Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another thing learned....

All of our backpacking experience in which we counted every ounce is now paying off!  With reduced airline baggage weight limits and some airlines using the "weight concept", distributing the weight across bags is critical.  According to one airline customer service rep, the excess baggage fee changes daily depending on the published fare for that flight for that day... and it apparently changes frequently!  Excess weight can be charged anywhere from 5USD per 10kg to 14USD per 1kg... more or less, depending... So, packing, re-packing, weighing, reducing, re-distributing, weighing, reducing, re-packing, re-weighing...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Change of schedule

Because of too tight airline scheduling we have a new itinerary now:

Leave SLC on 10 Jan (instead of the 9th)
Arrive Ghana on 11 Jan and stay overnight in Accra
Arrive Freetown on 12 Jan

Friday, November 4, 2011

Addition to our itinerary

Now we know we are leaving Arizona on Thursday 29 December 2011.  That will make reporting to the MTC on Monday morning a lot easier.  We'll be at the MTC for 4 nights, then spend the weekend again in Sandy and fly out on Monday morning.  Everything seems to be in place!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Practical things to be aware of (accurate as of 3 November 2011)

Travel from home to the MTC: Any charges for checked baggage are not reimbursed. Recommendation: Check which airlines allow 2 free bags and then ask Missionary Travel (and note your preference on the travel request) to use one of those airlines (for that reason) for travel to the MTC. Or, if you are traveling to Utah before your mission and can drop off bags someplace there, do that to save the checked baggage fee.

Travel from the MTC to your mission: Checked baggage is reimbursed within the guidelines. Currently that is 2 bags, each less than 50lbs, and 1 carry on per person. Beyond the checked baggage limit, fees can be $200 per bag, more if overweight or size, and varies with each airline. Each time you change airlines the fees may be assessed.

 Vaccinations: The total cost can mount up. Some vaccinations are required for all missions. Some missions such as some in Africa require many vaccinations. Check with the County Health Department and private sources. County Health does not provide all the vaccinations that may be required. In Arizona the cost of private and county resources is about the same overall. Some are less, some are more with each provider. Vaccinations can cost $1000.00 or more per person if you have to have all of them. The cost may be tax deductible if you meet the IRS medical expense criteria.

 You may want to contact the Mission President and office couple early on. They can give specific advice as to what to bring, what not to bring, what is very expensive in the country, what is provided by the mission and what is not, money handling in the mission, cell phones, vehicle rental. Very valuable for planning finance handling and baggage.

Odds & ends: These can mount up. Police clearance letters, fingerprints, certified copies of documents, international drivers permit, driving records, etc, do not cost much individually but add up. Some missions require 23 visa photos. At $4 or $5 a photo, that's a tidy sum. If you can take the photos yourself, size them to the correct specs, and print them yourself, you can do it for a lot less. Just make sure they are acceptable to Missionary Travel.

MTC board and room: Currently $44.50 per night per couple. There is one late night, Tuesday night devotional. You don't have to stay there if you can stay close by and get there each morning in time for class (8 AM).

 Medical & Dental: Physical exams may not be an insured cost. Check with your insurance to see what will be paid for. Check with your doctor to see what he/she will charge. The exam requirements may be more or less stringent than the requirements published on lds.org.

 Medications: In some countries you will be required to take antibiotics daily starting 2 days before your in-country arrival and for 4 weeks after you leave. The antibiotics are supplied to you at no cost. You may want to plan for the consequences of daily long term antibiotic use. That cost is not reimbursed.

Conflicting information: There may be (will be) conflicting or unclear information. Don't hesitate to call the Missionary Department to clarify. It can make a difference!

Insurance: You will probably get a letter with your call that says your insurance has been reviewed and does not meet the requirements... and a brochure offering insurance for $265 (Sep 2011) per month per person. If you know your insurance is good then call the Missionary Department and insist on a review. It may take more than a few calls and perseverance but if you can get your insurance approved it will save a chunk of money.

 Optional medical information: If you are going international, consider the quality and availability of health care in your area, the risk you are willing to take, and how much you are willing to self-insure. Some foreign hospitals require payment in full upfront, or a deposit upfront, or payment in full before a patient is discharged. This could require $50,000 available rather quickly. If you require a medevac the cost can range from several thousand dollars to well over $100,000 for international repatriation depending on medical condition and needs. This is strictly a personal decision but something to be aware of for a mission or any travel. If interested, search the web for the best plans.  Read the fine print.  Evaluate for criteria, choice of care, cost, pre-existing conditions.

