“A Great Place to Learn,” New Era, June 2000, 33–36
Gospel doctrine, developing Christlike attributes, teaching by the Spirit, communication skills, a foreign language, mission rules—there’s so much to learn in just a few weeks. Ask missionaries about their study schedule at the MTC and they’re sure to answer it’s the most rigorous of their lives. “It’s like class, eat, class, eat, class, eat, class,” says Elder Joshua Spiers. “It’s really tough.”
But missionaries also say the payoffs are huge. “I’ve learned more in two months than I learned in two years of high school,” says Elder Peter Morgan.
The incredible amount of learning that takes place at the MTC isn’t just about hard work. From the power of the Holy Ghost to high-tech helps, many resources are available to help missionaries become the best they can be.
“Now is your time to prepare. It’s not easy. But as you strive to do what the Lord wants you to, it’s worthwhile. As teachers, we’re here to help you become servants of the Lord, to bring others unto Christ.” All eyes are intent on Sister Nina Bair, a recently returned missionary, as she encourages the class or “district” of elders and sisters.
Teachers, all of whom are returned missionaries, are one of the best resources for learning at the MTC. Not only do they teach gospel doctrine, missionary skills and attributes, the discussions, cultures, and languages; but they also encourage, strengthen testimonies, and share personal experiences from their missions. “Everyone would agree that we have really good teachers,” says Elder Jacob Calvert. “They love the gospel, have strong testimonies, and invite the Spirit. They love the people we’re going to serve and get us very excited for what we’re going out to do.”
The Training Resource Center
In a room filled with couches, end tables, and lamps, two slightly nervous missionaries talk with a Church member.
“Do you know anyone you’d like to share the gospel with?” asks Sister Marissa Johnstun.
“Uh, I’m not really sure,” answers the young woman.
The sisters look a little stumped and a lot self-conscious as the video camera in the corner continues to run.
In an adjoining room of the Training Resource Center (TRC), Elder Morgan furiously scribbles notes as he observes the sisters on a computer screen.
“Thank goodness we get a second try,” says Sister Katie Kondel as she and Sister Johnstun emerge from the classroom-turned-living-room. Elder Morgan gives encouraging pointers as the three replay the sisters’ video. “Next time try testifying a little more.”
The sisters head back for another try, this time looking more confident. As they share their testimonies, Elder Morgan cheers for them in the observation room. “Good job!” he says, clapping his hands.
Missionaries have TRC experiences like this every week, taking turns observing each other as they practice missionary situations they’ve learned about in class. The “investigators” or “members” are volunteers from the community.
“I enjoy it,” says Sister Kondel. “It’s good practice, and we need all the practice we can get! It helps to know what kinds of situations we’ll be in.”
The Call Center
When you’ve seen TV offers for free Church videos or copies of the Book of Mormon, ever wonder who takes those 1-800 calls? You guessed it—many are handled by missionaries in the MTC. Studies show that full-time missionaries are the most effective at obtaining phone referrals, and talking with nonmembers on the phone gives missionaries many opportunities to resolve concerns, bear testimony, and make appointments before they even arrive in the mission field. The referrals are then forwarded to the appropriate mission.
Speak Your Language
It’s no overstatement to say that learning a language in just a few weeks at the MTC is like trying to drink from a fire hose. “You’ll start picking up something and then wham! Something new hits you,” says Elder Morgan.
The instruction is intense from the start—missionaries are already praying in their mission language before the end of their first day of class. A program called Speak Your Language (SYL), in which missionaries are expected to use their new language constantly, helps them practice using what they’ve learned in class.
“We just kind of throw the sentences together and hope it makes sense,” laughs Sister Johnstun. “The teachers say it’ll come with practice.” Even though the SYL program is tough, it works.
“Although we have a hard time speaking the language and we can’t say very much, we can explain that we have a message, we can bear our testimony, we can say a prayer. Two weeks ago, we could never have done that,” says Elder Calvert.
Technology-Assisted Language Learning
On a computer screen, Elder Eric Bennett watches two Brazilian missionaries teaching a discussion in Portuguese. With a click of his mouse he brings up the text of the discussion so he can read along as the Brazilians speak. He clicks on a “record” icon, does his best to imitate the Portuguese into his microphone, then plays the recording back, comparing it to native speech.
These are just a few of the tools missionaries can use with a state-of-the-art computer program now available in Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and English As a Second Language. (Other language programs are being developed.) Missionaries enjoy using Technology-Assisted Language Learning (TALL) for two to three hours daily because it lets them hear and watch native speakers, work on principles they need to practice individually, and progress at their own pace.
With all the learning resources at the MTC, missionaries agree the Spirit is the best teacher of all. “If we study, the Lord blesses us with the Spirit, and it teaches us,” says Elder Morgan. “I think that’s the main reason we learn so much here.”
And missionaries say that the Spirit is the most important lesson of the MTC. Spiritual experiences range from weekly devotional meetings with Prophets, Apostles, and other General Authorities, to individual and group scripture study and prayer, to weekly trips to the temple. “I mean, we’ve learned the language a little bit, but the biggest thing is the spiritual growth that we’ve had here. Every day is full of spiritual experiences,” says Sister Kathryn Sevy.