“The First Day,” New Era, June 2000, 30–33
When Elder Dallin Ashley opened his mission call at his home in Fruit Heights, Utah, and read the words “Australia Melbourne Mission,” he immediately began thinking of the things he knew about Australia, which, admittedly, wasn’t much.
He thought about living in a different hemisphere. He thought of how it would be summer in Melbourne when it was winter in his Utah home. He even thought about kangaroos.
One thing he didn’t think about was a traffic jam in Provo, Utah.
Yet there is Elder Ashley on August 11 of last year, sitting in a car on 900 East with his mother and grandparents. This is how his mission is beginning—waiting behind a long line of cars all going to the same place: the Missionary Training Center.
Joining the masses
Each Wednesday, between 400 and 800 young men and women come to the Provo MTC to begin their missions and receive instruction about how to become effective missionaries. Most of those learning a language will be there for approximately eight weeks. For those like Elder Ashley who require no language instruction, their stays are between two and three weeks.
On this day, Elder Ashley is one of 488 missionaries entering the MTC.
Many of the 488 are milling around, waiting for the orientation session to begin. “I’m ready,” he says to his mom. “This is going to be great.”
Each week there are usually five or six orientations, depending on the number of missionaries scheduled to enter the MTC. The 12:30 orientation, the one Elder Ashley is attending, is the first of the day, with missionaries, along with family, spending their last moments together. By 3:30, the final orientation will have begun, and the lobby will be silent.
But now it’s a cacophony of noise and wall-to-wall people. Three things are a given in the lobby area of the MTC in the early afternoon on Wednesdays: lots of young men in dark suits, lots of picture-taking, and teary-eyed moms and dads—not necessarily in that order.
Elder Ashley is three for three in that department. His grandpa has already snapped a lot of photos, and Elder Ashley’s mom’s eyes are glistening. Dressed in his new suit and crisp, white shirt, Elder Ashley puts his arm around Mom for another picture, looking very much the part of a missionary.
Before long, Elder Ashley and his family walk into a large room where Homefront commercials are playing on several TV screens. The Church-produced spots about the importance of families make everybody feel good and seem to momentarily take their minds off what will happen in about 30 minutes. The room quickly fills up, with Elder Ashley seated on the fourth row. The meeting begins with the congregation singing “Called to Serve.” A sister missionary offers the opening prayer, and then Sister Kay Edman, wife of Missionary Training Center President W. Brent Edman, spends a few moments talking about what the missionaries can expect during their stay. She emphasizes that every minute of every day is accounted for and that the MTC is a great place to learn. “You’ll be amazed at how busy you’ll be in class. But you will get breaks in your day by going to lots of meetings,” she says with a smile.
The “lots of meetings” line is followed by lots of laughter.
She finishes by talking about service opportunities on the MTC campus, weekly devotionals with General Authorities, and trips to the nearby Provo Utah Temple to go along with the hours and hours of class time. Elder Ashley turns and smiles at his grandparents. So far so good.
President Edman then seconds much of what his wife has said. “Many of you have heard about the rigorous demands of the MTC, and many of you may be worried about that. Those are the very things that will be a blessing in your lives,” he says. “The MTC experience is a time of preparation. Blessings come while you’re here, but your experience will sometimes be very taxing.”
Elder Ashley thinks back to earlier in the day when he carried his two stuffed-full suitcases in from the car. His shoulders ache, and he doesn’t disagree with his mission president’s last statement.
Time to say good-bye
Once the meeting ends, missionaries are instructed to go out one door, while family members are escorted through another. Maybe everything else is new to Elder Ashley. This moment, however, he’s prepared for. He knows he’s going to leave his family for two years, and this is where it starts. After several hugs and a few more tears, Elder Ashley walks out the door. His mission is underway.
Even though he was set apart as a missionary the night before, he figures it became official when he signed in and received his name tag. “Elder Ashley,” he says, reading his badge. “Looks pretty good.”
As the new missionaries stand in a line, the “Hi, how are you?” salutation is replaced with “Where are you going, Elder?”
The answers—“Chicago; Osaka, Japan; and Lima, Peru”—are varied, which isn’t surprising. After all, this is the MTC.
Elder Ashley sits down and fills out a personal information sheet and looks through a packet of papers that include his mailbox number, his branch president’s name, and his dorm assignment.
With that safely in hand, Elder Ashley follows one of the MTC’s many volunteer guides, who directs him down the hall to another room. There he notices the other missionaries have removed their suit jackets. He then spots two nurses standing in the middle of the room.
“Shots,” he says.
Actually, just one. A hepatitis-B booster. If it hurt, nobody could tell. Although his gritted-teeth smile suggests it probably did.
“Glad that’s over,” he adds while rebuttoning his shirt sleeve.
After he picks up his books and other materials from the bookstore, he heads to his dorm in the Rey L. Pratt building, room 337.
There to greet him is Elder Michael Harker from Magrath, Alberta, Canada. Elder Harker is already unpacking. Elder Ashley won’t meet his companion, Elder Michael Tanner, and another roommate, Elder Michael Stowell, until a couple of hours later. Fortunately, all four are known as “Elder” because with three Michaels, “Dallin” doesn’t quite fit.
Once he retrieves his luggage from the lobby area, he goes back to his dorm to unpack. Dinner is at five o’clock, and another orientation meeting with his branch president follows. Elder Ashley quickly learns that Sister Edman was right.
The first day of his mission is over. It was long and tiring but very rewarding. “I’m finally a missionary. It’s hard to believe,” he says.
So much happened that it’s difficult for him to remember everything. But there’s not much time to think about that. Lights must be out by 10:30, and Elder Ashley isn’t complaining.