Today I’d like to talk about something that is not talked about a lot within the realms of missionary work. No, it’s not a controversial subject, but it’s something that a lot of missionaries and their families don’t talk about because they pretty well know the answer.
“Can family and friends visit their missionary while they are out in the field?”
Instant response, “No!”
So how is it then that we do hear instances of some families (and even friends) actually visiting their missionary in the field? I’m not referring to those families who choose to visit their missionary at the end of the their mission to escort them home. I’ve already addressed that issue in the past (see To Pick Them Up Or Not). But I am exploring whether there is actually an exception to the rule, and if it applies to all missionaries and their families.
I can’t really answer that question with a definitive ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, as I have learned of multiple situations where the answer may be ‘Yes’.
I want to share with you some of the different responses and situations I have received from other missionary mums about this topic, and let you determine for yourself. But let me say up front…I’m not advocating any one of them as being right or wrong (except maybe the official church guidelines as outlined in the Missionary Handbook and the welcome letters from the various missions throughout the world). I just offer these instances as being an exception to the rule – be they right or wrong.
At the end I’ll sum up what I feel is the best approach when determining what is the best course of action.
In exploring this idea I have discovered that there are many reasons why a family member would visit their missionary in the field. So I will try to cover as many as possible.
- Official Church Guidelines
I want to begin this discussion with the official word. It’s important that we explore this before any other exception to the rule.
While there is nowhere I can find online and in my research where the church officially comes out with a statement to the general membership of the church on whether visits are sanctioned or not, there are some resources that address this issue specifically to missionaries.
The first being the Missionary Handbook – it states:
“Visits from family members, friends and acquaintances are against Church policy. The impact of such visits may extend far beyond the visit itself, both before or after the visit and among other missionaries. It can often take some time for missionaries to refocus on their callings and their work…help those who may want to visit you to understand the importance of maintaining singleness of heart and mind on the work of the Lord (Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 9:61-62).”
The second is one that often comes in the form of a welcome letter from the specific mission they will be serving in. Reports are that these letters can include the counsel that family members refrain from seeing their missionary in the field, whether it’s planned or “accidental.”
These two sources are very credible and should be prayerfully considered when determining whether a visit is to be made.
2. Unintentional Visits
Sometimes there are those unintentional meetings. For whatever reason, a family member or friend will simply run into their missionary without meaning to.
Take for example one missionary mum and dad who had regular business dealings within the area their son was serving. On several occasions they had previously visited the area on business without chancing a meeting. They had even attended church on those occasions, believing that the mission area was so large that there was very little likelihood of attending the chapel their missionary was serving in.
However, on this one occasion they arrived at the local meetinghouse for church mid-way between several days of business in the area. For some reason the mum didn’t feel right as they sat in the church car park, so she sent her husband in to search the building in case their son was in there – she didn’t feel right about having a chance meeting.
After searching every room in the building and not finding him there, the husband went to exit the rear door, only to run into their missionary son. In her own words:
“Both stood there shocked! Each not knowing what to say or do – after a few seconds, my husband makes the first move – he walks towards him, shakes his hand, told him he looked great and how proud we were of him, told him we loved him and to serve well, then immediately said goodbye, came back outside with tears in his eyes and drove us away from that chapel.”
How should you handle it?
I think the example above is the perfect way to handle such a situation- as quick and as painless as possible. The missionary responded later to his parents with this comment:
“That was the best surprise ever – I know it was unexpected so I’m going to not hold it against you but it was great to see you dad – you made my day and you look great and thank you for making that quick and as painless as possible.”
How not to handle it?
Absolute care must be taken to avoid all such situations – for the missionary’s sake as much as for mission guidelines sake. Spending time in a missionary’s area in the hope of an ‘accidental’ meeting does not constitute an accidental meeting. Please understand that any kind of unsanctioned meeting with a missionary will only disrupt the purpose of the work and affect their singleness of heart and mind.
However, if this meeting does occur then it is important not to prolong the time you are with them, or distract them by discussing anything more than that which they are involved in.
3. Intentional Visits
There are occasions where it is possible to arrange an intentional meeting. Generally this will depend on the mission your son/daughter is serving in and the policy set down by the Mission President. But there are several things to take into consideration if this is to happen.
Firstly, and most important, is an analysis of the reason why you want to visit. Is it just because you miss your son/daughter so much that you feel you need this contact? Is it just that you will be passing through their mission and think it would be fun to catch up with them? Or is it something you know your missionary can handle, and know that he/she will not be adversely affected by the visit?
Whatever it is, it is important to prayerfully consider the motives behind it, the way your missionary could (or could not) handle it, and the affect it will have on the work they are doing.
I believe that in most cases the response to this analysis would be in the negative. But, there are some scenarios where it is appropriate. I am not going to go into them here, as I believe they are personal and individual, and can only be determined after following three steps:
- A determination by the parents on whether the missionary could hangle such a visit and whether the visit is really necessary.
- Consultation with the Mission President on whether he will allow such a visit.
- Consultation with the Missionary (only after permission has been granted by the Mission President).
