On Feb. 15, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced an update in policy regarding the way full-time missionaries contact their families. The announcement was once a week, on preparation day, in addition to writing letters and emails, missionaries can initiate communication with their families via phone calls, text, online messaging, and video chats.
A statement from the First Presidency says, “Regular communication with their families is an important part of a missionary’s service. One of the major purposes of this adjustment is to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary’s efforts and experiences.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an apostle and the chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council, said in a video released about the policy change, “We love our missionaries and the missionaries love their families and they want to communicate with them. That is the joy of missionary work: to share what you do and also for the families back home to hear what their wonderful missionaries do out there. How they proclaim the gospel, bless the people, and build the Church.”
Uchtdorf said this improved communication will motivate rather than distract missionaries. “We communicate with our Heavenly Father every day, and we would like to have our families communicate with the missionaries every week—maybe by letter or email, or now maybe by video chats or phone calls. This is an addition which brings more confidence, more peace.
“They receive rejection every day. They have tough weather conditions. They have to learn a lot. They have to work with new cultures, with new circumstances. But above all, they know in their hearts and minds that they are servants and representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Encouraging his missionaries to follow the spirit when calling home on preparation days, President James Bekker of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission said this should not be a distraction. He thinks this should motivate them so they do not have anxiety and stress about home. He said, “They can touch base more often but we’re hoping after a few weeks the newness wears off and they won’t have to call mom every ten minutes. They can call and check in. It takes away the stress and allows them to focus more on missionary work.”
Sister Reika Saito, from Japan, and her companion Sister Kotone Mann, from Utah, said they’re both excited for the change.
Mann laughed as she admitted her father had already emailed her to say he was looking forward to hearing from her every week. “I don’t want to be too focused on my family, but I think it can be a good thing as long as we figure out what works best for us.”
Saito said she’s not sure how it will work for her family with the time difference between Hawaii and Japan. “I don’t know if I can do every week, but I’m so excited to talk with my father because he’s less active. So far I’ve only written letters and emails every week, but if we talk in person through video calls he can hopefully feel a good influence from me.”
Mann said, “Just like anything, like our phones, it can be used for a good thing. It can definitely be used for distractions. We just have to follow the spirit and do what feels right.”
Thinking the change will help more people want to serve, Lily Hazlett, a junior from Utah majoring in hospitality and tourism management, said, “I know a lot of people struggle with not being able to communicate. I think it will help the mission be easier in some ways.”
She said it seemed like the missionaries she knew became distracted around the holidays because they knew they would be able to talk to their families. She said missionaries look forward to the calls home. When the time arrives, they get emotional and feel low. They have to build up their focus again.
Mann said, “There are also outsiders, that aren’t members of the church, that are like, ‘What? You can’t talk to your family? That’s insane! I thought your church was all about family!’ So then it will help with that aspect of it, that we still include our families and we still talk to them and they know how we’re doing. It’s normal.”
Samantha Hanson, a sophomore from Florida majoring in marine biology, said one of her friends struggled with homesickness on his mission. “He wasn’t prepared for the communication issues, so I think this would help missionaries who weren’t prepared for the drastic difference from being able to talk to family all the time to emails only once a week.”
Hazlett said changes the Church has announced in the past year emphasize on families strengthening each other in the gospel. “It’s really not a surprise that the Church wants the family more involved in missionary work. With them being more involved in what you’re doing every week, missionary work is more on their mind so it will help them to focus on that during their week too, and so we’re building each other up to this higher and holier law of the gospel.”
Megan Hunsaker, a junior from Louisiana majoring in HTM, said her brother submitted his mission papers on the day the change was announced, which also happened to be his birthday. “We’re really excited they changed it so once he leaves we’ll be able to talk to him more. I also like the idea of being able to call on Father’s Day now too.”
She thinks it will help missionaries adjust more so they won’t be as homesick. “I feel like it might help people to stay out more. My initial thought is that if you’re calling once a week or every couple of weeks rather than twice a year it’s more likely to be a normal thing and you’re not as worried about talking to them like you would be on Mother’s Day or Christmas.”
A returned missionary’s thoughts
Laughing as she admitted she thought it was unfair at first, Trisha Naag, a freshman majoring in HTM from the Philippines, said, “When I was on my mission, I always looked forward to Christmas and Mother’s Day just to call my family on Skype. Now it’s exciting, because my brother is going on a mission soon. This new policy in missionary work will really help them prepare and encourage them. It can lift them up when they’re feeling down or need help from their family, especially if they have returned missionaries in their family.”
According to Naag, she thinks it will help missionaries feel less homesick. “They will not feel so depressed about doing missionary work because they’re away from their families. When I was on my mission, when I felt depressed I always wanted to talk to my family, but writing emails wasn’t enough. I wanted to see their faces and hear their voices, so I think [this] will help missionaries be stronger, stay longer, and return with honor.”
Naag said missionaries can help their families do missionary work by uplifting them and sharing inspired talks and experiences during calls. “Instead of telling them you’re feeling homesick, you can divert the topic into something more spiritual. If the family will support them in doing missionary work, I think it will help them be more pumped up.”