This is a quote from "Hillel the Elder" from the first century. (I thought I was so original!)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Early Beginnings & Reality Check

In 1937 my Dad sent a photo back home of where he attended church.
This storefront was located in Martinez, CA and the beginning of the Mormon church in Contra Costa County.   He wrote on the back of the photo,  "not much to look at, but they hold good meetings here."

There have been many changes and many new chapels but what really matters is still what goes on inside.  Below is where the Clayton Valley 2nd and 3rd Wards meet just across from Clayton Valley High School.  It has been the center of our lives for over thirty years.  I cannot begin to count the number of folding chairs I have moved.

I wonder what the chapels in Zambia look like.  It still is all about what goes on inside.

Below is the door to the Oakland Mission office across the way from the Oakland Temple.  It was Zone Conference today, but one of the couples let us in and patiently explained what roles the three couples play. I was surprised that a girl from my high school class was on a mission out here with her husband and serving here.  It seems to be organized like a well oiled machine.

We really got nervous when we received the following letter outlining our duties
(Instead of three couples doing this, it will just be Kristi and I.)
(We wish the previous couple was still there to train us.)

Dear Elder and Sister Skidmore,

Congratulations on your call to serve in the mission office!  You will love the assignment and experience of working closely with your mission president and his wife and with all of the wonderful missionaries, young and old. The young missionaries with whom you will serve are truly the flower of their generation. And you will be joining a corps of senior missionaries who, like you, have consecrated their lives to the Lord’s service.

Yet, perhaps the most memorable and happiest of your missionary experiences may be outside of the mission office. You will labor in bringing unto Christ less-active members and non-members in the ward/branch in which you will be assigned by your mission president.

When you arrive in the mission field you will receive hands-on training from the office missionaries whom you are to replace. In anticipation of that training, we wish to prepare you with an overview of the mission office duties and procedures. Often, you will share the mission office tasks with other missionaries (full-time and/or local), but you will appreciate a good understanding all of the tasks, though you may not be required to perform all of them.

Office Computers
Many tasks are performed through the use of office computers. The computer systems and applications that will be your tools are these:
  1. Microsoft Office:
a.      Outlook - used by all for email services
b.      MS-Word - used by all for reading or preparing documents
c.       Internet Explorer - used by all for accessing the Internet
d.      Excel and Powerpoint - useful for some tasks, though not used by all
  1. IMOS - a mission office system for the overall management of missionaries, areas/zones, housing, vendors, mission finances, and for producing common-use mission reports
  2. MATS - a system for mission vehicles and designated drivers management
  3. A system for missionary referrals management
  4. A system for materials management (e.g. Book of Mormon inventory, pamphlets, videos, forms, other supplies)
  5. WORKS (Bank of America) - used for the management of Church-issued debit cards for missionaries and purchasing cards for mission presidents and certain senior missionaries 
  6. Sprint EBA (Electronic Billing & Analysis) - used for cell phones and usage management in the USA, and similar systems for the management of cell phones in non-USA missions. 

