjoy it for a few months, and and then she doesn’t have to feel bad about throwing it away before transfers 🙂
Over a year ago I watched closely as my friend Julie sent her oldest son, Josh, on a mission. She’s a great mom and I really admire her commitment to living the gospel and parenting–she has always been such a good example to me! You might want to read that post first: Becoming a Missionary Mom. A few weeks ago I asked Julie what she would she would have done differently now that she’s has a son who has been serving for a while. She had some really useful thoughts and ideas that I thought I would share here!
First, one of the most important things Julie shared:
I can’t emphasize enough to not fall into the comparison trap or over do it trying to do everything you see and hear about. Personally, I try to take it easy when reading about others and even sharing about my missionary…each missionary is just so different, has unique experiences and expresses themselves in their own way. Some missionaries write eloquent, spiritual letters and some sound like they are texting. Each of them is doing their best to serve the Lord and their people in the best way they know how….just keep reminding yourself of that and be proud of what your missionary is doing. Missionary milestone should be celebrated individually and not stacked in comparison to another’s milestones.
Such great advice and a good reminder for everyone, I think.
Julie has loved being part of a Facebook page specific to her son’s mission. I can totally see how this would be helpful–I *love* the Primary presidents page I’m a part of on Facebook. It’s so helpful. Julie says it’s great to join these pages as soon as you get the call because it’s such a great place to ask questions and get information. As a reminder, Julie notes:
I am not a fan of using these forums to complain, overshare or brag but posting photos and good experiences are great….luckily my experience has been the latter.
One of the ways Julie got organized before Josh left on his mission was by setting up a couple of binders: one for Josh’s missionary supplies, one for Josh’s important info, and one to keep track of Josh’s letters and emails. Julie confirmed that this system has worked really well for her! (Yay! I love binders.) She says:
I am so glad I did the binders as I have referred to them many times throughout his mission. I’ve had questions from other moms about what I bought where, I’ve needed to refer to sizes of clothing for my son and I’ve needed access to passwords for college and bank information. This binder was quick and accessible for getting to this information.
Julie made and keeps preprinted address labels in her binder to make sending a package super easy and quick. She also keeps a box nearby where she stores items for packages. She collects items that are good deals at end-of-the-season holiday sales (socks, gloves, clothing, candy, school/office items) and keeps them in her box to organize for packages.
Julie said a favorite gift for her son was a Shutterfly calendar filled with photos! She included pictures on days of the month, family birthdays, holidays for the country he’s serving in and random messages on various days throughout the year. It was a great, small, light-weight gift which is great for sending to more expensive mail destinations. I love this idea!
She also recommended putting a few items in each package for the companion, especially if there is less family support. Including items like candy, stickers, and other small items can also be easy for your missionary to share with kids and investigators the missionary is serving. And be considerate that if packages are sent to a PO Box or mission home someone needs to pick-up and deliver those boxes, so don’t over do it in size, weight or the number of boxes you send.
There are a couple of things she would have added to her binders:
It may sound silly but I wish I had tracked how much food I served and how much I spent so I can more easily prepare for the homecoming and my next missionary. That being said, I’ve heard that homecoming gatherings tend to be smaller in numbers but this could vary from place to place and family to family.
She also wanted Some sort of pre-printed form to fill in companions and areas…I’ve been terrible in tracking this. Although this can be tracked a number of ways, there are even apps for this. Again, I struggled in keeping up so I’m not sure if anything would’ve have helped me!
Finally, as far as phone/Skype calls! Julie says plan but don’t over do it.
We’ve tried to do something fun each call (one call we all wore his shirts to see how long it take him to notice, another one we borrowed sombreros and maracas and sang Feliz Navidad). Make a list of things to talk about and questions to ask because the time will go quickly and it’s easy to just sit and giggle and not have talked about much. Take a family photo w/ your missionary on the laptop, have sibling play the piano or an instrument, have a family prayer, have them bear their testimony, etc.
Do ask about their health, cleanliness (laundry, housekeeping, etc), work ethic, eating, etc. I think loving reminders to call the doctor when needed, keeping their toilet clean, and writing in their journal can be good….well, at least to make us moms feel better, right? This can also be a good opportunity to ask if they are following the rules or struggling with the rules or work…I’ve heard many stories about missionaries who fool their families into thinking they are having one experience only to have the companion write home and tell his family that is not the case…social media can be a crucible of truth!
