“Sprouting the Seed (The MTC: Part Two)” New Era, Nov. 1983, 32
The story of the Missionary Training Center is, above all else, a success story. For many young men and women, this place provides the greatest success experience of their lives. Almost everyone who comes here accomplishes more than he or she thought possible, both in increased knowledge and accelerated personal growth. It is a place where miracles happen in minds and hearts. It is a place where some elders and sisters get their first breathtaking glimpse of their own infinite possibilities. Everyone here, from the president down, is totally committed to the task of helping missionaries succeed.
“I hope that regardless of what a missionary’s abilities may be, we can take everyone who arrives here and make a missionary out of him or her,” says President Joe Christensen, president of the MTC when this article was written. “Our goal is not to weed them out, but to be sure that everyone who comes gets out on a mission and hopefully has a good one. Well over 99 percent of the missionaries who come here get into the mission field. Some of those who don’t make it leave because of health problems and later return to serve a mission. Most of the rest leave by their own choice, although we encourage them to remain and finish their missions. That represents a tremendous rate of success.
“No one is ever sent home simply because he doesn’t measure up academically. Nor do we change a missionary’s assignment just because he has trouble learning a language. We have ways of working with those who have learning difficulties. Spirituality, not academic brilliance, is really at the heart of whether or not a missionary is successful. Our number one priority is to send out missionaries who can teach by the Spirit.”
Although academic achievement is not the main purpose of the MTC, its academic credentials are impressive. Internationally recognized as one of the best language training facilities in the world, it synthesizes the very best of modern training techniques into an unexcelled curriculum.
The approach to teaching here is totally positive. If a missionary seems to be having a hard time learning, he is given tests to determine his learning strengths rather than his learning weaknesses. MTC research has established that each person has different circumstances under which he learns best. For example, some people memorize better silently and some orally. Some learn best from printed materials and others from recorded materials. Some learn best in small bites. Others need a broad overview. Once the MTC staff has determined a missionary’s learning strengths, they can tailor a learning program to his or her individual needs. This not only leads to unprecedented success for the missionary, but provides a lifelong key for future learning. Research continues constantly as the MTC works to provide the finest training for young people who undertake one of the most important assignments in the world.
The MTC staff can relate story after story of missionaries who overcame learning problems to become outstanding missionaries. A few of these could hardly read. Others had learning disorders. Some left the MTC knowing few discussions but enjoyed outstanding success in the mission field. Most missionaries do not experience serious difficulties in learning, but it is comforting to know that even those who do can succeed. Experience has shown that if a missionary keeps the commandments and works hard, he or she really cannot fail.
Allen C. Ostergar, administrative director, comments, “We have many visitors come here, most of whom are not even members of the Church. They want to see how we do it. They see missionaries out in the world, and they’re impressed. They want to see how we train these outstanding young men and women. We’ve had many people from universities all over the world. We’ve had government officials from state departments, from the United States government, from many other governments. We’ve had people from other churches. We’ve had people from the Vatican. We’ve had people from the Church of the Nazarene. We’ve had Baptists and Methodists. We’ve had military personnel here to see how we train in languages. Once a group of five high-ranking military officers from the Pentagon visited us. They were responsible for the language training of military units in the United States. They spent two days visiting classes, talking to missionaries, reviewing our materials. At the end of the time they said, ‘We’d like to contract with you to train our people here.’
“We told them that wouldn’t work, of course, and then they asked us a lot of questions. First of all they asked the same question that everybody who comes here asks. ‘How do you do it? What is it about these young people that makes them do what they do? We don’t understand it.’ And then thoughts like ‘testimony,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ go though your mind—things some of these people don’t understand very well. Those are the things that make all the difference.
“We have a beautiful facility. We have a great training system. And then you add to this the great spirit of missionary work and the Spirit of the Lord, and there’s no way a missionary can fail if he’ll do his part.”
Much of the credit for the phenomenal success of the MTC can go to the staff. Under the direction of a very small but highly trained and dedicated full-time staff, some 600 to 700 part-time teachers and zone coordinator/trainers carry on the work. These teachers and trainers are for the most part recently returned missionaries who have shown exceptional ability and devotion to the missionary cause. “We’re very selective in the teachers who come here,” says director of English training, George T. Taylor. “We expect them to be talented, energetic, motivated, testifying men and women. We have a very small full-time training staff and a very large corps of part-time people. With the Lord’s help, these supposedly ‘amateur’ teachers accomplish miracles every day.”
