When creating a care package for your missionary, one of the most important steps is to find out what your missionary actually wants. It's a truly depressing experience as a missionary to receive a package from home, only to find items inside that can be purchased at the local grocery store. Or worse, things you don't want, need, or have any use for. The best way to avoid this scenario is to find out directly from your missionary what should go in the box. This doesn't necessarily mean asking them to tell you exactly what to send. You can still have some fun surprising them. Try creating a profile for each missionary you care for and ask a few of these questions:
- What is your favorite candy or junk food that you can't get on the field?
- Who is your favorite musician or music group?
- Who is your favorite author?
- What genre of books do/did you read the most?
- What items do you miss the most from home?
- What magazines or newspapers do/did you read?
- What items do your children miss?
- Are there items that you could purchase on the field if they were cheaper? (imports can sometimes cost more than double in local stores)
- What items should we not send? (i.e. available where you are or not in your taste)
Be sure to update this profile at least on an annual basis. Once a missionary has been on the field, their desires (and cravings!) will change. Be very careful about sending clothing. Missionaries may not be able to find their size in their host country, but if your missionary is working in a developed nation, style may be an important issue. This may sound superficial, but a missionary working with teens in France or twenty-somethings in Tokyo isn't going to be able to wear sweaters knitted by his grandmother.
Here are a few more tips in creating a great care package:
- Sometimes you may be able to find a "foreign buyers club" - these stores are located in your missionaries' country and they specialize in importing goods. You might be able to order from that club and have them ship direct and save you tons on postage and time.
- The US Postal Service often offers flat rate boxes. These boxes are the same price regardless of weight. They usually have an upper weight limit, so it's fun to see how many goodies you can get stuffed into one box.
- Be very careful with perishables. If your box will take two months to arrive, then home-baked cookies may not be a good idea.
- When sending shoes to developing nations, send one at a time. (This keeps the postal workers puzzled and honest).
- If your missionary has a computer with internet access or an iPod, it may be better to give them an iTunes gift certificate than to send CDs.
- If you are sending DVDs, check to be sure that the region is compatible with your missionaries' DVD player. If they have a laptop from home, this should be OK, but it doesn't hurt to check. ( Click here for the Wikipedia article explaining DVD region codes. )
- If they don't need to know the package is coming (for delivery or signature purposes) it may be better not to tell them you've sent it. This could result in them getting very excited, only to wait two months to receive the package. By then, their hopes and expectations will have built up daily and may result in a huge crash when they get the box. (Maybe it was pilfered by postal workers, perhaps you didn't take our advice about asking their tastes and Grandma's sweater and music collection made it in, or maybe the package won't arrive at all).
- It's good to know if your missionary will be required to pay import taxes. The larger the box, the more likely they are.
- Once they've received the package, follow-up is a good idea. Ask them, "Was there anything in there that you can easily get where you are?" or "Which items would you like to see more of next time?" Remember that your missionary will be grateful that you sent the package and they are highly unlikely to give you helpful advice on what not to send. It's your job to figure this out with carefully crafted questions. Wait about a month and send them a new profile questionnaire. Be sure to include that last line: What items should we not send? By now they will feel more freedom to clue you in on what items aren't very helpful.
I hope you'll consider this article a springboard into creating your own ideas and methods. Also, be sure to read our article on Giving Gifts to Missionaries for more ideas on digital giving.