I cannot begin to express our gratitude for the outpouring of love over the "Just a Can of Yams" post. Tears were shed all over the world with that post. Our goal was to send a huge Thank You to those who have sacrificed by shipping care packages to missionaries. Apparently, you heard our hearts loud and clear. We are so touched by your support and love for those serving on the mission field all around the globe.
The post was definitely not meant to be a solicitation for care packages, but many of you were touched and have asked about sending care packages. Once again, we have chosen to put our BMW heads together to give you tips and suggestions. If God lays it on your heart to minister to a missionary through a care package, we want to help you make it a pleasant experience for you as well as for the missionary.
Every country is different. With this in mind, we have come up with a list of tips that pretty much covers any country.
>>>>Ask the Missionary!<<<<
There is no greater word of advice I can give you on the subject than this first step. It's so important, I am going to say it again...
>>>>Ask the Missionary!<<<<Do I have your attention?
I know we love surprises and secrets, and we want to surprise the missionary with an unexpected gift. But surprises and secrets can cause some real heartache for some missionaries.
For some missionaries, there is a simple, picture perfect scenario... they get a knock on the door and someone delivers the package right to their doorstep. No post office trip. No customs fees.
And then there are some who have a whole different experience.
Here is what it looks like for our family:
Delivery to the door? No way! Most people here don't even know their street address! We make a trip to the post office a couple of times a month. It's a pretty good distance from our home. When we arrive, we walk up a few flights of stairs to our post office box. We look inside... and if there is a package notice slip... it's like instant Christmas!!! Woohoo! But then we also start wondering what adventures will come with this package. You see, if the sender didn't follow strict guidelines, it could be a nightmare for us. It could cost us hundreds of dollars that we don't have. It could even be dangerous for us.
So, we walk downstairs to a little desk to fill out a package form. We actually have to pay for the form, but it is only pocket change. We also have to prove that the name on the package matches our passport. Then we walk to the package pick-up room. We give the clerk our package notice and pick-up form. He goes and finds the package. We breath a sigh of relief when we confirm the sender did not put "Missionary" on the package. We are in a closed country. Putting that word on (or in) that package can bring our residence here to a swift end. It could also land us in jail.
The package is then brought out into the pick-up room (filled with curious people) and the package is opened for all to see. The clerk pulls out items and looks at the customs form to determine a customs fee price. He is also looking for illegal items. If he is a corrupt clerk, he is looking for excuses to charge excessive fees so that he can pocket some money. Yes, some missionaries have to pay to receive packages. If our instructions are not followed exactly, we are charged unbelievable amounts of money.
Hubby then argues with the clerk over the price of customs fees if the charge is excessive. He isn't being mean... it's how the culture works here, like haggling price at a yard sale. Once a price is agreed on, hubby goes to the customs payment desk and pays while I stay in the other room to guard the package.
So how do you know if your missionary is like the first scene or more like our family's situation... or maybe somewhere in between? You will not know unless you ask the missionary.
In some countries, excessive fees can be avoided by asking the missionary how to properly ship the package. Sometimes fees can be avoided altogether. Your missionary will probably have the answers.
What to ask the missionary:
1) "Are there illegal items I should not send?"Did you know there are some countries where it is illegal to ship anything made of leather? And some countries don't allow coffee to be shipped in. (Don't faint over that one!) You will not know what is illegal unless you ask.
2) "Are you in a closed country, and if so, are there items that would put you at risk? Bibles, teaching materials, etc.? Should I make sure the word 'missionary' is not used?"No joke. If you want the missionary to stay on the field, you better know this aspect of their country of service.
3) "Is sending a package to you realistic?"Some countries have customs fees that are so steep, the missionary could never afford it... nor would the items in the package ever be worth it. There are creative ideas to be a blessing to those missionaries without sending them a care package. We will have a blog post in the near future about those situations and creative ideas of sending them love without using a box!
