Mormon church's Provo MTC: Exclusive look at the largest missionary training facility in the world

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 9:00 a.m. MDT

Provo MTC President Gordon D. Brown underscores the spiritual nature of missionary training. "I call it 'the Lord's university' — I really see it that way," he said, adding, "I've never felt the (presence of God) like I've felt it here. This is a holy sanctuary of the Lord's; this is sacred ground."

Missionaries like Elder Payton Holt of Bountiful, also destined for the San Antonio mission, echo those sentiments. "The MTC has really prepared me spiritually and doctrinally," he said. "It has surprised me how quickly one can learn about the gospel."

The Provo MTC hosts an average of about 2,000 missionaries at a time — reaching nearly 2,900 in July and August as more missionaries arrive between school years.

Able to accommodate nearly 4,000 missionaries, the Provo MTC started reaching that level in the 1990s before the expansion of international MTCs. Now nearly a third of all missionaries are trained outside of the United States.

While most think of Mormon missionaries in terms of 19-year-old or 20-something young men in white shirts and ties, an increasing number of young women, older single women and retired senior couples help comprise the missionary force. The young men welcome their female counterparts and older missionary peers with the appropriate courtesies.

"They open the doors, take our luggage, return our lunch trays," said Sister Lindsay Farr of North Ogden, training for the China Hong Kong Mission.

"They treat us like princesses," agreed Sister Diondre Darcey of Tulsa, Okla., also off to Hong Kong.

Elder Jim Okeson and Sister Jeanne Okeson, senior couple missionaries from Idaho Falls, were in the MTC to start their third mission together — as military affairs specialists in the California San Diego Mission — after previous service in Fiji and the West Indies.

"We didn't have to come here this time, but we chose to come because we love what happens here," said Sister Okeson. "We love that special spirit here and how it sets you up for your mission."

Added her husband: "I walked through the front door and realized again, 'This is a special place.' "

The MTC's regimented daily schedule quickly becomes routine. Up by 6:30 a.m. — although some sister missionaries participate in a special 6 a.m. gym class. Breakfast is followed by an hour each of personal and companionship study and then more studying, planning and learning until lunch.

Class work continues until dinner and again afterward, with next-day planning at 9 p.m., a return to their dorm residences at 9:30 and lights out at 10:30.

Missionaries are afforded a 50-minute exercise/recreation period five days a week in the gymnasium/auditorium or — when it's warmer — on a large nearby field.

Other schedule amendments include worship meetings and firesides on Sundays, Tuesday evening devotionals with an LDS general authority and 75 minutes of weekly service — from cleaning to grounds work, and a weekly preparation day or "P Day."

On P Day, missionaries at the MTC do laundry, write home (30 minutes online access to email parents, with handwritten letters to other family and friends) and attend a temple session. But after dinner, it's back to class, where missionaries generally spend nine to 10 hours daily in lessons, workshops, training exercises and practice in developing language and teaching skills.

Supplementing class instruction are the Training Resource Center (TRC), TE program (Teaching Evaluation) and TALL (Technology Assisted Language Learning) computerized instruction.

The TRC provides some 30 rooms — most representing a typical living room — where missionaries are videotaped in teaching and contacting situations with volunteers role-playing as church investigators and nonmembers. The tape sessions are reviewed and evaluated on language, cultural appropriateness and teaching methodology.

The TE is a progressing teaching program with the same role-playing volunteer, as missionaries build upon augmenting lesson material from one session to the next.

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