September 17, 2008
Lately I've been reading through letters that I sent over a five-year span some 40 years ago to my parents and my in-laws each week during the time my husband, our children and I served as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. I want to get these into book format so my children and grandchildren will have a picture of our life. It's part of leaving a legacy, a subject I've addressed before.
What I'm discovering is that these letters, written at least once a week (so I have a substantial collection!), not only contain verbal snapshots of our family—but they also contain snapshots of another culture and indeed of the times in which we lived too. I wrote a lot about the Papua New Guineans among whom we lived, the Duna people, and about the church we served, the Gutnius Lutheran Church. I also wrote about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which for those of you familiar with that history would tell you that there are references to the start of the turmoil that still embroils that denomination. We served as missionaries under the LCMS so followed closely the election of Jack Preus and the passing of moderate leadership into obscurity. In the letters I find references too to what was happening in the U.S. in those days: from 1967-1972. The Vietnam War was tearing families apart and so changed the country that there was much we didn't recognize when we returned home to what we'd expected to be familiar.
The Lutheran did a story some years ago about "harvesting your journal" to see what you were thinking and experiencing at the time you wrote the entries and thus see your growth. It's also fascinating to read old letters you wrote—though I guess there won't be much of that in the future since most of us don't write letters anymore. Conversations now occur more by phone, e-mail or texting.
If you have old letters or diaries/journals, you might just find it fascinating to "harvest" them. You'll find it interesting—and if you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or other relatives, they must might too. Leaving a legacy means much more than an estate and possessions. It means knowing more about where you came from and where you've been so you can pass that along to future generations too.