Helping Missionaries: Care Packages?

Helping Missionaries: Care Packages? is an article by missionaries on what missionaries need (much more than care packages, specific prayer requests).

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What is a Care Package?

A care package is simply a package sent to somebody with things that are gifts to them, hopefully, things that they need. For missionaries that live and work within the USA or in Canada or Mexico near the border, they are unnecessary.

But in many places around the world, there are not stores and goods that are in the USA. Living and working in Mexico City (an 18-hour drive to the border), I was rejoicing when I saw that Walmart had entered Mexico and there was one more or less close to where I was living at the time.

But although the first visit to this Walmart was exciting, it was not really like Walmarts in the USA. A lot of stuff was missing. As time went on, I didn’t realize how that first visit had a lot of US goods, and over time, none of that was going to be replaced.

In Mexico, in just about any store, even a “super Walmart”, the selection is very low. Bars of soap may take up a whole aisle of space, but one particular brand and color/essence can be a yard long of the same product, over and over again. The Mexican brands are not let into Walmart very much, and Walmart seems to be a Chinese store, not an American store.

For example, cooking products that are common in the US are rare in Mexico. For a couple of 6-9 months, we had canned biscuits like in the US, but then that was over. No more. Bisquick to make biscuits is not done here. Here flour with salt and baking powder is not here either.  So practically, you can make a small box of items and send them to your missionary. The idea is to give them things that they don’t so easily have access to in their country. Note that most mail services around the world are of poor quality. We wonder if the USPS is becoming one of them.

So using the normal mail delivery system is probably the best even though it takes longer.

Helping Missionaries: Care Packages?

Note that even in the US, there are some things that are just hard to get. If you really want to be a blessing to your missionaries, write to them and ask what they are doing without on their field of service. It is best to check with them also before putting anything in the mail.

At times, missionaries make quick trips to the US and cannot go shopping, or things are difficult to find with short times to find them. You can help them by getting the things they want together so that they can easily take it back with them.

What’s the Point?

The first thing to note is that as a missionary, you can just get along without it. Most of these things we desire in a care package are comforts, and we really don’t absolutely need them.

Secondly, a lot of these things are somewhere in the country where you are serving, but they are just really expensive. So when you factor in shipping to a care package, it becomes about the same price.

Thirdly, most missionaries need to stop living with the luxuries of people in the US and live like the people where they are laboring.

So those considerations are on one side of this issue of care packages and they should be thought through thoroughly.

A personal example.

When my first child was born, a church in the US sent me a box, a care package. Unfortunately, I did not even have a supporter in the state that the address says it came from. In Mexico, we have Mexican customs. So the box was held up at the airport, and they sent me a postcard telling me where to go and to come to pay the customs duties on it. I had no idea who sent it, and I had no idea what was inside it.

So I went to pay the customs duties on it. $100. That was the value the US person who sent it put as its value and Mexican customs wanted an equal amount to let it into the country. Wow! What to do? I had like 5 minutes to decide or they were going to return to the sender.

So I paid for it. When I got it home, I was hoping that at least there was something sweet in there. Nope. Cloth diapers. It was filled with cloth diapers. My wife and I had already gone through the math on washing cloth diapers versus the utility of throwing dirty diapers in a garbage can when we were out and away from the house and one came up.

So I spent $100 on something we just were not going to use. That is the caution with sending a care package. Again, if they would have put a value of $10 or nothing, “Gift”, or would have contacted me beforehand, it would have been better. This was pre-cell phones and email addresses were just beginning to be used. 1995 but not everybody even understood what they were.

Sending a meaningful Care package

The most important point is not what is in the box, but the thought behind it, and the heart of the person or people sending it. That is gold. I would still take the box of cloth diapers anyway. It was a thoughtful touch from somebody.

So instead of giving a list of what products you can buy and give your missionary, why not turn this around a little? If the point is that you care about your missionary, and above all, you are praying for your missionary, how about focusing things on that instead of a box of cookies? (By the way, I am open to a box of cookies, just not chocolate chip cookies because we buy them here a lot. Oatmeal is better.)

So the pertinent question is not what to send them, but what to do for them that makes your message of caring for them clearly?