A lot of these details are things that haven’t even occurred to me, so I am so glad that Julie is willing to share her experience. Thanks for leading the way, Julie! Great tips.
It’s been a little while since I’ve shared anything about my parents mission to Cambodia! They are doing so well. They have been abroad for two months, settling in and working hard. They attend many meetings and teaching sessions and they do a lot of humanitarian work. My mom has such a soft heart for the children, so many of whom live without resources that we consider very basic.
We miss them but we are so inspired by their work. The photos and experiences they share are enlarging our vision of what it means to be part of a world wide church. As a small token of support, I decided to put together a one page sheet that is easy to photocopy with images of Christ. I’m shipping a package of crayons and a stack of these papers to my mom and hopefully she can share them with some of the children they visit or with the Primary children in one of their branches.
The sheet is meant to be folded in half twice to make a little coloring booklet.
My thirteen-year-old has been taking piano for a few years and is starting to work on hymns! Last week the bishop asked him to prepare “Sweet Hour of Prayer” to play for opening exercises in priesthood. I’m so happy he has progressed enough to begin to put his piano work to use.
I’ve never been one of those mothers with hard and fast rules about Eagle Scout projects and a car or learning hymns and quitting piano. I think each child is different and I like to stay flexible. It feels apparent that Lucas will respond to having a list of 25 hymns to learn: these are hymns that are easier to play and that are frequently in use for church services. In learning them, I hope he’ll be able to add value to worship meetings for years to come.
I also added ten “Challenge” songs. Five are hymns that I feel like are used frequently or may come up during Lucas’ mission! They are pretty specific to Lucas, so you may want to change those for your child. The other five songs are from the Children’s Songbook. They are five songs that I think are essential to serving as a Primary pianist! Many of the “First 25” hymns cross over easily to Primary (think I am a Child of God, Love at Home, or Keep the Commandments). But any Primary pianist will need to know the Hello Song, Do As I’m Doing, You’ve Had a Birthday, and Reverently, Quietly. I also included We are Different because it’s fairly easy and I really love it! The challenge songs are just extras. The “First 25” are chosen for their simplicity, accessibility, and frequency.
I made this list for Lucas, but I’m sharing an easy printable with you below. It’s meant to be printed horizontal, and there are two per page.
Also. I’m aware that there is a simplified hymnal for pianists. I personally love it because my piano skills are meager! I’ve used it a few times and it’s incredibly useful. But this list has hymns that are simple as written in the standard LDS book. I want Lucas to be able to pick up any hymn book in any chapel and play from it.
Just to make it super simple for you, I re-saved this document with the “Challenge Hymns” blank so you can fill in a few of your personal preferences.
During the October 2012 General Conference, President Monson made the unexpected announcement that eligibility for missionary service would be open to younger ages. This is the relevant wording:
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”
There have been further explanations of the policy and plenty of explorations on Mormon blogs about the ripple effects of the change. I don’t have much more to add, but I do have one thing to say.
One part of missionary preparation is the blessing of attending the temple. In some ways, the excitement and adventure of a mission can mean we gloss over the important temple covenants which take place around the same time. The policy change means many more members will experience the temple at a younger age. It also means the temple will be coupled with missionary service for more members than ever before.
In light of those facts, I’d like to add my voice as a reminder that temple commitments should be made by individual choice and determination. It’s one thing to encourage sharing the gospel. It’s quite another to push a young person toward making eternal temple covenants before they are fully ready to live up to their requirements. I think that experiencing the temple spiritually or emotionally unprepared can result in a lifetime of disappointment. Attending the temple and making solemn covenants therein due to pressure from the ward, parents, or peers would be an unnecessary tragedy.
And that’s the reminder I’d like to add to thoughts about the age of missionary service. The available age options are a blessing. Temple covenants are a blessing. Missionary service is a blessing. As a community of saints, we can express our trust in the Lord’s timing for our young brothers and sisters by giving them plenty of space to exercise their option freely. Attending the temple prepared is a better goal than getting on a mission as quickly as possible.
PS: If you’re interested, I wrote a post about Temple Prep last year. Find it here.
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