Some missionaries have to drive hours to reach their post office. They only go there every few months. Just ask. "Would you rather a care package or is there a more convenient and realistic way for us to show you we care?"
Some countries have a maximum package limit. If they have a package limit of two boxes per year, the missionary may prefer having those two packages reserved for family members to ship things.
4) "Do you have a care package wish list?"This is just one of those places where we blush. We don't want to have a list. It makes us feel like beggars... like we are soliciting people to send us things. I hate that feeling. We are very content people... but we have to get over this tendency to blush, because it helps you if we have a wish list ready to go. It also is being a good steward with God's money when we help you save money.
Attention Missionaries: I know it goes against our content, happy hearts to make wish lists, but it is such a help to those who really want to know what to send. Get over the blush! They don't want to send you a box of items you can already get in your country, nor do they want to accidentally send you illegal items. Have a list ready! If they ask, they want you to be honest about what would really be a help in that package. You will help them avoid wasting money. And don't feel guilty about making a list, either.
Simple ways to make a wish list? You can make an Amazon Wish List. Then those who want to order straight from Amazon can. They can ship it to themselves and then ship to you if you do not have access to Amazon shipping, or if you do have access to Amazon, they can just ship it directly to you through Amazon and save themselves a trip to the post office.
Another idea? Make a Pinterest board titled Care Package Ideas. Then share that board with those who ask. The links on the board help them know the exact item you are looking for.
Or you can just make a general list and email or message that list to the sender.
5) "Is there a maximum weight or value limit?"
This is a vital question. We had one of our customs/tax fees double because the value labelled on the form went over the limit. I thought hubby was going to pass out when he saw the charge on that one. It was an item we really needed, so we had no choice but to pay.
6) "What shipping method is best?"For us, just using the regular postal service is best! Using DHL or FedEx can be really pricey for you and for us! Some countries don't really have a postal service so the missionaries use a private shipping company. Again, ask the missionary. They will be able to tell you what works best for their country.
7) "Is there a maximum amount of value before duty is assessed?"
Some countries have a value limit before money is charged. If you keep your value under that amount, the missionary may not have to pay customs at all. Be aware, some countries include shipping cost in that value, too.
1) Remove all tags and any unnecessary packagingThis not only saves on weight in the package, but also can be a simple way to reduce the value of the item for customs purposes. I can promise you, the missionary family isn't going to care if the skirt has a tag on it or if that American football doesn't have a box. They will be much happier about that reduced customs fee.
2) Ziploc baggies for everything!A perfect explanation from a missionary in Mexico:
"Squeeze as much air out as possible and seal the Ziploc. Each group of gifts goes into individual bags. Example: Towels in one bag, cocoa powder in another bag, tea bags and seasoning mixes in another bag. Candles and scented things in a separate bag. (Nothing worse than soap flavored muffin mix! So keep those scented things separate!)"
This does three things:
1) It gives the missionary Ziploc bags!!! Woohoo! Some fields do not have Ziplocs, and Ziplocs are a welcomed gift!
2) If something, like muffin mix, breaks open, the mess is contained and nothing is ruined.
3) It helps deter the mail/customs people along the way from sniffing all the yummy stuff inside the box... and then stealing your package!
In general, liquids are banned, but many have received Bath and Body hand soap... bagged, taped, tightly packed and labelled "soap."
3) There should never be any empty space.The problem with empty space is that first... it's a waste of an opportunity. You can always find some lightweight items to put in corners. One of our favorite lightweight stuffers is marshmallows! There aren't good marshmallows here (if any can be found at all.) They are a treasured item. I prefer marshmallows over bubble wrap any day! But for some missionaries in the tropics, marshmallows may not be the best idea. Secondly, open space means space for things to be jostled around, broken, and damaged. I can promise you, even if you mark that package "fragile," the box will not be treated gently. Fill in every nook and cranny.
4) Insert a 3x5 index card in the box with your name and address on it.Sometimes when packages are received, the name on the outside has been damaged and is no longer legible. We love the packages, but we love even more knowing who we need to thank for the package.
