The Missionary Training Center
I hated the MTC.
To be fair, it’s really not a terrible place. Besides, you should take my input with a grain of salt – there are a number of MTC campuses outside of the United States now, which are likely vastly different from the MTC in Provo, UT.
Heck, it’s been years since I was at the MTC myself. The Provo MTC of 2005 is probably different from the Provo MTC of today.
(The world changes quickly, after all. When I got home from my mission, just two years after living in the MTC, I visited a close friend who wanted to show me this cool thing called YouTube that went big while I was away. I was impressed by the fact that there were moving advertisements in the sidebar…)
When I say “hate,” I guess I don’t really mean hate hate. Perhaps I was just ready to get to work, and I saw the MTC as an obstacle to get through before I was let loose.
Let me share some of my experiences during my three weeks at the MTC.
Everyone at the MTC is really nice.
It’s probably because you have thousands of fragile teenagers who’ve just left mommy for the first time, and the slightest bump could send them over the edge. Especially on day 1, there are lots of smiles. Walking in I was met by a smiling army of old men and women with seam rippers, helping the missionaries with the threads that still sewed most of our coat pockets shut. I was then shown to my dorm room, a large room with four small desks and two bunk bed sets. I left my suitcases there and effectively “started” my mission.
The smiles don’t really fade, but it gets fairly rigorous quite quickly (this in itself may be a strategy to stave off homesickness).
We were expected to wake at 6:30am each day. Before dressing in our suits and ties and heading down to breakfast, we would shower using what we affectionately called “the tree of life,” a single pole with six or eight shower heads.
I was not a fan.
But early mornings and awkward showers aside, I didn’t mind the rigorous schedule. I learned a great deal in those three weeks, going 90 MPH like we did. Most of the hours until lights-out at 10:30pm were spent in study. I studied mostly the scriptures and teaching techniques outlined in the new (at the time) Preach My Gospel, though foreign-bound missionaries would spend time studying their mission’s language (foreign-bound missionaries also spend much longer than three weeks in the MTC, and may stay months depending on the difficulty of their language). Sometimes we were in class with a teacher (a recently returned missionary who is employed by the MTC), and sometimes our study was self-directed.
Much like in the musical, we would often do role-plays. Sometimes we would role-play with each other or with our teacher. Other times, we would role-play with non-missionary volunteers from Provo (mostly BYU students). Again, everyone was very nice.
It’s a lot of study. It was mind-numbing at times, but it was also wonderful to learn so much.
While “study” is by far the most common thing we did, there were other activities to break up the monotony.There was time each day for exercise, for example. Since it was winter, our “exercise” was pretty much “basketball” (I’m awful at basketball, by the way), though there is a sports field for warm months of the year. I attended the Provo temple once a week. On Sunday nights we had firesides, and heard from visiting General Authorities. Once a week we had “P-day” (“preparation day”) where we would write letters or do laundry.
And how can I not talk about the cafeteria?! I thought it was awesome. There may be some with more refined palettes than mine that got tired of it, but, boy, did I get fat off bottomless chocolate milk. It didn’t hurt that I’d just spent a semester eating basically the same food from my dorm cafeteria (the Morris Center… how I miss you).
I was a missionary in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission from March 2005 to February 2007. Because it’s, you know, Hawaii, I packed “warm.” I didn’t expect to use my snow-coat in Honolulu, and I figured I could tough it out for the three February weeks I spent in Provo prior to being sent to the “field.”
I definitely got a cold.
In my defense, the MTC is really just a big Petri dish (I’m talking cruise-ship- or airplane-level breeding ground for germs and disease). With the way they pack people in there, it gets a little disgusting. Rooms achieve an alarming relative-humidity simply from day-to-day occupancy.
(It’s probably a miracle more people don’t die from raging epidemics while there. Seriously. When the zombie apocalypse happens, my money’s on it breaking out in the MTC.)
I also hated the “proselyting” that missionaries had to do in the call-center.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen a pass-along card before. It has a pretty picture on one side, and on the back is a number you can call for a copy of the Book of Mormon, or a copy of Finding Faith in Christ on DVD, or a number of other materials (delivered, of course, to your door by smiling Mormon missionaries).
