Today at work we are taking call after call from mothers and fathers who have children serving missions in Mexico. They’re worried, and I suppose I don’t blame them. I’m irritated by them, but don’t blame them. It’s hard when your loved one is far away and you can’t talk on the phone, or help like you did when your child was small. But, it is in times like this when it is important to take a deep breathe, listen to that inner voice telling you that everything is fine, and then relax. Not always easy, I know, but really your only sound option.
Over the years I’ve talked to lots of moms who have had children in areas suffering with all sorts of swine flu-like catastrophes – earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, landslides, SARS (remember SARS?), bird flu, and worst of all lost packages. Here are a few things that I’ve learned, and wish that all of missionary mothers knew. Maybe someday, when you have a child in the mission field, you’ll remember some of it.
A bit of a disclaimer – none of this is COB policy and does not represent the COB. It’s just stuff that I’ve thought about, and that friends and I have laughed about. Nothing official here.
1. This child that you are sending out on a mission is not a child at all, but a full grown adult. I know that he/she will always be your little boy/girl, but that’s just you. Some mothers act like we’ve taken her 10-year old and sent him off to the Baltic States, and now what are we going to do?! That is simply not the case. He’s grown up. He’s making his own choices. He can take care of himself. Nineteen is an age when young adults should be leaving home and finding their own life, and there are countless places that kids go to: school, the Peace Corps, New York City to work on their music, finally be discovered and be a star. All options considered, a mission is the safest, sanest place for your not-a-child-anymore child. And remember, you’ve wanted this mission since the day he was born. Now that it’s here, it’s time for you to let go.
(I’m going to drop the “he/she” now. We all know that not all missionaries are boys, but going with he is so much easier.)
2. Before your missionary leaves home, he’ll need to know some basic skills, like cleaning, cooking, laundry, so have him start doing it now (or at a reasonable age, of course). Missionary work is hard work, so make sure that your kid knows how to work hard. Other than a testimony, he’ll need that the most.
3. If your son is sent out of the country, do not send him packages! I mean it.
4. If you go against my advice and decide to send a package, do not call the COB when that package gets lost. I don’t have it. And I don’t know how to find it. And if you had listened to me then we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we? Go back to the post office or FedEx or wherever and ask them what happened. If your package is held hostage in a foreign customs office with a ransom of $200, which can happen, then again don’t call me. I can’t get it out of there, and in fact have not been asked to do hostage negotiations since that sad incident with the jar of peanut butter and bag of chocolate chip cookies in the Ukraine. I’m still having nightmares…peanut butter…everywhere.
5. And one more point on packages – putting a sticker with a picture of Jesus on the box will not guarantee safe delivery to a missionary in South America. Neither will any of those other things that “a lady in your ward” said. That lady in your ward doesn’t always know what she’s talking about.
Honestly, I don’t have any advice on how to best send a package. There are no guarantees. I suppose that it’s not unreasonable for a person to think that we might have advice, but we really don’t. You are pretty much on your own. When I go down to our mail room to send something to a mission, it usually goes FedEx. Try that.
6. No news is good news. I don’t know how many moms have called and said that her missionary left the MTC the day before, and she just needs to know that he got to the mission safely. I can assure you that no missionary has ever been lost in the Atlantic or anywhere else, but certainly if he had someone would have thought to call the parents. Phone calls are made when something is wrong. Consider the fact that there are about 50,000 missionaries out there. How can we possibly make regular calls to let parents know that theirs is ok? But when there is an accident or illness, which is very rare, the parents are contacted. That’s not a call you want to get. If you ever find yourself thinking, “I have not had any contact from my son’s mission office”, your next thought should be, “Thank heaven”.
7. Now on the other hand, your missionary should write to you weekly. Most can email and those who can’t send letters. If you go for a week or more without an email or letter…well I don't really know why. Apparently your child is not speaking to you. Maybe it was something you said. Give him some time and he’ll come around. But don't automatically assume that he's fallen off a cliff and is lost forever. That's never the case.
8. Don’t watch the news. Well, that might be too bold a statement. When you do watch the news, don’t let what you see there throw you into a panic. For example, when there’s an earthquake CNN will have you thinking that everyone is dead and the whole country has sunk away into the earth. Not so. The missionaries in that country are fine. And remember, no news is good news.
9. If your missionary writes to you saying that he isn’t feeling well, write back instructing him to call the mission office. You are 20,000 miles away, what can you do about it? Nothing. The people in the mission office, on the other hand, can help. In most missions, Mission Presidents have local doctors that they send their missionaries to. Of course, any kind of action depends on the missionary’s condition. A cold is just a cold, even in Uruguay. But if some medical attention is necessary, then the mission office is the place to take care of it, and they will. Tell your missionary to call them, and then stay out of it.
10. And finally, and more seriously, the system that is in place to take care of these missionaries is mind-blowing and awesome. It's fantastic. There is a web of priesthood leadership from the General Authorities in the area offices to the Mission Presidents and Stake Presidents that works to safeguard those young men and women. The people in charge are smart, organized, aware, and most importantly divinely inspired. They will take care of your missionary with love. Just trust them and trust the Lord. You’ll feel better when you do.
And that, for what it’s worth, is what I think every missionary mom needs to know.