The Way to a Missionary’s Mailbox

by Carol Clark

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    A mission president told the story of an unsuccessful missionary serving in one of the European missions. After giving the elder several transfers and still consistently receiving poor reports, the president decided to call the missionary in for a special interview. He asked the young man, seemingly so eager to do the Lord’s work, why he found it so difficult to become involved with his assignments. The missionary replied that he just could not keep his mind on missionary work.

    Probing deeper, the mission president discovered that before the young man left home, he had become friends with a lovely young girl. They had spent a lot of time together—with friends and family—and had grown to enjoy each other’s company. Though they were smart enough not to make any commitments, both said that they hoped they would find each other’s company equally as enjoyable when he returned.

    There was nothing out of order with that, the mission president concluded; so he looked for something deeper. When the president asked how often the young man heard from this young lady, the missionary told him that the girl called on the phone frequently, wrote lengthy letters daily, and sent expensive packages every week.

    “She misses me terribly,” the missionary said, “and I wonder if I can wait the rest of my mission to see her again.”

    The mission president concluded his story by saying, “Her selfish immaturity ruined his mission. He worried so much about her that he had no time or energy to worry about, and more important, grow to love the people in the field.”

    Former mission presidents, their wives, and returned missionaries report that no mission field is a bed of roses. It’s a lot of hard work. It requires diligence, determination, perseverance, sacrifice, and concentration. It’s the wise girl who is sensitive to the tremendous adjustment missionaries must make. In many missions an elder is experiencing an entirely new culture. Language and behavior barriers stand between him and prospective converts. He is studying hard, and it’s not easy. Besides all this, he’s finding that it’s real work to live as close to the Lord as he needs and wants to. A girl—be she mother, sister, friend, or sweetheart—who makes herself aware of her elder’s successes and frustrations and then helps him to cope with these experiences can be a tremendous influence in his life.

    One former mission president’s wife stated, “A girl can do much. If she has truly high standards and realizes the eternal capacities of an elder, she can build his self-esteem and thus make him even more effective. She can help him see the power he is and can be in the lives of others, the father he might become, the patriarch he could be in a future home, the potential he has to be a home teacher, an Aaronic Priesthood adviser, a bishop, a high councilor, a success in any calling. The job of girls who are writing to missionaries is to help those boys become godly men.”

    Problems result for an elder when a girl keeps pulling him home. Her selfishness may prevent him from experiencing one of the greatest joys of missionary work: building a relationship with the Lord and showing it through his daily labor. Elders worry over bad news from home because there is little if anything they can do. They are also pulled away from their purpose by mail that is overly affectionate, dreary, frequent, lonely, or cheerless.

    Whether the correspondence is based on friendship or is the preface to an even deeper relationship when the elder returns, there are some specific things a girl can do in her letters to aid a missionary:

    1. Don’t write more than once a week. He doesn’t have the time and should not take the time to read or respond to more letters than that.

    2. Be happy in your letters. Discuss positive things. The object is to see the bright side of life and help him see it too. The Lord has given us a beautiful world and a challenging life. Elders ofttimes need help in remembering the joys that can be found even in disappointment.

    3. Share thoughts and ideas. Show the elder your world more clearly and interestingly by writing about the exciting, new concepts you’re discovering, the things you are learning while he is gone, the thoughts you’ve had that are new and engrossing.

    4. Be creative. A cleverly written note can do as much to brighten a day as a newsy narration. One sister sent her elder small “care” packages every few months. These packages included spiritual thoughts, pictures, clips of humor from the Church magazines, some cookies, and a letter of cheerful encouragement.

    5. Include the elder and his work in your prayers on fast Sunday and at other times. Let him know that you are concerned about what he is doing and ask him if there is anything special you could include in your prayers to help him.

    6. Ask him what scriptures he is studying and then read the same ones. Your letters could mention things you have learned from your study. A girl who is successful in writing to elders in the field remembers that people perform more effectively when they have a healthy self-esteem, and self-esteem is built to a great degree by those closest to them. She will be able to raise the banner that her elder can follow toward his potential. She will put him and his work for the Lord before her personal needs or desires. She can, if she will, be a big factor in precipitating his enthusiastic homecoming talk comment, “These have been the best two years of my life.”

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn