PROVO, Utah — Lindsay and Christine Dil have a long list of Church service in and around Auckland, New Zealand — he as a bishop, stake president and Area Seventy; she in numerous stake and ward auxiliary callings; and together as Pacific Area Church History advisers and three years leading the Ghana Cape Coast Mission.
Timena Gasu has worked at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland for a dozen years, her last nine as the MTC’s manager of operations.
Yet, the three recently met for the first time 7,000 miles away from their native country, as President and Sister Dil — the incoming MTC president and Relief Society president of the New Zealand Missionary Training Center — sat side by side with Sister Gasu at the 2019 MTC Leadership Seminar, held Jan. 14-17 at the Provo MTC.
It marked the first time the annual seminar featured incoming MTC presidents and companions being joined by the managers of operations — in all, five president-wife-manager trios from the Provo, Brazil, Mexico City, Philippines and New Zealand missionary training centers. Of the 12 MTCs worldwide, those five account for about 75 percent of the 40,000 new missionaries trained annually.
With the seminar under the direction of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council, the distinct yet complementary roles of the MTC president and wife and the MTC manager of operations were emphasized.
“One of the new presidents said, ‘The best thing you did was having the MTC director sitting beside me because it gives us so much confidence,’ ” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and the Missionary Department’s executive director. “We know this person knows what’s going on, and they can help us when we get there.’ ”
Mission president/MTC president
All five MTC leadership couples have previously presided over missions, and all were appreciative — and relieved — to learn that an MTC president’s responsibilities are less demanding than their previous ones as a mission president.
“As a former mission president, you feel like you’ve got to be in amongst everything 24/7,” President Dil said. “But this one is different. There are defined roles.”
Mission presidents have day-to-day oversight of missionaries and their lives — including housing, transportation, finances and well-being. With new missionaries spending the first three to nine weeks of their missions at a training center, it is the manager — not the MTC president — who handles daily operations and training.
• The president oversees the missionaries, the MTC’s ecclesiastical leaders and the Sunday schedule and instruction; the manager supervises the teachers, the full-time staff, the support services ranging from food and facilities to cleaning and transportation, and the instruction and schedule the rest of the week.
• The president receives, welcomes and interviews new missionaries; the manager directs their processing.
• The president focuses on health concerns of an individual missionary, while the manager is in charge of institutional health matters and logistics.
In short, the MTC president ministers to the new missionaries, while the MTC manager administers for them.
And with the 12 MTCs all operating under the same direction from the Missionary Department, the result is a complete, common and consistent training — no matter if a missionary is in Manila or Mexico City, Provo or São Paulo.
“It’s the commonality — the unity of the training,” said Provo MTC President David E. LeSueur.
Added Sister Dil: “We’re not having to reinvent the wheel — the wheel is invented, the cart is rolling, and we just have to get on that cart.”
President César A. Milder and Sister Maureen Milder attended the seminar having started their assignment at the Brazil MTC four months ago, their call to serve coming only days before — similar to their responding to last-minute calls to open Brazil Ribeirão Preto Mission in 1993 and the Brazil Cuiabá Mission in 2006.
Even with four months of MTC leadership experience, President Milder repeatedly exclaimed in Portuguese “My eyes have been opened” during seminar sessions and a subsequent interview, opening his fists in front of his eyes for emphasis.
While most were learning in advance of their service, President LeSueur and his wife, Sister Nancy LeSueur, put into practice what presenters were preaching, as the seminar's Jan. 16 afternoon sessions paused while the LeSueurs welcomed 326 newly arrived missionaries to the Provo MTC.
Attendees marveled in witnessing the flow of the new missionaries — the flagship Provo MTC trains about half of all new missionaries each year. They watched new missionaries being dropped off by family in the underground parking and moving through the stations to receive nametags, training materials and swipeable cards for access and meals.
The 2019 MTC Leadership Seminar featured several other “firsts” — the first time held solely for MTCs as well as the first leadership training under the recently expanded Missionary Executive Committee.
