Beyond Provo
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“Beyond Provo,” New Era, June 2000, 43–44

Special Issue: Your Mission

Beyond Provo

True or False: All missionaries called to serve using a second language study that language for two months in the Provo Missionary Training Center. It may surprise you, but if you guessed “true,” you’re wrong.

In 1977, the first MTC outside of Provo was opened in São Paulo, Brazil, for the training of South American missionaries. Since then, missionary training centers have been established all over the earth, in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, England, and Spain.

For years these international MTCs have been instrumental in training local missionaries throughout the world. Today, they’re also beginning to bless the lives of North American missionaries called to serve in the areas in which the MTCs are located.

Since November of 1998, all North American missionaries called to Brazil are sent to the Brazil MTC in São Paulo for the second month of their training. Because of the success of this “phased training” program in Brazil, similar programs have also been adopted at MTCs in Lima, Peru; and Madrid, Spain. Additionally, all missionaries called to serve in Great Britain go directly to the MTC in Preston, England. Although the integrated program was originally thought of as a solution to overcrowding in the Provo MTC, it has also been successful in better training missionaries and has revolutionized the MTC experience.

A new program

In a pilot study in Brazil, mission presidents there reported that missionaries trained in the phased learning program were more confident and better prepared to serve the minute they arrived in the mission field, and that culture shock went down while language skills went up.

Missionaries in international MTCs still have an experience similar to that in Provo: weekly devotionals with Area and General Authorities, trips to the temple, gym time, identical curriculum and Technology-Assisted Language Learning, and the same support services. But beyond the similarities, there are major advantages.

Speaking the language

When English-speaking missionaries enter the Brazil MTC, they have no choice but to speak Portuguese—their roommates, teachers, and support staff are Brazilian. “In Provo we’d practice our Portuguese, but we could always fall back on English. Now, we’re with people who don’t speak any English at all,” says Elder Jacob Calvert. “Every day we realize how much farther we’ve got to go, so people are a lot more committed to learning the language.”

Although the language barrier is challenging, North American and Brazilian missionaries also say it’s a lot of fun trying to talk with each other in the cafeteria, in their dorm rooms, in the gym, and in occasional combined classes. “Even on our first day here, we were actually able to carry on a conversation with a Brazilian in the cafeteria line,” says Sister Kathryn Sevy. “He was going really slow for us, but it was so exciting to realize that what we learned in Provo actually works!”

Classes

Teachers at the Brazil MTC are Brazilian returned missionaries, many of whom also speak some English. Here, all classes are conducted in Portuguese, although teachers will occasionally explain some things in English if missionaries appear confused. In spite of the increased level of difficulty in class, missionaries say they love having Brazilian teachers. “They’re able to explain the language better since they’re native speakers,” says Sister Sevy.

Another big advantage in classes here is that after English-speaking missionaries learn a new task such as making a contact, teaching a principle, or making a return appointment, they combine for practice with a Brazilian class that has been learning the same principle. Whereas in Provo the missionaries would have “role-played” with each other in broken Portuguese, they are now able to practice with a true Brazilian and receive accurate feedback.

Decreased culture shock

Culture shock is typical for anyone who moves to a new country, but the Brazil MTC makes the transition much easier for new missionaries. “It’s almost like a halfway point between the American culture and the Brazilian culture,” says Brazil MTC President James Palmer. “It helps them make an easier transition.”

Not only are North Americans and Brazilians able to become accustomed to living together, but North Americans are also able to experience Brazilian food, market places, and shopping during weekly outings. All missionaries in the MTC also go team teaching once a week with missionaries serving in one of the São Paulo missions. “The missionaries are able to go out into the ‘real world’ and then come back and talk about their experiences with their teachers and ask questions about things they need to improve on,” says President Palmer. “So by the time they enter the mission field, they’re ready.”

Mutual appreciation

Of all the advantages of the integrated MTC program, perhaps the greatest of all is the mutual love and respect that develop between the missionaries of different cultures. Talk to North American missionaries, and they’ll tell you Brazilians are the warmest people they’ve ever met and say how much they appreciate their patient help with the language and culture.

Talk to Brazilians, many of whom are recent converts, and they’ll say how much fun the Americans are and how they’re able to learn doctrine, policy, and leadership skills from missionaries who’ve known the Church all their lives. “I tell the North Americans that they are going to have a major effect on the leadership of the Church in Brazil,” says President Palmer, “because many of the Brazilian missionaries with whom they serve will be called as bishops, high councilors, stake mission leaders, and stake presidents within a few years after their missions.”

Maybe it’s the way the Brazilian sisters run to the front of the MTC to hug and kiss the new incoming North American sisters. Maybe it’s the way the elders love to trade their American and Brazilian ties. Whatever the case, the love that exists between the two cultures seems to fill the MTC, and by the time they leave here, all missionaries are better prepared to understand and get along well with their future companions. And North American missionaries develop a deep love for the Brazilian people before they even enter the field.

Here to stay

Considering these successes, it appears that the integrated MTC program is here to stay. As the number of missionaries increases in the future, it’s likely that more and more missionaries will be sent to MTCs in the areas in which they will serve. “I think it’s the wave of the future,” says President Palmer. “It’s making a major difference in the lives of missionaries, and we’re only beginning to see the results.”