Clothes and other things: Dependent on what you have and where you're going but there will probably be some expenses to meet the mission requirements.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Paperwork fun

We needed to have educational, vocational, and ministerial documents as well as our marriage certificate notarized. We took a couple dozen pages of documents to the bank, told the notary we were going on a mission and needed some documents notarized. I think she looked at the stack wide-eyed and said "All of that??" (Yep, and I couldn't even find one of my documents.) As she was going thru each sheet she noticed some documents with "Utah" on them (she later said she wondered then if she should ask ...), then when she came to Cameron's priesthood ordination papers, she waved them and said "What ward are you in?" I wasn't sure I heard her so I said "Did you ask which ward we are in?", "Yes". I said "Sun City, what ward are you in?"... It was a ward in the North Phoenix stake, her husband is bishop there. We were really surprised since we had no clue she was a Mormon... and outside of Utah it's a little less common to run into Mormons... especially in Sun City. We had a great talk about her parent's mission and all... it was fun (on a day where we had so far made 1 fruitless 2 hour trip to downtown Phoenix for police clearance letters (the Maricopa Sheriff's Office only gives you a letter saying they don't do such letters!), then a fruitless trip to a place to get fingerprinted.) She was genuinely excited, said she couldn't wait to go home and tell her husband! Her parents had gone to Nauvoo and while there was paperwork, it was nothing like this!

Then we went home (our spirits lifted!) and located another place to get fingerprinted (to get the necessary "clearance" letter from the FBI), confirmed that they would do the fingerprints, and do it over the lunch hour, and off we went again. Did the fingerprint thing successfully, then the woman asked us if we needed this for employment. "No, we're going on a mission to Sierra Leone and Liberia." What kind of a mission?" Cameron said "For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." At which point, she waved her CTR ring in front of us! Her son had served a mission in New Zealand. That was fun again!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travel arrangements

Today we received another white envelope.  This time it had a checklist of required papers, visa applications, and our travel arrangements.

We are scheduled to depart SLC 9 Jan and arrive in Freetown on 10 Jan.  It's still a 45 minute boat ride (if the boat doesn't run out of gas in the sound, which I understand does happen) to the other side and then a similar drive to the mission home.  Here are the details:
Total travel time is about 26 hours.  Longest flight about 11 hours.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Word of our mission is getting out

Last evening I took our mission acceptance papers to be signed by Bishop Moore before the priesthood session of General Conference began. While waiting for Bishop Moore, Brother Call, the Stake Executive Secretary asked (just as he has each time we've met for the past month), "Have you heard anything yet?" This time I could answer, "Yes!" Brother Call asked, "Where are you going?" By that time I think a few of the Sun City Ward members sitting nearby may have begun to wonder what we could be talking about. Bishop Moore and Frank Munden, his First Counselor, had joined us by then. As Bishop Moore signed the papers he told Frank about our mission ... which elicited some consternation on Frank's part! After Bishop Moore asked me to remind him who would be conducting Sacrament Meeting next Sunday (I would be), he asked to be given a few minutes at the end of the meeting for him to announce our mission call.

Friday, September 30, 2011

5 1/2 weeks and it's here!!!


We'll be sleeping under nets, taking doxy everyday, speaking English (well, maybe a little French, German, Arabic, and Krio sprinkled in) and loving it in the vineyard of the Lord in Freetown Sierra Leone mission... which includes all of Sierra Leone and also Liberia.  It will be challenging... we're up to it!  We're excited!  An interesting thing is that Cameron's uncle spent many years in the '60s in Monrovia Liberia setting up schools... we know a senior couple is stationed in Monrovia.  Exactly where we will be, who knows!  We think this may qualify as an adventure assignment!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

4 weeks now...

Now we are watching the mailbox with more seriousness... we are in the 4 to 6 week zone!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

3 weeks and waiting

It's been 3 weeks since our application went in.  We know the Missionary Department received them.  They said it would be 4 to 6 weeks before we receive our call packet.  Just waiting and anticipating...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Stake President hit the button!

We've had our interviews with the Bishop and Stake President and our papers are really in now!  We've given them our favorite scripture and picture... our scripture may not be our really favorite scripture but it struck a chord with us for right now. 