And who answers the phone when you call for your book? Why, missionaries at the Provo MTC! (At least, that was the case when I was there.)
To be fair, answering incoming calls was great, but it was really the vanilla assignment in the call-center. What I spent most of my time doing there was following up on past requests. We had a general script, but I can’t recall it. Still, I think what follows is a fairly good extrapolation of many of my experiences.
Other Person: -ello?
Me: Hi! Is <specific person> there?
Other Person: Didn’t you hear me? I’ve said “hello,” like, five times.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. My system is a little slow. I’m looking for <specific person>. They ordered a copy of the Book of Mormon, and I wanted to make sure it arrived.
Other Person: My gosh, what the hell are you doing still calling me? I’m so sick of…
(Check records, which indicate they haven’t been contacted yet, or that previous follow ups were unsuccessful. Confused.)
Me: I’m, uh, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you’d been contacted before.
(Wanting to salvage the call…)
Me: Did you receive the Book of Mormon?
Other Person: No, and I’m not interested in receiving a Book of Mormon! How did you even get my number in the first place?
Me: Uh, you would have needed to call us, actually. You might have gotten a card with a number…?
Other Person: I didn’t get any card, and I know I didn’t call any number.
(Still wanting to salvage the call…)
Me: I’m really sorry to have bothered you. Are you familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Other Person: Oh, I’m familiar, alright. You see, you Mormons believe in what I call “Jesus Plus”…
(Wanting to salvage the call a little less than before…)
Me: That’s not exactly the case. We actually teach…
And that’s what we did. Often, there was more yelling, or hang ups. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, and there’s a certain degree of pushiness that seems to go hand-in-hand with successful missionary work, but… I wasn’t a fan of the call-system quirks that cut me off at the knees before even starting the conversation. I hate giving people a reason to be irritated with the Mormon Church if I didn’t need to.
Luckily, I didn’t get homesick. I’d been clawing to get out on my own, and I’d been away at college for a semester already. Unfortunately, the MTC is literally part of that same college campus. My girlfriend’s dorm was less than a 1/2 mile away, and it was even visible from some of the buildings I spent time in, so… that sucked.
I didn’t have as bad a time as Elder Lark*, though. He was my MTC companion, and he had left a serious girlfriend behind in the small Utah town he came from. She’d made a scrapbook-eque calendar for him, with pictures of the two of them for each month and special dates called out. He would sit at his desk and flip through it, page by page, repeating, “It doesn’t seem like so long when you look at it like this…”
(Lark also clogged, so… there’s that.)
I also wasn’t great at building positive relationships. They made me an MTC District Leader (a, frankly, nonsense ‘leadership’ role – you’re basically a line-leader/curfew-checker). I was probably a little bit zealous, which didn’t win me tons of friends (it’s not the MTC’s fault, though, when I’m a dweeb). I’m also not terribly interested in most “dude-bro” things, like football or fancy athletic shoes, and that didn’t win me tons of friends either. One of the missionaries in my study group was Norm Chow‘s son. When the rest of the missionaries got all twitterpated and doe-eyed, I asked, “Who on earth is Norm Chow?”
“…blah blah football coach blah…”
Expecting instead to have heard about an astronaut or Nobel Prize winner, I replied, “Oh. Um… so, that’s it?”
And that’s when I got the blank stares, like they couldn’t comprehend how I’d ever need more than that.
But I had Lark. And his calendar. And his clogging.
And the Ugly
Missionaries at the MTC also engage in what was called “service.” Service consisted of, for example, cleaning the bathrooms of another residential building while those missionaries were at study time. We cleaned their bathrooms on Tuesdays, and someone would clean our bathrooms on Wednesdays.
Holy hell, it was disgusting.
This particular group of missionaries (who were not from the United States) missed their “targets” seemingly more often than not. And I’m not talking just ‘number one.’
All in all, the MTC wasn’t a terrible experience, but I was excited to serve, and I was very excited to catch my plane when my three weeks were up.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.