Missionaries, MTC employees adjust to video conference training amid COVID-19 pandemic

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By Erika Magaoay, Karina Andrew and Spencer McWilliams

Dani Jardine
Sister missionaries walk through the hall of the Provo Missionary Training Center on their way to class. (Dani Jardine)

The Provo and Preston, England missionary training centers are preparing to transition to video conference training as a precaution against COVID-19 according to a news release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prospective missionaries and missionary training center employees are adjusting quickly to the changes despite ongoing ambiguity about how this will affect MTC operations.

Officials from the Church’s missionary department explained how the remote training will work in an email sent to those scheduled to report to the affected missionary training centers in the coming weeks.

“Along with another group of missionaries, you will take part in online training led by an MTC teacher,” the email reads. “You will be assigned to a remote missionary companion. You can expect to have approximately six hours of online training per day and take part in additional activities during the evenings and on weekends to help you prepare.”

MTC Japanese teacher Drew Anderson said teachers and staff are confident they will be able to help missionaries in whatever way or capacity they can despite the changes and uncertainty of how the current situation will progress.

“Kelly Mills, president of operations of all the MTCs, has assured us that major changes are coming to the MTC operations as they switched to online-based instruction, and has asked teachers and staff to unite to make such significant changes in such a short amount of time,” Anderson said.

MTC Malay teacher Dio Marino said he worries he won’t be able to develop the kind of close relationship he could with missionaries he taught in person.

“It’s more of a challenge when you’re trying to train and teach through the internet,” he said. He also expressed concern that missionaries might be distracted while training from the comfort of their own home.

The email from the missionary department also encouraged missionaries to live the missionary standards and participate in personal and remote companionship study daily. Missionaries will be set apart before their remote training period begins on their originally scheduled report date, and this training period will count toward their total missionary service time. The email informed missionaries that their training materials and name tags will be mailed to them.

Ashton Whitaker was supposed to report to the Provo missionary training center on March 18 to prepare for her Spanish-speaking mission in Independence, Missouri. She said although she isn’t upset about the change to remote missionary training, adjusting her plans just one week before her scheduled report date has been jarring.

“I am pretty shocked,” she said. “I’ve been preparing for something for months and months and it feels like someone just completely flipped my whole plan around.”

Whitaker, who lives with her family in Washington, said she worries not having a companion with her physically during her training will make it harder to adjust to living in a companionship in the mission field — if she gets to go to her mission, at all.

“(I’m) wondering if they will let me go on my mission in general since I am from the part of the country where the disease is the worst,” she said.

Many missionaries currently in the MTC are being reassigned for the time being, including those whom Anderson teaches.

“Everyone — teachers, staff, and missionaries included — have definitely felt a sense of uncertainty and anxiousness. I was in a district today that just received their reassignments, which vary from Canada, to the States, to Australia and more. A lot of people have been wondering what’s next,” he said.

Missionaries departing later this year are also unsure what they should expect from their training experience. Hope Bates, scheduled to report to the Provo MTC July 1 for her Mandarin-speaking mission in Leeds, England, said she worries about how remote learning might affect her ability to learn her mission language.

“I’m hoping that by July the spread of the coronavirus is under control enough that I will be able to go to the MTC, but I’m also trying to be okay with it either way and develop more of an eternal perspective,” Bates said. “I’m super grateful that we have the technology to allow missionaries to still be trained even not at the MTC. What a blessing!”

MTC teachers haven’t yet heard if they will still be able to work their normal amount of hours in the following weeks, but Marino’s not worried he said. “The MTC assures that we’ll still have our jobs and working the usual amount of time unless directed otherwise; we just have to transition everything to online now,” he said.

The missionary department did not comment on how the training adjustments will affect non-teaching missionary training center employees.

Anderson said he feels that the missionaries and MTC employees are embracing the changes with a trust in God and a belief that everything will work out for the best.

“At the end of the day, the missionaries are just happy and blessed to be missionaries and they have come to learn firsthand that, although an assignment to labor is important, it is secondary to the call to labor in the Lord’s vineyard,” he said.

A notification will be sent when these precautionary measures are no longer needed, according to an email from the missionary department sent to stake presidents. “Missionaries scheduled to attend all other missionary training centers should plan to arrive as scheduled unless otherwise directed,” the email reads.

A press release from the Church regarding more updates to missionary service was sent out this morning, March 16. Missionaries will continue to receive mission calls worldwide; however, temporary adjustments have been implemented for current missionary service.

These adjustments include:

  • Young missionaries with health issues and senior missionaries may be released from service.
  • Missionaries who begin their service and are unable to travel to their assigned mission may be temporarily reassigned to another mission.
  • To adjust for rapidly changing conditions, young missionary elders currently serving in missions within the United States and Canada who would complete their mission on or before September 1 may be released after they have served for 21 months.
  • Some missionaries may be temporarily reassigned.

The Church encourages missionaries to continue using technology for their studies and teaching and to keep in contact with their families frequently. Additionally, missionaries are encouraged to go outside for exercise and fresh air while still adhering to the guidelines of missionary conduct.

“Church leaders will continue to monitor conditions and make further adjustments as needed. As a Church, we express our love and appreciation for all missionaries as they strive to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and share His love wherever they serve,” the press release states.

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