What do full-time missionaries themselves have to say about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ new training program, where most new missionaries will be online for the first third of their training, then travel to an MTC for the remaining two-thirds?
The Church News recently asked more than a dozen training missionaries — in their homes, at the missionary training centers, via email and in-person conversations — to share for future new missionaries what they are learning from their experiences.
“My highlight so far is how my relationship with my companion was able to build and grow even though it’s behind a screen,” said Sister Caira Inano Iau Aniterea, from Auckland, New Zealand, during her online training prior to serving in the Australia Adelaide Mission.
“We were able to feel unified as one even though it wasn’t in person. I’ve learned so much from my companion, and I have felt my testimony grow each day.”
Not only that relationship has grown, but so has Sister Aniterea’s relationship with her Heavenly Father, she added. “I’ve been able to read more from the Book of Mormon and communicate to Him through prayer. I know He loves me and is guiding me through this journey.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of missionary training centers worldwide in March 2020, the Church transitioned its training of new missionaries to online instruction, often referred to as “home MTC.”
The online training originated from the Church’s 10 MTCs worldwide, with missionaries meeting — via videoconferencing — their companions, instructors and other new missionaries in classroom groups or “districts.”
With MTCs resuming on-site training in June 2020, most new missionaries begin their training online at home for a third of their training, then travel to an MTC for the remaining two-thirds of their training. The phased approach allows missionaries to continue to experience many of the positive elements of online training that have been realized during the pandemic period of training new missionaries.
Elder Jake Robert Orr, a new missionary training from his Draper, Utah, home while learning Spanish and prepping to serve in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission, said whenever he had a great lesson online, he wanted to run and immediately tell his family all about it.
“I have loved getting to tell stories and share special moments in the online MTC with my family — I think my parents have enjoyed it as well,” he said. “It’s great being able to share with your family what you are learning, and they are able to witness the process of being a missionary right in front of their eyes.”
Online MTC training at home helps with adjusting to missionary life, he added. “It’s also great to adjust to the schedule and be able to eat the food that you normally eat and sleep in the place that you normally sleep while you get used to the expectations and routines of missionaries.”
Below are responses from missionaries from the United States, Africa and New Zealand who were participating in online and on-site training. Reponses have been edited for length and clarity.
How were you personally influenced by your MTC training experiences?
“My MTC trainers were very good. They taught us very well and shared personal experiences that helped us know a lot about mission life. I didn’t really like writing in my journal, but now I write everything I feel and know in it — I know it will help me one day. I have learned how to search the scriptures diligently and how to use them to answer questions.” — Elder Daniel Ankonu Abeo Jr., from Accra, Ghana; Nigeria Benin City Mission
“I have grown to love the gospel more. I have acquired skills in finding and teaching people easily. I have learned how to love and forgive people willingly and freely. I have learned to be patient and disciplined. I have also learned how to help people without being asked to do so.” — Sister Elizabeth Ann Adwoa Adjabeng, from Koforidua, Ghana; Ghana Cape Coast Mission
How would you summarize your online portion of new missionary training?
“At-home MTC has taken the edge off of a tough transition. Studying the scriptures and ‘Preach My Gospel‘ for hours a day, along with classes and learning Spanish, is pretty mentally and spiritually exhausting. However, it has been an amazing growing experience, and being at home with my family has helped me acclimate to missionary life in a less drastic way.” — Elder Jarom Michael Moody, from Frederick, Maryland; Massachusetts Boston Mission (Spanish)
“After over a year of online learning experience, I can honestly say I saw an exponential increase in what I have been able to learn and retain from Zoom calls. I attribute this difference to the high quality of teachers and curriculum at the MTC as well as the Spirit that I have been able to feel every day.” — Sister Sophia Zana Roser, from Foster City, California; Washington D.C. North Mission (Spanish)
“My home MTC experience has been very overwhelming at times — physically, mentally and spiritually. But I have felt comforted by my family and Heavenly Father throughout my entire time in the home MTC.” — Sister Tayah Alisi-Lynn Langi, from Sandy, Utah; California Arcadia Mission
What is it like to ‘connect’ with a companion, district and instructors first online, and does that help with the transition to on-site training at the MTC?
“Being able to ‘connect’ and to counsel with my district, companion and teachers has been truly eye-opening. I get to learn on a level that is so profound that the Spirit is able to teach me the teachings of the gospel to be true. I feel like I’ve known my district for a long time, and learning the gospel has truly strengthened my testimony.” — Elder Kaliopasi Sam Niupalau, from Nampa, Idaho; California San Jose Mission
“Everyone knows it’s typically harder to form relationships online, so both me and my companion worked that much harder to connect and spend time with each other. The same goes for my district and instructors. We were all able to get close, because we all knew we had to try harder to make it work through Zoom.” — Sister Roser, Washington D.C. North Mission
“It has been great being able to connect with my district first online because now I just feel anticipation to see them all in person instead of being put into a classroom with people I don’t know.” — Elder Clinton Calvert Allen Jr, from Chandler, Arizona; Maryland Baltimore Mission (Spanish)
What has been an online training highlight?
