Monday, March 24, 2008

Mission Training Center Presidents' Seminar

Photo by R. Scott Lloyd© Deseret News

There are seventeen LDS Missionary Training Centers (MTC) in the world. The largest one is the MTC in Provo, Utah where "About 80 percent of missionaries are trained at the Church's largest training center in Provo, Utah. It is home to an average of 2,700 missionaries at a time or 24,000 over the course of a year." Every week about five hundred missionaries enter one of these centers. On 26 October 1978 in Provo, Utah, the Missionary Training Center, previously the Language Training Mission constructed in 1976, began training all missionaries. Eventually due to demand in other areas of the world other centers were opened.

A good general description is written by Richard O. Cowan entitled "Missionary Training Center" at the Light Planet site. Also Wikipedia has a pretty thorough description on the Missionary Training Center. A mission president is called to each one for three years just like mission presidents in the other 345 missions.

Marvin K. Garnder describes the Provo MTC as "The Missionary Training Center is the first stop for newly called missionaries of the Church. Located in Provo, Utah, some forty miles south of Salt Lake City, the MTC is an impressive network of sixteen buildings—four classroom buildings; ten residence halls; a bookstore and health center; and an administrative complex housing offices, meeting rooms, post office, cafeteria, gym, and laundry. Situated at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, the MTC has a spectacular view of 12,000-foot Mount Timpanogos. Brigham Young University is only a short walk away."

The seventeen missionary training centers are located in

* Argentina Buenos Aires
* Brazil São Paulo
* Chile Santiago
* Colombia Bogotá
* Dominican Republic Santo Domingo
* England Preston
* Ghana Accra
* Guatemala Guatemala City
* Japan Tokyo
* Mexico Mexico City
* New Zealand Hamilton
* Peru Lima
* Philippines Manila
* South Africa Johannesburg
* South Korea Seoul
* Spain Madrid
* USA: Utah Provo

The Provo MTC has its own special site. I tried to find sites for the other sixteen centers.

The Provo MTC's site declares: "At the Church's Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, young men and women as well as retired men and women from around the world come together to prepare to serve the Lord. The purpose of the MTC is to provide an atmosphere of peace, love, trust, confidence, and respect in which missionaries can prepare for missionary service."

One of the earliest accounts of the Missionary Training Center Mission Presidents' Seminar that I could find was reported by Elayne Wells in the Church News, Saturday, 13 January 1990:

