Helaman’s 2,000 stripling warriors would be in awe if they saw the crowd of missionaries entering the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
The MTC is starting to see the newly qualified 18-year-old elders and 19-year-old sisters who started submitting paperwork shortly after LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the new lower age threshold at the Church’s general conference in October.
Since that announcement, the Church said on its news website that missionary applications had jumped from 700 per week to 4,000. And whereas 15 percent of young missionaries were young women before the announcement, the male-female ratio is now evenly split. The surge in mission applications will now start to affect the inflow to the Church’s 15 missionary training centers.
The Provo MTC is always busy on Wednesdays when new missionaries arrive, but activity is expected to increase dramatically. “That’s why there’s a whole army over there unpacking cars,” said a mother of a missionary. And that’s exactly what it looked like on Wednesday: an army of bodies, cameras and suitcases.
Missionaries in the Provo MTC will be getting cozy as the MTC attempts to maximize space by putting more bunk beds in each room. Each of the 15 MTCs throughout the world will be increasing their capacity for missionaries by maximizing any empty or unutilized space, according to the Church.
“It’s just really exciting,” said 19-year-old Connor Hugh, who will be serving in Columbia, S.C. “I’m just ready to get out there.”
Hugh will spend just two weeks in the Provo MTC before he enters the field.
To help accommodate the surge, MTC training time for both domestic and foreign-language missionaries has been reduced by 30 percent. Those speaking their native language will have two weeks instead of three at the MTC; those learning a language will have two to four weeks cut from their MTC stay, according to the Church.
Dallin Gardiner, 18, headed for the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Mission, will be speaking Spanish and will spend six weeks in the Provo MTC instead of nine.
“It’s a big deal that they shortened the stay because it means we have to work harder when we’re in the field, but it’s also good because that means they’re moving more missionaries in and out of the MTC quicker,” he said.
The MTC stay follows a Church study that shows missionaries’ accomplishments in their ability to learn a second language improves by sending them into the field earlier.
The increase in missionaries has led mission presidents to prepare their existing missionaries to train more incoming missionaries because of the cutback on MTC time.
Most of the 347 missions average 170 missionaries. With this new surge, however, missions will expand to about 250 missionaries, according to the Church.
Missionaries like Hugh have a much shorter time than their predecessors to get the basics of missionary work down. Hugh said he was overwhelmed at the pace of his training.
“It’s going to be crazy fast, just in-and-out,” Hugh said.
Stephen B. Allen, Missionary Department managing director, doesn’t want missionaries or their families to worry about the missionaries’ experience at the MTC.
“(We want) to make sure that the MTC experience for every missionary will be a great experience,” Allen said. “It won’t be a watered-down experience; it won’t be a cheapened experience. It will be a great spiritual learning experience, a time of revelation for those missionaries as they learn how to be missionaries.”