Our guest article for July 2004 is an interview with Gerry Slessenger of Mission Supplies Limited. Further details about MSL can be found at the bottom of the interview:
OSCAR: Why would/should a mission worker choose a mission shipper like Mission Supplies Limited over a secular shipping agent (like DHL or whoever)?
Gerry: It's always good to have someone on your side. One of the reasons we set Mission Supplies up, many years ago, was to provide extra help and advice, as well as going the extra miles if something went wrong at the other end, say at customs. It is not easy, going out for the first time, and our aim to make that part of the process as easy and as comfortable as possible. Secular agencies will just see the work as a job, and nothing else.
OSCAR: As well as shipping items, what else do you do?
Gerry: We are here to help in any way we can, both the home staff who may be scrabbling around for information or technical data on equipment, through to personnel overseas who have an idea of a project but no knowledge on how to get all the parts together and shipped.
OSCAR: Do you offer other services related to shipping?
Gerry: We have our own in house packing and export department. We will collect from anywhere in Europe, pack, wrap and dispatch by air, sea or trailer, and insure. So we look after everything from beginning to end, even arranging delivery to your door if necessary.
OSCAR: You offer VAT-free purchases. How does that work?
Gerry: Anything purchased from Mission Supplies is free of VAT if for overseas use. We can even purchase something you have seen in say Argos or John Lewis VAT free, with just a small handling charge.
OSCAR: How much money do you think you have saved the mission world by claiming back VAT for them?
Gerry: I reckon we have saved many hundreds of thousands. Since we started in 1979, we have turned over about £13 million pounds, mostly mission goods going overseas, and this huge amount has either been ploughed back into the work, or has helped meet Mission budgets, allowing the work to progress.
OSCAR: What sort of things do you stock?
Gerry: We have over 50,000 products available for field workers overseas, We stock solar equipment, mosquito nets, water filters, anti-malarials, reconditioned and new generators, spare parts and much more. In almost 30 years of helping mission and NGO workers overseas, there is very little we have not been able to supply.
OSCAR: What are the most popular items you supply for mission workers? Do you have any figures like how many vehicles/computers/mosquito nets you've supplied over the last 30 years?
Gerry: Not really. I do have a 'Bouquet' file with hundreds of Thank-you letters from folk overseas, but no actual record of the numbers of items we have sent out. It would take years to work out! Water filters, Mosquito nets, solar equipment, vehicles and generators are popular, and we still supply Aladdin wicks for fridges made 50 years ago!
OSCAR: What's the most unusual thing you've been asked to source for a missionary?
Gerry: A missionary comedian asked me for a wife once, but backed off when I asked him for a specification! We have supplied dozens of 'odd' requests, and I could write a book about them all. One of the weirdest was a full size, real, human skeleton, for an anatomy lab in Dar es Salaam!
OSCAR: How has shipping stuff overseas changed in recent years? Is more stuff going by air? Is it getting cheaper or more expensive?
Gerry: Interestingly, as we now live in the 'fast' lane here in the West, many missionaries want their items immediately. So air freight has become far more popular, but the rates are dearer than they used to be, due to extra security charges at airports, and higher costs due to extra staffing levels. Sea is still cheaper, but although transit times are about the same, the nonsense with customs at the other end will mean further delays.
OSCAR: Do you have some brief, general advice, in step by step form, for those wanting to send items overseas?
Gerry: This ones easy! We have a step by step free freight guide, which we can send to new overseas workers, and our FreeFone number 0800 018 3370 is staffed by a friendly helpful team headed up by Juliet Cooper who has the patience of a saint!
* Note added afterwards: Mission Supplies Limited no longer exist but there are many other Shipping companies to choose from. See our Related Links in the left column of this page.