Care packages are a fun way to care for the missionaries in your life. Regardless of whether missionaries live in a large city or in a small rural town, there are some things from home they can’t get and often wish they could. Care packages provide a (sometimes literal) taste of home and are an encouragement to those who live far away from some familiar comforts.
Sending care packages is also a tricky business. International mail is complicated enough, but there are other factors you may not have considered when sending a care package overseas.
I surveyed missionaries who are serving in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, and Europe. Some live in cities, others in rural areas, and some in between. They shared some funny stories about the adventures of receiving care packages and gave tips on best practices. Interestingly, despite differences in personal preferences, their advice was relatively the same.
“Care packages provide a (sometimes literal) taste of home and are an encouragement to those who live far away from some familiar comforts.”
Based on their advice, here are some general best practices when sending care packages to missionaries.
Consider the cost-to-weight ratio of your package.
Many missionaries may be thrilled to receive a case of Dr. Pepper or a block of Velveeta. However, those items are heavy and expensive to ship. Prioritize the items whose shipping costs you’re willing to cover. Hygiene and personal care products may be more important than junk food. There are many luxuries that can be shipped at a lower cost, and the missionary will likely appreciate those just as much.
Some missionaries may have to pay a fee or tax to receive a package.
Overseas, packages are not always delivered to the recipient’s door. Many missionaries have to pick up packages at their local post office, which may charge them customs, import, or other fees that can be exorbitant. In these cases, the contents of the package are key. Sometimes, it may even be better to provide gift cards or something similar that can be delivered digitally to avoid those costs.
Consider sending money electronically instead of a package.
Thanks to globalization, many missionaries—especially those serving in cities—can access familiar American goods like cereal, soda, and candy (all the great American junk food) at an import store. However, these stores are expensive, so a missionary likely doesn’t purchase those things on a regular basis. It may be more convenient and cost effective in the long run for both of you if you send them money (via an online bank transfer or cash app) to purchase the things they want, rather than shipping them.
Send packages via a short-term mission team.
The best way to get a care package to a missionary may be sending it with a short-term team going to their area. It may cost you to check an extra bag, but it’s probably worth it to bypass the postal service. This way, your packages are less likely to be stolen, lost, or damaged and should arrive when you expect.
Always send a package earlier than you think is necessary.
Packages sent overseas could take months to arrive. Try to send packages one to two months early, especially around the holidays.
“Care packages are a reminder of all the people who love and care for them—evidence of the Lord’s provision even in small ways.”
Include personal notes, letters of encouragement, and photos.
Every missionary I talked with really appreciated receiving letters from loved ones. One missionary had received letters written for multiple occasions from a family in their sending church. There were notes for birthdays, holidays, bad days, good days, etc., and each included Bible verses corresponding to each letter’s theme. Don’t underestimate the value of these personal touches.
Send holiday-specific decorations and ingredients.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are not celebrated everywhere, and even if they are, many common ingredients for traditional meals are hard to find. Include items such as pumpkin, certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice), stuffing mix, or cocoa. Small decorations are also a good idea.
These were the most commonly requested items for care packages:
personal notes and photos; books in English for both adults and children (you can send a Kindle ebook electronically and save on shipping!); coffee; certain spices or seasonings (like taco seasoning); pre-made cake, brownie, or muffin mixes; and some hygiene items.
I heard of one missionary in Europe whose favorite gift ever received in a care package was disposable coffee cups and lids. He loved to roast and brew his own coffee, but he could not find travel cups locally. A very simple gift changed his life, as he put it.
Avoid sending things like electronics, clothing, liquids, and things you know the missionary can buy in-country.
In some cases, electronics cannot be used because of voltage variances. Standards of modesty also vary, so sending clothing that might be considered modest in America may still be inappropriate for a context like South or Central Asia. Liquids are never a great idea, and the chances of a package being damaged increase with international shipping. The same goes for things that melt.
Finally, don’t send things you know the missionary can buy locally, perhaps even at a cheaper price (e.g. ramen noodles). Although they always appreciate receiving gifts, make sure you’re sending items they truly need/want.
The Bottom Line
Always coordinate care packages with the missionaries receiving them.
Some of the tips I received were specific to the location in which each missionary lived. But across the board, everyone said that it is best to simply ask the missionary what you should and shouldn’t send, how you should send it, and when. Surprises are fun, but there are too many variables to shipping packages internationally, and your knowledge of what they actually need may be limited. Have them send you a list of things they need/want, and don’t deviate from that. Make sure they will be at home when it arrives, or send it via a short-term team.
All of the missionaries I talked with were clear about their appreciation for the care packages they have received from their families, friends, and sending churches. Care packages are a reminder of all the people who love and care for them—evidence of the Lord’s provision even in small ways. If you’re uncertain how to go about sending gifts, these tips are a great starting point.
Meredith Cook is a content editor for the International Mission Board. She has an MDiv in missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband live in Houston, Texas. Find her on Twitter @MeredithCook716.