"Lift up your heart and rejoice for the hour of your mission is come..."
       Doctrine & Covenants 31:3

It will be 4 to 6 weeks before we get our letter.  We've been able to get tons of stuff done.  We are pretty much ready.  When we find out where we go there will be some things to do but at least we've considered the options and know if it's domestic we go this way, and if it's international we go that way, if it's a cold place, we need these things, ...  Now we're going to relax and know we won't be racing up to the last second.  It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We hit the button!

Tonight we submitted our application!  The online system is still having serious problems but we believe the actual data we have input (repeatedly) is correct.  Cameron was able to help the developers identify where the problem was but it is not fixed yet.  We are very comfortable with our application, preferences, and the approach we've taken.  Now we wait and see.  After talking with some of the people at headquarters who are involved in the decision process, it appears that if we go international we probably will not report before mid-November at the earliest.  If we go domestic, it could be earlier.  Our availability date is 21 September.

Challenges

There certainly have been challenges during this application process.  Last week we couldn't load our applications at all.  In a few days that was fixed, or so we thought.  Today we were ready to submit our papers but when Pam printed, Cameron's pages were displayed.  Then, Pam's partially showed but she was a male and had some of Cameron's characteristics.  And even later, Cameron's disappeared entirely and Pam's was displayed twice, evidently she is both husband and wife.  At this point Cameron can't even submit his application.  He talked with someone at headquarters who said they had had similar reports.  So, I guess we won't be submitting this weekend as we thought.  Patience, patience... but in the meantime we will be talking with some senior missionaries that just returned from the London Center for Young Adults.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Almost there (again)

This past month has been filled with appointments and more appointments.  We are waiting to pick up one last (I think) report so we can turn our papers in.  We still have some appts that we thought would be a could idea but aren't required.  We've had shots and boosters, our teeth are good, our eyes are good, our ears are good, our general health is good, our labs are good, our hearts are still beating... they didn't check our brains.  So if we can just get that one last med report we should be okay.  The rest of our papers have been filled out forever it seems like!

Our lists have grown.  Every time we check off 1 thing, 2 more things are generated!  The level of detail that needs to be attended to is amazing.  We've met with a CPA for our taxes, we're in the process of getting local POAs taken care of, and we're closing the business.  I'm pretty sure I won't be working again (!) and if Cameron wants to when we get back we'll just do it on a Sched C.  Simplify, simplify.

We learned that there is generally at least 1 month after receiving your call to your report date, and may be up to 6 months depending on where you're going, visas, shots, etc.  We plan to put our papers in this weekend or next week (depending on when we get that last report), be available in September, and then wait to see what happens!

We found some cheap flights ($360 taxes included, RT pp) to Hawaii so we are going on 24 Aug returning on 1 Sep.  That will be a nice change of pace... things have been super busy.  I did get my Family History done to the point I wanted so that I could make a presentation DVD for Gil, Linda, Tom, Tess, and Stacy and her family.  Everything has been scanned and I feel like it's in good enough shape to leave.  I know it's never done, but this part really needed to be organized to pass on to others. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Elder Richard G Hinckley

Quotes from Elder Hinckley at the 2011 Seminar for new mission presidents, published in Church News 9 July 2011.

"Senior couples are 'under-utilized assets'"

"...the total requests by mission presidents for couples has been as high as 3,200 couples or 6,400 individuals... Currently about 1,900 couples are serving.  That means approximately 40 percent of the needs of missions are left unmet... Rarely a week goes by that I do not receive a desperate phone call from a mission president begging for more senior missionaries."

Recent changes for senior or couple missionaries:
1. Couples may now serve for 6, 12,18, or 23 months.  They may serve outside their country of residence for less than 18 months if they pay for their own transportation to and from the mission.
2. Couples may at their own expense take a short leave of absence from their mission (normally no longer than 7 - 10 days) to return home for a critical family event.
3. Effective 1 September 2011 a cap of $1,400 per month will be established for housing costs, that is rent, utilities and furnishings.

Expanding on #3, from lds.org: Missions, temples, or area administration offices now will locate and secure appropriate housing and pay all housing costs (including rent, utilities, and furnishings). Missionary couples will then reimburse some or all of those housing costs up to the cap.

Missionaries from the United States, Canada, western Europe, Japan, and Australia will be expected to reimburse the cost of housing up to the cap, while those from all other countries will be expected to reimburse the costs up to their individual ability to pay (but not to exceed $1,400 a month). Couples will continue to pay for food and other personal expenses.