Mission Secretary
The mission secretary handles the mission president’s correspondence and appointments, answers the phone, performs reception duties, maintains calendars and directories, manages the distribution of missionary mail arriving at the mission office (a vital and far larger task than it may appear), publishes the monthly mission newsletter, performs safe-keeping of vital  documents (e.g. passports) or confidential documents, distributes mission email to the office staff, prepares reports for mission president, functions as the mission “go-to” person, and performs a host of other tasks assigned by the mission president.
Finance Secretary
The finance secretary handles matters relating to the finances of mission operations and individual missionary finances: vendor approval & set-ups (in liaison with Church HQ or Area office), payments to vendors, receipts, missionary card funding and transactions monitoring, purchasing cards management, reimbursements, petty cash, bank deposits, bank reconciliation, bookkeeping, audit, liaison with Church HQ in financial matters, budget preparation and management. The secretary has close and daily collaboration with mission president in all financial matters. He/she assures strict compliance with Church finance policy. In foreign missions with mission branches, mission finance secretary oversees financial operations and audits of branches (and may perform audits). Often, he is required to train branch presidents and branch clerks in financial matters.
Vehicle Coordinator
The number of fleet vehicles (cars, vans, pick-up trucks) assigned to a mission varies from a few to more than 60 in some missions. In some missions this is expanded to include an inventory of bicycles. The vehicle coordinator manages all vehicle maintenance and repairs: notifications,  record-keeping, service provider negotiations/approvals, routine inspections (at every zone conference), accident reports, and liaison with Church HQ in vehicle matters. He/she maintains missionary driving statistics, assures compliance with Church vehicle policy, and makes recommendations to mission president regarding vehicle and designated driver assignments. He/she trains missionaries (at every zone conference) in driving safety and vehicle care. The coordinator sells mission vehicles as directed by Church HQ (i.e. actively markets used Church vehicles, negotiates sale, handles all documentation). He/she reviews fuel purchases and monthly usage logs for each mission vehicle. The coordinator monitors satellite-based surveillance systems installed in each mission vehicle for violations: speeding, braking patterns, and out-of-assigned-area exceptions. He/she manages missionary DL renewals. The coordinator enforces Church policy regarding mission vehicles, driving violations and accidents.
Housing Coordinator
The missions have always been responsible for the housing of young missionaries. Since October 2011, missions have added responsibility for the housing of missionary couples. (Though not required, some missions have taken on the responsibility of providing housing for senior missionary sisters.) The housing coordinator handles all mission housing leases: negotiations, contracts, insurance and credit documentation, deposit payments and fees, opening/closing inspections, landlord approvals & set-ups for payment, penalty payments, etc. He/she furnishes all housing: secures donated items, purchases new furnishings, handles installation and replacements. The coordinator handles the set-up/closure of all utility accounts. He/she maintains all appropriate records. The coordinator notifies Church HQ of housing amounts for couples’ housing, manages/performs the periodic inspection of missionary apartments, makes recommendations to the mission president in housing matters and reviews/approves monthly rental and utility billings and payments. Finally, in USA missions, the coordinator works closely with stake presidents, bishops, and Church members in securing member-provided housing for young missionaries.
Materials Secretary
A typical single-language mission has well over one hundred different SKUs (stock-keeping units) of missionary materials: books, manuals, pamphlets, DVDs, forms, etc. In missions with multiple languages the number of SKUs multiplies. The materials secretary assures an adequate stock of all missionary literature, videos, forms and supplies. He/she forecasts requirements, handles the ordering of missionary materials from Church Distribution Services, and performs the physical inventory management. The secretary receives and fills orders from each missionary pair (hundreds monthly) including order delivery to missionary companionships throughout the mission.
Referrals Secretary
Referrals are the life-blood of many missions. They are mission-critical. Referrals come from members, non-members, visitor centers, and Church media managers. The referrals secretary manages the receipt and assignment/distribution of referrals from all sources. He/she performs follow-up referral tracking to assure timely contacts by missionaries and provides requested feedback to referral providers.
Communications Manager
Every missionary companionship is provided with a cellular telephone. The Church has well-established rules for cell phone usage by missionaries.  The communications manager manages the physical inventory of cell phones: assignments, replacements, repairs. He/she performs liaison with Sprint (in the USA) or other providers in non-USA missions. The manager monitors missionary usage (as requested by mission president) for inappropriate voice, texting or internet usage (using source data provided by carriers) with monitor software from Church HQ. He/she trains missionaries in the use of handset devices and assists in the transfer of contacts lists to replacement handsets. Most mission offices have PBX-type telephone systems with varied features for their usage. The communications manager handles the configuration of the office telephone system and trains office staff in the usage of the same. He/she reviews/approves monthly billing from the communications provider.
Mission Nurse Function
The “mission nurse” may or may not be an official calling. Most missions do not have a professionally-trained and licensed mission nurse. In such cases the mission president’s wife is responsible for the healthcare and medical needs of missionaries, though she may share medical referral needs and reporting duties with a qualified senior missionary. The mission nurse maintains an approved list of healthcare providers for referral to missionaries, performs liaison consultation with the mission president, his wife, and the area medical advisor in missionary healthcare/medical matters, and is on-call 24x7 for consultation in missionary emergencies. Often the assignment requires liaison with missionary parents for prescriptions, status reports, etc. He/she maintains records and documentation for insurance processing by the Missionary Medical Department. The mission nurse teaches health maintenance and illness/injury prevention to missionaries at zone conferences, as directed by the mission president. He/she administers missionary immunization initiatives within the mission.
Travel Secretary
All missions have foreign-resident missionaries serving. In many missions well over 50% of the missionaries have visas. This responsibility requires the management of visas and renewals to assure strict compliance with national laws and regulations. The travel secretary works closely with missionaries, with Missionary Travel or Area Travel Departments, and sovereign or consulate authorities in the renewal of missionary visas. Every six weeks there are planned missionary arrivals and departures. The travel secretary coordinates all travel logistics for arriving missionaries and ticketing and logistics for outbound missionaries completing their missions.
Other Office Duties
Other typical duties of mission office personnel include: the transport of arriving or departing missionaries, assisting the mission president’s wife in meals for arriving/departing missionaries, zone conferences, mission conferences, and special events; attending baptism services; assisting in firesides; preparing statistical reports for the mission president; the orientation of in-coming senior missionaries; and assisting in the procurement of internet services for seniors in many foreign missions where there are local complexities.
Mission office missionaries are full-time missionaries whereas the mission offices are generally only open 45-50 hours/week. There is great opportunity for member and leader support (MLS) activities on week nights and weekends. Mission presidents assign senior missionaries to a ward/branch where they can realize some of the most rewarding experiences of their entire mission doing MLS work and non-member teaching using the skills and principles learned in the Preach My Gospel training received at the Missionary Training Center. At local priesthood direction, they may also apply their life-skills in employment counseling, temple preparation, family history research, PEF qualification, music skills instruction, addiction recovery, and ESL.
Training – Next Step
Only a portion of the above responsibilities with be borne by you individually. The foregoing is provided as a foundation for you to learn your mission office job. By understanding the “big picture” you will have a degree of cross-training to help you relate to and integrate with others with whom you will serve in the mission office. As you arrive in the mission office your mission president will give you specific assignment(s) from the foregoing. Then you will receive the detailed procedures and computer-specific training required for your particular office assignment through real-life, hands-on training by the peer missionary whom you are replacing.
On-going Support
Our team’s role in Senior Missionary Services is to assist before you arrive in the mission field. (Please feel free to contact us by any of the means indicated below in this email.) Your missionary peers and mission president will then assume the training duties. They will have contacts for on-going support through the Global Support Desk based here in Salt Lake City with 24x7 availability, as well as resource contacts in the Area office pertaining to your mission. Know that we are still available as a back-up to provide support for success in your mission office role.
After the mission president and his wife, experience reveals that the mission office staff greatly influence the attitudes and success of the missionyou are a vital part of the mission fabric to support the missionary work. We wish you the very best of the Lord’s blessings in your endeavor to fulfill your missionary calling. “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength . . .” (D&C 4:2).