So, almost a year ago, I received my call to serve in the Honduras San Pedro Sula mission. I immediately started looking for things that other missionaries had suggested about serving there, but seeing as the mission was new, there was nothing. So I told myself, When I get home, I am going to write the most epic blog post ever about what to expect serving in this mission. It's time to make good. So, are you serving in Honduras? Are you serving in Central America? Are you serving somewhere very hot and humid, learning a new language, or just feeling a little unprepared for the mission experience regardless of location. That's okay! Maybe I can help.
Getting ready to go
The stress that you are feeling getting ready to leave is good practice for the inevitable stress you will feel on your mission :) But just as the in-mission stress can and will be reduced by your reliance upon the Lord, your pre-mission stress can be reduced by getting organized. Now that you have your call, your doctor's visits, shots, and dental work should be done. The important task is deciding what to take with you. Here are some tips: (the details are applicable to Central America)
1. Remember practicality. You will be showering in cold water, often from a bucket (don't worry, it's fun!) You will be handwashing your clothes in cold water and on a washboard. You could be anywhere from walking down a normal paved street to hiking up a mountain in the jungle in the rain. You will get wet, you will get dirty, you probably won't have a lot of time for hair or makeup, and you will constantly have a big bag full of important, heavy stuff with you through all of this. So prepare to be practical. Side ideas from this:
- When you buy/pack your clothes, look at the washing instructions. If it can't do handwashing and line drying, don't bring it. If the fabric won't hold up to scrubbing, don't bring it. If it is something that you would be sad to see absolutely ruined, don't bring it. I brought this adorable black and white skirt with me (pictured at right) that I had had before the mission that I LOVED, and it died. It was so sad! So if seeing something destroyed would be hard for you, leave it at home and enjoy it later.
- When you are picking out your shoes, go with practical and comfortable. As I said, you could be (and at some point, probably will be) hiking through the jungle. If you are going to San Pedro, the mission president and his wife are AWESOME about letting sisters wear sandals, and a lot of my friends wore Keens or similar shoes. I opted away from shoes like that, even though I could totally see the draw, because having my toes exposed made me feel nervous and I didn't want strap tans on my feet (you will have toe tans. Get excited). I went with these two styles of Crocs.
- It definitely took me a lot of pride swallowing to purchase and wear said Crocs, but they were very comfortable and very dependable. I had two pairs of the blue flats (I had one pair in nude, and they went with everything, great) and I got through 16.5 months of my mission on just those shoes. The one drawback was that when it was wet, those shoes didn't feel too inclined to stay on my feet (quick fix--stick them in the sun, they shrink a little, and they stay on!) But the mary jane style definitely never gave me trouble with that. So yeah, consider Crocs, but find something that will work well for you.
- Bring an umbrella and maybe a backup umbrella. Mine broke after six months, and I never bought another one. The collapsible umbrellas that are really cheap here are expensive there. So if you can bring a backup, do it.
- Start figuring out how to feel pretty with a half hour to get ready. Learn to do cute things with your hair without products, irons, etc and how to minimize on makeup. Your concealer will go cakey and you will sweat it off, trust me. So the less product, the better. (Although I will give you permission to splurge on expensive shampoo and conditioner when you get there. You'll have to work it into your budget, but it's worth it)
- Bring a small but powerful flashlight. The power goes out a lot, and you don't want to walk around in the dark in Honduras. Trust me on that, too.
- When you are picking out a bag (in San Pedro, I think the sisters have an unspoken permission to use backpacks, but I didn't. See below for reasons why) check to make sure it works. Fill it up with something (about 10-15 lbs) and make sure it doesn't strain your back or cut into your shoulder. Walk around with it in a skirt and make sure it doesn't yank up the hem. (Backpacks will do that.I had to pull my comp's skirt down in the back on many an occasion). Be aware that the humidity will eat leather over time, so maybe avoid that, but also that you absolutely want something waterproof. Like put it under the shower for 10 minutes and everything inside is still dry, that kind of waterproof. That bag will be your best friend--choose wisely.
3. If you are going to need distinctly American things, stock up on them! For example, while there will be a place once in a blue moon to buy tampons, I never could build up the gall to buy tampons in the field. The local perception is that a girl cannot use a tampon and still be a virgin (a misconception I worked long and hard to cure my companions of), so it's not something a missionary can just buy. So calculate how many tampons you use per menstruation, multiply that by 18, and take them with you. You won't be sorry. Same with dental floss. USB memory drives, etc.
Getting the feeling for the Field
Just so you can get a farther idea of how to get ready, here's what it's like where you're going. The hottest areas are San Pedro and Cortes, where in the summer months it will easily break 100 degrees and will be very, very humid. I would quite seriously suggest letting your bathroom fill up with steam and then jogging in place in there for a while to make sure your clothes will be comfortable in the humidity. The coldest areas, in Copan and Santa Barbara, it will cool down a little. In the winter, it will start to get semi-cold. The worst I ever felt was 53 degrees in Copan. So while most of your clothes need to be built for keeping cool, throw in some sweaters. It cools down a bit at night, so bring a blanket. There are a lot of mosquitos, and you don't really want them to bite you because they might be carrying Dengue fever. But you can get repellent for free once you are in the field, so just bring a little for the MTC and you'll be fine. Bring sunscreen; you will want it and it is too expensive to buy there.
For the most part, you will probably be cooking your own food. Sometimes, there is a cook in the area, and sometimes the members will give you meals. Personally, I liked cooking my own food because cooks are expensive and ordinary Honduran portion sizes are huge. When you are going to eat in a restaurant or in a shop on the street, be wise. Yeah, pretty much everywhere might have the stray cockroach, but try to eat in the cleaner places and don't eat what Sister Dester says is off limits. But the local food is really yummy, so be adventurous about trying new things!
The temple is a pretty rare blessing for people here, so take advantage of that while you can. From receiving your endowment to leaving for the MTC, go as many times as is possible. You need a solid testimony of temple blessings, and especially in your stressful time of preparation, you need the peace of the Lord's House. Also, you need a testimony of family history work. Fill out the My Family booklet or print your family tree (the fan layout is particularly impressive) to show to investigators and members when you teach about family history. It will be a huge help. And while you are looking into records to share, ask the man that baptized you for his priesthood line of authority. Time after time, that list of priesthood holders tracing back to Jesus Christ was one of my most powerful resources in testifying of the truth of the Restoration.
One more important thing--start acclimating yourself to living with another sister and being with her all of the time. One of my companions told me on several occasions how much she didn't like being around other people for very long and how much she just wanted to be alone. Companionship unity (and actually enjoying ourselves) were not our strongest suit, as you might imagine. I understand that everyone is different and some people really to like a little alone time. I used to enjoy a lot of alone time. But you can't do that on a mission. Your companion will be with you every waking minute of every day, so learn to live with that (and like it, hopefully!) now. If you don't unite with your comp, you can't have the Spirit like you need it and you won't see the miracles that you want. So start seeking that Spirit now. Set yourself apart from the world--start weaning off of TV, internet, etc--and get ready to serve with all of your heart, might, mind, and strength.
I promise that the Lord has not called you to fail. He has called you to succeed gloriously. He also has not called you to suffer, so there is no need to worry that your mission will be too hard. Absolutely, it will be the most difficult, scariest, most stressful thing you've ever done. It will also be the most wonderful, the most beautiful, and the most worthwhile. You won't regret a single second. I know that God lives and that we are sisters in His service, for 18 months and for all of time and eternity. God be with you, my incredible sisters in the work.