Among the many signs of Church growth in the '80s were the multiple missionary training centers that began to spring up across the globe, serving the needs of the burgeoning numbers of local missionaries. In Latin America alone, six of these centers have been training missionaries in their own or neighboring countries, symbolizing the advent of a new era of self-sufficiency.
"Thanks to the missionary training centers here," said Elder Robert E. Wells of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Mexico/
Central America Area, "you can really see the difference in the overall quality of the missionaries, and baptisms have increased tremendously. By training them here, the elders and sisters feel better-prepared to serve their own people."Elder Charles Didier, president of the South America North Area, concurs.
"The best preparation is always in your own country," he said. "Not only does the Church avoid the cost of transporting missionaries somewhere else for training, but also the local aspect is much more effective. We'd like to have one in every country."
The centers are in cities where temples are located: Mexico City, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Church leaders say that not only has there been an increase in the number of missionaries entering the training centers, but also in the caliber of the young people.
"We feel there's a new level of dedication," noted Elder Wells. "We can really see the hand of the Lord in this. Something is suddenly happening, and it's just exciting to be here."
- - -
Mexico - The center here trains three times the number of missionaries as any other center in Latin America, and the trend continues to climb upward, said Pres. Karl Fenn.
"Missionaries come here from Mexico and Venezuela," he said, "and we have so many that they're beginning to be called to Nicaragua and Colombia as well." Most missions in Mexico are made up of at least 90 percent local missionaries.
A great number of the missionaries, said Pres. Fenn, attended seminary and institute classes before entering the training center, and about 15 percent attended Benemerito, the Church college.
"They are very well-prepared," he said, "and quite adept at picking up quickly on what they are taught." So prepared, in fact, that "we place the burden of learning upon the missionaries themselves. Teachers are needed only to evaluate."
Using the new missionary study guide, elders and sisters practice situations they will encounter in the field, and - most important - learn to rely on the Spirit, said Pres. Fenn.
"When they come in, we ask them to set their own goals," he said. "During their 12 days here, about 90 percent read the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover, and many read it twice. We teach them to organize their time and to take advantage of every moment.
"They're like a pile of clay, and we shape them into missionaries."
Pres. Fenn's unique molding methods have already achieved near-legendary status throughout the area. Every day, he asks his missionaries, "You know something?," and when they respond in unison, "What?," he tells them, "I love you." The missionaries echo the expression.
"We teach them how to show their love for the people, and how to do it by the Spirit," Pres. Fenn said.
- - -
Guatemala - The center here brings in missionaries from 10 countries; in addition to Central Americans, some Puerto Ricans, Dominican Republicans and North Americans are also trained.
Pres. Edgar Keith Stott, who finishes his term along with Pres. Fenn at the end of this month, said most of his missionaries have made great sacrifices to come on a mission.
"In spite of the fact that many are the only members in their families," he said, "they come and they work hard. We had one blind young man from the Dominican Republic who knew the scriptures well and would take notes in Braille. After some time in the mission field, he was made a branch president."
Such dedication and commitment to serving the Lord is common among these people, he said.
"The area presidency is urging local leaders to send more youths out on missions, and the brethrenT are following up on these goals.
"Our objective is to help these missionaries develop attributes and techniques that will train them to be effective instruments in the hands of the Lord, to bring people unto Him."
- - -
Peru - The Lima center is housed in a converted mansion. The residence of the Andean Mission president in 1961, it is the oldest building owned by the Church in Peru.
Electricity in the house is sporadic, yet, "we operate at full capacity almost all the time," said Pres. Bruce Gibson.
The center trains Ecuadorians and Bolivians as well as Peruvians, and Hondurans and Mexicans are also occasionally brought in. Missionaries have ranged in age up to 73, Pres. Gibson said, and show maturity and preparation.
"These missionaries are super-qualified," he said. "They only have a moderator who takes charge of a district, and they pretty much teach themselves with the missionary guide."
The three Lima mission presidents, the Lima temple president, and other leaders speak to the missionaries during their 12-day stay at the center, and time is also taken to attend the temple and go proselyting twice for 6-8 hours.
Almost half the missionaries that go through the center have been in the Church less than three years. One convert, 26-year-old Wylmir Amaya from Chiclayo, Peru, had been handicapped since the age of 2, but he was determined to serve a mission, said Pres. Gibson.
Pres. Gibson is quick to acknowledge the help of his wife and companion in his duties, as are all the presidents.
"She's a major part of the call," he said of Sister Gibson. "She introduces the discussions to the missionaries, teaches them music, and insists on answering the letters of all we've sent out in the field."
- - -
Chile - Opened in 1981, the center here is located in the heart of Santiago near the temple grounds. Its missionaries are also close to the heart of its president, Wendell Hall, a former BYU professor.
"They're wonderful missionaries," said Pres. Hall. "We just love them."
Sounding much like a proud parent, he spoke of a missionary, Sister Laura, who had gone on to her mission in Bolivia, and had sent the Halls a picture of herself there. Photographed along with Sister Laura and her companion were 21 soldiers whom the sisters had taught and seen baptized.
Another missionary, Elder Eguino from Cochabamba, Bolivia, arrived at the training center in a wheelchair, Pres. Hall said. As they began their first interview, the elder said in perfect English, "President, would it be all right if we spoke in English?" During a four-year stay in a U.S. hospital, Elder Eguino had learned English while being treated for polio.
"Despite the difficulties, he was so willing to come on a mission," Pres. Hall said, noting that many others, coming from Chile and Bolivia, have sacrificed as well.
"Some have left their studies, and here it's quite difficult to get back into them afterward. One missionary, Elder Reyes from Renca [Chile], was about to complete his master's in geology, but went on a mission before he finished it.
The group commitment to the work creates a spirit of unity, said Pres. Hall. "There is a real esprit de corps. Very often we weep together in interviews, and many of [the missionariesT keep in touch during their missions."
The missionaries follow the same schedule as other missionary training centers, receiving some 80 hours of instruction during the 12 days, and countless other hours of personal study. They also go proselyting on two mornings with missionaries already in the field.
"I've really been blessed to be here," Pres. Hall said. "It's so exciting to be with these young people."
- - -
Argentina - The center in Buenos Aires trains missionaries from Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, and their growing numbers is due to at least two factors, said Pres. Vernon A. Bingham.
"There are really a lot of fine young people joining the Church - about 50 percent of our new missionaries are converts of less than five years," he said. "Also, we tell all our missionaries to write to a friend who's unsure about serving a mission, to encourage (him or her) to go. Many now coming in say that influenced them greatly."
The teaching skills taught in the center here are essential to a successful mission, said Pres. Bingham; the missionaries themselves "say they learned more in 12 days than in the rest of their lives."
"I don't know if that's an exaggeration," said Pres. Bingham, "or if they're just feeling the Spirit! But I don't think there's any other way to get this kind of concentrated practice."
Again, the training schedule is very similar to that of other centers: companions take turns being the trainer and the student, following the missionary guide, and teaching techniques are developed.
"This is a time to learn how to teach and invite people to keep the commandments, help them follow up, and show greater love and concern," said Pres. Bingham.
Two elders in particular who showed this great love for the people and the work, he said, were sons of a widow who lived on a small sheep ranch in the mountains of southern Argentina.
"Those boys," he said, his voice filled with emotion, "were not well-educated, but talk about a desire to learn. Another brother is entering soon, and their sister is also preparing to go."
- - -
Brazil - The center in Sao Paulo is the only one of the six that trains missionaries from just the country in which it's located. The majority then go to one of the 10 missions in Brazil, while a few are sent to Portugal.
As with the other centers, volunteer returned missionaries help with the supervision and training of the new missionaries, the majority of which are converts of three years or less, said Pres. Elmo Turner.
"I'm so impressed with their spirit and their worthiness," he said. "We feel very confident in the quality of the young people coming through here: they're strong, intelligent, faithful, and worthy. We try to help them maintain that and teach people with that spirit they have, and they're doing it."
One sister, he said, was a trained attorney who worked for a prestigious law firm in Sao Paulo, but she gave up her job to go on a mission. Another missionary gave up a scholarship to the university and a pay raise at work, while yet another was a professional soccer player who left the sport to serve.
"There is a spirit of sacrifice and a spirit of missionary work here," said Pres. Turner. "It's wonderful to be here."

