Young men from all over the world dressed in white shirts and ties, speaking a variety of languages, waiting patiently to hold the door open for you. Young women in spring colored skirts and blouses with a sweet light in their eyes, saying a warm hello as they pass. Senior couples, holding hands while strolling along covered walkways, admiring the profusion of pansies, tulips and lilacs, the crisp air, brilliant blue skies and a glimpse of the nearby Wasatch mountains.
All of this in the 10 minutes between classes.
This is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), in Provo, Utah, where up to 2800 people at a time spend 1-6 weeks training before going out on their assigned missions around the world. 50 languages are taught here. There are similar 15 MTCs around the world which prepare 74,000 missionaries each year. 6600 of them are seniors.
As missionaries, we are all volunteers, paying our own way to serve wherever we are assigned. Young men (Elders) between ages 18-25 serve for two years. Young women (Sisters) serve for 18 months starting at age 19. Old folks like us serve 6-23 months. There is no upper age limit for seniors, you just need enough giddy-up to get up and go. But one benefit of being a senior missionary: you get to take naps. (They keep saying that, but I haven’t had time to take one yet.)
Young people usually go on proselyting missions (sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who want to hear their message). They do not get to choose where they will be sent in the world or what language they may need to learn. Clay served at age 19 in the California Ventura Mission from 1978-1980.
Senior couples serve around the world in local congregations, mission offices, visitor centers, church historic sites, family history centers (genealogy research), humanitarian aid sites, clean water programs, neonatal resuscitation, health, addiction recovery, temple work, public affairs, administrative and job specific assignments (engineering, agriculture, education, facilities management, medical etc.) based on their former employment skills and foreign language capabilities. There is a bulletin regularly updated from church headquarters about Senior missionary opportunities.
We have been called to serve in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission, based in Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, where the Mormon pioneers pulling their handcarts 1300 miles from Iowa to Utah faced starvation and death during the early snow in October 1856 before they were rescued. During the summers, groups of young people from the surrounding states come dressed in period clothing and pull handcarts for a few days in commemoration of the Mormon pioneers’ sacrifice for religious freedom.
At the MTC, we spent a week in large and small group classes learning how to teach the Gospel and more importantly, how to point individuals to Jesus Christ through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It was delightful being taught by young former missionaries- their boundless energy and enthusiasm was refreshing.
Tuesday evenings were spent in a devotional meeting with leaders from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. While we were there, Bonnie Oscarson, General Young Women’s President and Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President (the adult women’s organization) spoke to us.
As part of our training to be church historic site missionaries, we went on a field trip to the Salt Lake Temple visitor’s center where two young sister missionaries (from Australia and Switzerland) took us on a tour, helping us to understand how to present information with visual aids and brief messages.
We honor the many caring people around the world from all walks of life and from all religious and cultural backgrounds who volunteer to help in a variety of causes that speak to them, doing tremendous service for others in the process. Keep up the good work!