My family gathered at a local restaurant last month — moments after leaving the stake center where our daughter had been set apart as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We thought the evening would be filled with happiness, but it was defined instead by contention and anxiety.
For months amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, our home had been an office, a college campus and a high school classroom. Now, with our three daughters, we bickered over politics and other issues that seemed to collide with our family life and values.
In the back of our minds, we all wondered the same thing: If we couldn’t enjoy a peaceful family dinner, how would we manage a virtual, online missionary training experience in our home? Weeks earlier we had each committed to the process — we would take turns being our missionary’s home companion, embrace missionary approved media, show up for family breakfast and dinner, wake up early, and somehow manage to get a daily dose of exercise.
Still, on the eve of our family MTC adventure, the prospect felt exhausting.
I longed for my daughter to have the traditional MTC experience — one that I supported with weekly letters and care packages. I prayed that night to get through the next six weeks of what we called “home MTC.” I did not sense, or even glimpse, what the experience would bring us.
It was a process that taught me five important lessons:
The MTC — even home MTC — is filled with joy
During home MTC, our daughter spent six to nine hours a day on the computer, taking classes, talking to her teachers and studying via video conferencing. Very early in the process, I began to notice something else shared via technology — laughter.
With her companion and the eight elders in her district, she read, learned and prayed. They also made videos for social media and spent time playing recorders and singing Primary songs; one elder in her district even broke out an accordion.
To my great surprise, the computer did not limit social interaction. One day when I asked my daughter what she wanted to do for lunch, she said she had plans. Then she took her sandwich to her bedroom and enjoyed a virtually social gathering with members of her mission district.
Nine young people, strangers joined via technology, had become friends — connected by their love for the Savior, His message to the world, and their desire to serve Him. During home MTC, we saw the literal fulfillment of His promises in Doctrine and Covenants 11:13: “My Spirit shall fill your soul with joy.”
The MTC — even home MTC — is a house of learning
Our daughter studied French in high school and American Sign Language at Brigham Young University. Assigned to serve in Brazil, she spent her days struggling to learn Portuguese. Small blessings came in the process.
For example, after a wind storm left much of the Salt Lake Valley without power, we discovered our daughter’s companion — who also lives in the Salt Lake Valley — had no electricity or internet and invited her to participate in our home MTC. The result was a great blessing. The study of language comes easy to our daughter’s companion, and she was able to give our daughter a needed boost in her own language study.
We have come to understand that the Lord tutors His missionaries one by one. This was confirmed to us over and over again as each of the missionaries in our daughter’s district had the opportunity to attend the temple. With temples closed worldwide for all but living ordinances, temple workers served individual missionaries.
One elder in our daughter’s district, from a small town in central Utah, drove to the Jordan River Utah Temple on a Saturday morning. The 148,236-square-foot edifice has six ordinance rooms, each able to accommodate 125 people — but that day, temple workers opened the Church’s fourth-largest temple for this single missionary and his parents.
The MTC — even home MTC — is fueled by faith
There is a large message written on the wall of the gym where our family exercised during home MTC. It reads: “Remember why you started.” One Saturday morning, the message caught my attention. I thought about all the Lord’s missionaries serving across the globe. My daughter also saw the message; she likened it to the plan of salvation and the journey on which we each embarked to become more like the Savior.
On the night our daughter opened her missionary call, I wondered why the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would assign her to a mission she may never reach. They then asked her to use technology to study a language she may never speak. As one Church leader said, “exercising that kind of faith is emotionally exhausting.”
Yet a generation of missionaries — those being reassigned and those making space in their missions and hearts to welcome missionaries to reassignments — have accepted the call to serve. It is a beautiful manifestation of the faith and works taught in James 2 of the New Testament.
The MTC — even home MTC — is sacred
On the first night of home MTC, another young missionary in our ward doing online training and his father sat with us on our front lawn. Uplifted by our shared experiences, we determined to meet together again. It was the first of what would become weekly family home evenings, held in our yards with our families and the families of others in our ward awaiting missionary service. Each time we gathered, the missionaries shared a message and testimony. We came to understand what the Lord promised his faithful followers in 1829, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, … where two or three are gathered together in my name, … behold, there will I be in the midst of them — even so am I in the midst of you” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:32).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our daughter’s MTC experience was held — virtually — in the bedroom or in the yard of our home. Sometimes it was held in the car on the way to drop off or pick up our high schooler. On a few occasions, circumstances required us to take the laptop and the MTC experience to my office. The Lord blessed every gathering.
The MTC — especially home MTC — is a place of hope
On the first Sunday in September, our family fasted. After partaking of the sacrament in our living room, we knelt in a tight circle and pleaded with the Lord to open the borders of nations for missionary work and to sustain the elders and sisters serving worldwide in His name.
In the starkest contrast to the bickering and anxiety we had experienced just weeks earlier — at dinner on the night my daughter was set apart as a missionary — a sweet spirit filled our home. We knew the Lord was mindful of us, our situation and our daughters. We felt a confirming witness that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to contention. And we were grateful that our missionary — and by extension each of us who contributed to her home missionary training center experience — could be part of that.
We had not, as I originally thought, gotten through the last six weeks in spite of the home MTC — but because of it.
We still had work and study and moments of contention. Yet we also learned a little something about joy and faith and hope. We felt the love the Lord has for those who wear His name and testify of Him. We glimpsed the power of missionary work — somehow in the process becoming our daughter’s first converts.