Inside the Missionary Training Center: It takes a village to run what amounts to a small city

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2011 10:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-day series offering a closer look at how the LDS Church trains missionaries before they are sent into the field.

The Provo MTC is a little city of its own, considering the average of 2,000 missionaries who live there, and the nearly 150 full-time staffers, as many as 1,200 part-time employees and some 1,500 volunteers who provide support services.

MTC administrators say upwards of 3,000 people can be onsite at any one time — and that's with the MTC running at half its capacity.

The campus is as self-contained as possible — besides residences and classrooms, the Provo MTC includes a gymnasium/auditorium, a massive kitchen and cafeteria, a health clinic, a bookstore, a laundry, a travel department, a barbershop and so on.

"That's by design — we want the missionaries to have everything they need right here so they don't have to go off-campus," said Spencer K. Christensen, Provo MTC manager of human resources and support services.

The workforce includes some 70 administrators and staffers hired full-time at the center and another 70 full-timers contracted through nearby Brigham Young University, said Richard I. Heaton, Provo MTC director.

Add in as many as 1,200 part-time employees, hired either through the MTC or through BYU.

At the forefront of staffing are the teachers — nearly 900 of them, mostly BYU students, working part time at three hours a day, 20 hours a week.

"We have these amazing, nonprofessionals — (for example) a civil engineering major teaching Estonian," said Provo MTC President Gordon D. Brown. "That's just not happening anywhere else."

A trio of teachers — themselves former missionaries — are assigned to each class of eight to 12 missionaries.

"They help you and take you to the next level," said Sister Diondre Darcy of Tulsa, Okla., who is going to Hong Kong. "People want to help us every step of the way, and their faith in what we're doing really buoys me up."

Elder Mark Bullough of South Jordan, who is on his way to Russia, agreed. "What I love most about the teaching staff is that they've been through what you're going through."

But the Provo MTC staff is more than just teaching and instructors.

In the kitchen, pantry and cafeteria, workers cook, serve and clean up for three meals daily for the missionaries. That means as many as 9,000 meals a day, with missionaries entering the cafeteria in 15-minute shifts and food preparation practically spanning the full 24 hours.

Cafeteria manager Doug Walker reports that during 2010, Provo MTC missionaries consumed 200,400 apples, 163,430 pounds of bananas, 10,893 gallons of ice cream and 64,200 pounds of "easy eggs" — or the equivalent of 684,800 eggs. To say nothing of the countless cases of cold cereal consumed, a favorite morning, noon and night.

Perhaps the second-most visited and beloved on the campus is the mailroom. Longtime mailroom supervisor Heidi Van Woerkhom oversees a staff sorting through two to three huge bins of letters and packages of non-perishables coming daily via the U.S. Postal Service alone, besides items dropped off via other general or MTC-specific delivery services (the MTC does not allow visitors to drop off items themselves).

"That's about half of what it used to be," she said, noting the increased use of email between missionaries and their families. Several long boxes jammed with email printouts arrive daily for distribution — two to three times that arrive on Mondays.

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