PROVO, Utah — With the Wednesday, June 23, reopening of in-person training at the Provo Missionary Training Center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is moving into a new phased approach to training its full-time missionaries, combining online and onsite instruction.
Leaders and staff of the Provo Missionary Training center welcomed the arrival of 248 elders and sisters, who will supplement their initial week of online training with two weeks of onsite classes, meetings, devotionals and other traditional MTC-hosted activities.
Closed to missionaries for the past 15 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the flagship Provo MTC and the nine other training centers worldwide became centers of virtual training, as new missionaries remained at home for instruction and language lessons via videoconferencing.
“We are grateful missionaries once again have the opportunity to be at the MTC to continue learning and developing side-by-side with other missionaries,” said Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy who is the Missionary Department’s executive director. “As MTC training transitioned online last year, it was remarkable to see the blessings to missionaries and their families as they prepared for full-time missionary service from home.
“In an effort to keep those inspired elements, these missionaries arriving at the MTC today actually began their training last week from home. This hybrid way of learning will continue for most missionaries arriving at MTCs now and in the future.”
This phased approach — with roughly a third of training online, even after MTCs return to full operations and capacities — will allow missionaries to continue to experience many of the positive elements of online instruction that have been realized during the pandemic period of training new missionaries.
“In some ways, it feels like we’re finally going back to MTC experiences, but in reality, we’re not going back,” said Kelend Mills, the Missionary Department’s administrative director of MTCs, as he watched carload after carload of families drop off arriving missionaries on the Provo campus.
“We’re going to leverage all the things we’ve learned using technology at home. And we’re going to add to that now an expanded, more experience-based, more personalized experience at the MTC and give missionaries the best possible start to their service.”
The past 15 months of virtual training taking the place of in-person instruction “was not something we would have chosen to do,” but still provided valuable experiences that the Missionary Department is wanting to sustain as part of a combined online/onsite training for missionaries, Mills said.
“They learn, they grow, they create relationships, they have the support of their family at home — there are so many good things about it. For us to be able to keep a portion of that — all the good pieces of missionaries receiving training at home — and then add to that this opportunity to come here on site and be together in groups, sing ‘Called to Serve’ and have in-person coaching from their teachers — it seems like the perfect fit.”
The Provo MTC is starting out with missionaries who are from the United States, fully vaccinated and serving English-speaking assignments. Spanish and Portuguese will be the first languages added at yet-determined dates, with other languages to follow.
The Ghana MTC reopens to onsite training Thursday, June 24, to approximately 50 new missionaries, with the New Zealand MTC scheduled for Thursday, July 1. Mills said the Mexico, England and Philippines MTCs have just been cleared to reopen for in-person training in late July and August.
While the missionaries were arriving at the Provo MTC campus for the first time, they benefited from the familiarity of having a week’s worth of videoconferencing with their teachers and their MTC district or classroom group, comprised of up to a dozen elders and sisters.
“They know their faces, they’ve already created relationships,” Mills said. “It’s going to be a wonderful way for them to begin their onsite experience.”
President Benson L. Porter and Sister Kerry Porter, the Provo MTC president and companion who began their calling in January, joined the entire MTC presidency in welcoming the arriving missionaries with a warm handshake — and sometimes an embrace.
“We’ve been waiting for months for this to happen, so our anticipation was really high,” President Porter said. “We finally have the missionaries here now — we’re excited, and we think this is going to be a great experience.”
Sister Porter said she saw faces filled with faith as she greeted arriving missionaries. “I see a lot of scared faces, but I see a lot of faith. We’re excited to get to know them and to send them off with the power of this facility and all that they can learn here.”
Mindful that the world is still gripped by the pandemic, President Porter saluted not just the faith to serve a mission but “the kind of faith to go and serve the Lord, even when the world is hurting.”
The missionaries expressed excitement and anticipation for their onsite training at the MTC.
“I thought I would be really nervous because usually I’m a really nervous person, but all I feel is being excited,” said Sister Kyla Mach of Kapolei, Hawaii, preparing to serve in the Nevada Reno Mission. She had to get up at 3:30 every morning for the first week of online training because of the time differences.
Elder Carston Brown of Centerville, Utah, assigned to the Washington DC North Mission, said he appreciated the online experience and awaited the in-person opportunities he had heard about from his father and friends who had trained at MTCs. “It’s an awesome blessing that we have the technology to continue learning about what we need to do when we’re not in-person, but being here at an actual MTC is a huge blessing for me,” he said.
And Sister Samantha Schwager, who is from Moscow, Idaho, and bound for the Jacksonville Florida Mission, called the week-long online training “a soft introduction.”
“I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to kind of lead into the MTC and to be able to talk to your family. I was able to talk to my parents about what was going on, what I was learning and about my concerns.”
By the numbers
- Full-time missionaries currently serving: 51,384
- Provo Missionary Training Center capacity: 3,700
- June 23, 2021, arrivals at the Provo MTC: 248
- Missionaries trained online through the Provo MTC from March 16, 2020, to June 23, 2021: 14,030
- Missionaries trained online through the other nine international MTCs from March 16, 2020, to June 23, 2021: 18,699
- New missionaries currently being trained online at the Provo MTC: 1,420
- New missionaries currently being trained online at the other nine MTCs: 1,346