The staff at the MTC do not think of their work as “just another job.” They all seem to have a sense of mission. “Every day of my life I thank the Lord for my presence here,” Elder Taylor says. “It’s such an honor and a privilege for me to be here. I’ve tried to prepare myself professionally to work here, but it’s just overwhelming to me to even think that I have a place here. I have a great sense of awe about this place. I feel it’s a great privilege and honor to serve the missionaries. I hope I can be worthy to do it.” Mary Ellen Edmunds, who is in charge of welfare services training, agrees. “This is a holy place, and you can feel that when you work here. You want to add to it. We’re working with 2,000 people who have been set apart as servants of the Lord. You can’t take that lightly. You don’t speak lightly of the Lord’s anointed.”
“There is a spirit in the MTC which cannot be ignored,” Elder Taylor says. “With all our feeble efforts to do what we’ve been called to do, I sense a great force here moving things along, helping people to do the things that should be done, directing the curriculum and development and research and training. There’s an overwhelming influence here that we don’t always see, but as you look back over the pike, where we’ve gone and where we’ve come, you can see that there’s a sustained guiding hand directing the programs here. It’s moving us upward constantly.”
The Missionary Training Center seems to be one of those privileged places on this earth where the influence of the Holy Spirit is felt most strongly. Thousands of missionaries have had sacred spiritual experiences too personal to share. Many have testified that the seen and the unseen world come close together here and often seem to overlap. Nowhere on earth, except perhaps in the temples, is a work proceeding more vital to the Lord’s plans and less agreeable to the adversary.
All the ingredients for happiness are here. Righteousness, a lofty goal, and love. “I love these missionaries like my own children,” President Christensen says. “In some cases the ones I’ve gotten to know the best are the ones who are the farthest from where they ought to be, but they make it! If there’s anything that’s right at the heart of the experience here, it’s the great love and appreciation we have for the missionaries.”
It’s not surprising that it is a joyful experience for most missionaries. “Missionaries have a lot of fun here,” President Christensen continues. “Just walk through the buildings and you’ll see a very happy people. They’re smiling. They’re up. They’re exhilarated. There’s a very strong feeling that they’re doing something that’s very important. They enjoy it. You can’t apply the principles of the gospel in your life without enjoying it. Many of these young men and women are happier than they’ve ever been in their lives. I hear that from them every day.
“My main hope is that everyone leaves here with an increased testimony of the gospel and an increased spent of their calling as a missionary. I hope that they are anxious to get out and do the work, that we have helped their self-image and their feeling of ability to do the work. I hope that when they get off the plane they have adequate skills so that they can actually teach, whether in English or in another language.
“It’s a bit like sprouting a seed. Sister Christensen and I have a little plot of ground where we plant corn, and we’ve discovered that if we sprout it before we plant it, it comes up faster. In some ways, this is the setting where the seed is sprouted. So when missionaries leave here they should be ready to be put in the fertile soil of their missions. The mission president and his wife will receive them and put them in that fertile soil. and they’ll grow very well and very rapidly. We don’t claim that we do everything here. A lot occurs m the mission field. We don’t have them very long. But if we can get them in the right environment where they literally start to sprout, they’ll grow very well when they get out there.”
All around the world you can find the fruits of the seeds that were sprouted here, a rich harvest that will bless the earth for the rest of eternity.
1. Gospel Study and Spirituality.
All missionaries are encouraged to increase their understanding of the gospel and their sensitivity to the Spirit. They are assisted in—
Obtaining knowledge of basic Church doctrines.
Strengthening their testimonies of Jesus Christ.
Developing faith that results in good works.
Seeking and receiving divine assistance through prayer and fasting.
Increasing personal worthiness.
While they are at the Missionary Training Center, the missionaries—
Read as much of the Book of Mormon as they can.
Read the missionary pamphlets.
Learn missionary scripture references.
Attend the temple once a week.
Attend devotionals, at which General Authorities speak.
Attend regular Sunday services.
Attend a midweek branch meeting each week.
Receive counsel from a branch president.
