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What's It Like to Be an SM Mom?

Beth Clark shares the experience of sending her son to Bolivia

Mason with his students at Familia Feliz
"As Mason’s mom, sending him to Bolivia as a student missionary for several months was difficult. I had concerns about not being able to “rescue” him from my imagined scenarios.  Unfortunately in January of his term, he did end up in the hospital with a mysterious illness! The Student Missions Office stayed in close contact with Mason, my husband, and me. They were ready to listen, talk over options, problem solve, support, pray - whatever we needed. They were committed to having a positive outcome. Once Mason recovered, he was able to spend the remainder of his time at Familia Feliz. He later returned home with a permanent passion for missions!"

Questions Parents Commonly Ask

Upon acceptance of their application, each student missionary is given a fundraising goal to support the expenses of all student missionaries serving around the world. Together, we support the collective costs so that all can serve. We offer two primary resources for students to fundraise once they have completed Step 2 of their application - sending out letters to family, friends, and church members and starting a Southern online crowdfunding campaign. All money is donated to the Student Missions program of Southern Adventist University, which allows it to be tax-deductible. If someone would like to make an online donation, they should visit southern.edu/givemissions. Student missionaries who return to Southern are awarded a scholarship upon successful completion of their service.

Every applicant must pay an application fee of $200, though there is a discount if it is paid earlier in the school year. Students are later assigned a fundraising goal based on the region where they plan to serve. These goals generally range from $2,850 - $5,000, though students serving domestically are only requested to fundraise $500 due to their travel not being covered. Amongst other things, these monies help to fund things such as tickets, insurance, living stipends, and training.

Upon a student's return to Southern to complete their undergraduate degree they will receive a $1,500 SM scholarship if they meet the following criteria: 

Before Serving

  • Complete all steps of the application process
  • Attend all sessions of the NOND-099 Student Missions Orientation Class and fulfill all requirements
  • Attend the Student Missions Exit Retreat in its entirety
  • Attend and participate in the SM Dedication Vespers Program

While Serving

  • Spend at least 200 days in the mission field
  • Honor your commitment to the “Dating Agreement”
  • Complete the work assigned to you by your immediate supervisors
  • Uphold a distinctly Seventh-day Adventist lifestyle
  • Do not come under legitimate complaint or disciplinary action from sending organization, calling organization, or other relevant stakeholders

After Serving

  • Attend the Student Missions Re-entry Retreat in its entirety
  • Complete a Re-entry Interview
Transfer students and students who complete one semester of service (100 days of service required) are eligible to receive half of the SM scholarship ($750) if the above conditions are met where possible. Students who attend and then leave Southern for gap year experiences but do not go through the official SM Program are not eligible for a scholarship upon return. 

We are constantly amazed at the way God does big things in spite of small qualifications. Often students are given a wide variety of responsibilities initially outside their skillsets, but with time and training, they grow in ways they never expected. We provide each student with basic training to prepare them for service, though most of the specific skills needed to perform their jobs will be learned onsite. Students are more likely to succeed if they have few expectations and high flexibility.

In our experience, the best time for someone to go is after their sophomore or junior year or college. Many students hope to serve after graduation, but job opportunities naturally present themselves in the months leading up to graduation and many ultimately choose not to be an SM. We regularly hear from alumni "my biggest regret from college is not being a student missionary; I wish I had taken that chance." We also cannot guarantee loan deferral once a student graduates with a bachelor's degree. Students with an associate's degree can still have their loans deferred. Most nursing students prefer to go after graduating with their ASN before returning to complete their BSN. Ultimately, though, we support students and alumni whenever they decide to serve - we are in the business of mission during any phase of life.

A student who is still an undergraduate can enroll for 6 hours per semester of general elective credit (Christian Service 1 in the Fall Semester and Christian Service 2 in the Winter Semester), which will automatically defer any loans and scholarships. These credits are discounted by 90% for student missionaries. The majority of the grade for these courses depends on the successful completion of service, though there is also a reflective assignment about once a month.

Once a student has graduated with a bachelor's degree the 6-credit courses are no longer available to them. If requested, we will provide a letter to the student that they can give to their loan company. This letter will explain that the student is going to serve and ask the loan company to provide whatever assistance is requested by that student. We cannot guarantee the loan company will be gracious and defer the loan repayments, but most graduates have had good success with their requests.

We recommend checking for flights online 24 hours before departure time and arriving at the airport at least three hours before the flight departs. International travel requirements can change quickly and without warning, so arriving early makes the check-in process smoother and ensures there is adequate time to adjust if issues arise.

It is important for students and parents to accept that safety can never be guaranteed for student missionaries. Though our hometown of Chattanooga has inherent risks, traveling (especially internationally) generally involves additional risks. We attempt to give every student missionary as many tools as possible to do his or her job safely, and we vet our partner organizations to ensure students have the greatest chance of success possible. There is a required training for all outgoing SMs where safety, travel medicine, cultural issues, conflict management, mental health in the mission field, and other key topics are addressed. Though everyone is likely to encounter certain uncomfortable situations, we encourage students "when you have the choice, choose safely."

