Getting on top of Missionary Correspondence is an article on how as a missionary, you can do your correspondence. Tips and tricks.
Actually, nobody is obligating you to write or communicate in any way. But as a missionary, your financial income is from supporters, and they want to see something from you regularly. If you do not do that (nobody is going to make you unless you are under a mission board and a periodic prayer is all that is needed from them), then your income will diminish. That is the problem here.
So let’s talk about reality. As a missionary, a monthly prayer letter is usually too frequent both from new stuff to put into it, and also from what churches expect. Going to something every three months is really scarce. You should send something more often than that.
So writing a prayer letter every month and a half to two months is best. There are going to be exceptions though, such as everybody sick and nothing is happening, or things happening so quickly and changing so fast that you need to do updates every month.
Thank you notes
On top of all of that, there are thank-you notes. Missionaries should write a personal thank you note to each supporter or supporting church every 3-6 months. That should be always.
When somebody gives you a special gift, another note. Whenever somebody lets you stay in their house, a pastor lets you present your work, or a church or individual gifts you a special gift when visiting, more notes.
Family and Friends Updates
Your family and friends probably all need to receive updates on you as far as your ministry and your personal affairs. More notes.
How to Cope with all the letter-writing
Blessed is the missionary who has a wife that can handle all of this. In my personal case, my wife is Mexican and she doesn’t feel she is able to do it. So it all falls on me, the husband.
You need to keep track of some things.
(1) The names and addresses of everybody.
This is not as easy as it would seem. You need to get people’s names, addresses, and if at all possible their email addresses at the time you are there. This is especially important when you are “live” and not when you get back home from a deputation service. Moreover, you need to clearly identify why you have their name, address, etc. Is it for something they gave you, did for you, or do they just want to be on your prayer letter list? This is hard to guess at after a week.
My solution (before cell phones were available) is to go into Dollar Tree and buy a half dozen boxes of thank you notes and put them in your car, your briefcase, and a few in your Bible, and whenever somebody does something for you, immediately ask them for their name and address on a post note or ask the pastor for their information (he will tell you to ask his wife without a doubt, that is the norm).
One of the things is to know what you are doing, and many a time I have presented our ministry at a church, they took us out to eat after the evening meal, and then to talk over coffee, and I am getting back at the hotel with my family, some of which are sick and need medicine, and we have to leave early Monday morning. Even writing down what I got and from whom is a chore often overlooked.
So there are some things you can do to help you along these lines. First of all, never trust your memory. Even if you write it on a yellow post-it note, if you don’t soon look back at it, then you will find the note 6 months later (embarrassing to write a thank you note then) and then you don’t remember exactly what they did for you (or was it for being put on your prayer letter?)
So first of all, make a universal records place. You can make it electronically on your computer. I have been around the block a couple of times, and when your hard disk dies on you, yea, good idea. You can make a paper copy and then leave it someplace you are visiting, and again, yea, great ideas.
My preference at this point could change with technology, but my preference is to #1 make a temporary note via my phone. Write me an email. P.ut their contact information with a note as to what they did for me in my telephone contacts. If you are rushed, just send yourself an email with the information. Later on, you review your emails and see it and then put it where you want to permanently keep that stuff.
Emails are easy to make in a loud restaurant even with noisy kids. They are disposable. Even if you lose your phone, you can keep your note.
Note to Android users: If you have a Gmail account, by simply logging into your Gmail account on your laptop or phone, or tablet, everything is synced between the devices. That is what you want in case something goes into a pretty brick mode and dies, or gets lost, left, or stolen. You still have your information, contacts, and email addresses.
(2) You need to keep track of what you actually wrote or said to each different person.
I have found it very important to keep track of conversations. Note: It is illegal to record a conversation by phone or live without the other people present and participating in the conversation giving their permission.
But this becomes even more important with pastors. “Call me in a month,” or “call me in a year” or even “call me if you are in a church near us” are all little bits of information that are gold if you know and can remember them, and the situation is horrible if you forget.
Did you promise somebody something? In 3 days, it is hard to remember who, what and when you said you were going to send them something.
Today, we are in the glory because we have phones, scanners, and other ways of tracking information.
I would personally follow two routes. The first is pen and paper, that is to take the opportunity, as difficult as it is, but write the thank you note before you leave town, and when you get on the road, drop the letter into the mail as you are leaving town. That habit of always doing that frees you from the tasks as you go back home and unpack.
In that case, snap an image of the thank you note with your camera, and maybe the front of the envelope. It is good to have the address to write them follow up letters. (I am talking about people in the church, and note necessarily the pastor, which you would already have any.)
Note that people generally receive better a handwritten thank you note or personal letter rather than a computer-generated one. Everybody knows that you can do a mail merge in a word processor and are pretty much understanding about it, but it is impersonal, formal. Prayer letters can be sent out without a personal salutation. Just “dear praying friends” is sufficient. Personal letters and notes are better if they are handwritten each time unless they are lengthy.
(3) Now we need to have some way of keeping track of who we should write and about what.
Here I would recommend two things, what you are to send to possible and actual financial supporters, and what you send to other people, even bills to pay.
For supporters and deputation, I use TNTConnect. It is the best software for missionaries I have seen. Use it. It is worth it (it’s free).
Secondly, I would use Google Calendar (or something similar) for reminders. I would schedule all your deputation meetings and preaching responsibilities on both.
When I grew up, the only computers around were IBM mainframes in the defense department and in NASA. People, especially in business, did things with a physical Rolodex or with 3×5 cards. You cannot do that today because everybody will laugh at you. But believe it or not, if your data is less than say 200 or 300 people, yes you can. In the years past, I was at a church that had a mailing list. I did it for them. Get a box of mailing labels, 3 columns, some 10 down each column. Take one and type all the addresses on it (30 each sheet) and you can use 10-20 sheets. Photocopy the sheet onto a blank sheet with the same size and position of labels and it works.
The way we did it was when an address changed, peel that label off, take a blank one from a new sheet and type the new address and paste it onto or over the old address. That kind of thing actually works at some level. It will take a little bit to type them all out, but very easy if you do it in Microsoft Word, and make your changes there. Print a sheet of labels. The bad point with that is if you only want one or two letters to go out, for small amounts, write the addresses by hand. It is just faster and non-complicated.
People today get so tied up in the how, that they don’t see how easy it is to do things by hand the old fashioned way. See our post, Missionary Record Journal Book.
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