By Emmaline Wilson, author of What Sisters Know: Mission Advice from Sisters to Sisters (justforthesisters.blogspot.com).
Parents: you love your missionaries, your sons or daughters who are serving, and want to be the best support for them in their important work of spreading the gospel. The truth is that they need you, your prayers, your letters. But occasionally parents can distract or detract from the quality of their missionaries’ experience—so here are a ten ideas to help you support them best:
- Write away! A letter once a week is wonderful, or if you need to talk to them more, perhaps a weekly email and a weekly hand-mailed letter (received at different times, preferably, to spread out their joy at receiving your mail). As an MTC teacher, I noted that missionaries who got consistent but not constant (aka, not daily) letters were best able to focus but feel secure in their family’s love and well-being.
- Focus on their mission, not their home. Of course, give them the tidbits: you are redoing the backyard and putting in a fire pit, their youngest sibling got a hat trick in her soccer match, their cousin got married.But remain interested in their day-to-day activities and ask plenty of simple questions they can respond to. (Hint: it will help you feel more connected to your missionary’s daily life—and maybe even make the transition home easier!)
- Encourage the missionary’s siblings to correspond with him or her, even if it’s merely through a short email or on a post-it note attached to a letter. It doesn’t have to be much to be meaningful.
- Send pictures of home. When appropriate, include your own pictures in correspondence with your missionary–especially of others growing up. (For instance, I really was unprepared for the changes in the cute little 12-year-old brother I left, who was now a gangly teenager of 14—kind of a shocker at the airport!) They can always use family photos to share their testimony with those they teach.
- Be aware of their friends’ happenstances and keep them posted. While you don’t need to dwell on others’ lives, some things are just nice to know. Their best friend also decided to serve a mission and dropped by? By all means! Anything uplifting you can share about their friends (like an excerpt from another missionary’s email home) is beneficial. Of course, use your parental wisdom in sharing this news: if his former girlfriend (or her boyfriend) recently got engaged, tact is the key word!
- Keep others updated on Elder or Sister X. Try to keep those close with your missionary, especially those who aren’t Church members, informed on their missionary experiences. Right now, your son or daughter is longing to share the gospel with the people they love most; while they may not be able to, you can. Try inviting friends or family to meet with the missionaries (think: “You really love Chase, and he would love to share with you the message he’s spent his entire life savings to give; he’s in Peru and can’t right now, but these young men can…”). Many parents inform friends and other relatives through a weekly email or blog post—I just love reading these. Even those who normally won’t listen to the gospel message can feel the Spirit through missionary letters. If necessary, too-personal or negative portions can be taken out of emails to help facilitate this.
- Do missionary work yourself! There was nothing I loved more than hearing from my family about how they were able to share the gospel throughout their week. My dad rides on airplanes often and would simply talk about us to bring up the gospel; he would share these experiences with me. For my mom, such opportunities were less frequent but no less meaningful: at one point, she gave away a copy of the Book of Mormon to some old-time friends. What a wonderful time for our family. Any missionary out gives parents a lot of clout to bring up missionary work, and hence, the gospel of Jesus Christ. (We had two out, so twice the reason to share!)
- Bear testimony. Missionaries need reassurance, too, that the message they are sharing is from God—especially when everyone else is rejecting it. A testimony is nothing more than a short declaration of truth, so let them know something you’ve learned or are grateful for each week. Again, it doesn’t have to be long to be powerful.
- Packages. For special occasions, for holidays, for no occasion at all. Packages are always welcome by missionaries (but see the next note…)
- Remember they have a companion. Whether or not your son or daughter is a huge fan of the person they are currently with, they have been assigned to be together 24/7 (quite literally). Encourage them to learn life lessons from the person. Help your missionary sustain his or her companion by asking about the companion in letters, include them when possible with a small something in a letter or package (i.e., stickers for both or an extra candy bar), and praying for them both during family prayers. Be especially aware when their companion’s parents aren’t likely to send anything—like missionaries whose families disowned them for serving. You can be a great benefit to more than one missionary.
There are, of course, many other ways to support your missionary. (I considered including a “don’t move states!” section—but my parents did move, cross-country, for the first time in their married lives, and my brother and I survived.) Pray for them and love them. Help them focus on the Lord and they will be eternally grateful for your wisdom and support during their missionary service.