A picture of Elyse Kasparian’s sister flashed across her phone screen. There was an incoming call from “Hermana Kasparian.” Elyse answered the call and thought to herself, “I guess Mondays aren’t all that bad.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement in February announcing that, effective immediately, missionaries can communicate with their families each week on preparation day via text messages, online messaging, phone calls and video chat, in addition to the traditional letters and emails.
According to the statement, missionaries now have the ability to choose which method of communication works best for them and their families.
For Elyse Kasparian, that form of communication comes as a phone call from her sister Abby Kasparian, who is currently serving in the Texas Dallas Mission. Elyse said having served a mission and having gone through the process of weekly emails and two Skype calls a year, the change came as a huge surprise to her.
“When I was on my mission I felt like I hardly had time to think about my family, let alone write them. So thinking about calling home every week seemed a bit much for me,” Elyse Kasparian said. “However, I put myself in Abby’s shoes and I got a whole new perspective.”
Elyse Kasparian said her sister has been dealing with depression for five years now. After Elyse Kasparian left for her mission in 2014, Abby Kasparian began experiencing some negative mental effects and was diagnosed with depression shortly after. Currently serving her own mission, Abby Kasparian has shared with her sister that she believes the change is good.
“While on her mission, she has expressed weekly how much she misses me and the rest of my family and how emailing stresses her out and makes her sad,” Elyse Kasparian said. “These thoughts helped me understand where this change was coming from, and that it would help missionaries going through the same thing.”
Michael Tlustek, who currently has a brother serving in the Utah Ogden Mission, said his own mission experience caused him to view the change differently than those in his family who have not served missions.
Tlustek said that while his mom and sister were excited about being able to speak to his brother, he was worried about whether it would distract him or help him. However, Tlustek said he also believes family members can support and counsel missionaries.
“My brother definitely sees it as a blessing to be able to communicate more directly with us and ask about our lives, but also to ask for advice about those he is teaching,” Tlustek said.
BYU student Hannah Huefner, who recently returned from serving in the Arizona Tempe Mission, said she doesn’t feel cheated that the policy change happened right after she came home in November.
Nevertheless, Huefner said she feels being able to talk to her family so often would have helped her.
“Some people might say that the disconnection taught me to be reliant upon the Lord, but I feel a missionary would learn that whether or not they could talk to their families once a week,” Huefner said.
Huefner said she always felt it was awkward and difficult to teach people the importance of families, then tell them they only get to speak to their own families twice a year. Huefner said she believes the change will help families become more involved in missionary work, help people interested in the gospel understand the importance of families and help missionaries be more emotionally stable.
Huefner and Tlustek both said they have some concerns when it comes to weekly communication interfering with a missionary’s work.
Huefner said that if a missionary’s home life is negative, it may be difficult for them to talk to their family and could end up being a distraction. Tlustek said if weekly calls were to start extending beyond family members, like friends or significant others, it could also become a distraction and cause problems like homesickness.
Huefner said overall, she believes this new change will make the emotional aspects of being away from home less severe and will especially benefit missionaries with families who are not members of the Church.
“For missionaries whose families are nonmembers, they can help them learn even more about the gospel and come unto Christ,” Huefner said. “They will be missionaries for their families and also for the people in their respective areas.”