How should you handle it?
Follow the three steps discussed above (in that order) before making any attempt to meet your missionary. If permission is granted by the Mission President then you should always follow the instructions outlined by him in regards to the visit, such as time limits, locations, and the types of activities allowed during the visit.
How not to handle it?
Never visit your missionary without permission. Never overstay the allowed time for the visit. Never spend time in activities that will distract the missionary from the work they are doing. Never take the missionary outside their area boundaries, or ask them to break mission rules, unless you have permission, and avoid conversations that will not help them maintain their singleness of heart and mind.
4. Encouraged Meetings
There are unique circumstances where the Mission will encourage family meetings in the mission. Some might find this unusual, but several missionary mums told me of situations where the mission invited them to prepare to come and pick up their son/daughter at the completion of their mission, and in one case, where the mission invited family and friends to attend a special testimony meeting towards the end of their missionaries service.
Generally these encouraged meetings will be planned for the end of a missionary’s service. They are unusual, and you will find that few missions are proactive in this approach. But if your mission offers this opportunity, I would still encourage parents to discuss this with their missionary before deciding to do it. Some missionaries just don’t want family and friends to be there – even at the end. Their mission is personal to them, and for whatever reason they may have, it is important to follow their line of thinking when deciding what to do. After all, it is their mission, not yours.
5. Friends and Family Close By
It’s a small world in the Church, so it is quite likely that a missionary will have at least one family member, or a friend living close by. It can be so tempting for these family members and friends to want to drop goodies off, or drop in on their missionary on occasion. While the best of intentions are there, these kinds of contacts can still have a distracting effect.
In such circumstances, it is important to still follow the steps shared above – determine the reason, seek Mission President permission and immediate family/missionary permission before making any contact with the missionary. Don’t be offended if permission is not granted, and find other ways to support the missionary.
6. Siblings/Friends Serving at the Same Time
My daughter had a unique situation in that while she was serving in a northern Utah mission, her best friend received her mission call and was to report to the Provo MTC while my daughter was still serving. Dialogue was opened between my daughter, her Mission President, and her friend about whether they could have a day serving together just prior to her entrance to the MTC. Permission was granted and my daughter’s friend planned to arrive a day early so she could spend the day tracting and teaching in my daughters mission. As things turned out, they were never actually able to have this day together (her best friend met her eternal companion before leaving for her mission), but it highlights another reason why there could be an exception to the rule.
If this opportunity arises then it is important to make sure you have followed the correct procedures. This should also include consultation with the Stake President and Church travel to confirm that this is possible, as well as consultation with the respective Mission President, and in some cases with the MTC. An honorable endeavor, so try to make sure you tick all the boxes before embarking on it or you may be disappointed.
7. Covert Visits
Unfortunately there are some individuals who believe that they can make visits without following the proper order of things. One missionary mum retells a story of how one family decided to surprise their missionary. While they did receive permission from the Mission President to visit, they didn’t mention it to their missionary. They surprised him one day out of the blue (out of nowhere). The missionary described the experience as disturbing and shocking. He did not like it and wished they had not done it.
Another example is of a family who covertly visited their missionary’s area, taking photos of his flat (apartment) and area without him knowing. The first he knew about it was when they sent him the photos in their weekly email.
These kinds of visits have no place in a missionary’s life. They are distractions that a missionary does not need, and they should never be considered as an exception to the rule.
My Final Analysis:
I maintain what I wrote above about the three steps to follow when determining whether a visit should be made:
- A determination by the parents on whether the missionary could handle such a visit and whether the visit is really necessary. Prayer and fasting should accompany this. In most cases I would suggest that this is where the decision process ends.
- Consultation with the Mission President. A past Mission President reminded me of the huge load each Mission President has in this calling. So remember that every parent who requests permission is adding to that load.
- Consultation with the missionary (only after permission has been granted by the Mission President). Many missionary mums told me that their request ended here because their missionary was just not interested in a visit. They wished to maintain their focus, even if it meant sacrificing a visit from their family.
Important too is the fact that, if you are granted permission to visit your missionary, having ticked all the boxes, you should not broadcast it everywhere. This can be upsetting for those families who have been denied a visit elsewhere, It can be upsetting for some missionaries who have been denied a visit as well. Keep the good news to yourself, enjoy the visit when you can, and continue to support the work your missionary, and other missionaries, are involved in.
Finally, don’t be offended if permission is not granted. It’s important to understand that a Mission President has a vision of the bigger picture. He knows and understands the circumstances of his mission, and is fully qualified in knowing what is best for his missionaries. Trust in his judgment and allow the work of the Lord to go forth unhindered. Your son/daughter will never have another opportunity in their life to have such an affect on the lives of the Lord’s children, so allow them the chance to have maximum effect in the work they are doing…sacrifice (by both the missionary and the family) will bring forth the blessings of heaven.
**Thanks for bearing with me on this long post. I felt it important to keep it all on the one page. I invite comments and suggestions on things I may have missed.
**Also, don’t forget, tonight I am releasing my first blog giveaway, so come back soon and sign up for it 🙂