John L. Hart in the Church News Saturday, 25 January 1997 reported the following information:

"Lift the young men and women you train to a higher plane, and inspire them to understand who the Savior is, Elder David B. Haight urged new directors of five missionary training centers.

Elder Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve and chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, accompanied by his wife, Ruby, spoke at the concluding session of the annual seminar for new Missionary Training Center directors and their wives. The seminar was held Jan. 13-17 at the Church's largest Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.Among those who spoke at the seminar was Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, accompanied by his wife, Joanne.

The five new leaders will serve in centers in the Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and England. In addition to centers in these locations and the center in Provo, the Church has additional such facilities located near temples in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Peru.

In his remarks, Elder Haight emphasized the need to help missionaries "understand their testimony that God lives, that He is real, that He is our Father."

He said missionaries should understand that Jesus is the Christ, and that He came to do the will of His Father.

"The things that He did and He taught, He received from His Father. . . . He is the Savior and the Redeemer of all. He redeemed us from the Fall and He redeemed us from our sins. He is the one who is our Advocate with the Father; it is through Him that we reach the Father. So the work that we do is the work of the Savior, inasmuch as the Savior is the Savior of all mankind."

Elder Haight said that missionaries need to understand the power of the gospel to lift and bless those people ``who they teach and who they bear their testimonies to and to whom they declare the truthfulness of this work."

"Truly the gospel is simple,'' continued Elder Haight. ``We need to teach the simplicity of the gospel along with the majesty of it so people can understand. You can bear testimony of the majesty of this work, the majesty that is almost beyond our comprehension."

He said missionaries completing their training should be able to leave for the mission field unburdened, with a clear, untroubled look in their eyes, "because there are people out there who need to hear their testimony that is sweet and clean and pure and from the heart."

Missionaries should "look the part and act the part and declare the part, and, above all things, in their hearts and soul, feel the truthfulness of the gospel and the truth of what they teach."

Elder Haight observed that "the world out there is hungry and anxious, and so badly needs to hear the simple message of the Savior and His teachings.

"More and more people have an interest in talking about the basic things that we talk about, so we are not strangers out in the world. People are concerned with families. They are concerned with what is happening in the world."

Elder Haight emphasized that each person in the world is born with the light of Christ. "There is a spark in them, a spark someone needs to blow a little oxygen into because the spark is there. No matter how terrible a life someone has lived, he or she still has a spark. Everybody is born with this little spark in their life. We have a responsibility to help them and find them."

In remarks Jan. 13, Elder Tingey opened the seminar by charging the new directors to develop an atmosphere of spirituality. He compared missionary training centers to the School of the Prophets held in Nauvoo by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early history of the Church.

