When I went on my mission to Rosario, Argentina in 1995, several times before I left my mom and dad gave me strict instructions to write a thoughtful letter home each and every week. They, of course, wanted me to send the details of my experiences, the work I was doing, and the people I was teaching. They also promised to keep all the letters I sent home which would form a wonderful journal of the happenings of my mission and how I grew in faith and testimony by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
True to form, I wrote by hand wrote a one- to two-page letter home each week, and my parents saved each one. When I returned home two years letter, they presented me with a binder containing my letters home and that record has proven very valuable to me. It has served to jog my memory on the personal mission stories and events I’ve discussed on this website. I think the advice to write a good letter home each week was one of the best pieces of advice my parents gave to me, and now I am passing it along to you, the audience of this website.
Missionary letters home are not just a good way to document the happenings of your mission, these letters are an opportunity to build the faith and testimony of family and friends back home. The influence you could have on those people could be just as powerful as the influence you will have on the members and investigators you interact with in your mission field. As you bear your testimony of the work of the Lord in your letters or now more likely, emails, to parents, family, and friends, their faith with grow and their testimonies will be strengthened.
What Makes a Good Letter to Home?
What distinguishes a good letter home from a poor one, and what advice can I give the youth to help them write a good weekly letter home? In contemplating the answers to these questions, I developed an acronym that consolidates my advice in an easy to remember mnemonic device. Remember that good letters home IMPACTS you and your family and friends in a positive and eternal way. IMPACTS is an acronym and is designed to remind to include the following in your letters or emails home:
- Investigators. In your letters or emails home, share news and stories about the people you are teaching the restored gospel. You should respect the privacy of those about whom you write, so be careful about what you say, and perhaps you should not use their complete name, but the very essence of missionary work is the love we have for the people we teach. So talk about the people you are teaching. And when your family and friends back home hear about these people, your love for them and for the work will shine through.
- Members. Tell about the members of the in the ward/stake/branch among whom you are serving. Many missionaries around the world have a hard time finding people to teach, but members of the Church around almost all missionaries, sharing in the work. Talk about the members you are visiting and what you admire about them. Talk about the members, and sometime investigators as well, who are feeding you dinner. Share you gratitude for this service that most missionaries receive, and talk about other experiences you are having with the local members of the Church.
- Pictures. A picture says a thousand words, so remember to send home photos. Sending pictures is meaningful way to let your family and friends know you are doing well, which is why learning to take and send digital photos via email is something included on the checklist of skills to have before your mission. Don’t get too distracted taking pictures on your mission, but pictures of the members and investigators that you’re working with, and photos of the your area and companions will make for excellent keepsakes the rest of your life. When you do you weekly service projects, this is another great opportunity to take pictures to send home.
- Authentic. Be authentic in your letters and emails by sharing the good and the bad, the hardships and the triumphs. Sincere writing is one way for you to better understand yourself, and the act of writing help bring personal revelation. Regular, honest, introspective writing will be uplifting, and it will help you see God’s blessings in your life and the Lord’s hand in helping you endure and overcome trials. Life is full of ups and downs, and the mission is no different. In life and on your mission, acknowledge the hard things but try not to dwell on them too much.
- Companion. Tell about your companion and the things you are learning from him or her. Many missionaries will make friendships with their mission companions that will last a lifetime. Occasionally, you will be glad when your time with a certain companion is over. Whichever the case may be, you can learn a lot from your companion, so make note of the things you like about him or her, and perhaps just make mental notes of the things you don’t like, so you can be sure not to emulate those undesirable qualities.
- Testimony. Perhaps most importantly, use your letters or emails home to share your spiritual experiences and tell how your faith and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ is growing. Talk about what you are learning in your personal scripture study. Talk about the miracles you’ve seen in your life and the lives of others. Bear your testimony to your family and friends just like you should also do in the missionary lessons you teach.
- Stories. Stories applies to all the other elements. Whether you are writing about investigators or members, bearing testimony or writing about other topics, share stories that relate significant or inspiring experiences. Try to think of stories that will help the people back home who are reading your letters and emails. Writing with a purpose to help others will often lead to new insights and inspiration that you can share. Stories are an effective communication tool because people remember stories and are more likely to apply the lessons they teach. Jesus, as you know, often taught through stories we call parables.
What the Missionary Handbook Says about Writing Home
Perhaps it goes without saying, but of course, follow the instructions provided by the First Presidency of the Church regarding letter writing as outlined in the Missionary Handbook of rules:
- “Write to your family each week on preparation day. Limit correspondence with others. Share your spiritual experiences.”
- “Never include anything confidential, sensitive, or negative about the areas where you serve.”
- “Use e-mail only on preparation day. You may use computers in public places, such as libraries or appropriate businesses that offer Internet access. While using computers, always stay next to your companion so that you can see each other’s monitors. Do not use members’ computers.”
- “Do not become preoccupied with communicating with family and friends. Except as outlined under ‘Family Members and Friends’, you should communicate with family and friends only on preparation day.”
- “Avoid slang and inappropriately casual language, even in your apartment with your companion or in letters to your family.”
- “Do not make negative or offensive comments about political or cultural circumstances, even in letters or e-mails home.”
- “Do not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept calls or letters from anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries.”
Former President of the Church Thomas S. Monson said this about writing letters home:
“In many respects, a mission is a family calling. The letters which a missionary sends to Mother and Father are packed with power—spiritual power. They are filled with faith—abiding faith. I’ve always maintained that such letters seem to pass through a heavenly post office before being delivered to home and family. Mother treasures every word. Father fills with pride. The letters are read over and over again—and are never discarded.” (Missionary Memories by Thomas S. Monson)
To all the young people out there, be faithful in writing thoughtful letters or emails home each week. If you’re not sure what to say, think of the IMPACTS acronym and write about Investigators and Members, include Pictures, be Authentic, mention your Companion, include your Testimony, and tell Stories. There will be p-days when the time you have to write a letter will be short, but I promise that if you take the time to write a good letter each week, your parents, family, and friends will be grateful, and you too will be blessed on earth and in eternity for the record you’ve kept of your service to God.
P.S. A note to parents, print out a copy of your missionary’s letters home. I heard a story in Church of a parent who saved all the emails from their son on a mission by keeping them in her email system. Something happened with the email provider and all their emails were destroyed, including those precious communications from their son. I think keeping electronic backups of emails from missionaries is great, but it is also wise to print them out and have a physical backup. 🙂