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A taste of Thanksgiving at the Provo MTC: How 1,050 elders and sisters spent the holiday

Activities ranged from devotional and music program to service project and a movie — with Christmas lights and songs, too

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Missionaries eat their Thanksgiving meal at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News


A taste of Thanksgiving at the Provo MTC: How 1,050 elders and sisters spent the holiday

Activities ranged from devotional and music program to service project and a movie — with Christmas lights and songs, too

merlin_2952141.jpg

Missionaries eat their Thanksgiving meal at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah — Thanksgiving Day at the Provo Missionary Training Center featured a big helping of instruction and ministering from an Apostle and his wife, sides dishes of service and a movie, then an evening treat of a musical performance by one of The Piano Guys, all topped off with a closing slice of Christmas lights and songs.

And we haven’t even started to talk turkey — or the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal at the MTC cafeteria on Thursday, Nov. 24.

Devotional and ministering to the sick

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Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a Thanksgiving Day devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Thanksgiving Day activities for the 1,050 full-time missionaries training at the Provo MTC began with a late-morning devotional with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook. Elder Cook spoke of gratitude, humility, rejoicing and love, while Sister Cook led the elders and sisters in singing a Thanksgiving hymn — once with a Christmas twist.

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Sister Mary Cook, wife of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, leads missionaries in song during at a Thanksgiving Day devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Since the hymns “Come, Ye Thankful People” (“Hymns,” 94) and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (“Hymns,” 209) share the same 777D meter pattern, Sister Cook invited the missionaries to sing the second verse of the former to the melody of the latter, reminding that “Christmas is just around the corner.”

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From left to right, President Benson L. Porter, president of the Provo Missionary Training Center; his wife, Sister Kerry L. Porter, Sister Mary Cook; and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make their rounds around the Provo Missionary Training Center to greet sick missionaries in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

With the fall flu season beginning and the lingering residue of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Provo MTC has seen an uptick in illnesses, with a handful of ailing missionaries in isolation for the day in their residence buildings. The Cooks joined Provo MTC President Benson L. Porter and his companion, Sister Kerry L. Porter, in making ministering visits in waving through the windows or chatting from a distance through open doors with missionaries in isolation who missed the day’s activities.

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Missionaries add condiments to their plates on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

After the devotional, waves of missionaries made their way into the cafeteria for a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, rolls and pumpkin pie.

Hunger Fight service project

The afternoon began with a Church humanitarian presentation and training video for the day’s service project — what is becoming an annual collaboration with Hunger Fight, a Jacksonville, Florida, nonprofit charity focused on hunger and illiteracy.

In the inaugural effort on Thanksgiving Day 2021, missionaries packaged 380,000 meal kits in about four hours in what Hunger Fight officials gratefully labeled “controlled chaos.” This year, MTC and Hunger Fight leaders were projecting a total of 400,000 meal kits packaged, boxed and destined for the Utah Food Bank.

Mike Gant, Hunger Fight area development director, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “one of the greatest organizations we’ve worked with,” admittedly “bragging” about the Church’s organizational and volunteer efforts.

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Missionaries participate in a service project on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“You run this place better than the Marine Corps,” he said of the MTC and its cooperative effort in the service project. “No one is curt or rude — the love of the Lord is apparent in everyone.”

The MTC service project is one of three major Hunger Fight efforts in Utah — another two-day, 6,000-volunteer effort this year with the Silicon Slopes, an organization representing Utah’s business community, produced more than 1 million meals, while a separate project with the Church’s IT Department and 1,200 volunteers resulted in another 360,000 meal kits.

During the presentation, Luis Camara Manoel, a senior manager in the Church’s Humanitarian Services Division, shared insights into the work the Church is accomplishing across the globe in helping address human needs.

“It is my hope that we can be inspired by the Spirit, that we may seek to be a little better, a little kinder, to care a little more for the welfare of others, and to be moved to action wherever we stand,” he said.

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Missionaries participate in a service project on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

He reviewed some of the history of the Church’s humanitarian efforts and listed humanitarian totals from last year — nearly 4,000 projects over 188 countries worldwide, partnering with 2,300 organizations and providing $906 million assistance in helping more than 50 million people worldwide.

He listed the current areas of focus and initiatives for the Church’s humanitarian arm — food security and water; healthcare and disabilities; education, employment and emotional health; stability services; child nutrition, immunization and well-being; and emergency response.

He said missionaries can have a role in assisting through fasting and giving a generous fast offering; looking for ways to be involved and to volunteer; focusing on the rising generation; ministering to families and individuals in need; and reaching out to other faiths and congregations in building relationships.

Making meal packets

At 2 p.m. half of the MTC’s missionaries participated for two hours in packing meals, with the other half watching the movie “Ephraim’s Rescue.”

Eight to 10 missionaries lined each of the 60 production tables, two-thirds used for creating meal packets of oatmeal and brown sugar and the other third cheesy macaroni packets. Once the production line had produced 42 meal packets — enough to fill a box — a missionary would ring a handbell in celebration.

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Sister Zuster Besaw rings a bill alongside other missionaries as they partake in a service project on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“I feel happy doing this,” said Sister Emma Hamblin of West Point, Utah, training to serve in the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission. “It’s a good opportunity to know that I’m helping others, that it will benefit others.”

Sister Gwen Stewart of Salt Lake City, assigned to the France Lyon Mission, said service is something Christ would be doing in helping others. “I feel really blessed to be part of something that is bigger than myself.”

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Sister Hall, right, stands along side other missionaries as they participate in a service project on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Two hours later, all missionaries had a sack-lunch meal in their classrooms — allowing cafeteria workers to be off for the holiday in the afternoon and evening. Then the two sides swapped places — those who had done service went to watch the movie, with a new group manning the service project tables.

Music and Christmas lights

The evening concluded with a special musical program featuring Jon Schmidt, pianist from The Piano Guys. The missionaries then could walk the campus and enjoy the exterior Christmas lights across the MTC campus while singing Christmas carols.

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Missionaries participate in a service project on Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

For Elder AJ Smith of St. George’s, Bermuda, who is going to the Cote d’Ivorie Abidjan East Mission, Thursday marked his first-ever Thanksgiving Day holiday. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It’s been amazing to feel such a feeling of thankfulness. It’s been one of the highlights of my MTC experience.”

Elder Logan Duersch of Tooele, Utah, also assigned to the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission, said he “loved” his Thanksgiving at the Provo MTC. “It’s been different than what I expected, but I can see the focus on loving everyone else and being thankful for what we have.”

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