“One of the best blessings from being involved in at-home MTC is the district you are placed in. We are all representatives of Christ, and we grow together through prayer, studies and shared testimony. Different time zones are a sacrifice, but it’s one that we are willing to make for our missions as representatives of Jesus Christ. Being home for online training is a blessing as well. You are able to spend time with your eternal family as they watch you grow into who Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want you to be. They see your example and the commitment you have made to be a missionary for the true Church.” — Sister Savannah Michele Araya, from Chesterfield, Missouri; Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission (Spanish)
“Learning from some amazing teachers. I never understood that effective teaching is a conversation with someone and listening — not just me doing all the talking.” — Sister Audrey Ruth Morgenegg, from Knoxville, Tennessee; Arizona Tucson Mission
“I have realized that I can study for myself, and I’m challenged to learn more when I speak with other missionaries. I feel there’s more to learn every day and I’m doing my best.” — Sister Adjabeng, Ghana Cape Coast Mission
“One highlight I’ve had in at-home MTC is meeting with my friends and letting them see me in the MTC. I have loved talking to people about my experiences. I loved wearing my missionary tag when I saw my friends and family. And I think it’s cool that they have gotten to see me as a missionary in person!” — Sister Langi, California Arcadia Mission
“The missionary workshops at the beginning of each day have been amazing. The messages have been uplifting and just what us new missionaries need. Additionally, the chat has been both inspiring and engaging, with missionaries sharing insightful comments and quotes.” — Elder Moody, Massachusetts Boston Mission
And what has been an unexpected surprise in online training?
“Definitely the workload. If you do all that is asked of you and are obedient to the assignments, it can take 11-12 hours in a day. That being said, it also surprised me that I want to do the work to make me a better disciple of our Heavenly Father.” — Elder Orr, North Carolina Raleigh Mission
“My pleasant surprise is that I never expected my teachers to be so nice and caring. They help me learn so much and so fast.” — Sister Constance Mwansa Lukopesha, from Lusaka, Zambia; Kenya Nairobi Mission
“I prayed that I would be able to see my companion the way the Savior sees her, and it absolutely worked. We’re on Zoom, and yet I can’t wait to meet her and my district and see where we go from there.” — Sister Elizabeth Wheatley, from Jefferson, South Dakota; Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission
How have you involved parents and family in your online training, and what have been the benefits of starting your training at home?
“My family have been involved during my at-home MTC experience, and they were able to make our home a place where the Spirit is able to dwell as I learn and prepare myself to become an instrument in the Lord’s hands.” — Sister Aniterea, Australia Adelaide Mission
“I have been able to share with my family what I learned in devotionals, classes and workshops and I feel that it helps bring the Spirit more into our home.” — Elder Allen, Maryland Baltimore Mission
“You get to see your family when you aren’t in classes and to share the material that you’ve learned in classes and studies with them. They see your shining example and see the change in you, thus, strengthening the Spirit in the home. Starting in at-home MTC is a benefit to ease into missionary work and life while still having the support of your family.” — Sister Araya, Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission
“There are a lot of invitations to involve our family in our training. From sharing what we have been learning to introducing ourselves in Spanish to them, we have had numerous opportunities to make them a part of the experience. One of the biggest benefits of at home MTC is seeing my family. It separates being a missionary from leaving your family. I have been able to train without any homesickness, and that lets me become a more effective missionary.” — Elder Moody, Massachusetts Boston Mission
“I have the opportunity to talk with my family about the teachings that I’ve learned, and I get to counsel with my parents about the MTC and to talk about their experiences.” — Elder Niupalau, California San Jose Mission
How does on-site training help create a good start for missionary service and how can a new missionary prepare for that training?
“The instructors at the MTC are the best — they teach the training missionaries to understand and to be ready. New missionaries will have to be willing to learn; then it will be a good start for them.” — Sister Adjabeng, Ghana Cape Coast Mission
“I had heard the MTC is a beautiful place — that they eat every day and that it is comfortable. It is important to be punctual and prepare yourself with gospel understanding before coming to the MTC.” — Elder Joseph Yemeh Bangura, from Freetown, Sierra Leone; Ghana Kumasi Mission
“My advice is to prepare as much as you can. Missionary work does not begin in the mission field or at the MTC — it begins at home. Study your scriptures, work with the missionaries in your home ward. That way, you will be able to adjust, learn quickly and be ready and prepared.” — Sister Lukopesha, Kenya Nairobi Mission