Tom Smart, Deseret News
Missionaries walk to a devotional as the anticipated 2013 "summer surge" settles over the LDS Church's two MTC campuses in Provo. Officials are finding creative ways to accommodate more than 4,000 missionaries at a time — including walking them all to BYU's Marriott Center for MTC-wide devotionals Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in Provo.
No marathon was scheduled for that day, but on June 11 the march of thousands of missionaries from the Provo Missionary Training Center to the Marriott Center resembled a race.
The trek to another location for the usual Tuesday night devotional is seen as a symbol of the increased numbers of missionaries following the age change announcement in the October 2012 general conference.
“It’s (especially powerful) since this is the first time we’ve needed to come to the Marriott Center,” said Nicholle Peng, a missionary from Bountiful, Utah, who will serve in Taiwan.
The stream of missionaries curled around the Marriott Center parking lot, the path marked with orange construction cones. A few well-prepared missionaries even brought water bottles. A smiling senior couple wearing orange vests brought up the rear, hand-in-hand.
However, the end of this race was marked not by cheering fans but by the hymn “Behold a Royal Army,” played by a senior missionary on the organ. Also lacking was a spirit of competition. A historic 2,788 missionaries, 140 coming from an overflow campus at Wyview Park, filed into the Marriott Center with one purpose and spirit.
“It’s really amazing to have so many people in one place with all the same intent,” said Levi Neely, a missionary from St. George bound for Budapest, Hungary.
The missionaries recognized the historic nature of the trek to the Marriott Center. “You’re walking down the hall (of the MTC) and everyone’s so excited to be here,” said Joe Giacalone, Neely’s companion from Syracuse, Utah. “We can feel that we are part of a historic thing, and it’s really cool.”
This unprecedented wave has pushed the number of full-time missionaries serving from 58,000 to roughly 69,000 currently, and the number is expected to reach 85,000 during fall 2013. The MTC held roughly 2,000 missionaries this time last summer, but on July 10, 2013, the number should be 3,611.
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“There’s a little more energy at the MTC right now,” said Alicia Eliason, a sister from Bountiful, Utah, who will serve in Taiwan. “I just feel lucky to be a part of it.”
Peng watched the stream of her fellow missionaries continue to file into the Marriott Center. “They just keeping coming,” she said.
Missionaries are expected to keep coming to the MTC, Marriott Center and around the world for the rest of the summer as they run “with patience” the race.
Lucy Schouten is an Arizona native studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. Contact her at email@example.com.