Elder Tingey encouraged the directors to develop leaders and teachers at their centers who are "completely worthy, humble and filled with the Spirit." Teachers should express absolute love and confidence in the missionaries they teach.

Missionaries who enter a training center "develop a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, as well as acquiring confidence and self-esteem," said Elder Tingey. They also acquire a great deal of doctrinal knowledge and a testimony so that they can 'go forward with faith and determination.' ("Inspire Them to Understand Savior," Church News [Saturday, 25 January 1997]: 7).

In 2000 missionary training center presidents and their wives met on 10 January through 14 January at the MTC in Provo. Shaun Stahle reported the conference in the Church News:

"We know that the Church is going to grow. It will grow rapidly," said Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, addressing seven new missionary training center presidents. "We have the challenge of organizing the Church; to see that it carries on with the spiritual direction received by our prophets."

Fifteen missionary training center facilities, including the Provo site, have been established around the world to instruct missionaries on how to teach the gospel, as well as prepare them with a knowledge of customs and languages. Each year, eight new presidents are called to serve for two years.As the concluding speaker of a weeklong seminar for new missionary training center presidents held in the Provo Missionary Training Center facility Jan. 10-14, Elder Haight offered a panoramic view of the Church's growth from its humble beginnings in 1830 to the prospects and opportunities of a new millennium.

"I'm just reminding you of what you know so well," Elder Haight said in recounting the circumstances of the organization of the Church.

"Just think of what has taken place. I've been in the reconstructed Peter Whitmer farm house in Fayette, N.Y. A little building. There were two bedrooms upstairs. They gave one room to Joseph Smith; then Oliver Cowdery comes on the scene. Here the work of the translation is carried on, part of it in that room at the Peter Whitmer farmhouse.

"Sacred events took place there and the Church was organized with the required six members necessary under the laws of the state.

"By the 1900s, the Church had about 283,000 members," he continued." One hundred years later, on Jan. 1 of this year 2000, we're pushing 11 million. It's a great story, of course, of how it all took place. And so here we are now. We have 15 missionary training centers out in the world, and you're going to preside over one of them, in Tokyo or Santiago or Buenos Aires or elsewhere.

"See what is happening with the Church," he said.

Explaining the role of a missionary training center president in the missionary work of the Church, Elder Haight said, "It is your great responsibility to see that those missionaries who go through your hands have a spiritual experience. They will look at you and see how you conduct yourself and how you treat others.

"You will become the Church in their eyes. They will watch you. They will listen very carefully as you teach, testify and train them. They will learn how to act as missionaries from your example."

Elder Haight opened his comments by sharing an incident that occurred, in part, while he served in Edinburgh, Scotland, as mission president. Setting the stage for the experience, Elder Haight referred to a general conference address in which President David O. McKay told how he and his companion, a sheepherder from Idaho, had not had much success in their missionary labors.

"They were tracting one day and saw workmen building a building," said Elder Haight. "They stopped to watch as these men were placing a stone in the corner of the second floor. They first noticed geometric designs on the stone, then noticed an engraving.

" 'What ere thou art, act well thy part,' it stated," continued Elder Haight. "President McKay, who was an English major [in college], said he hadn't read the words in his study of literature or scripture, but the words had special meaning to him. They stood and read it over and over again.

"President McKay said he felt they had been exposed to those words as a message that they were not working as hard or as diligently as they should have been. They went back to their lodging and got down on their knees. They made a commitment to the Lord in fervent prayer that they would work with all their heart, might, mind and strength. They soon began seeing more success," he said.

Years later, when Elder Haight was called to serve as mission president in Scotland, he received a telephone call from one of his missionaries notifying him that the building with the stone was being demolished. The missionary was instructed to purchase the stone, even if it required 10-20 times more than the 10 shilling asking price.

The missionaries purchased the stone and loaded it into a truck and took it to the mission home where it was on display for many years before being crated and shipped to the Church Historical Department in Salt Lake City.

"It was touching to me how President McKay felt that it was no accident that he and his companion stood in front of the building to read those words, words which would influence his life," Elder Haight said.

The original stone, noted Elder Haight, is now in the Museum of Church History and Art, while a replica is at the Provo missionary training center.

"You are to go out to testify and teach and train and impress young people of who they are. The great miracle in this work is the change in people. Each comes out of the waters of baptism a new person," he said in conclusion. ("Missionary Training Center Presidents: Teach, testify, train," Church News [Saturday, 22 January 2000]:

Shaun D. Stahle of the Church News reported the 2005 missionary training presidents' seminar:

"The greatest armor we can put around our missionaries today," said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, "will be an absolute, unwavering sure witness and testimony that the restoration of the gospel has occurred; that Joseph Smith did see what he said he saw; did kneel in the presence of the Father and Son; and that the gospel has been restored through him.

