Often I get emails from newly-called missionaries asking me if there is anything they need to know before they start their mission. In the past, I have responded personally, but I thought they might be better served if I created a Frequently Asked Questions page. So, enjoy!
What is Houston, Texas like?
Big. Everything is bigger in Texas. Having grown up in Utah, I had never had a chance to see the sun slip below the horizon before (because the darn mountains always got in the way) and I was awed to be able to look straight at the sun at sunset and see it so huge, just like they would show in a movie. It is very beautiful. Of course, bigger does not always mean better. The cockroaches can be walked on a leash. I will let you discover for yourself the wonders of the state bird: the mosquito. Note: In recent years, West Nile Virus has been an increasing concern in the United States. However, healthy people of "missionary age" are at very little risk. Please check out this link at the CDC website for updated information regarding West Nile Virus.
How is the weather?
For most of the year, it is hot, very hot--not to mention humid. It rains all the time and actually gets hotter when it rains. For more specific information, check out the Houston Chronicle weather section. It's generally slightly more mild closer to the gulf (e.g. Galveston, Texas City, LaMarque, Freeport), but not always so much that you notice. Bring handkercheifs to wipe off all the sweat. You will have to get used to being sweaty all the time. I had a companion that showered before he went to bed and again when he woke up. I thought he was nuts at the time, but upon looking back he was probably a genius.
In the summer, two weather phenomena can possibly occur: tornadoes and hurricanes. Any serious thunderstorm can create a tornado, but you can usually find sufficient safety indoors if one is spotted nearby. The Church has emergency hurricane plans in place that provide 1) for the evacuation of Church members and missionaries to locations further inland if necessary and 2) care for the evacuated for the duration of any impending hurricane. Newly arriving missionaries are informed upon arrival of emergency procedures. Also, all members, including missionaries, are instructed each Spring of specific emergency procedures. Note: While these phenomena do occur within the mission, you or your missionary's chance of being affected or harmed by them is very slight; probably no greater than whatever risks are indigenous to your own home.
What are the people like?
Houston is in south-eastern Texas. It is a part of the Old South, having already been settled by the time of the Civil War, and is steeped in old southern tradition. You will learn to love the melodic speech patterns of the people. Many are quite religious and sincere in their faith in the Lord. Your job will be to help the elect of the faithful find salvation through the restored truths that you share with them.
There will be times when the work and the people frustrate you. I once thought to myself that Hell could not possibly be hotter than Texas in August and that the reason I was having difficulty at that time was that the Texans obviously did not fear damnation. I have since repented of the thought. However, the Southern people--in particular the Texans--have been known to frustrate the best of us. The late J. Golden Kimball, one-time president of the Southern States Mission, is often quoted as having said that "The only way to redeem the South is to burn it down and baptize for the dead." I know that such is not the case, but it certainly seems so at times. The people of Texas have much pride in them. They consider themselves Texans first, Americans second; American by birth, but Texan by the Grace of God. President Hinkley even said at a special missionary conference in Houston in 1998 that "the Texans think they are the only people on the earth." Take a look at a map of Texas and you will find the Canadian River flowing through the panhandle. They even seem to think Canada is in north Texas. Have faith, be patient and work hard, and even you will find the meek among the proud hearts of the Lone Star State.
How should I prepare?
By reading the scriptures, of course! Especially familiarize yourself with the Book of Mormon. It is the keystone of our religion and your investigators will get closer to God if you have a thorough knowledge of it. Regardless of how well you now know or do not know it, get to know it better. I would suggest reading it in its entirety before you leave, but do whatever you feel is appropriate to get yourself acquainted with the best teaching tool you will have on your mission (besides the Spirit, of course). Of course, a working knowledge of the other Standard Works (the New Testament especially) will be helpfull as well.
I have two more suggestions on how to prepare:
1) Buy the Missionary Reference Library--with Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, Our Search for Happiness, etc. (available at Deseret Book, Church Distribution Centers, and better bookstores everywhere)--and begin studying the books. You will not be able to read them all before you leave, but they will add to your gospel knowledge and be great resources for sacrament talks and district meeting lessons. Everyone will consider you a gospel genius if you can casually and relevantly quote James E. Talmage.
2) Build your testimony. In particular, strengthen your knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true; that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God; that through Joseph Smith, God put an end to fourteen centuries of silence caused by apostasy and opened the heavens, established His Church once again, and that the fulness of the gospel is in your hands and available to all who wish to receive it. Believe that you can find those who are prepared to accept this message. Above all, believe that Christ atoned for our sins and that through that atonement all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of that gospel which you have been sent to proclaim.
What clothes do I need?
In light of what you are doing, it seems almost silly to worry about your wardrobe; nevertheless, it is important.
You will need pants in addition to the ones that come with your suits. You will wear suits to church and meetings. While proselyting you will want regular dress pants to wear. I suggest at least two pair.
I never liked short-sleeved shirts even while I was in Texas, but it is hot. You may want them. I always preferred to roll up my sleeves a little. In reality it did not matter. It was so hot and humid I was always moist and uncomfortable. Wear what you wish. However, I was told before I left to save a few shirts and open them up half way through my mission, so I would have nice shirts the whole time I was there. I ended up gaining weight and needed a different size by then. I suggest using all your shirts from the beginning and should they wear out or you "grow" out of them writing home and asking mom for new ones. Moms are great at sending you what you need.
A full-length raincoat/trenchcoat is what the Church will tell you to bring. This is not a bad idea, considering that it rains all the time. However, it is not practical for riding a bike. In addition to your nice full-length raincoat, purchase a light-weight, jacket-length raincoat/windbreaker. Sure, they look more casual, but they make up for it in functionality.
Garments are a tricky matter. You will probably notice that when it comes to buying garments for the first time, people have all sorts of opinions. I will give you none other than this: buy whatever you think you will feel comfortable in at home. The reason is, no matter how natural the fibers, how meshy or lightweight the material, you will be hot and sticky ninety-nine percent of the time you are in Houston. There is no getting around that. So, wear what you like.
I, having been an elder, was, of necesity, not a sister. I do not know a lot about what sisters need to know on the issue of clothing and such. The only words of advice I can give are these: the missionary schedule does not allow for much time for getting ready in the mornings, so quick, low-maintenance looks are probably the most appropriate. However, Sister Jodi Kidd told me to relay the following: "Tell [the sisters] to try to find dresses that don't fit tight on the waist...it will get them very hot, and to have them wear knee highs. Otherwise they are going to die." Other than that, you can probably gain some insight from the advice I gave to the elders.
To all I would suggest, do not take with you, nor bring home, more than that which will fit in your luggage; stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water; and always look and conduct yourself like a representative of the Lord.
That is all for now. Should you have any more questions, I am still happy to answer them if you contact me.Shaun Anthony (Peck)
THSM Webmaster & Alumnus of 1997-1999
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