New MTC leaders learn how their focused roles differ from having presided over a mission

PROVO, Utah — President Paul W. Craig and Sister Nadine Craig, the new Ghana Missionary Training Center president and companion, arrived for the four-day MTC Leadership Seminar with understandable uncertainty about what their two-year call would entail and how it would be different than their previous three-year service in presiding over the Florida Jacksonville Mission.

From the start of the Jan. 13-16 seminar held at the Provo MTC, the Craigs were introduced to Mathias Eguko, the manager of operations and training at the Ghana MTC in Accra; the three sat side-by-side in instructional sessions to learn to become a team of one.

“It has actually helped me to find peace in my heart about this assignment — I’ve been really nervous — and to be so far away,” said Sister Craig.

“One of the first things Mathias said to me was, ‘My job is to make it so that you can focus on the missionaries and love them.’ And if they can leave the MTC feeling loved, with tears in their eyes and feeling the Spirit, then his job has been accomplished, as he has allowed us just to love, to minister and to lift them.”

To provide a vision for their service as new MTC leaders, the Missionary Department gathered the six newly called couples to train them at the Church’s flagship training center, allowing them to witness MTC processes and opportunities in addition to receiving training sessions as presented by the department’s directors and managers and its International MTCs staff.

Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and Missionary Department executive director, said inviting the MTC operations managers to attend last year’s seminar worked so well that it was repeated again in 2020.

Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, leads a presentation during the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar on Jan. 14, 2020, at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, leads a presentation during the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar on Jan. 14, 2020, at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Scott Taylor

“We bring in the manager — in this case, from Ghana to Provo — to be here at our seminar with the new president and companion, so they spend a week together, listening to the same training and being focused on the same things,” he said.

Added Kelend I. Mills, director of MTCs: “Probably one of the most key relationships in an MTC is between the MTC president, his wife and the manager. They have complementary relationships and responsibilities. And by having them both here together at the same time, they hear the same message, they have a chance to start discussing it together. They start with a shared vision of what they’re going to accomplish. They start to build the relationship.”

Beginning last year, the MTC Leadership Seminar became a smaller, more intimate and more focused training. Previously, new MTC leadership couples joined couples called as directors at the Church’s historic sites and visitors’ centers, resulting in a much larger gathering. But stewardship for a number of the historic sites transitioned from the Missionary Department to the Church History Department, and the Church has closed a half-dozen international MTCs recently. Also, visitors’ center directors are now trained infield.

With the Church moving from 16 MTCs to 10, the seminar has had fewer participants — this year, the leadership couples and the managers of operations and training are serving at the Brazil, Colombia, England, Ghana, Peru and South Africa MTCs. However, the smaller size allowed more opportunities for individualization, discussion and questions, Elder Nielson said.

A major focus of the training is helping the new couples understand their specific roles, which are more ecclesiastical and spiritual in nature and focused on ministering to the missionaries. Meanwhile, the operations managers deal with teaching, training, housing, cleaning, feeding and transporting the missionaries during their MTC stay.

President Paul W. Craig, right, and Sister Nadine Craig, new president and companion for the Ghana Missionary Training Center, review schedules with Mathias Eguko, the Ghana MTC's manager of operations, during the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar Jan. 14, 2020, at the Provo MTC in Provo, Utah.
President Paul W. Craig, right, and Sister Nadine Craig, new president and companion for the Ghana Missionary Training Center, review schedules with Mathias Eguko, the Ghana MTC’s manager of operations, during the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar Jan. 14, 2020, at the Provo MTC in Provo, Utah. Credit: Scott Taylor

The result is a more focused responsibility than that of a mission president and companion, whose three-year service includes both the spiritual and temporal well-being of missionaries under their charge. Mission presidents and wives oversee a myriad of matters — including teaching and training; physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being; finances; companionships and transfers; vehicles and transportation; apartments and furnishings; and arrivals and departures.

All six new MTC leadership couples have presided over missions, as have several of the operational managers.

“It’s totally different than being a mission president,” Elder Nielson said. “We spend a lot of time on administration and how an MTC works — how the staff takes care of the food and housing and all those things, so they don’t have to. They’re ecclesiastical leaders — it’s a mind adjustment for an MTC president and companion to figure out what they’re in charge of and what they’re not in charge of and what they’ll be doing to help the missionaries.”

