What is our relationship, as Ward-missionaries (or any other Ward member), to the full-time missionaries? Are they here to serve us, or is our role to serve them? Should we like a parent to them? A friend? A buddy?
As a full-time missionary, I felt that my role was to serve the Ward/area, primarily through proselyting (teaching) efforts, but also by helping encourage member-missionary work. If you think about it, the full-time missionaries assist the Ward's growth by helping to bring new members into the Ward family. It is then the Ward's responsibility to nurture the new member (and seek out and reactivate those who have fallen away). After all, the full-time missionaries always move on to another area and eventually go home, but the leadership and other Ward members are constant.
That said, I wanted to comment on a common problem that I've seen over the years- the gray-area of the missionary "buddy". As a full-time missionary, there is no argument that its nice to have members of the Ward where you are serving who are friendly and helpful. We have found that we have a better working-relationship with the full-time missionaries serving in our area if we are friendly and try to go out of our way to be helpful to them. After all, they are sacrificing to serve and are far from home/family. However, sometimes members (and even non-members) go too far with trying to be "friends". I sincerely believe that there is a line that should not be crossed. It kind of reminds me of parents who want to be the "cool mom" or the "fun dad" instead of providing structure and discipline. Full-time missionaries are warned against this, but Ward missionaries and other members need to be aware of the situation as well.
For example, during my own mission, when I was meeting a member family for the first time in a new area, the wife immediately told me that they were a "surrogate family to the missionaries" and that we were "welcome to hang out any time of the day or night" and to "make long-distance phone calls home to friends/family" from their phone whenever we wanted. "Don't worry," she said, "I won't tell on you*" Oh boy. I was very serious about the purpose of my mission and keeping the mission rules, so I was pretty shocked by what she said. Mostly because I could tell from how she worded her "offer" that there must have been plenty of full-time missionaries who had taken her up on it in the past.
Many times, these "buddies" are non-members (such as "perpetual investigators" who just like the missionaries' company). They may not be aware of (or totally understand) the mission rules and Church standards. Or maybe they know about them and don't care.
Unfortunately, there also seems to be one of these families/individuals who are members in many Wards as well. These people usually mean well, but may not be aware of how some of these things can actually be detrimental to the full-time missionaries. The main problem is the temptation. I can imagine that many missionaries who are sincerely trying to keep mission rules could be easily tempted by something like a bonus phone call home if they are having a hard day. Things like that are just temptation that servants of the Lord don't need.
Even if you don't totally understand or agree with the mission rules yourself, understand that the missionary has promised to keep those rules and breaking them compromise his/her integrity and the influence of the Holy ghost that they rely on to do their work. Since you're reading this blog, I'm sure you're interested in helping the missionaries and missionary work, so I'm sure I'm preaching the choir. However, as a Ward missionary (or other Church member) you may recognize this problem in your own Ward.
Our role isn't to be an "informant" with the mission-president on our speed-dial (in case we see the Elders walking in to their apartment at 9:01pm or something silly like that!), but we can be watchful and aware of serious situations that might need attention by the Ward mission leader, Bishop, or Mission President...depending on the situation (I suggest using the "chain of command" if you feel there is a situation that is serious - let your W.M.L. know and let him take it to leadership if that is appropriate).
Here are some of these things that I feel are appropriate or inappropriate, based on my personal experiences. Most of these things are usually meant to be helpful, but may do more harm than good:
APPROPRIATE: Signing up to have the missionaries over for dinner once or twice a month, if appropriate in your Ward.
INAPPROPRIATE (PROBABLY): Signing up to have the missionaries over for a meal every week or several times a week**
APPROPRIATE: Giving the missionaries a ride somewhere (if there is another adult of the same gender as the missionaries in the car)***
INAPPROPRIATE: Driving around with the missionaries for fun, running non-urgent errands with them on a non-"preparation day," giving rides very frequently (such as every day) when they should be walking/biking****
APPROPRIATE: Offering to let the missionaries use email or call family from your home on occasions approved by the Mission President.
INAPPROPRIATE: Offering to let the missionaries use email or call family from your home on occasions NOT approved by the Mission President.
APPROPRIATE: Providing extra groceries & household supplies to the missionaries, if appropriate to your financial situation.
INAPPROPRIATE: Offering to assist the missionaries in breaking mission rules (inappropriate phone calls, taking them out of area without permission, letting them watch TV/movies at your home, etc), no matter what your intentions.
APPROPRIATE: Offering to go to discussions or allowing the missionaries to have investigators discussions in your home (if there are an appropriate number of priesthood holders present)*****
INAPPROPRIATE: Assisting the missionaries in "hanging out" with members of the opposite gender, whether in your home or any other.
My main point is that its good to be friendly and helpful, but a true friend to the missionaries will help them with their work and not distract them from it. There are MANY positive ways that we can help, so lets concentrate on those!
*By the way, this is just one of my pet-peeves. If full-time missionaries keep the mission rules its because they choose to, not because someone forces them to.
**In some areas (such as those with small membership), multiple meals with the same family during the week/month could be appropriate. In general, providing meals is a responsibility that is meant to be shared across the Ward membership so that #1- any one family doesn't have an unfair financial responsibility for feeding them (even if it is well-intentioned) and #2- they don't become unnecessarily attached to a particular family that they may use as a crutch (instead of being out meeting new people or visiting other members). Check with your Relief Society President or Ward Mission leader for specifics for your Ward or branch.
***Many members are not aware of this, but full-missionaries are not to ride in a car with anyone (member or non-member) unless there is another adult of the missionaries' same gender in the car as well. This means that a single or married woman may not give any male full-time missionaries a ride unless there is another adult male (such as her husband) in the car (no matter how many other women or children are also in the car!). There isn't a double standard- the same thing applies to full-time sister missionaries (they are not to ride in a car with a man -whether single or married- unless there is another adult woman (wife, etc) in the car. Even age doesn't matter- thats right, its inappropriate for two male missionaries to get a ride to Church from their neighbor who is a 96 year old widow. This may seem silly in many cases, and means an inconvenience to the full-time missionaries in many situations, but please remember that the mission rules are there to protect the missionaries from situations that could arise. It would be awkward for male missionaries to say, "Sorry Sister-so-and-so, I know we were driven home by Sister-such-and-such yesterday, but we can't ride with YOU because YOU are younger and more attractive" So basically its a blanket policy to keep the rules clear and the same for everyone.
PS- My husband is the WML and he confirmed this with the local mission office - this is a Church-wide mission rule, not a rule just specific to our area/mission.
****I'm NOT talking about having a standing arrangement to drive the missionaries to Church every week. I'm talking about the "buddy" who the missionaries enjoy hanging out with and call every time they want a ride anywhere. The danger here would be with the tendency to avoid work and/or to rely too heavily on
one particular person instead of involving multiple Ward members in the work.
*****See "***" above - almost exactly the same rules apply to having the full-time missionaries in your home (or when they make visits to the homes of other members/investigators). To visit a single woman (or a married woman whose husband is not home), male full-time missionaries are to have an adult male priesthood holder with them. The only difference here is that they are to bring a priesthood holder (WML, male Ward missionary, or any other adult male priesthood holder) with them when visiting a woman. Full-time sister missionaries are not to enter the home of a man (single or married) when the wife is not present unless there is an adult male priesthood holder as well. So, basically the main difference between this and the car rule is that if they need to bring someone with them to visit a woman or man, it needs to be an adult priesthood holder.