A look at Mormon missionary training process

Published: Sunday, March 20 2011 10:21 p.m. MDT

Elder Richard G. Hinckley conducts a discussion with new MTC presidents and visitors center directors in Provo.

R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Elder Richard G. Hinckley is a member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the executive director of its Missionary Department. The following are excepts of an interview — conducted by the Deseret News and KSL-TV — on missionary work and missionary training.

Question: This is a really simply question, but people ask it all the time around the world: Who are they who are these missionaries?

Elder Hinckley: These missionaries are young men and women, some older married couples, some older single sisters who have a desire to serve the Lord and who have been called by the prophet to serve wherever – two years in the case of the young men, 18 months in the case of young women, and for seniors, it can be in some limited cases six months, in other cases 12 months, in others 18 months and in yet others 23 months.

They do so at their own expense — or with the help of their families — and fill the Lord's mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

And they do so willingly. They don't know what they're getting into, for the most part, unless they've had siblings or close friends who have served – they do a wonderful, wonderful job. They're young, they're inexperienced, and by the time they come home, they are mature and wonderful young people.

Question: Why does this still work in the 21st century?

Elder Hinckley: It still works because it's the Lord's way. He called a prophet in Joseph Smith who was very young and very inexperienced. That was some time ago, many years ago. But today it works because young people still feel committed to serve. They want to serve. They are less selfish than we think they are. And they are more committed to good than we think they are. There are many of them — thousands of them

Question: What has the church learned about training missionaries in the past 50 years, since the first language training facilities in 1961?

Elder Hinckley: We continue to learn. We have not learned everything. In fact, we are in the process of modifying the curriculum for all MTCs, and we'll roll that out in August. It's a continual learning experience. We adapt to the times, we adapt to the needs.

We feel a need to teach our missionaries, for example, how to do a better job of teaching. They seem to know what to teach — we do a pretty good job of helping them to know what to teach. But in terms of the actual teaching experience, they are young and inexperienced, and so we're working very hard with this new curriculum to help them be more effective teachers.

It's an evolving situation that will continue to evolve until the end of time.

Question: Let's say you and I are sitting on an airplane and I know nothing of the church and only seen LDS missionaries in passing. How do you describe what the missionary training center is — the Provo MTC and the international MTCs? How would you describe them in layman's terms?

Elder Hinckley: I think most people on an airplane who travel the world today will have encountered a missionary or two. So, they know who the missionaries are. So that's a very easy segue into telling them how we train them.

If it's in their native language, we only keep them for three weeks. So we don't give them a two-year tutorial — it's three weeks in their native language, longer if they're learning a language. If they're learning a language, it maybe nine weeks, or for a very, very difficult language, we may keep them for as many as 12 weeks, for Chinese, Japanese and so forth.

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