Tomorrow we start working on Transfers. That word should always be capitalized because it’s such a Big Deal. Here is a look at what the transfer board at the office looks like today. We have a transfer board like this at the Mission Home, but it’s a little bit smaller.You’ll notice several things here. The mission is divided into zones (red lines and blue labels). The zones line up with the stakes (yellow labels) most of the time, but not always. Zone Leaders are the ones with the red dots.
Within each zone are districts. The names of the districts are on labels at the top of each column. Some are white (English) and some are red (Spanish). The District Leader is designated by a blue dot. The labels above each companionship are the names of the wards those missionaries serve in.The companionships are in districts. Districts are often all one language, but not always. The districts are in vertical columns.
The Sisters with green dots are the Sister Training Leaders. They look after Sisters in their zones and neighboring zones. Sometimes you’ll see a “tri-pan” or 3-some. This happens when we don’t have an even number of Elders or Sisters in the mission.
Zone Leaders go on exchanges with all the District Leaders in their zones. District Leaders go on exchanges with all the missionaries in their districts. Sister Training Leaders go on exchanges with the Sisters they have stewardship over. All these exchanges happen at least once every transfer, more if needed.
Exchanges usually begin in the afternoon of one day and are completed by the afternoon of the next day. This gives the missionaries opportunities of working with different missionaries and seeing new ways of doing things. It also helps the leaders know how things are going so they can plan trainings that will be helpful. In an exchange, one of the companions will stay and one will go. They spend the night with the visiting companion, study together in the morning, and work during the day. Then they return to their own areas.You may have noticed the pictures of cars or bikes above the companionships. If a car is cut in half, that means they share the car with another companionship. Bikes are kindly provided by the wards and stakes here. That’s really nice. The bikes stay in the areas when missionaries are transferred. So do the cars.You may also have noticed each zone has a colored tag. Omak is pink. These colors are for tagging luggage at transfer time. We are almost as good as an airlines. We want the luggage to end up at the right destinations!Wenatchee zone has 2 English districts and 2 Spanish districts. Yakima has a separate zone for each. They cover the same areas, but with different languages.
So tomorrow we start what we call “Transfer Planning.” President Lewis and I meet with the Assistants to talk about transfers. We also talk a lot about it before and after they come, late into the night, and early in the mornings.
I’m going to walk you through the process. It’s a lot more complicated than you may think. The first thing we usually do is turn the pictures of those going home sideways so we can quickly see who’s leaving. That’s sad.Next, we put numbers up under missionaries who have been in the same area 3 or more transfers. Remember a transfer is 6 weeks. This gives us an idea of those who might be ready to move. They don’t always. The Missionary Department suggests we keep missionaries in the same area 4-6 months. The longer the better, so relationships can develop.
When new missionaries arrive, they have special training for the first 12 weeks. We try not to split up companionships who are in that training. These we mark with a post-it strip to hold them together. (Elder Call is working on the new photo cards for these new missionaries.) Blue backgrounds mean they teach in English. Gold backgrounds are our Spanish-speakers.
Then we are ready to go to work! The first thing we address is Leadership. How many Zone Leaders are going home? We make a list of potential new Zone Leaders, by language. Same for STLs. These are important choices and we think long and hard about who is ready to serve in these positions.
Then we look at numbers of missionaries going home compared to those arriving. For example as you can see below, we have 11 Spanish Elders coming next week and only 1 English Sister. Five Elders are leaving. That means we need to open a few new Spanish areas next week (which is a huge deal–housing, furniture, tracting areas, cars, bikes, etc.). So we have to look at every area and figure out which areas could use more missionaries. We talk to Stake Presidents and Bishops and missionaries currently serving in those areas to decide. We also have to consider turning some English areas into Spanish. We’ll see how it all falls out.
The next most important assignments are Trainers! Who will be selected to train the new missionaries coming in? We have pink and blue cards, for Spanish or English Elders and Sisters. Below are 11 Spanish Elder cards and one English Sister card. We decide on 11 fabulous missionaries to be their trainers and then put the cards next to those missionaries. We won’t know which new missionary will go to which trainer until after they arrive and we meet them and pray about who will go where.
After we have an idea of who needs to move into these leadership and training positions, we are ready to move forward. You might think there are oodles of possibilities for every missionary in a transfer. Not so. Here’s what we consider:
- Spanish or English
- Elder or Sister
This divides the board into quarters: Spanish Elders, English Elders, Spanish Hermanas, English Sisters. We work in these groups, one at a time.
Let’s say we start with Spanish Elders. We finalize Zone Leaders first. Then we look at who’s been in the same place a long time and is ready for a change. We also look at companionships that have served together a long time, or who need a change. We consider time, personalities, areas and needs. Big on that list are strengths and talents and who might compliment whom.
We also check to see who has already served where, so we don’t send someone back to a place they’ve already been, or to a companion they’ve already served with. Some areas have special needs and we consider that too. Some missionaries have special needs and need special attention. Some need to be in a place with access to specialized medical help. Personalities also come into play.
We also consider how long the missionaries have been serving, so we have a senior companion with a junior companion, so they can help each other. So in a quarter section of missionaries, half are young and half are old and they need to match each other.
Can you see that it gets a little complicated as options narrow? That’s why it’s so miraculous when it all falls into place in the end.
When we think we have things as they should be, we kneel and pray out loud about each companionship. Then we listen and feel if it’s right. Sometimes it isn’t and we move someone, which creates a domino effect. So we make changes and then pray again. Sometimes it takes us a few hours to get it right. Sometimes we have to sleep on it.
We repeat this process for each of the 4 quarters of missionaries. Tomorrow is Tuesday when we begin. By Friday night, we hope to have everything figured out. Saturday morning, the leadership calls are made. President Lewis calls all of those receiving new leadership or training assignments. Then he records a message with all the other transfer changes that goes out to all the missionaries Saturday night.
Everyone goes to bed knowing what will happen on Transfer Day so they can say goodbyes on Sunday at church and then start packing Monday to prepare to leave their areas Tuesday if they are going to a new area.
In the meantime, the departing group comes to the Mission Home Monday afternoon, we do our farewell dinner and testimony meeting, put them to bed, feed them in the morning and take them to the airport. Within the hour the Provo MTC missionaries arrive, then the Mexico MTC come in, then we go to work getting to know everyone over lunch, orientation and dinner. Before we go to bed we know who will go to which trainer.
We’ll feed them Tuesday morning, then Transfer Day Begins.
So, pray for us during this transfer process. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of. Know that we do our very best to put every missionary in a place with a companion that will allow them to be happy and successful. Please help us cheer them on!