good news all around
Then when I got home this afternoon I found an envelope from Church Magazines: I'm going to be published in the Ensign. It'll be interesting to see how much it's changed/edited for publication. I totally wanted to get the tone/style right - the death of irony! I just need to send in the forms and I'll get a check for $200, on which I'll pay tithing, of course.
Ideas on living overseas outside of a church presence
When I joined the Church shortly before starting a graduate program in international relations, I knew that I would have opportunities to serve the Lord in a foreign country. I did not anticipate, however, that I would not belong to a branch or ward for six of the seven years I would live and work in Africa. Although it was always challenging and sometimes discouraging, I grew tremendously spiritually and my testimony was strengthened. With some effort, I was able to live Gospel principles even though I was a sheep outside the fold.1 Whether you are in the military, in the foreign service, or working for an international organization, you can still be a full, active member of the Church even if you cannot participate regularly in Church services.
Inform your ward leadership
As soon as you know that you will be living and working overseas, inform the bishop of your home ward. He can help you with administrative issues such as keeping your records in the ward, arranging for renewal of your temple recommend the next time you are “home,” and deciding about tithing. Because of special circumstances, I had my temple recommend renewed in Accra, Ghana, and my tithing paid directly to Salt Lake City. Your bishop will be able to help you decide which options are best for you. In addition, I was assigned Visiting Teachers and Home Teachers by email.
Prepare for your time overseas
Once you know that city and country that you are going to, look up on the Church website if there are wards or branches there. If not, find out what area presidency the country falls under. When I lived in Morocco, the nearest branch was in Spain and Morocco was under the Europe West Area Presidency. I wrote to the Area Presidency office, explained my situation, and they were very helpful in sending me contact information for the nearest mission and stake. In addition, as I traveled I would ask the Area Presidency office about wards and branches at my destination. In this way I was able to have wonderful visits to branches in countries as diverse as Switzerland and Albania.
I also suggest bringing with you, if possible, SS and RS/PH study manuals, CES manuals, and other materials to help you study. You can also arrange with a friend or family member to send these materials to you while you are overseas. I was fortunate to work for a faith-based organization where I could receive church-related materials through the monthly pouch, and I also stocked up in my shipment. Even though I was not able to attend sacrament meeting, I still read and studied on my own. It’s also important to challenge yourself during scriptures studies – for example, reading your scriptures in a foreign language. I also engaged in a long distance scripture study by email with a dear friend.
Keep the commandments and maintain standards
It can be easy to “slip” when one is alone and without the structure and fellowship of the Church to sustain you. But being alone is not an excuse to forego Gospel principles. It is still an imperative to continue activities such as fellowshipping, service, Family Home Evening, and so on. There will be special challenges, such as keeping the Sabbath holy in countries where this is not a tradition.
Have faith in the Lord
The Lord loves you and is mindful of your special circumstances. Even though I was away from “the Church” as an institution, I still had many opportunities to worship and to serve. For example, when I lived in Morocco I hosted a steady stream of BYU students and professors. In Mali, I met visiting members who worked with the Oulessebougou-Utah Alliance. In Burkina Faso, I traveled regularly to neighboring Ghana.
Take advantage of every opportunity to talk about the Church
There will be many ways to share your testimony and your experience as a member of the Church. For example during Ramadan I told my friends about fast & testimony meetings, which brought up interesting parallels. Also, as other people in the community learn that you are a member, they will let you know if there are other visitors or new arrivals. Many people love to share their memories or thoughts of members that they have known, and there will be ways for you to add to those memories!
Now that I have returned to the US to live, I cherish the times when I can share my experiences about members I have met overseas and how my testimony was strengthened. I draw comfort from knowing that one day the Church will be established in the countries where I have lived, and the people I lived and worked with will benefit from that association.