In the past, new MTC leaders have joined with couples called as directors of various visitors’ centers and Church historical sites, with the seminar often drawing several dozen couples. But stewardship of the historical sites has moved to the Church History Department, while the visitors’ centers directors now receive training on site.
The Missionary Executive Committee expanded last summer to include a fourth member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (Elder Ulisses Soares joining Elders Uchtdorf, D. Todd Christofferson and Neil L. Andersen) and — like other similar councils — a member of the Presidency of the Seventy (Elder Robert C. Gay).
In addition to Elder Nielson, other council members include Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric; Young Women general president Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Sister Cristina B. Franco of the Primary general presidency (also added last year) and Missionary Department managing director Gary Crittenden.
With presenters almost outnumbering attendees, all Missionary Executive Council members except Elders Andersen and Soares led training sessions, joined by Elder S. Gifford Nielsen — one of the half-dozen General Authority Seventies who double as Missionary Department assistant executive directors — and other directors and managers from within the department.
Elder Uchtdorf encouraged the MTC leaders to seek divine confidence and to direct new missionaries to do the same.
“When they come to you and when they are with you, they feel their confidence in God is so great that they can do whatever,” he said.
“Trust in the Lord,” he added, “and He will help you in a way that these missionaries will go forward and say, ‘Yes, I can do it.’”
Elder Christofferson asked MTC leaders to find ways to teach the plan of salvation to missionaries, so that they can deepen their understanding of it and be effective in teaching it to others. “Aspects of the plan of salvation ought to be frequently a part of what we say, the direction we give, the counsel we offer,” he said. “Look for opportunities to teach in that way.”
Speaking on increasing convert baptism, Elder Gay said missionaries need to understand both the doctrine of baptism and the principles that lead to baptism. “The principles help build the commitment,” he said, “but that commitment will resonate more if they are understanding why we baptize.”
Offering an overall vision of missionary work, Elder Nielson encouraged the leaders to teach the “why” to help missionaries learn the “how.”
“If we can know the ‘why,’ we can figure out the ‘how,’ ” he said.
Speaking on the conversion of missionaries, Bishop Waddell compared the short-term “tasting” by some of the fruit of the tree of life in Lehi’s dream to the long-term “partaking” by others. “To be converted is good, but it is not sufficient,” he said, adding “it must be ongoing and a life-long conversion, not just a missionary event.”
Teaching from the “Safeguards for Using Technology” booklet, Sister Cordon said she is “fully committed” to helping young women understand and follow similar principles.
“The Lord always works through the language of the people,” said Sister Cordon, suggesting 2 Nephi 31:3 allows for missionaries to use the Internet, social media, texting and the like in contacting and teaching. “The Lord always speaks to His people in a manner they can understand.”
Sister Franco reviewed the “Adjusting to Missionary Life” guidebook on physical, mental and emotional well-being, and she proved to be unflappable despite technological glitches hampering her presentation. “My stress level is good,” she quipped.
She expressed gratitude “for two very stressed-out missionaries who when I was 2 or 3 years old knocked on one more door on a rainy night.” The pair felt prompted to try one more home after unsuccessfully stopping at many others; the elders were invited in by her father, leading her family to join the Church.
And Elder Nielsen underscored the powerful resource of the Book of Mormon combined with the Spirit, urging MTC leaders to continue to find meaningful scriptures and share them with the new missionaries.
‘A friend that you know’
At the end of the four-day seminar, Sister Gasu summed up having attended as a manager with the Dils as they start their new assignment. “I feel like we have a good start, a good relationship already to know each other,” she said, “and it’s going to be a great two years.”
President Scott B. Clark and Sister Sandra G. Clark of the Philippines MTC enjoyed reconnecting with MTC manager Raul S. Villanueva, who also serves as an Area Seventy in the Philippines and often attended stake and district conferences when the Clarks were over the Philippines Angeles Mission.
“To talk with him this week, ask questions, hear him answer and see his confidence in how the MTC operates — that really lifted some weight for us,” President Clark said.
And President Timothy M. Olson of the Mexico Missionary Training Center anticipated having a familiar face in a new place after attending with MTC manager Nicolás Casteñeda.
“It’s nice to have a friend that you know when you get there,” he said.