  1. Listen to them. Read their prayer letters and pray for them. Then get their email address or phone number (for a text message) and ask them to follow up, how the situation turned out that was one of their prayer requests.  As a missionary, I correspond with churches and individuals. Usually, these give me money. That is the key, whoever sends me money, I really need to answer them. So send them some money, a one time give occasionally, like at Christmas. But the point here is that you are praying and you are listening to them.
  2. Establish a regular correspondence with them. Once you have their mailing address, email, or phone number (for text messages) you can communicate regularly with them. Yes, okay. Some of you out there are saying “What about Facebook, What’sUp, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc?” Free lesson: I do not want to “get” any new messaging platform because I have already my email and my phone. For people who don’t use these things, it is silly to make them get them in order for you to communicate with them once every year. I have a Facebook account and I go on Facebook to see it about once every year. So it is perturbing to me to see some supporter write to me about something important on Facebook.  Use the standard US mail letter, email, or telephone. You can probably call them easiest of all.
  3. Help them, really. The world is complex, and missionary life is extremely taxing and complex. Find out what is going on in their lives and see how you can help them. In a lot of cases, it is not money or “things” that they need but people, contacts, etc. We are in the states renewing my wife’s Green Card, and it has been a lot of help that a friend in a supporting church got me in touch with an immigration lawyer he knows. That is a real help. Moreover, all this is going to cost me, and he is trying to talk to pastors and church members in that supporting church to help with covering the costs of her papers, and it looks like they are going to do it. I am sure they will.
  4. From time to time, try sending them something through the mail. First of all,  getting a package from somebody is exciting. Note that it does not have to be very big. Even something in an envelope is good. Why send a box of cookies to a missionary? It is not because he cannot go to a store and buy some cookies where he is. It is because you want to say something to him, “We appreciate you.” That is what you are doing. The care package becomes a moral support thing.
  5. News from back home. If you are from the same home town where your missionary grew up, think about sending him a hometown newspaper when something notable is in it.
  6. News from your church. People in churches in the US so often do not understand the situation between missionaries and their supporting churches. It is a financial relationship, and only by receiving donations can I do what I do. But realize that the missionaries are mostly blind as to what is happening in your church. I cannot tell you how many times a pastor of one of my supporting churches moved on or passed away, and I found out about it like 2 or 3 years later. It would really be nice if that communication line was set up and maintained by a non-pastor person in the church so that they can write to me to give me a head’s up about their new pastor. In a few cases, the email that the previous pastor gave me went with him, and he is no longer pastor there, so he trashes all my emails to him. So much better when people advise you of drastic changes in things. I am not judging anybody, but it is just much easier if people keep you informed.

Some Ideas for “Stuff” to put in your Care Package

First of all, remember that you are NOT FEEDING A STARVING PERSON. What you send them is not to feed them for a couple of days. The content of a care package is an emotional message that says, we appreciate you.

Secondly, remember, the post office is the post office, and in other countries, the post office is worse. Do not send things that will break easily without something to cushion it. Probably chocolates will melt. Or at least try one time and see what the missionary says as far as in what condition does it arrive.

Thirdly, as an emotional message, the thing you send doesn’t necessarily have to be edible or useful. Try getting a children’s Sunday School class to color pictures about missions and send your missionary the best ones, or distribute them among all your missionaries. Maybe a stress squeeze toy, or a pen with a furry top, or a magnet to stick on the refrigerator, all things that make you feel happy, maybe send them to the missionary.

Also, think about candy. Liquids cannot be sent by mail, but maybe candy, or even those pouches of cornbread in the grocery store. Talk to your missionary first. Sometimes they would like a box of tea.

My really strong recommendation is to get on email and talk to the missionary and tell them that you appreciate them and that you are looking at maybe sending them a small care package of things, and what would they like that they cannot get, or that they miss. That is always the best road to go. If you cannot contact your missionary, then try contacting his home church or mission board with the same questions.

One Last Reminder

Remember when you fill out a customs chit in the post office, the value of the things you send is not what they will pay the receiver if the package is lost. That would be insurance, not customs. The value you put is what they base how much customs duties the receiver has to pay to get the package

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