Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Life in the MTC

The church has recently released information regarding life in the MTC that gives a great perspective on the rigors of what missionaries are doing in the newly revamped training programs in their MTCs around the world.  They recently posted a new infographic about missionary life in the MTC, a video showing MTC life, and an article with more information.

Those of us who have served full time missions in the past remember the excitement as we first walked through the doors of the MTC with our families and had the fluorescent sticker stuck on us to identify us as the missionary as we went into a large room with our parents to a quick orientation, after which our family exited out one door and we went through another to start our mission.  It was always an emotional time, and one that is remembered with nostalgia.

Now, things have changed, and missionaries are dropped curbside, or put on a plane for a foreign land where they arrive at the MTCs around the world on their own--ready to serve.

The whole MTC process is so much more streamlined than before, that more missionaries can come and go more quickly through their training and be out in the field sooner.  It's exciting to have this happen in our lifetimes.  It's exciting that the Lord is hastening his work.  Seeing that He is making use of the concentrated resources of the MTCs worldwide is moving.

Pre-MTC preparation

Years ago as an MTC teacher, I was surprised to see how many missionaries were unprepared to be in the mission field.  Many had never even read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, or sought to find their own testimonies.  I could always see a difference between those that were ready to serve, bursting with desire to testify of Christ, and those who were going because it was expected.  Even more surprising were those that had a testimony, but let their nervousness to be away from home cut their MTC experience and mission short.

Here are some suggestions (in my opinion) of just a few of the things that will prepare a missionary for success in the MTC, and also success in the field.

1.  Gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel.
2.  Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover a few times.
3.  Study the Standard Works of the church.
4.  Be familiar with basic gospel principles.
5.  Read and study Preach My Gospel, and have working knowledge of how to use it.
6.  Be organized and disciplined in your study habits, so that you can  maximize them as a missionary.
7.  Overcome fear of public speaking or sharing your feelings with others.
8.  Take opportunities in your youth to be away from home for a time.  Often missionaries who struggle with this are those who have never been away or lived away from home.
9.  Learn to be obedient.
10.  Learn to live without constant attachment to technology, or with prudent use of technology.

Obviously, this list is not complete by any means.  There is so much more that could be said about not only preparing for life in the MTC, but life as a missionary.  The skills you gain to prepare for a mission, not only will ensure your success as an emissary of the Lord, but in life.

May the Lord bless all of the missionaries currently serving, and may we all find a way to participate as His work unfolds on the earth.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Layers, Layers, Layers

After a sister missionary has her call in hand, one of the challenges she faces is designing the wardrobe that is going to meet her needs for the next 18 months. It is really important that time and energy is put into gathering just the right items that fit not only personal taste and style, but the dress and grooming guidelines set apart by the Church itself. When choosing items to take, it is critical that sisters take things that are going to last, be easy to care for, and are appropriate for where they are serving. So, if you are called to serve in a place that has hot summers, and cold winters, how do you make your wardrobe work without having to pack double?

Cold Winter?
New travel weight restrictions, and limited suitcase space already require that sister missionaries pack savvy and smart. While this may seem impossible, it is not. The secret to making this work can be summed up in one word—layers. Any outdoorsman worth their salt can tell you that the best way to beat the cold is to plan layers. Skiers, hikers, boy scouts, and backpackers have known this for a very long time, and the market has developed all kinds of specialized thermals, socks, boots, and outerwear. The problem is that most of it is geared for rugged outdoor activities—not girls walking or riding bikes in inclement weather while wearing dresses. The secret is to capitalize on the best of both worlds—wear layers engineered to keep you warm and dry that you can hide under classy, polished, and appropriate outifts.

Hot Summer?

Important Questions

To begin, there are a few questions that a sister needs to answer about her mission. This information will be valuable in determing what to take, what thickness, what fibre content, and how much.

  • How cold is the coldest weather in your mission, and conversely, how hot is the hottest?
  • Does humidity play a role in how hot and cold it feels when you are out in the elements?
  • Will you be walking and using public transportation, on a bike, or in a car?
  • Are items available in your mission that will fit you and that you can afford?
  • Will your living quarters be climate controlled, or do you need to plan for a more Spartan experience in your apartment? (like bringing a down comforter or sleeping bag—usually this one is specified by the mission leadership.)

Bringing layers to wear under and over the clothing that will be worn as a missionary is the easiest and most efficient way to pack. The basic layers are as follows: baselayer—this would be what is next to your skin (over your underwear), mid-layer—this is your outfit, insulation—this is the layer that traps body heat and it's the layer most easily shed during the day when you are warm, and finally the outerlayer—this is your outerwear. Each play an important role in keeping you warm and dry.