Each student picks their own location. Details of the mission opportunities are available on our website - southern.edu/dream.  Students are urged to seek God's guidance and counsel from those they trust as they pick a preferred location. Once a student has made a decision, we will send their application to the partner organization for approval. If it is still available and the organization believes the student is a good fit, they will be approved within two weeks of applying. If the application is denied or the organization does not provide a final answer within two weeks, students will be asked to apply for their second or third choice.

The Student Missions Office is responsible for purchasing the tickets of all international student missionaries. Students will be sent the itinerary for confirmation prior to ticketing and will be expected to find their own transportation to the airport. Any changes to the ticket after confirmation and purchasing will be the responsibility of the student. 

Domestic students are responsible for purchasing their own tickets.

All student missionaries will be insured through Adventist Risk Management or a comparable plan that meets or exceeds ARM standards. ARM provides us with an insurance package that includes:

  • Accident and illness insurance (this policy does not cover pre-existing conditions or routine medical care)
  • Personal loss insurance (e.g. stolen laptop)
  • A small life insurance policy
Domestic SMs are encouraged to keep their general health insurance due to our coverage's lack of routine medical care options. Student missionaries can purchase this through Southern just as if they were on-campus students, but that may not be necessary if the partner organization or student's parents are able to provide access to routine medical care. 

For international SMs the Student Missions Office makes all travel arrangements - flights, insurance, and visas if necessary. Upon application approval, domestic SMs will make their arrangements with their respective partner organizations.

All international student missionaries who are going outside of the United States will need a passport even if they are serving on Guam or another island in the Pacific. Please make sure the passport is still valid for at least six months beyond the end of their mission service. If an extension (i.e. staying a second year) is possible, students should ensure their passport is valid 18 or more months beyond their estimated return date. Domestic SMs do not need to carry a passport.

It will depend on the location. Every country has different requirements and the requirements change frequently. We will assist all students with the visa application if it is needed, and the expenses directly related to acquiring the visa. We also encourage students to take the initiative to research the requirements personally.

Many locations have regular or semi-regular access to ATMs, and if so all that is required is for you to deposit money in their checking account at home so they can access it with their debit cards. Please contact the Student Missions Office for location-specific information prior to the departure date.

Sending packages to your child is strongly recommended! The Student Missions Office sends out packages on a regular basis (we usually ship packages in September, November, January, and March). We are willing to include smaller items in one of our mailings - please email studentmissions@southern.edu for preferred dropoff times. If you want to send a package on your own make sure to check the USPS specifications before sending the package as sine locations have very strict stipulations on what size packages they can deliver. Please be aware that in some locations, people have to pay a fee (occasionally $100+ USD) to receive a package. We ship all of our packages with USPS as that is the most likely way to avoid students having to pay customs fees and taxes upon arrival.

Every location where we send student missionaries has regular or semi-regular access to the internet. Connections may be slower and power outages can temporarily disable connectivity, but in most cases, students have daily access to the internet. To help students adjust and engage in their local context, we discourage them from connecting with home more than once or twice a week especially at the beginning of their service. In one or two locations students may not have access to the internet more than once a week. Please email our office (studentmissions@southern.edu) for location specific information. In most countries, students can purchase a local SIM card to communicate in-country and have data access. If data calling options (FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp) result in a poor connection, parents may want to consider purchasing an international calling plan (e.g. Skype Credit) to contact their child using their local number.

We strongly encourage parents to visit their students in their place of service as long as the local administration is supportive of the visit and the timing. Parents should work with the organization to determine lodging and food options, and compensation for both. When parents visit their kids it is both a great experience for the student to share with their parents and also just as amazing for the parents to see the work that their child is participating in. Please confirm arrangements independently with your child before finalizing travel plans. If you have questions about the travel logistics, a team member from our office may have visited the location before and would be happy to assist in any way that we can.

It will depend on the administration and scheduled program of the mission location. Some projects are fully operational around the holidays, so students would need to find a different time to leave if desired. Your child will need to work out with their supervisor the feasibility and best time for a break before any travel arrangements are made. Please do not arrange the break to be for an excessive amount of time as the main focus of a student missionary's service period should be to serve. 

Some locations do allow student missionaries to travel home for Christmas, but we strongly discourage it. During this time of the year those in service are generally just beginning to adapt to the location they are in and when they go home, even if for a short time, it will backtrack their adaption process. We strongly encourage parents to visit their children instead of arranging for their child to return home.

Most SMs experience some form of "reverse culture shock" or "purpose shock" when they return to their normal environment. It is important to listen to their stories, see their pictures, and be there for them as they experience this. When they return to Southern Adventist University, they will attend a weekend "Re-entry Retreat," where we will give the students some tools to help them cope and get back into student life. We also interview each student after the retreat to ensure they are moving forward appropriately in the adjustment process. For a few students every year who have an especially difficult transition we may recommend addtional counseling until more stabillity can be establish.

Still have questions?

We know missions is a big step not only for students but also for their families. As other questions arise please do not hesitate to contact our team.