The Lord taught a principle that can be applied to missionaries and their families and friends when He admonished, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). Once your missionary enters the MTC, everything you say and do should help him or her stay focused on the task and challenges ahead.
The letters and packages you send carry powerful messages to your missionary and to his or her companion. A letter from home can be like pure spring water to the thirsty soul. What you say in a letter may very well be the highlight of the week.
It is natural when writing a letter to write about those things in which you are involved. May we suggest, however, that when you write your missionary, you try to limit describing what is going on at home. Rather than telling about sporting events or who is dating whom, center your comments on the gospel of Jesus Christ and missionary work. Ask for whom you could pray. Follow with interest the progress of your missionary's investigators. Share a favorite scripture or describe a lesson from your life that might apply to a situation the missionary is facing. This will help your faithful missionary to continue putting his hand to the plough without looking back and being distracted by events at home.
A former mission president shared with us how a new missionary and one of his friends back home learned this important lesson. The elder had been called to a mission far away from home. This was a fine young missionary with a strong background in the gospel. At his first interview with his mission president, it became evident that he was lonely and suffering emotionally. He asked to be reassigned to a mission closer to home. After some counsel from the mission president, the missionary agreed to stay. When it was reported later that the missionary was receiving a letter almost every day and a package every week from a young woman back home, the mission president realized why the missionary was having trouble focusing on the work. The young woman was contacted and readily agreed to do anything to help the missionary--even if it meant limiting her letters and packages to once a week or less. The effect of this change on the elder was remarkable, and he served an honorable mission.
There are frequently difficult issues at home about which a missionary should be notified. Whenever there is the death of an immediate family member, the mission president should be called first, preferably by the missionary's home stake president. In times when a less intimately known person dies or suffers a tragedy, it may be more appropriate to notify the missionary in a brief letter. A considerate bishop or home teacher might also send a letter assuring the missionary that "these matters at home are being taken care of. You keep your focus and energy on your mission, and we will take care of the situation."
It is probable that your missionary will at some time write to complain about one thing or another. If you encourage the complaining, the missionary could become less effective. Advise your missionary to focus on the work. Remember the letter sent to a complaining young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley by his father: "Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work."
Missionaries are now authorized to communicate with the home front using e- mail. This can be a wonderful blessing, especially for families who have missionaries in areas of the world where traditional mail service is unreliable. There are, however, some specific guidelines on how this new tool is to be used. Acquaint yourself with them, and follow them as a protection to yourself and your missionary.
Sending certain kinds of packages can have unexpectedly adverse effects. One mission president explained how difficult it was for one missionary who had a companion from a wealthy background. Each time the family sent a package filled with goodies, clothes, books, and money, the less-affluent companion was pointedly reminded that his family would never be able to send such packages. When you decide to send a package, consider including something of equal or greater value for your missionary's companion. Make birthday or holiday gifts modest and appropriate to the missionary lifestyle.