For example, a sister could have a spring outfit that would be a basic skirt and blouse (the mid-layer). This outfit can be made warmer by wearing thermals (baselayer), and wool tights (mid-layer), layering a cardigan or sweater on top (insulation), and wearing warm, waterproof boots and outerwear (outerlayer). As the temperature changes during the day, it is easy to peel back some layers to lighten the outfit if necessary. The ease in packing comes in when instead of packing double outfits, one outfit can be made to be worn in both climates. In the summer, the outfit (mid-layer) can be worn without any layers under or over, to keep the sister cool during the toasty months.

Here are a few facts that can help when choosing clothing for all seasons.

  • Natural fibres keep warmth better than synthetic fibres. (fibres such as wool, silk, down, alpaca etc.) However, they are not as durable as synthetic fibres. So, a blend of the two is the most desireable to take advantage of the best of both fibres.
  • Cotton is not a great insulator as it looses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. (such as with wet weather conditions or sweat)
  • Wool, on the other hand, stays warm even when wet. This information matters when choosing hosiery or thermals.
  • Silk is a great fibre for baselayers because it is lightweight, but warm for the weight so you don't feel like you are padded down. It also dries quickly, and is a great all season fibre.
  • Down is generally considered the best insulator in a coat or bedding, but it also loses its ability to insulate when it is wet. It takes a long time to dry too. So if you are wearing a down coat, make sure the outer shell is waterproof.

One last consideration is whether or not the mission has “transitional” weather. This is weather that happens between seasons. In places where there are 4 seasons, this would be Fall and Spring. This is a time where it is not yet hot enough or cold enough for full blown warm summer or cold winter, so it is helpful to have a jacket that is warm enough to cut the chill, but not hot. We suggest for this time just take a lightweight outerlayer that can be removed or worn depending on the temperature.

So, when planning your outfits, it is important to think about how many months a year you will be wearing winter gear, and how many you will be wearing summer. Plan your layers—baselayer, mid-layer, insulation, and outerlayer—and you will be glad that you thought ahead!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Build it and they will come

No this is not a blog post dedicated to "Field of Dreams..." We are talking about building your missionary wardrobe!  I was in the store talking to a mom tonight about why it matters so much what her daughter takes on the mission.  It dawned on me that a blog post was called for!  So, here goes...

First of all, let's talk about what LDS Sister Missionaries are doing.  They are teaching the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are seeking to know the truth, and through this teaching, they are inviting people to change their lives and futures forever.

That is huge.

The church recently posted the following video that was so moving about what Sister Missionaries are doing.

Many people who join the church chart a new course in their lives because they are cast out of their families for believing.  In my mission, I saw people who had to change their professional careers to embrace the gospel.  Even harder, we saw people who had to make great sacrifice to be active members of the church.  In all of these specific instances, I have seen firsthand that these beautiful people have been blessed beyond belief for their faith.  Truly, not all who join the church find that they have to make such extreme sacrifices, but it is a big change for almost all of them.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, if you are going to profess to represent the Savior, Jesus Christ, you had very well look the part and be the representative that the Lord has in mind for you to be.

So often when we see sister missionaries come into our shop, they are just looking for the current fashions.  This is not a sin, but without fail, if we happen to meet up with them again after their missions their perspectives have changed.  Although it is important to look sharp, it is less about fashion and more about looking the part.

Now, to look the part, you don't have to be frumpy, shapeless, or dowdy.  No way!  We dropped that stereotype a long time ago!  The LDS church itself actually updated the guidelines for sister missionaries in August 2010.  The photo shoot that came later can be found on the church website.  It is a great example of how to be polished, well dressed, and neatly pressed--and these girls are invariably fashionable within reason.  So, in your shopping it is important to look for pieces that are easy to wear and care for.

Secondly, after realizing what you are doing as a missionary, realize that it takes a little effort to prepare temporally to serve.  This not only includes being physically fit, or able to serve, and keeping your finances straight so you can leave for your mission--it includes planning your wardrobe so it is hassle free and appropriate.

This is where we come in.  We have built a business on helping sister missionaries to serve better by providing a place where they can shop and get value.  What we mean by this is that our products may not always be the least expensive, but they are the most competitively priced for what we offer.  We work really hard to make sure that the garments we carry are appropriately cut, appropriately opaque, and washable.  We try hard to toss in a little fashion as well to "dump the frump" and keep our looks, colors, and cuts updated.

(we have a little bit of a lookbook that scrolls on the homepage of our website.  Check it out here. or just look online

Finally, getting at the main reason for this post...I wanted to express that when you build your missionary wardrobe, you are not just travelling.

Missionaries do travel, but their main purpose is not travel.

