Our interest must be intensified

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday morning session from the April 1975 Conference.
Elder David B. Haight started his talk by telling about his visits to military bases abroad, and how he had asked the servicemen if they were in touch with their wards at home. He said,
Increasingly I began to feel some of the loneliness in their hearts. As I asked, “Are you hearing from your elders quorum? Does your family write often and encourage you to live the principles of the gospel?” the disappointment on their faces—and sometimes a cynical smile—gave me my answer. To the question “Does your bishop know you are here?” the reply was, “I don’t even think he cares. He is too busy to be concerned about me.” Of all those who attended our meetings—can you imagine—only one said he knew his ward leaders did care.
Elder Haight continued,
This lack of interest at home for these young men is not the Lord’s plan, not the way he has taught us. Many of us are not responding to the Church direction, not responding to our charge to “[teach] them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20.) This responsibility to teach and to encourage does not cease because they are out of sight; in fact, our interest must be intensified.
I immediately started thinking about the missionaries in our ward and wondering if they feel the same. Do they feel a "lack of interest" from their ward family? And does this displease God? It was a new thought for me. For a long time, I just sort of assumed that missionaries had plenty of actual family members keeping track of them, and that they didn't actually want to correspond with people they didn't really know. More recently, I started writing to some of the girls I used to teach in Young Women when they went on missions, and it's been nice for ME because I like feeling part of their lives, but I've still felt a bit of awkwardness. I worried I was somehow taking time from people they knew better and cared about more, or that I was just giving them one more person to worry about responding to.

But as I read Elder Haight's talk, I had a sense that a ward family could do a lot of good if they took that "family" designation seriously. Even if we don't start with close relationships with the youth who are going on missions, couldn't we form those relationships AS we wrote to them and thought about them when they were away? Just as a family member might? I know I grew closer to my brothers as I wrote to them on their missions, and more recently to my parents-in-law. There's something about writing letters that encourages closeness.

And I think my mind just extrapolated to missionaries because I don't know as many people serving in the military. But of course this would apply to both, or to anyone away from the ward family (college students, even?). At the time he gave the talk, Elder Haight seemed to think that the military servicemen were being more neglected than missionaries, so that was the focus of his talk. He said:
Why shouldn’t parents, bishops, and elders presidents treat these 20,000 in the military as missionaries? You know they are—whether for good or not. You are their Church leaders and should be continually encouraging them. What a glorious opportunity! 
We challenge parents, home teachers, elders quorum presidents, and bishops that from today you show your concern for these young people. Flood them with affection, letters, tapes, cards, packages, birthday and holiday greetings of all types.
"Flood them with affection!" Hearing this, I felt impressed to do better. Maybe many wards are already doing this, and probably the ward leadership is much more aware of the absent members than I am. But I, personally, felt like if I'm really supposed to be family to these ward members who are away, if my interest is truly supposed to be "intensified" when they are out of sight, then there is more I can do to "flood them with affection." (And for actual family members I don't know well, nieces and nephews and cousins, the same is true.) Even if it feels weird or overly familiar. How will we ever become "family" to each other if I don't reach out and show interest and love?

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