We are pioneers! —Elder McCleary
PROVO — On Tuesday, the LDS Church transferred 110 missionaries from its Missionary Training Center in Provo to converted student apartments a mile away, where they were joined Wednesday by the first 40 missionaries to report directly from home to the temporary facilities.
The temporary extension site is necessary to relieve pressure on the MTC as unprecedented numbers of young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enter the mission field. By fall, the church expects the number of missionaries serving worldwide will have jumped 47 percent in one year.
In recent years, the number of missionaries has been increasing about 6 percent annually.
"We estimate more than 85,000 full-time missionaries serving by Fall 2013," church spokeswoman Ruth Todd told the Deseret News on Wednesday.
The most missionaries the church has had at the end of any year, which is the number it reports annually, was 61,638 at the end of 2002. That record was surpassed sometime early this year.
On Wednesday, Todd said the church now has 68,700 full-time missionaries. More than 22,500 additional men and women have received their mission calls but are not yet in the MTC. Another 6,200 have begun the process to obtain mission calls.
The 110 transferred Tuesday from the original MTC to the temporary facilities moved into BYU's Wyview Park apartment complex, replacing the college students who lived there just a month ago.
"We are pioneers!" said an enthusiastic Elder McCleary from Riverton, Utah, as he raised both fists above his head.
Elder McCleary was one of eight missionaries bound for assignments in Indonesia who waited in front of the Wyview Park office Wednesday morning for a van to take them back to the main MTC campus for a devotional. After the devotional, they returned to help welcome the 40 new missionaries. Together, those 150 missionaries represent the first of 1,700 who will occupy the temporary MTC at any given time over the next 18 months. Missionary training ranges from 12 days to about eight weeks for those who are learning a language.
The full expansion includes the Raintree Commons apartment complex the church leased from a property company.
"The rooms are really nice," said Elder Heiner of Eugene, Ore., who, like the other missionaries transferred, had been at the original MTC for three weeks. "Our rooms are here in Wyview, our classrooms are across the street (in Raintree)."
To these young missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the move to new accommodations seemed to be just another element in a grand two-year adventure. Sitting in the shade waiting for a van on a breezy, overcast spring morning was almost fun — at the very least, a welcome break in the intense classroom-oriented routine of MTC living.
"We're excited to be here," said Elder Wood of Ogden. "It's a lot less crowded down here than it is up there (at the main MTC campus)."
During last month's general conference of the church, President Monson called the response of the young people "remarkable and inspiring." But it also poses a significant challenge for those charged with training more than 28,700 new missionaries during the coming months as college semesters end and now-eligible 18-year-old young men graduate from high school.
The sudden surge of new missionaries has the church's existing MTC facilities bulging at the seams. The Provo MTC, for example, has a current capacity of 4,000 missionaries at any given time. It is estimated that the capacity requirements this summer will exceed 7,000. To meet this extraordinary demand the church has created a new training facility in Mexico City as well as the addition of this temporary extension facility in Provo.
The church has also created 58 new missions around the world to accommodate the growing number of missionaries.
The "pioneering" missionaries now being housed and trained at the MTC extension aren't exactly roughing it, with apartments and classrooms that have served for years as comfortable and popular student housing. But new temporary structures on the Raintree property for dining and physical fitness facilities have yet to be installed, so accommodations are being made for the time being. Until the dining facility is completed, missionaries will take their meals in the Raintree Commons multi-purpose room. And basketball courts and other exercise facilities are being installed on now-unnecessary Wyview Park parking areas.
"It's great!" said Elder Broadbent of Lehi, who will leave next week for service in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission. "I'm glad I got to be here for a week!"