"If they know that deep enough," he continued, "and they are out trying to convert an unbelieving world that has lost interest in the things of God — if they've internalized this from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet — they will introduce the gospel and themselves with a different power."

Elder Ballard, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, addressed the eight newly called mission training center presidents and 13 directors of visitors centers and historic sites and their wives during a week long seminar held Jan. 4-7.

He emphasized their role in preparing more capable missionaries by "teaching the teacher."

"We have to raise up the greatest generation of missionaries in the history of the Church," he said, "because we're turning our sons and daughters into a world that is growing colder and colder toward spiritual things. . . . They've got to know. And then they've got to speak from the power of their hearts and from their witness and testimony — a testimony they have generated from their own study, prayer and the feelings of their own hearts — that the gospel is true."

In his comments, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve and a member of the Missionary Executive Council reassured the new leaders that even though the world is increasing in evil, it is also "being flooded with truth and light."

"He guides His Church," he said in testimony. "I felt that again today while sitting with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the temple."

Considering visitors centers and historic sites, Elder Scott spoke of his personal experiences, highlighting a particular visit to the jail at Liberty, Mo., where his testimony of Joseph Smith was reaffirmed.

Such places have a "special spirit," he said, and "are marvelous places to meet people and to bring them into the gospel." In these places, he continued, it's more important "what people feel than what they hear."

Elder Scott added his witness of the hand of the Lord in the creation of the new missionary approach, "Preach My Gospel." In the short time since its implementation, he said he is seeing an improvement in the quality of teaching and missionary life and in the effectiveness of planning.

During the seminar, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, along with other members of the Seventy, taught in detail the principles of successful missionary service as explained in "Preach My Gospel."

As part of their specialized training, directors of visitors centers and historic sites spent part of an afternoon on Temple Square working with sister missionaries where they learned first-hand what President Arlen Crouch of the Temple Square Mission called "the melt down."

Visitors are often guarded in their first responses, he said. But after feeling the spirit of the gospel and Temple Square, their hearts melt and they soften to the testimonies of the sister missionaries.

Following their afternoon of working with the sister missionaries, the directors and their wives shared their experiences.

One companionship recounted how they had met a long-time less-active member of the Church who had come to Temple Square to begin making his life right. Another companionship told how they met a minister of another faith. Still another told of speaking with three young people from Ohio, who had never heard of the Church or the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but came to Utah to ski and decided to visit the major sites.

One companionship said they were having difficulty meeting anyone and, after wandering the grounds without success, felt they should pray. Stepping into a visitors center and finding a quiet corner, they asked for help in meeting someone. As they emerged from the building, they found a man willing to listen. ("Raising up greatest generation of missionaries: Bear witness from testimony generated by own study, prayer," Church News [Saturday, 22 January 2005]: 13).

In 2006 sixteen missionary training center presidents and the visit center presidents met in Provo at the MTC. R. Scott Lloyd of the Church News reported the proceedings of the seminar: "Next to the scriptures and the Holy Ghost, the foundation stone of missionary service in the Church today is the recently published guide Preach My Gospel.

That was a recurring and prominent message Jan. 10 during the first day of the 2006 Seminar for New Missionary Training Center Presidents and Visitors Center Directors. The four-day event brought together 19 recently called couples, mostly from the United States and with some from Canada, Mexico and Japan. They are bound for Missionary Training Centers in such locales as New Zealand, Peru and Ghana, and Church visitors centers in such places as Winter Quarters, Neb.; San Diego, Calif.; and Independence, Mo.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve emphasized the importance of Preach My Gospel as he taught them about their responsibilities and how they should coordinate with other leaders with whom they will be working.

"What happens if you've had really neat missionary experiences that are different than are taught in Preach My Gospel ?" he asked. The response he elicited is that they are to be "put on the shelf."

"Use the foundational principles in Preach My Gospel and teach by the Spirit," he counseled. "There is flexibility, but not in terms of what we're trying to accomplish or how we're trying to accomplish it."

The new leaders and their wives can find the guide to be helpful in such matters as learning a new language and in helping missionary companions who are not getting along, the apostle suggested, adding that the chapter on developing Christlike attributes can be helpful in the latter event.

