The final of a three-part series.
SALT LAKE CITY — For much of the past century, Utah understandably has been seen as the training hub for Mormon missionaries — with Salt Lake City the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and host of the one-time Salt Lake Mission Home and with Provo the site of both the former BYU-based Language Training Mission and the current Provo Missionary Training Center.
However, a current look at the development of new missionaries requires a global gaze, since a third of the LDS Church's missionaries are now being trained outside of Utah and the United States.
The LDS Church operates 14 international missionary training centers — from Argentina to New Zealand — and provides missionary training in 14 languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Mongolian, Indonesian, Thai, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan.
International missionary training centers were established in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Hamilton, New Zealand, in 1977 — a year after the opening of the church's flagship facility in Provo and a year before it would be rechristened the Provo Missionary Training Center and the church's emphasis would shift from language-oriented learning to overall missionary instruction.
Before the advent of international MTCs, many missionaries outside of North America went without both mission-training and temple experiences. Many of the MTCs are located conveniently close to an LDS temple — the Mexico MTC and Mexico City Temple are actually closer together than their Provo counterparts — while a few, such as Brazil and New Zealand, require a bus ride for missionaries to attend.
Whether Provo or Peru, the MTCs share the identical materials, curriculum and operations and correlate the efforts with regular onsite visits and frequent video-conference training and evaluations.
"In every regard, it's the same experience they have here in the Provo MTC," said Kelend I. Mills, supervisor of the international missionary training centers. "We try to make it as consistent as possible to the (Provo) MTC."
Said Nelson L. Bleak, the president of the New Zealand MTC whose own pre-mission training was a week's stay at the now-defunct Salt Lake Mission Home: "We knew it was an intense program here, but the intensity is not as well understood as seeing it in action."
The obvious differences between the Provo MTC and the international centers are the local culture, local food and the predominant use of the local language.
"It forces them to speak and to learn," said President Clifford L. Whetten of the Peru MTC, which hosts an average of 130 to 140 missionaries at a time. "The missionary knows he is going to use all that he knows and each day build upon it."
Also, missionaries in the international MTCs often go out weekly into the city and put principles learned into proselytizing practice with street contacting and door knocking.
"It's a very good experience," said Elder Christopher Reisen of Switzerland, in the England MTC preparing to go to the Germany Berlin Mission. "It's humbling, but it's a lot of fun, too."
The smaller MTCs also afford a more personal setting with teachers, administrators and fellow missionaries.
"Before they leave, their arms are around each other," said President M. Richard Walker of the England MTC, which hosts missionaries from or going to the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia. "They really love each other, and they have a strong commitment to go out and serve."
His wife, Sister Kathleen Walker, agreed: "The intimacy of the small MTC is such a blessing — not only for the missionaries but for us. But this business of breaking our hearts every three weeks [when they leave] is painful."
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