The seminar brings the manager and the MTC president and wife on the same level, said Eguko, who was a mission president in Nigeria, “so that they can understand the vision of the Missionary Department and how to work in unity and to put the missionary as the focus of the assignment.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund and Sister Ruth Renlund, left, greet, President Terry L. Wade and Sister Gina Wade, right, of the Peru Missionary Training Center at the Provo MTC on Jan. 14, 2020, as part of the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar.
Elder Dale G. Renlund and Sister Ruth Renlund, left, greet, President Terry L. Wade and Sister Gina Wade, right, of the Peru Missionary Training Center at the Provo MTC on Jan. 14, 2020, as part of the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar. Credit: Scott Taylor

President Craig said he appreciated having the “temporal things” fall under an operations manager. “It gives us a beautiful opportunity to minister and administer nearly 100 percent of our time in working with and serving these missionaries and helping them to become everything they need to become.”

Of meeting Eguko and beginning a working relationship with him at the seminar, President Craig added: “Because we’re here together, there’s a great spirit of unity already. We already love this man — we don’t hardly know him yet, but we can feel of his goodness and his desires to help us both be successful in our roles.”

Mills explained more in detail a couple of differences between serving as a mission leadership couple and an MTC leadership couple.

One involves the “new missionary” — arriving at the MTC versus arriving in the field. “Some of them really have no idea what it means to be a missionary — they don’t know how to dress as a missionary, they don’t know how to speak as a missionary,” he said. “And we’re starting with these couples with wonderful, willing hearts in helping them develop.”

Another difference Mills cited is that the MTC president and wife function and serve within the same facility during the entire two years of their service, with missionaries arriving and departing regularly and staying only between three and nine weeks.

“There’s this constant flow of missionaries coming and going, and it’s probably in some ways more taxing on an MTC president and wife — but yet wonderfully meaningful and rewarding, because they get to see so many missionary come through their MTC in a year — in this one in Provo, as many as 20,000.”

President Roger G. Christensen and Sister Christine C. Christensen, fourth and third from right, the new president and companion for the Colombia Missionary Training Center, watch the processing of new missionaries at the Provo MTC on Jan. 15, 2020, as part of the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar. They are joined by Elder James B. Martino, right, a General Authority Seventy and assistant executive director int he Missionary Department, and Kelend I. Mills, second from right, director of MTCs.
President Roger G. Christensen and Sister Christine C. Christensen, fourth and third from right, the new president and companion for the Colombia Missionary Training Center, watch the processing of new missionaries at the Provo MTC on Jan. 15, 2020, as part of the 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar. They are joined by Elder James B. Martino, right, a General Authority Seventy and assistant executive director int he Missionary Department, and Kelend I. Mills, second from right, director of MTCs. Credit: Scott Taylor

Added Elder Nielson: “Most mission presidents don’t deal with missionaries on their first day, their arrival as new missionaries. They get them after they’ve been in an MTC. So it’s a unique experience to actually get missionaries straight from home right into an MTC and we spent a lot of time talking to the new MTC leadership couples about how to welcome a new missionary, how to help them adjust and how to help them transition from home to missionary work.”

Topics of seminar sessions, which were present by Missionary Department directors and managers as well as its International MTCs staff, included MTC training and curriculum, safeguards for using technology, emotionally adjusting to missionary life and dealing with special difficulties.

The new MTC leadership couples participated in the weekly Tuesday night devotional at the Provo MTC, listening to Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund. The Renlunds met and spoke with seminar participants in a dinner prior to the devotional.

At left, a trio of leaders from the Peru Missionary Training Center — Julian Palacio, the manager of operations; President Terry L. Wade and Sister Gina Wade — pause from 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar to watch new missionaries arrive at the Provo MTC on Jan. 15, 2020, in Provo, Utah.
At left, a trio of leaders from the Peru Missionary Training Center — Julian Palacio, the manager of operations; President Terry L. Wade and Sister Gina Wade — pause from 2020 MTC Leadership Seminar to watch new missionaries arrive at the Provo MTC on Jan. 15, 2020, in Provo, Utah. Credit: Scott Taylor

The couples also watched as some 370 new missionaries arrived at the Provo MTC on Wednesday, Jan. 15 — being dropped off by family and friends, being greeted by host missionaries, being welcomed by the MTC presidency and being processed through prior to initial orientation.

Hands-on training included having the leadership couples go into MTC classrooms and teach principles and lead discussions with missionaries.