Vaccines, skin tests

We found a great place to get our vaccines and skin test, and costs a lot less than the county public health department too.  Passport Health (I think they are nationwide).  They use individual vials, have ingredient information, and they're only 10 minutes away.  Their ingredient list says no thimerosal, no aluminum, no mercury (for the vaccines we need, at least).  But, just in case, we are doing an aggressive oral chelation during this time period.  MCP (modified citrus pectin), alginates, vitamin C, and malic acid (apples) should address heavy metal and aluminum issues. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New shoes!

This event is worthy of a blog entry!  We went to the SAS store to get Cameron some shoes.  I had already checked their web site and they still didn't show any closed toe dress shoes for women.  But, as we walked in, right in the window was the perfect shoe for me!  Kind of a Mary Jane style, low heel and a thin strap, beautiful soft leather... simple and elegant and being a SAS shoe it feels like you've slipped into Heaven when you put it on!  So, I have my dress shoes and now I have some great nice looking walking shoes that could also be a dress shoe.   And we did get Cameron's shoes too.

This may not sound like a big deal but it's always hard to find a shoe with a narrow heel and a larger toe box.  But this is it!  It wasn't shown on the SAS web site because it's not in full production yet.  I get thrilled with little things!

On other fronts... we are slogging our way thru eye exams, skin tests, vaccinations...  everything's going well so far.  I was a little concerned about the possibility of glaucoma for me because if you are near-sighted (I am) you are 90% more likely to have glaucoma.  No sign of it, no sign of macular degeneration (both of my parents had it and my grandmother), and cataracts are minimal, better than expected for this age.  We're good so far!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Applications completed

It only took us a few hours to fill out our applications online.  It'll take a bit more than that to get the medical exams done... but it is the summer here which means there are fewer people here so appointments aren't as far out as in the winter.  We are anxious to be on our way, but we are also prepared to wait for the right time.  We are anxious to live the missionary life!  Wherever it is!

We've pretty much worked out all the details for closing up, leaving, and keeping the minimum things going here... in theory at least.  For the vehicles we are going to file a de-insured certificate, stop the insurance, and leave them in the garage.  Then, if they run when we get back, we can start the insurance and renew the registration with no penalty.

We've made a list of all the things that need to be done or thought about.  Then we assigned a "when" category to each.  I was afraid we may leave too many things to the last minute, but it seems to be working out okay.  At first  we thought we would need 1 month between call and report date.  Now we're thinking we could do it in a week if we had to!  But who knows, maybe we'll need to wait months.  We'll be ready.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We're practically there!

Last night our Bishop activated our online applications... We're excited!  We're going!  We really are!

We hope they call us on a mission, when we've grown a wrinkle or two...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Calls

“And now to you mature brothers and sisters: we need many, many more senior couples. . . . There are few times in your lives when you will enjoy the sweet spirit and satisfaction that come from giving full-time service together in the work of the Master.”
                    -Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, Nov. 2010, 5


At general conference in October 1925, President Heber J. Grant issued a clarion call for “men of mature years and sound judgment, who have had experience in the preaching of the gospel, … to go forth and labor in the mission field.”
                    - Conference Report, Oct. 1925, 10.


President Gordon B. Hinckley issued a similar call: “There is a constant need for more couple missionaries,” he said. “They perform wonderful service throughout the world. You [leaders] need not wait for the couples to volunteer. The sacrifices associated with serving the Lord full time will abundantly bless the couples, their families, and the people they serve.”
                   - “To the Bishops of the Church,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 19 June 2004, 27

“Now, to you prospective missionary couples, please do not wait for your bishop to meet with you about serving a mission! Go to him. Share your feelings. Where missionary service is concerned, the Lord expects us to express our desires. As we do, we can trust that the same Spirit that prompts us to seek a mission call will inspire a prophet to call us to the right assignment.”
                    - Elder Robert D Hales, April 2005 General Conference

“It is proper for a mature sister or couple to let their priesthood leaders know that they are willing and able to serve a mission. I urge you to do so... It is significant to me that after commanding the Brethren to teach their children light and truth and set their families in order, the Lord immediately called them on missions... If the blessings for missionary couples and their families are so plentiful, why are only a few thousand serving instead of the tens of thousands that are so desperately needed?”
                    - Elder Robert D Hales, April 2001 General Conference


The Lord has declared:
“O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.”

                    - D&C 4:2–3


We have been called.  We will go, We will do what the Lord commands.