For the first time in 15 months, missionaries — 248 of them, to be exact — arrived Wednesday at Provo’s flagship Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There, they will undergo in-person training before traveling to their assigned proselytizing areas.
Similar numbers of fully vaccinated missionaries are expected to enter the Provo MTC on Wednesdays in coming weeks, the Utah-based faith said in a news release, as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
“It’s wonderful to see missionaries with such faith, and that they can be here,” Kerry Porter, who together with her husband is leading the MTC, said in the release. “And it’s such a historic time. To be able to utilize this sacred space and be able to really charge themselves before they head out to teach and serve.”
The church’s 10 MTCs, located everywhere from England to Mexico, shut down in-person classes last spring as a result of the pandemic. The prospective proselytizers, starting at age 18 for young men and 19 for young women, shifted to online, at-home learning experiences.
A total of 32,000 missionaries have received virtual training since March 2019, the release stated. Currently, 2,766 missionaries are involved in instruction via the internet.
That online training won’t end. Instead, missionaries will undergo a week of schooling at home before they go to the MTC.
Provo MTC President Benson L. Porter hailed this new era of online preparation, saying the change will allow new missionaries to build relationships with fellow missionaries before leaving behind everything they know.
“We’ve noticed that relationships have already been built, because they’re seeing the members of their district here,” Porter said in the release. “I think some of the anxiety that they may have felt before, where everything was new, is gone. Now they have some friends; they have a district.”
The new approach won praise from some missionaries.
“I’m glad that I get to experience both home MTC and the MTC in person,” Highland resident Addison Harward, who has been assigned to the Scottsdale Mission in Arizona, said in the release. “Even though we were on Zoom, I felt so connected with my teachers in my district and my companion, so it was a really good experience.”
As a precaution, Provo’s MTC will operate at reduced capacity for the foreseeable future, the church explained. COVID-19 tests will be administered to any missionary who exhibits symptoms during their MTC stay. Additionally, only fully vaccinated missionaries will be eligible to enter the center.
Even so, not all missionaries will go to MTCs. Those learning new languages will continue to be instructed virtually.
Other MTCs around the globe will start to accept about 50 local missionaries each as well, the release stated. The Ghana MTC will welcome new missionaries this week and the New Zealand MTC next week. MTCs in the Philippines, Mexico and England are expected to follow suit in late July and August. For now, missionaries from the United States will not train at these facilties.
Before the coronavirus, Provo’s 35-acre MTC, where Latter-day Saints typically undergo intensive language study and gospel grounding before embarking on their volunteer service, was filled with 3,700 proselytizers learning more than 50 languages as well as how to present the faith to the world. It was expanded in 2017.