Manhattan Mormons launch new missionary approach

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Youth in the Manhattan Stake gather to listen to the first keynote speaker. (Photo by Ty Mecham)
The LDS Church’s mutual activities are receiving a facelift in the Manhattan, New York Stake. The traditional mid-week youth activities are being replaced by a new program called the Manhattan Training Center (MTC), a two-year course for high school juniors and seniors.

The idea was conceived by Slade Combs, a stake high councilor over missionary work. The Manhattan Stake, which is made up of 13 wards, is participating in the program.

When Combs was given the assignment to find a way to help the youth be spiritually engaged and prepared to serve missions, the MTC was born.

“There are three things we want every youth to have,” Combs said.  “We want to help them prepare to make sacred covenants, understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and have the ability to follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost.”

Shayla and Ben Frandsen, a young couple who have both served full-time missions for the Church, are the MTC leaders.

“The MTC is not your standard mission prep program — we aren’t learning how to street contact or plan for an investigator,” Ben Frandsen said in an email. “We’re taking a more fundamental approach toward mission preparation by helping youth come closer to Jesus Christ. The focus, for now, is on learning what missionaries need to know, not what they need to do.”

The program is segmented into monthly topics rooted on Preach My Gospel principles. During the month, youth participate in four activities meant to help youth learn and apply the doctrine in their daily lives.

The stake is organized into three areas, all of which are directed by zone leaders. Zone leaders include young adults who have served full-time missions, whose roles are to be mentors to the Manhattan youth as they progress in their activities as a group and as individuals.

The first week of each month, the youth of the stake come together to hear a special guest speaker who introduces the topic for the month.

Over the course of the second week, youth apply what they learned from the week one meeting in their daily lives. An example activity could include interviewing three people at school about their beliefs in God.

Adrienne Martin, one of the program’s zone leaders, believes this aspect of the MTC is very important for youth.

“For a lot of people, it’s hard to open up about religious beliefs with other people in everyday conversation, especially when many of our conversations happen with our thumbs instead of our mouths,” Martin said. “We are trying to promote the opposite. We want our youth to feel comfortable talking about their religious beliefs with people in their daily lives.”

During the week three activity, participants report their personal experiences, which prepares them to participate in the week four activity, in which they are able to reach out to people of other faiths to learn and understand more about different religious beliefs.

“We have been reaching out to our Jewish and Muslim friends to schedule visits to synagogues and mosques,” Shayla Frandsen said. “We will be arranging guided tours of various museums. We have plans for a visit to Ellis Island, and so on. These activities will help youth find connections to Christ and the Gospel all around us, helping them to strengthen their testimonies while learning more about our brothers and sisters from all different backgrounds.”

Martin is excited about the program and is hoping it will bless the lives of Manhattan youth for years to come.

“I have seen so many youth with strong testimonies who have fallen away because of how dark the world is becoming,” she said. “I hope this program will help youth develop the capacity to form judgments of their own about the value of ideas and cultures that reflect the light of Christ. That’s what will help them through this life.”

Combs hopes the program will influence many others. An online blog allows anyone to follow the happenings of the MTC.  “We have hundreds of people logging in and checking stuff out on the website every week,” Combs said. “People from more than 20 countries are looking at it.”

There are about 30 youth in the Manhattan Stake who are juniors and seniors in high school and will participate in the program. More information about the program can be found online at http://thenycmtc.com.

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