(Note: this is part 1.5 of series that looks to be running at least 4 posts long at this point. Part 1 is here.)
In the comments, Naismith pointed out that the $400/month is not the sole expense potential missionaries face. In order to go on a mission, a potential missionary needs a dental exam (including, at least in my case, getting his or her wisdom teeth removed) and a medical exam. There are also clothing costs—for my mission (IIRC), I needed 10 short-sleeved white shirts, 2 long-sleeved white shirts, a bunch of ties, two suits, a couple pairs of slacks, and a couple pairs of shoes.
The thing is, all of these upfront expenses represent real money. While potential missionaries with their own health insurance or on their parents’ insurance only have to pay their $20 (or whatever) copay, without insurance, medical and dental exams represent a real out-of-pocket expense. (And the New York Times tells me that more than 100 million Americans don’t have dental insurance.) Heck, if a white shirt costs $20, 12 shirts will set the future missionary back $240, and a pair of suits will cost $800.[fn1]
And these are expenses that, to the best of my knowledge, the Church doesn’t generally cover.
See, the thing is, I totally understand these expenses. If you’re going to be a missionary, you need to dress like a missionary. And my wardrobe wasn’t white-shirt heavy when I was 19.[fn2] And it’s certainly important that potential missionaries be in good health when they leave—as I understand it, preventative medicine is the best way to say healthy.
And it’s not just a Church thing. As a data point, in order to enter the Chicago Public Schools, a child needs to have a medical exam (including vaccinations) and an eye exam.[fn3] I’m fortunate enough to have employer-provided medical insurance,[fn4] but I don’t know what a Chicago family with a 5-year-old does if they don’t have insurance.
So how do missionaries navigate these upfront expenses? I assume that the expenses are necessary, but can you imagine a world in which they’re not?
[fn1] You can probably get suits for cheaper, but, really, $400 for a suit is a steal. But even if you could get a suit for $100 (which you can’t), that’s $200. And I’m sure Sister missionaries face at least an equivalent cost. I just don’t know offhand what Sisters are expected to bring.
[fn2] Actually, I currently only own 1 white shirt, so that’s not just an 19-year-old me thing.
[fn3] The eye exam thing is new this year, so we have yet to see how it plays out. But it seems like a pretty good idea, right?
[fn4] No clothing insurance, though.