I remember the airport drop off like it was yesterday. I repeatedly asked my son if he had his passport, his money, and his boarding pass. I was a nervous wreck, and could not stop myself from peppering him with the same questions over and over.
So much so that everyone in my family rolled their eyes in exasperation and annoyance at my Rainman-esque repetition.
I was so afraid. I was putting my child on a plane bound for MEXICO, of all places, with no cell phone, no ability to speak the language, and no idea of who was meeting him there.
I had nightmare visions of him saying the wrong thing at customs, being detained, and finding himself in a holding cell in Mexico. Trust the system, my husband urged me. He was, after all, not the first missionary to enter the Mexico City Missionary Training Center, and surely they had processes in place to ensure my son would arrive safely.
Which he did, to my utter and desperate relief.
My son, Elder Halverson, on the right, with his new companion, Elder Garcia, left
His newest companion, unfortunately, was not so lucky. He arrived at the Santiago, Chile airport expecting to find the familiar black tags and happy smiles to greet him. He retrieved his bags and looked around expectantly. No black tags. No happy smiles.
He waited around for a while, until it became obvious that no one was coming. Instead of panicking, he took control of the situation himself. This cool, collected young man decided to take a taxi to the Santiago CCM (missionary training center). Upon arriving there, they called the mission home in Rancagua, and alerted the president of Elder Garcia’s arrival. He had somehow slipped through the cracks and the mission president had no idea he was coming. He had been informed that this round of new missionaries would be 12 in number, not 13. Elder Garcia was the only missionary coming from the Mexico CCM, as the others had all been trained in Santiago. Since they didn’t know this at the mission home, no one was there to meet him.
This poor boy experienced every mother’s worst nightmare.
I write this post not to criticize the missionary department in any way. They are coordinating some 70,000 missionaries around the world and manage to do so in an efficient, careful manner. But every system is imperfect, and even the best laid plans can go awry.
Instead, I write this post as a lesson learned and offer advice for any future missionaries heading into the field. There are a few things you can do to help your son or daughter be prepared should the worst happen.
First, send your missionary with some local currency. The church advises missionaries to bring a small amount of cash with them, and I’d suggest that you send enough for your elder or sister to take a taxi ride, if needed. More likely than not, your missionary will be met by those famous black tags, but in case there is a glitch in the system, don’t leave your child stranded without any options.
Second, make sure your missionary has the address of where they are supposed to go — either the mission home or the missionary training center (or both!). Have the address written down and in your missionary’s carry on bag. Luggage can be lost and you need to ensure your child has that address with them at all times. In case your son or daughter is in a foreign country, he or she is likely not going to be proficient enough in the language yet to communicate where they need to go. Having the address written down will allow them to simply show the paper to a taxi driver and get them where they need to be.
Third, prepare your child for the worst case scenario. Talk through some possibilities, and provide solutions to potential hiccups. As an adult, I’ve encountered travel troubles, and it’s stressful and overwhelming in the moment. It is easy to feel lost and alone; panic can overtake logic. Providing your missionary with a plan is the best way to ensure they are calm and prepared for whatever situation they are faced with.
Lastly, I would still encourage you to trust the system. The overwhelming majority of missionary travels are safe and without incident. Our church does an amazing job of coordinating the flights and pick ups of tens of thousands of our most precious cargo. They take great care to make it possible for our sons and daughters to arrive in airports all over the world without incident, and with confidence.
My husband always says, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
In reality, I think that’s exactly the best thing we can do.