Called to serve in a pandemic: MTC teachers adapt to remote classes

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Editor’s note: Thousands of missionaries across the world are facing upended plans during the pandemic. Some are returning home before completing their missions, others are serving in quarantine and many are receiving new calls. The Daily Universe is looking at how these missionaries are grappling with challenges in a series of stories.

Usually the Missionary Training Center that sits on the north corner of the BYU campus is filled with thousands of missionaries and hundreds of teachers, but it has been empty and quiet for the past few months.

“We got a notice that they were going to kick everyone out early,” MTC teacher Wesley Allen said. “We had to hurry and change our plans. We had to hurry and readjust our goals and stuff to get them as prepared as we could.”

Missionary Training Center at the intersection of East University Parkway and 900 E in Provo, Utah. Photo by Preston Crawley.

Allen has taught Korean at the MTC for about two years. One of the challenges he’s seen since it transitioned online was not being able to have the atmosphere of the MTC. He said the spirit is the same, but nothing can replace the unique atmosphere.

“The MTC is generally such an experience. It’s not just your classes, that’s not why you’re going to the MTC,” Allen said. “And so it’s hard when they don’t really have the opportunity to be with a lot of other missionaries.”

Elder Zander Lee, left, participates in a Korean lesson over Zoom with MTC teacher Wesley Allen, right. Elder Lee was originally called to serve in South Korea but was reassigned to Las Vegas. Allen has been teaching him Korean over Zoom for almost nine weeks. (Wesley Allen)

Through the experience of teaching online, Allen said his gratitude for technology has grown a lot. “I would obviously 100% rather do it in person, but it’s been cool to see that I still have a really strong relationship with this elder even though it’s only been through technology,” he said.

BYU student Cole Brenchley has been teaching French at the MTC for almost a year. Since switching to virtual teaching, he said he’s felt an increased need to be creative and diligent in planning to allow missionaries to have more meaningful learning experiences.

Although it has been hard, Brenchley has also experienced miracles. While he was traveling to California, he was able to stop in Las Vegas and meet one of the missionaries he was teaching remotely. “It was a powerful experience to be able to see him in person,” Brenchley said. “There’s definitely a powerful feeling of love between members of the district and that we get to feel as their teachers.”

Brenchley also said it’s been cool to see how powerful the Spirit can be through technology. He recalled a particularly spiritual lesson he had. “Each person present on the Zoom call was feeling the same Spirit testify of the truth which unified us spiritually,” he said.

Shae Siebert teaches ESL at the MTC and said she thinks change is normal in the MTC. “There have been and continue to be so many changes that help to enhance the experience of the missionaries,” Siebert said. “I think that we’ve learned a lot of things during this adapted learning phase that we will implement long term.”

Shae Siebert poses for a selfie. She has been teaching ESL at the MTC for about two years. (Shae Siebert)

Through adapting to the change, Siebert has also seen simple miracles. “To me, it’s in the little things: the wifi working during a powerful part of the lesson, an elder being able to feel the Spirit in a less-than-ideal home setting,” she said. “Those that help me realize just how involved God is in the lives of these missionaries.” 

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