Monday, February 28, 2011

On writing to missionaries

We have two nephews and a niece on missions now, and I try to write to them once a month or so. We also have family friends who have sons on missions, and I try to write to them.

I write to missionaries mostly because almost no one beside my family wrote to me when I was a missionary. As I was leaving on my mission, my folks moved out of the ward of my youth because of an overseas assignment for my father’s work. They lived in Nigeria, away from any unit of the church, so in my home ward I was literally out of sight and out of mind.

I received letters regularly from my mother, somewhat less regularly from my siblings and from my girlfriend (who is now my wife). I received one letter from a member of my home ward. (He was a family friend and also had been called as elders quorum president.)

When I served as bishop I wrote a letter to missionaries serving from our ward once a month. They all got the same letter, but it came regularly.

I have no idea how these letters are received. For all I know these missionaries I write glance at the letters and toss them aside. They almost never respond (I tell them not to – they have more important people to write than me), though most write at least one or two letters back during their missions. And I typically get plenty of news from their missions through their parents who often share selected letters on their own blogs or emails or family letters.

I have one young friend who is serving in Brazil – coming home very soon. His father and I are good friends, though I haven’t spent any time with this missionary since he was about four. It has been awesome to read his letters (forwarded by his dad) and see how his mission has affected him. He expressed to his dad that he was surprised that someone who did not know him would write to him.

My letters aren’t great epistles. I write briefly about my own mission experiences, usually trying to match roughly the recipient’s mission timeline. I share my testimony, and maybe a thought about something I’d recently read in the scriptures or heard in church.

I send almost all my letters using Super easy for me. A brother-in-law recommended it to me when I asked the easiest way to write to his son and I've been hooked ever since. I have also emailed missionaries directly, though I hear they often prefer to get paper letters and save their screen time for more important letters than mine.

What’s your experience? Do you write to missionaries? Did you receive random letters on your mission? How did you respond?


  1. My mother was a constant correspondent when I was a missionary; other family members, not so much. I received only four "random" letters -- they must have meant something, or I wouldn't be able to identify them now, after all this time.

    My current home teacher, an 86-year-old temple worker, watches for elders attending the temple for the first time, especially ones attending without family members. He writes weekly letters to a dozen or more elders whom he met in the temple that way. I know it means something to at least some of them, because they write back, and they come to see him after their missions, sometimes for years.

    Interesting to hear that missionaries still appreciate paper letters in at least some cases. I wondered about that.

  2. What a sweet thing your temple working home teacher does!

    I don't know that the missionaries prefer paper over e-mail, but someone told me (and i could be wrong) that they typcially can't print their emails, and only get so much time to do emails on P-Day. I will always prefer paper, just because it allows me to go back and read a letter again. And as a missionary, sometimes I read letters many more times than once.

  3. (Of course when I was a missionary, we still rode dinosaurs to the airport, so there was no option like e-mail.)

  4. Thanks for the prompting. I don't write missionaries very well. I will look up the few I know on missions.

  5. I'd never heard of - thanks for sharing that.

    And maybe I'll find some missionary to write to...!

  6. There's something so nice in paper letters, knowing that far away, someone cared enough to put pen to paper. I am grateful my missionary son could email, but I also wrote to him, because I know email time is so short, and I'd prefer he spent it writing home, not reading my post! It's a treat to find a real live letter in the mail, and to be able to tuck in a pocket to read at leisure, on a bus, in the bathroom, is a warm thing. This is one of the very few Good Things I do well. I have "collected" over 125 missionaries over the years...including my own then-future son in law and daughter in law. I started writing to family members, then ward members, then my kids' friends, and along the way, missionaries I have heard of who have little or no family support. I, too, tell them not to write back (I don't need a pen pal, and they are supposed to be busy!) . The trick, I have found, is to be constantly on the look-out for pithy uplifting stories or analogies, and to use small paper. I may not have time ---or enough to say-- to fill a 4 page letter, but a card takes 10 minutes to write. I know I'm making an impact because many have thanked me after their missions. Several have hugged me on their first Sunday back. One senior couple even gave me a hand-woven tapestry of Christ and the children ---they had a postcard, and had it commissioned in Bolivia just for me! They said I had kept in better touch than their 8 children, combined...that was sad. I write to each every 4-8 weeks. I don't do much of value, but I do this well. And I strongly encourage others to write. You never know, your words of encouragement may be exactly what is needed the day it arrives. It's a cheap, quick, easy service.

  7. deb, thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like the missionaries you've written to really appreciate it! That's terrific.

  8. Thank you...I hoped I did not come across as bragging...I just think it's an easy, meaningful thing to do, and wish more people did it. Imagine a day when you're discouraged. How nice it would be to find a cheery note in the mail, addressed to you, among the bills and To Occupant clutter! I think it's funny that my kids tell their friends as they prepare for missions "I'll get my mother to 'collect' you." It really is an easy thing to do---if you wrote one card during a tv program, just during commercials, you could make a difference, and the cost of a stamp is worth raising someone's spirits. Yeah, I'm a little passionate on this...

  9. My companions and I wouldhave contests to see how many letters we could get on a weekly basis. This was before the days of email, so some weeks were pretty heavy.

    I always appreciated a letter from anyone. Not only did it boost my totals, but it was nice to know others were thinking about me.

    I should be much better at writing than I am considering I have a brother-in-law out right now...better go write him one!

  10. graceforgrace, thanks for your comment. It reminded me of a missionary I served with. Any day he got a letter he'd say, "Well, someone thought of me a week ago!"


  11. Thanks for your good example and your letters (to Bryce). I am assuming your friends are the Treasures, :) how good of you to write him, I never even thought of it and he knows me. I am sure those letters are much appreciated!

  12. Yes, you're right. I still remember Dan as a deep-voice little boy. And I owe Bryce a letter... It's great fun reading his!