Last week we sent my youngest brother Michael to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, who is on his way to Warsaw, Poland for his mission. In the days before entering the MTC, in talking with Michael, I realized he didn’t know what to expect once he arrived at the MTC. So I thought some information about what to expect at the MTC would make a good blog post. My MTC experience, which I will tell you about below, was nearly 15 years ago, so I thought I would turn first to a New Era magazine article called The MTC Experience.
The MTC is where missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go to get doctrinal and language training at the beginning of their missionary service. There are 17 MTCs located in nations throughout the world including Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, and the flagship MTC is located in Provo, Utah, USA, adjacent to the campus of Brigham Young University. Missionaries not learning a language usually spend 3 weeks in the MTC, while those learning a foreign language will generally spend 9 to 12 weeks at the MTC. The MTC is a crucial part of getting missionaries prepared to serve, but it was not always so.
In the early 1900s, new missionaries would report to the Mission Home in Salt Lake City, a small building adjacent to Temple Square. Missionaries would stay there just a day or two before leaving to their assigned areas. During the early 1900s, the typical English-speaking missionary would arrive on a Saturday and leave the following Wednesday. Those foreign serving missionaries frequently had to wait longer for visas and would often serve temporarily as tour guides on Temple Square or do clerical tasks at the LDS Church headquarters.
In November 1961, missionaries started heading a few miles south, to Brigham Young University, at the beginning of their mission for some language training. Soon, a new LDS mission, the Language Training Mission (LTM), was created, with the geographic extent of the mission to be the perimeter of the buildings in Provo, Utah. These buildings included dormitories as well as classrooms for the missionaries.
As the Church and the number of missionaries continued to grow in the 1970s, the church acquired some nearby land near the BYU Provo campus, built dormitories, a gymnasium, and other buildings. The name of the LTM was changed to the Missionary Training Center in 1978, to note that it was for more than just language training.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, other MTCs popped up in other parts of the world. In 1998, all North American missionaries called to Brazil were sent to the Brazil MTC in São Paulo for the second month of their training. Although the integrated MTC program was originally thought of as a solution to overcrowding at the MTC in Provo, it has also proven successful in better training missionaries and revolutionized the MTC experience. Now, I believe, many Americans called to serve abroad are instructed to report directly to the MTC in that country.
Life inside the MTC is definitely different than life outside, but it is great. There’s so much to learn in just a few weeks at the MTC:
- Gospel doctrines
- How to develop Christ-like attributes
- How to teach by the Spirit
- Communication skills
- A foreign language (for some)
- The mission rules
You will be assigned a companion, put in a district with three or four other companionships. Your companion and district will be with you throughout your training and you will become great friends. Every day you will go to classes, on the gospel of Jesus Christ and on your language, with your district, and several times a week you will be able to go together to play sports in the gymnasium. Once a week you’ll go to the temple, Sundays will be filled with Church meetings, and once a week you have a devotional by a General Authority. You’ll have weekly service opportunities on the MTC campus (‘celestial service,’ as they called it, cleaning toilets, mopping floors, etc.).
If you’ll recall my previous post, Work Hard, Obey, and Love Others, it was at the MTC that a teacher of mine made that challenge that affected my whole mission.
In a lot of ways, the MTC is a virtual city with all the services you will need as a missionary. Here’s a run down:
- Cafeteria—Three meals a day are served. When missionaries have a scheduling conflict, they can pack a sack lunch instead of eating in the cafeteria.
- Laundry—Washers and dryers are available. Missionaries must purchase their own detergent from vending machines or the bookstore.
- Bookstore—The bookstore is stocked with learning materials, book bags, plus everyday items such as toiletries, white shirts, or treats.
- Dry cleaning—Rates are reasonable. There is a trend for missionaries to gain weight while at the MTC, so suit alterations are also available for a fee.
- Barbershop—Elders are entitled to one or two haircuts depending on their length of stay at the MTC. Sister missionaries are not offered haircuts, although a beautician is available for paid appointments.
- Copy center—Services such as copying, laminating, or binding are available here.
- Sheets and pillowcases—All bed linens are provided. Exchange for clean linen can be made weekly.
- Mail—Letters are delivered to mailboxes, and packages can be picked up at an adjoining window. The MTC will not accept hand deliveries, so you must send packages through the post office or private carriers.
- Banking services—The office has capabilities to cash checks and sell travelers’ checks.
- Medical services—The health center is adjacent to the MTC. Immunizations are available. Health needs can be treated. Also, doctors are on call for emergencies.
My MTC Experience
I entered the Provo, Utah MTC in October 1995 on my way to serving in Rosario, Argentina. I was in one of the first trial programs of Technology Aided Language Learning (TALL), which I now believe is part of all missionaries’ curriculum. I loved the MTC from the very beginning; everyone was so nice and the spiritual growth I experienced was phenomenal.
I was in the MTC just after I completed my first year of college at BYU and all the facilities (beds, laundry, cafeteria) was just like in the BYU dorms. I was amazed at how they just threw us into Spanish, teaching us to pray and contact people in Spanish on our very first full day at the MTC. A the MTC, in a lot of ways, I felt I had a stress-free life. I had no worries about what was going on in the outside world, I just studied Spanish and the gospel and felt the Spirit all day, every day.
Other missionaries I knew, though, had a harder time. Many missionaries have a hard time learning the language and many have a hard time being spiritual. If you have largely ignored spiritual things throughout your life, then going to the MTC can be a difficult transition. All the more reason to spiritually prepare before your mission.
I had one very spiritual, faith-promoting experience after I had been in the MTC for about a month. We had a lesson on faith and as I sat there listening, my mind and soul seemed to open up and receive knowledge from heaven. After the class, one of the other missionaries asked me what I had learned about faith, and as I tried to convey through words what I had felt the Spirit of the Lord poured over me like never before. The other missionaries and I worth both greatly edified by this experience.
The more I learned about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. The more I studied the scriptures, the more I wanted to immerse myself in them and learn all that I could. An hour a day of personal scripture study suddenly didn’t seem like nearly enough.
I came away from the MTC with more gratitude in my heart, more meekness and penitence, a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon, understanding of the importance of obedience to the commandments and to the mission rules, deeper gospel knowledge, a stronger testimony of the Church and of the atonement of Jesus Christ, greater sensitivity to the Spirit, greater trust in the Lord, and joy and happiness that worldly things cannot bring.
At the conclusion of my MTC experience, I wrote in my journal, I knew I had had a life altering experience, even if I never set foot in the mission field. While that is certainly true, oh how little I realized how much I would learn and grow once I got into the mission field.