Our very own fellow BMW, Joy Gibson, went above and beyond to help answer the questions in this area. She grabbed some boxes and some forms to help us navigate through the intimidating area of filling out the customs form. (Thank you, Joy!)
Please, please please follow these instructions carefully. This is usually where the costliest mistakes are made.
Everything needs both a label and a customs form.
Small form for small boxes and large form for large boxes.
Open and fill out the inside. Press firmly because there are multiple carbon copies.
Ask the missionary for exact spelling.
There are four lines to enter descriptions, and should be one description per line.Group them in general groups and then fill in some details.
HINT from the BMWs: Be general in your listing.
Let's say you are sending Pampered Chef choppers, knives, and a mini manual food processor. Please don't list the items like that. Label it "kitchen items" or "kitchen utensils." Or maybe you are sending Lego sets, Hot Wheels, and a soccer ball to the children. Please list them as "toys." Why? Two main reasons. First, it's very tempting to dishonest people when they see the specific items listed for them to take advantage of the opportunity and treat themselves to an early Christmas present. General listings rarely draw the attention of dishonest people. The second reason is it reduces the fee of customs charges, especially in corrupt countries. For example, toys in our country are fairly cheap, but Lego sets are expensive and harder to come by. Once they see the word "Lego" they also see dollar signs and an opportunity to take advantage of your missionary.
HINT from the BMWs: Getting rid of packaging allows for writing "used" and decreasing the value.
(Don't forget to include the Lego instructions!)
(Some packaging is nice.)
(By the way... see the boxes up top? By removing the packaging and stuffing the box tightly...The things that came shipped in those packages at the top now fits in the single priority mail box at the bottom... plus extra stocking stuffer candy!)
HINT from the BMWs: Understand that the value of the item isn't necessarily what you paid for it.When you fill out the customs form, it will ask for the value of the item. Please don't put the full amount you paid for the item... especially if you removed the packaging! Think about it. If you go to the local mall, buy a pair of jeans... then go to Wal-Mart and buy the same pair of jeans... are you going to pay the same price? What if you remove the price tag from the jeans and take it to Goodwill? Are they going to charge the mall price? Will they even charge the Wal-Mart price? What if you buy a muffin mix one week for $1, and then the next week they have a buy-one-get-one-free sale on the same muffin mix... Is the value of one different from the value of the ones on sale? What if you used coupons? So what do you put as a value? Remove tags, remove packaging, and think "Goodwill pricing." Think, "What would I pay for this if it was brand new, tags still attached, at a yard sale?" That is probably more realistic of the true value of the item. Disconnect your thinking from identifying the value of an item being full retail pricing.
Do put SOME value; they won't believe $0.
Ask the missionary if there is a certain amount they have to start paying import duty for, and keep it under that (but close.)
Be sure to mark "GIFT."
Don't worry about anything on the right side.
Don't worry about weighing each item separately. Weigh the whole box and then disperse the weight proportionately among the items.
For international shipping, the flat rate boxes generally work out cheaper. The small boxes can be used for 1-4 lbs, the medium and large boxes can go up to 20 lbs.
If you use your own box, it goes by size and weight both, so check the USPS website for information.
It's a good idea to go by your post office and pick up the boxes and several copies of the customs form and fill them out at home. Take several copies of the customs form in case you mess up.
Be Ready for the Wait.
For some places it takes a month or two for a package to arrive, even though the post office may tell you seven to ten days. I have even had a friend who received a Christmas package in May! Just make sure anything you packaged is not extremely time sensitive. Also be cautious about sending things too close to the missionary's furlough time. If they are going on furlough within the next three months, it is probably best not to send anything. It may arrive after they have left.
(Be sure to check comments for additional tips.)
So, what if the missionary cannot receive care packages?
What if you cannot afford the crazy huge shipping fees?
Don't worry... we have ideas for that, too!
Get ready to "Think Outside the Box"!
To be continued
by Charity, Southern Asia