Missionary Document Organization Helps

Missionary Document Organization Helps

Missionary Document Organization Helps is a post by a missionary of 30+ years to help new missionaries (or veteran missionaries) organize their life and ministry.

Overview of this post

I am a veteran missionary, and probably after all is said and done, I am just a dummy. I have to fight through things in my life to make things work, or even kind of work. So I am sharing with you some of the best tips and tricks, and shortcuts and how to do things as a missionary. A lot of this can be applied to people in other vocations in life, but this post and website are directed towards missionaries.

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You have to keep documents, so organize them

Missionary Document Organization Helps
Missionary Document Organization Helps

First of all, please realize that our world is now going electronic. Almost everything you need is going to be an electronic document, and you need a couple of things: 1) store them, 2) organize them, 3) make permanent backups, 4) find what you need.

Warning: My Experience

My experience goes back to the beginning of the computer age, and one of my observations is that very simply, things change. As they do, you can get caught in these changes. For example, way back in the dinosaur age, I used Ami Pro word processor. I am a preacher so I made dozens or even hundreds of Bible studies, notes, and sermons and they were all in AmiPro format. Do you know how to get at that information today? Yea, not so easy.

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So you need to be very careful about the rise and fall of Titans. Companies come out of nowhere, rise to dominate an area, then are bought out or go broke for whatever reason, and somebody else takes their spot, and if you are not careful you will be crunched. One key thing to remember, when you have 500 sermons and notes in one format, and you see that company is going under, quickly find some way to convert those files to another format and take a week and do it, because, in a year, there may be no way to do that.

Separating different Types of Documents

In this post (I am planning a number of posts of missionary document organization), I am going to concentrate not on sermons and studies, but rather on your personal documents.

First of all, you need some kind of folder organization. My recommendation is that you make some folders and subfolders on your C: Drive. Yes, you can make it on another drive, but probably it is better on your C: drive in the documents folder.

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Start with the year “2020”

Ok, so under your Documents folder, 2020 is your top folder. Under that, you have these.

  • 2020
    • 2021
    • 2022
    • 2023
    • 2024
    • 2025
    • 2026
    • 2027
    • 2028
    • 2029
  • 2030

So you understand, for each century, you will have a heading (2020 for example) but there are normally no documents or files in that particular folder. The documents are in the subfolders. Now I do scan my passport (and my families) as well as driver’s licenses (for each member of the family), and other important documents (more not just one year) and will keep them in the main 2020 folder for all those 10 years. I also keep copies of all these in the year I first obtained the document. I also do a wallet scan regularly (every 6 months or so, or when I get new plastic).

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A Wallet Scan or Scan of everything in Your Wallet

Missionary Document Organization Helps Wallet Scan
Missionary Document Organization Helps Wallet Scan

A wallet scan is when you take everything out of your wallet (except cash) and scan everything front and back. You will have your ids, credit cards, and any other stuff in there is a series of jpg (or you can make them into a pdf after you scan them into jpg). What does this do? If somebody steals your wallet, what did they get? Did you have a piece of paper in there with your bank and your password? (Bad) did they get your debit card and your piece of paper that says “Bank Debit Card Pin Number” (really bad)? By just looking through your wallet, can they go to an ATM and clear out your account? 

After Theft of your Wallet, then What?

You do know that they put a telephone number to call to get the bank to cancel the plastic (not the card) and issue you a new card. Where is that phone number? On the back of each credit or debit card. Great! But once it is stolen, how do you find it quickly again? That is why a wallet dump is helpful. Get to your laptop, go to this main folder and start calling those numbers on the back of your cards.

Note: As you can guess, everything in this folder (2020, the main century folder), and everything below it is highly confidential, and you need to guard it so that nobody can access it. I would also caution that any DVD’s that you burn with this if they don’t burn correctly, do not just throw them away. Break them with a hammer or something. (I wrap them in old trash papers and then break them on the edge of my desk so the pieces don’t fly into my eyes.

Sample Folder Structure

Now under each year, drill down into sub-folders. Make these as standard folders.

  • 2020
    • Home20
    • Office20
    • PrayerLetters20
    • Travel20
    • TYs20
    • Prospects20
    • Bank20-Checking
    • Bank20-Visa

Note: There are important parts here and no so much. The top 2020 century holds each year, and then there is 2020 under that folder, 10 subfolders in all. The actual names of these subfolders should en with the 2 digit year, or have it in there. I put bank statements in the banking folders, and I use Wellfargo, so in my case, it is Wells20-Visa for example. 

When I search for something, I can immediately tell what year the stuff is put in. TYs are Thank You’s for my supporters, and Prospects are for my work in trying to get new prospective churches to support me. All this correspondence is kept there, as well as other information I use to track down a church.

File Naming Rules

For Pete’s sake, please use good rules to name files. It is a really nasty thing if you don’t. So what are these rules?

  1.  Always put the date at the beginning of every document you save.
  2.  Put what it is, clearly and as short as you can make it and still understand it.
  3. Put the good stuff on top.

By this, I mean, try to put every good element in the file in the file name. For example, I pay my kids rent in the states (they are in college). I take money out of their accounts and my account and pay it online. That generates a confirmation screen. I print that to a pdf and save it to the 2020/home20 folder. So the name on that file is something like this,


Date+what it is+Amount+confirmation code.

I work in Mexico and live in pesos here. A lot of my receipts are in pesos then. So 1000 pesos is $43 US dollars, and that is a lot of difference between $1000 US dollars. So the d or p after the amount helps me to understand what currency it is in. Note that I will probably never open that particular rent receipt file again ever. Good. But if I ever was to want to know what we paid for rent at such and such a place 5 years ago, I can go looking, but the actual rent paid is in the file name. This file can be corrupted and unreadable, but I still got the rent amount I paid from the filename. If the apartment administration wants to say I didn’t pay, I can get the confirmation code without having to open the file.

This particular point of including the password or USERID in the filename is really good if you buy and download a program, and you print to PDF the USERID and password they give you in the pdf’s filename. This point will save you headaches down the road. I have had PDFs and JPGs of these records somehow get corrupted and lost. But those I put this information in the filename I am still good even if I cannot open the particular file.

I also put the date YEAR/MONTH/DAY because I want Windows to sort these files if they are a lot of them alphabetically, and I can easily see what files I have in August of (5 years back).

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Correspondence File Naming

Now I use TNT for maintaining my church contacts, and I put copies of everything I write to pastors or individual supporters in that. But I also make copies of letters and sometimes emails in physical files (MS Word). I print to PDF because Microsoft might change their formats and orphan a particular format in the future. Okay, don’t laugh. I bought FoxPro database language way back in the day, and they were the best, fastest, dBase program in their day. One day Microsoft bought it (it beat their Access dbase). Then they orphaned it. Yes. They bought it to throw it in the trash.


Naming the file like this gives you most of the good important information in the file name. You can open it and read what you said to him. Or if he sends you a letter, then you can scan it to JPG putting the good information at first sight).

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Also, note that I have a habit of using dashes instead of spaces. Spaces break things in many computer points. You can use them, but it is safer with dashes. (But a lot of my stuff goes onto my websites. That is where it is more important than just files on your hard disk.)

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