They may take in a few sights where they serve, but they are not tourists.

They may fly in a plane to get to their mission, but they are not frequent flyers.

They are missionaries.

They are moving away and relocating for the time of their mission where they will live among other people, and preach the gospel.

So the temporary "travel" tips that one might think would affect how or what a missionary packs, is not the big concern.

The bigger idea is "How can I maximize my wardrobe, reflect my values, and minimize my efforts to stay pressed and polished as a missionary?"

The general guidelines for what to bring to each mission are usually decided by the mission president (with input most likely from his wife...)  I know this is true because I called the Missionary Department at Church Headquarters in Salt Lake and asked point blank.  The woman I spoke with said that each mission list is based on general guidelines, but that each mission president had it as his prerogative to determine what the missionaries would bring to their missions.  So, when you get your call, you may have very detailed information, or you may not.

This is our take on it.

How to Build your Sister Missionary Wardrobe

1.  Look in your closet for pieces that you already own that are mission appropriate.  This means that they are sufficiently modest to cover garments, new enough that they will last, and easy enough to care for.  Set these aside to begin to build.

2.  We start out with the skirts and dresses.  We suggest taking a minimum of 6-8 skirts if you are taking a couple of dresses, or the maximum of 8-10 if you are not taking any dresses.  The reason for this is that as a missionary you only do laundry once a week.  That means if you have any accidents that soil your dress or skirt (splashed by mud, dirtied by the children of an investigator, jumped on by a dog, spill at lunch, or issue of a personal nature) you are covered with backup.  You would need to plan to have a skirt every day for a week--which is 7 days--7 skirts.  Then, by having a couple more, you can plan for warmer or cooler weather by having a couple of seasonal skirts.  You also have enough to rotate for your whole mission so you aren't scrambling for clothing as yours wears out.

So, take the ones from your own closet, and see how many you have.  Then decide how many more you need to acquire, and whether or not you are going to take a couple of dresses

3. Make sure you have a blouse to go with each skirt.  Look through what you already have, and then decide how many more you need to acquire.  The rule on the blouse is that in order to make the cut, it has to go with at least 3 of the skirts to be "mission worthy" for your wardrobe.  Also, take note if everything you are choosing goes with just 3 of your skirts...that means you have to rethink what you are taking and make sure the skirts are similar enough that you can mix and match...  Make sure that if you are taking some layering shells that have to be worn under a blazer or cardigan, that they don't dominate your wardrobe.  They aren't bad to take, but they do limit how often they can be worn.

4.  Add in the cardigans, blazers, and sweaters.  Depending on your mission climate, decide how many cardis, blazers, and sweaters you will be taking and choose basic colors and styles that will compliment your blouses.

5.  Add a couple of belts and scarves, and jewelry to change it up a little.  With a few little accessories, you can really stretch your wardrobe.  Little accents like a skinny belt to wear over a cardigan, or a scarf to dress up your dress will make a world of difference to liven up your outfits.  You are living on this wardrobe after all!

6.  Always buy new shoes for your mission.  The one mistake that sister missionaries make is that they think they can get by with the little ballet flats they wore for the couple of years before their mission.  Truthfully, shoes are the one place where you should spend some time and money researching out what works for you, and spending the money to get the best.  If your feet hurt or you are getting blisters and can't work--it doesn't matter how darling you may look.   You are incapacitated.  If you have hard to fit feet, take the time to go visit a boutique that has people trained in fitting you (...shameless plug for our store...)  It is definitely worth it.  Women with very tiny feet that can wear children's sizes, please don't buy them!  Children's shoes that are inexpensive, but look nice, are not really built as sturdy as adult shoes because it is assumed that children will not wear them for long.  There are some shoe companies that do decent shoes for children, but you will also pay more for them. Be willing to spend the money.  You will not regret it.

The wardrobe math here is staggering.  

If you take 8 skirts and 8 tops that can be interchanged, you have 64 outfits.  Add to that the variables of 2 cardigans and 1 blazer, and you have increased the number of outfits from 64 to 192 unique combinations.  Now, add 2 scarves to the mix, and you have increased the number to 384 outfits.  If you add a couple of dresses to that, you could wear them with the scarves, cardis, or blazer and you can add another 12 outfit combos with the dresses, for a grand total of 396 unique outfits.  Considering that you only have approximately 540 days as a sister missionary, that means you won't even wear each unique outfit twice...  Plenty of clothing for you on your mission.

So, build your wardrobe to be low stress and hassle free, and the time and headache you save will help you to focus more on your missionary work and those you were called to teach.

Build it, and they will come...unto Christ.  What you wear does matter, so plan accordingly.