Over the decades, returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have often worn as a badge of honor the sacrifice made in not having much contact with home for 18 or 24 months. Weekly letters were the norm, followed by the oft-coveted Mother’s Day and Christmas phone calls home. (Children of divorce also got Father’s Day.) That was it. Then email made that weekly communication a little bit easier, and as video apps proliferated, the semiannual call home became a Skype chat. Awesome. But communication was still regulated, as the missionary was expected to avoid the distractions of home life and focus on the work.
Well that badge of honor has now been rendered moot, as the Church’s First Presidency has announced major changes to the ways missionaries are allowed to be in contact with their families, permitting weekly text, video, or phone calls in addition to regular correspondence home. The First Presidency has stressed that there is no time limit for these exchanges, but that missionaries should initiate contact on Preparation Day and not be subject to the whims of family members opting to drop them a Snap. The Church only asks that missionaries by prudent with their time and thoughtful of the needs of their companion. (Presumably, calls can only be done one at a time, as a companionship shares a phone, plus it would likely be unwise to have missionaries with their own phones having unregulated personal conversations in seclusion.) The Church also adds that it is “not expected” that these calls will take place weekly, but will depend on what’s realistic for the missionaries.
Now before we go off on a cynical rant about how of course today’s millennial missionaries can’t be untethered from communication for more than three minutes, and how those who made earlier sacrifices are so noble, it’s important to look at the stated rationale for this move: “to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary’s efforts and experiences.” That’s right, this isn’t about missionaries functioning better when they have more involvement from home. It’s about families benefiting from deeper involvement in an Elder or Sister’s weekly activities. Just think about how potent a regular exchange regarding investigators or lessons learned from personal study will be when they can happen via quick video calls as opposed to letters that are either too turgid or too bereft of detail. And the semiannual phone calls inevitably focus much more on home life than on sending updates from the field.
For his part, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and chairman of the Missionary Committee, does say that he hopes this will “motivate [the missionaries] more after communicating with their family at home to go out there and serve the Lord with an even brighter heart and a more joyful countenance.” He also stressed that this “Will help both sides to feel more comfortable, more natural, more normal in being away from home for 2 years or 18 months and still have weekly contact.”
The great thing here is that the medium and logistics are largely up to the missionary. Again, from Elder Uchtdorf:
“We encourage missionaries to communicate with their families each week using whatever approved method missionaries decide…. This may vary based on their circumstances, locations and schedules for that week. It is not expected that all missionaries will call or video chat with their parents every week. The precise manner of communication is left up to the missionary as he or she decides what will best meet their needs.”
Those who have served missions will likely recall having time limits put in place when it came to either weekly emails or the semiannual video chat. It varied from place to place. But now the Church is sweeping aside that mission president discretion and putting it in the hands of the missionaries. What a wonderful example of trust.
This also follows other recent trends that give missionaries more control over their own lives, such as permitting sister missionaries to wear pants instead of dresses, or wearing sunglasses (yes, this was once verboten) and wide-brimmed hats.
I’m going to go take some more vitamins.