The Ministry of Writing Letters

by Barbara H. Cross

In this article, Barbara Cross encourages us to take up our pens and to restore the art of encouraging others by letter-writing.

Motivation to This Ministry

'I'm just not a letter writer,' is the excuse I hear over and over as people try to explain why they have not written those letters they know they should write. It is said in such a way that it sounds as if they suffer from a lack of ability they cannot overcome, or a handicap they were born with! Yet I remember when I used the same trite phrase as an excuse. Then God used one event to change me.

I was a busy young mother when my father, still a young man himself, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He lived halfway across the country from us and being the wife of a student husband, with very little money, there was no way that I could regularly visit him. I constantly thought of my father, worried about him, and prayed for him. Yet, to my shame, there was little I did to write to him. You see, 'I wasn't a letter writer!'

After his death there was grief at losing him mingled with the joy of knowing he was with the Lord and free from pain. As the days went on, I experienced a growing sense of guilt. I realised that I had failed in a major way to show love and honour to a father who had been very dear to me. How he would have enjoyed more cheery notes telling him of family events and of the little granddaughter of whom he was so fond. What little time, effort, and money it would have cost to have brought more bright moments in the midst of his suffering!

Then came a day when guilt and grief turned to new determination for a change. I knew that I could never make up to my father for my negligence of him. However, I vowed, that with God's help, I would not neglect writing letters to others as I had neglected him.

Like a baby taking first steps as he learns to walk, I began by writing one letter a day. Within a few weeks I had written to all the many friends and family members to whom I owed letters. When I had caught up on that, I started to look for other ways to carry out my new resolution. I began to write notes of appreciation to those who had been a blessing to me. These included teachers who had made an impact and friends who had encouraged me. To keep on developing my skill I even wrote to companies whose products I liked or disliked! By this time letter writing had become easier and there were all the great benefits from it to keep me going. It was wonderful to hear from old friends with whom contact had been lost. It was also good to suffer no longer the guilt of ignored responsibilities.

That turning point was over thirty years ago. The desire to 'make up' for something I had owed my father changed to seeing letter writing as a ministry - a ministry which I, or any man or woman, could develop as a means of serving the Lord.

The Apostle Paul speaks in Romans 12:8 of the gift of encouragement. Often it has struck me that encouragement, through the ministry of letter writing, demands so little in time, effort, or expense. Yet, it can be done even by those who may be house-bound by various circumstances of life. Few have any valid excuse for neglecting to develop this gift.

Barriers to This Ministry

People hold several wrong ideas that keep them from writing letters.

The first is the idea that, 'I must have something exciting to write about, because the daily details of my life are of no interest to anyone.' This may seem like a good excuse, but such is really not the case. Having spent much of my life away from 'home', I am delighted to receive letters in which people simply share the news of their everyday lives. I expect that, if a poll were to be taken, most people would feel the same. The real joy in receiving a letter is not necessarily hearing exciting details as much as in knowing someone is thinking and caring about you.

Of course, all of us can develop our ability to notice what is happening around us, in our family, our church and our community that may be of general interest.

Another notion that blocks letter writing is the feeling that if I write, I must write a long letter. It is far better to write several short letters that keep the correspondence relationship alive than to send one of huge proportions. A letter full of many details, which takes a great deal of time to digest, is discouraging to most readers.

The modern excuse for not writing letters is that it is better to phone. While the telephone is a great way to 'reach out and touch someone,' it has never replaced the value of a letter. One elderly lady put it in a nutshell when she said, 'I love to get phone calls from my children, but it means so much to be able to hold a letter in my hand that I can read again.' When our daughters were in college they told us how some fellow students were envious when they pulled our letters out of their mail boxes. These students received phone calls from their parents, but some never received a letter.

The last excuse that people give to themselves is that it takes too much time. Having dealt with the fallacy that 'the only good letter is a long letter', this helps us to see that a short note or letter can take very little of our time. Often a few lines is all that is needed to brighten a person's day and to let them know that you care about them.

Getting Started in This Ministry

If you have a daunting stack of letters, or many people to whom you feel you should write, take the easy way out to get started. Writes a 'family and friends letter' telling generally what is happening in your life. (Don't make it too long!) Then add small personal notes to those to whom you are writing. People will forgive a printed letter as long as a hand-written note is attached.

Once you have cleared your desk (and your conscience), begin a new system of dealing with letters that come your way. For some it will be to discipline yourself to write to someone each day. For others, it will be having a scheduled time on a regular basis to sit down and do correspondence. A combination of the two methods is helpful as you will find that some letters need to be answered right away and others can wait until the scheduled time.

Along with keeping up general correspondence, begin a ministry of encouragement to those to whom you do not write regularly. If someone is sick in your church or community, write them a cheery note. If a particular missionary comes to minds, send them a letter to tell them you are thinking of them and praying for them. As you think of people that have been a blessing to you, drop them a line and tell them so. Ask the Lord to lay on your heart people whom you could encourage in this way.

To make this ministry easier, there are some practical steps to take.

Keep on hand a good supply of postage stamps of differing value. That will allow you to send a postcard, a normal weight letter, or to add enclosures that might take more postage. Remember to buy the correct stamps and the aerogrammes that make it possible to write to people overseas.

Have readily available various types of stationery. Collect an assortment of note cards, greeting cards, encouragement cards, aerogrammes and postcards so that not having something suitable to write on does not become an excuse to put off writing.

Make the most of scheduled opportunities to write. Use those odd moments between jobs at home to jot a note. When outside the home, carry a small pack of stationery to write notes, especially during times you have to spend waiting. Take advantage of waiting at the doctor or dentist. Perhaps you are one who can also write while riding in the car.

The wonderful result of doing these things is:

  • You will be free from guilt about those letters needing to be answered, and
  • You will have the joy of knowing you are bringing pleasure and encouragement to lives you may not have opportunity to touch in other ways.

Copyright © Family Matters 1996

Barbara Cross is the wife of Rev. David Cross, pastor of Chelmsford Presbyterian Church. They have two children and three grandchildren. Barbara leads their Sunday School and womens' Bible studies.


Ruth Beechick in her excellent book 'You can teach your child successfully' - Grades 4-8 (published by Arrow Press, and available in this country from Christian Educational Aids) says:

'Homeschooling parents have shared letter writing ideas, and here are some you can adopt for your family. Write individual Christmas letters to friends and relatives instead of sending store-bought cards. Write letters to order merchandise by mail. Send for pamphlets and other free information that is offered by mail. Write thank-you notes for gifts received. Write 'bread and butter' thank-you's after being a guest at someone's house. Write party invitations. The child prepares his own envelope for each letter.

One family tells of setting aside an evening each week for letter writing. The whole family participates, and letters are written to congressmen or other elected officials, judges, and television stations and sponsors...The letter may be of praise, criticism or suggestion. Little children not able to write on abortion or education or other topics you are interested in can join at the letter-writing table, anyway, and write a letter to a friend. They will learn much about the duties of citizens, and they will grow in the ability to follow their parents' example. If a thousand families followed that practice, generating thousands of letters every week, who can calculate the effect it would have on our society?

Missionaries are also on this family's list. Even if you're the only family in your church which takes on this ministry, it would greatly encourage the missionaries to hear regular news from home. Although some missionaries were the original homeschoolers in this century's revival of the practice, many missionaries have little contact with the movement and have been trained to think that they must separate from their children in order to send them to school. Perhaps your children's happy letters about their homeschooling will help to spread this way of life around the world. Besides learning to write better, your children can learn geography as well...'