Attend one mission conference.
Receive instruction from the mission presidency.
Learn to perform priesthood ordinances.
Attend gospel study classes.
2. Proselyting Skills. This training helps each missionary develop skills in finding people whom the Lord has prepared, teaching them the gospel, helping them experience conversion through the workings of the Spirit, and baptizing them into the Church. In order to develop these skills, the missionaries—
Learn basic methods for finding potential converts.
Learn to teach the gospel using the missionary discussions.
Learn scriptures that support the missionary discussions.
Learn basic teaching skills, including teaching with love and preparing investigators for conversion by the Spirit.
3. Personal Development. This training helps each missionary develop a positive self-image and enhances his well-being through the following programs:
Physical fitness. Each missionary attends fitness classes, in which he stretches, builds strength, and develops cardiovascular endurance. For relaxation, free-play time is also provided.
Ambassadorship. Each missionary receives training in cross-cultural communication skills, such as tolerance, empathy, and coping with change.
Special personal helps. Each missionary receives instruction in such matters as manners, clothing, hygiene, nutrition, weight control, and English usage. Lady missionaries receive training in make-up, hair care, and poise.
Safety. Missionaries receive training in defensive driving, bicycle safety, and the safe use of gas heaters.
4. Language and Culture. This training helps missionaries who will need basic conversational abilities in a second language. In addition, both English-speaking and second-language missionaries are taught about specific cultural norms and expectations of the people among whom they will serve.
5. Missionaries with Additional Assignments. In addition to the basic proselyting assignment of all missionaries, missionary couples and some lady missionaries may be assigned a variety of other duties that help establish the Church and perfect the Saints. For these missionaries, training may also be given in the following:
Leadership and member work
Mission office staff
Second-language missionaries train for eight weeks, English-language missionaries for two. During their stay at the MTC, the missionaries’ training time is spent as follows:
Language and Culture
American Sign Language
English (as a second language)
Because of the publicity given to the outstanding language-training program at the MTC, it is possible to forget that the majority of missionaries who train here have been called to English-language missions both in the United States and Canada and many lands over the sea.
George Taylor, director of English training, says, “Some missionaries have felt that if they’re assigned to an English-speaking mission, they’re less important than non-English-language missionaries, or that they won’t have as much opportunity for service or developing their talents. A few may come in here saying, ‘Oh, I’m only going to North Dakota or Arizona.’ That changes mighty fast! Great blessings come with each inspired call, and they soon know that their own call is inspired. By the time they leave here they say, ‘I know that is exactly where the Lord wants me to be.’ English-speaking missionaries are not just selected from those who couldn’t learn a language. They are sharp, intelligent men and women who are going exactly where the Lord needs them.
“There are also some special blessings that come from an English-speaking mission. Among them are the opportunity to study the gospel in depth in your own language, to really get into the scriptures and learn the beautiful principles of the gospel with no language barrier, and to get acquainted with other places in this great land and other lands of the English-speaking world.”
The emphasis in the English-language program is on teaching skills. “Our major concern is not so much that missionaries learn discussions, but that they learn how to teach. We feel it’s more important that missionaries learn how to teach the gospel with flexibility and spirituality than it is simply to memorize dialogue and be able to spew out some mechanical, rote, memorized presentation. So we have a major training emphasis on teaching skills. We try to help them learn how to ask questions to find out what their investigators are thinking and feeling and then to respond to these concerns and problems. They must become sensitive to the needs and feelings of investigators. They must learn to teach with the Spirit of the Lord. They should present a very effective, fluent, confident discussion, but be willing to stop that discussion at any point when they sense that there’s something wrong in the discussion or that the investigator has a question.”
The Missionary Training Center is a very large and complicated operation. In addition to the training programs, it offers many services to the missionaries that make it a self-contained little world. These include a travel department (hundreds of missionaries fly to all parts of the world each week), a post office, a laundry, a cafeteria, a bookstore, a copy center, a gymnasium, a health center, and a dry cleaner.
In addition to the Missionary Training Center in Provo there are six area missionary training centers in operation. They are located in Tokyo, Japan; Hamilton, New Zealand; Mexico City, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; Manila, the Philippines; and São Paulo, Brazil. These centers train only in the native language of the missionaries, and their training period varies from five to 14 days.