My family experience is not exactly typical for your average American missionary. My father was born into the Church, but my mother was not baptized until I was eight years old. Our family was sealed in the temple a year later. However, no one else in my mother’s family felt any desire to investigate the Church and leave behind their Catholic roots. So when it came time for me to leave for my mission, there were lots of things that needed to be approached differently to help my mother’s side of the family better understand the mission. Here are three key things I learned from my experience with the non-members in my family for before, during, and after the mission.
1. Before: Make it clear why you are going on a mission.
One of the things that was initially difficult for my family members to understand was what was causing me to go on a mission. Some of them thought it was something the Church forced all young men to do, whether they wanted to go or not. Others lamented the fact that I would be “falling behind” in life by taking a two-year hiatus from school and work. Chances are that your non-member family does not entirely understand why you are choosing to serve a mission. You need to make it clear to them that you are going by your own free will, not because anyone is forcing you to go but because you want to serve the Lord and His children. With my family, I don’t think I ever had them all convinced that putting off “real life” for two years was not going to be a problem in the long run, but by the time I left, they at least understood that serving a mission was something I personally wanted to do.
2. During: Make your letters home easy to understand and full of testimony.
It’s said that when writing, you need to know who your audience is. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to writing letters home to non-member family. Even though terms such as “mission president,” “transfers,” “zone leader,” etc. seem straightforward enough to members and missionaries, these terms can be very confusing to non-members if you don’t explain what they mean. A lot of the time, you only need to add an extra sentence or two of explanation to make it more clear to your non-member family. And don’t forget to testify! Bearing testimony and sharing your spiritual experiences in your letters home is the best and most important thing you can do to help family members understand what a valuable and life-changing experience the mission is. And the testimony that you share can help spark change in their lives. In President Monson’s talk “Preparation Precedes Blessings” , he recounted the story of a missionary who he challenged to write to his less-active father and non-member mother every week for the rest of his mission. As a result of those letters home, at the end of the young man’s mission, his father had been reactivated, his mother was baptized, and the family was sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.
3. After: Continue to be a missionary!
I hoped so much to have an experience like that of the missionary described in President Monson’s talk. I wanted to return home and find that my letters and testimony had made a change in the lives of my non-member family and that they would be filled with a desire to join the Church. This was not the case when I returned home. This was disappointing to me, but it is important to remember that the Lord works in His own ways and that in the end, everyone has the right to exercise their agency to choose whether or not to accept the Gospel. Continue to be a missionary to your family after you return home. I’ve had the opportunity to bear my testimony many times about the truthfulness of the Gospel and the great blessing serving a mission was for me. I’ve shared The Book of Mormon with family members and answered questions that they have brought up regarding our beliefs and doctrine. Even though the outcome I most desire for my family members is yet to occur, I know that my mission experience has provided blessings for them. My family members were able to gain an appreciation for what I had been doing as a missionary and saw the blessings it was bringing to myself and others, and now they are able to see that I did not miss out on any other opportunities by serving the Lord for two years. Whether the blessings we desire for our non-member family are immediate or not, trust in the Lord and His plan. Continue to live the Gospel and provide a powerful example to them.