"There needs to be some accommodation, but not in the core aspects of what we're trying to do and how well you work together (with others who may have overlapping responsibilities)," Elder Scott explained.

He noted, "I hate to admit this, but when I've given up some of the very deeply held convictions of my personal experience and followed this more precisely, it's worked out a lot better. Things change; the world has changed, and the fact that we have a new emphasis and direction now in no way criticizes what has been done before. This is for our time and our need now."

Elder Scott spoke of a "dual reporting responsibility" that rests upon both Missionary Training Center presidents and visitors center directors. On ecclesiastical matters, the Missionary Training Center president would seek direction from and report to the area presidency, but on matters of administration and operation would go to the Missionary Department for direction. And the visitors center director would go to the mission president (under whom he serves as a missionary) for direction on ecclesiastical matters, while on operational matters, he would consult the Missionary Department.

In response to a question from the wife of a new Missionary Training Center president, Elder Scott said that such a wife typically has such spiritual acuity that she can sometimes sense the needs that a missionary might have and aid her husband in identifying such needs.

Availing himself of his apostolic privilege, Elder Scott invoked a blessing upon the departing leaders, among other things that they would be able to develop latent talents that they might not realize they have. For those who would need to learn a new language, he blessed them with the gift of tongues, and he invoked a protective shield against harmful circumstances that might occur in their lives.

In a session earlier in the day, the new visitors center directors were taught that Church visitors centers and historic sites have a well-defined purpose, that being to support the mission of the Church in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His Church. They heard that such centers are a valuable source of referrals, that research in 2001 showed that 25 percent of all converts to the Church in the United States and Canada said their visit to a visitors center influenced their decision to join the Church.

In a separate session, missionary training center presidents heard that in some ways the missionary training center is a "purifying" experience for new missionaries, consistent with Doctrine and Covenants 112:28, in that it helps them deal with a wide array of conditions, characteristics and challenges." ("Foundation of today's missionary work: Leaders bound for MTCs, visitors centers are instructed," Church News [Saturday, 14 January 2006]: 5).

Photo by R. Scott Lloyd© Deseret News

R. Scott Lloyd reported on the 2008 Missionary Training Center Mission President seminar on January 17: "Like Alma in the Book of Mormon, today's missionaries have been called to serve the Lord, and "the way we do it is by bearing down in pure testimony," Elder L. Tom Perry told a group of departing missionary couples Jan. 15 at the Missionary Training Center.

The talk by Elder Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve was part of an agenda of intensive instruction at an annual seminar for newly called missionary training center presidents and visitors center directors and their wives. Of the 16 couples, 10 are bound for international missionary training centers, and the remainder are being sent to Church visitors centers in various locales.

Elder Perry's comment was in reference to Alma 4:19, wherein Alma, as high priest, resigns his position as chief judge to devote himself wholly to the ministry.

"Like Alma of old, we have been called to serve," commented Elder Perry, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. "We made the decision, like he did, to leave the things of the world and come to devote our time to building our Heavenly Father's kingdom."

Elder Perry said he loves the new missionary guide, "Preach My Gospel," so much that he had it hardbound to go with his scriptures. "Anyone who uses it will soon find the joy and happiness in it," he said. "Use it. Learn how to teach from it. It will stand you in good stead."

The apostle spoke of the power of personal influence that the leaders will have on new missionaries who are just coming into the field. "You will never know in this life the power of your impact on their lives," he said.

Speaking in a humorous vein, he contrasted the approach today in training of new missionaries with what existed when he served as a young missionary. He said he felt so deficient in gospel knowledge that he determined to stay up after bedtime in the kitchen of his apartment to write and practice giving four talks on each of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. He practiced giving the talks to a small rat that would creep out into the kitchen. He knew he was starting to be effective when, the morning after he practiced his talk on baptism by immersion, the missionaries found the rat at the bottom of a pan of water that was in the kitchen.

"I share that story to show you the tender feelings that young missionaries have," he said. "You're going to have the opportunity to touch their lives, to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to be certain when they leave you, either serving with you in the visitors center or when they leave to go out in the field, they have a firm testimony of the four cornerstones of the gospel."

These he identified as, first, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior; second, belief in the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith; third, the Book of Mormon as tangible proof of the mission of the Prophet Joseph; and fourth, the restoration of the priesthood.

Regarding the birth of the Savior, Elder Perry said it is the most significant event in the history of mankind. "The fulness of the gospel depends on His mission. It is designed to bring immortality and eternal life to man. It includes the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement, with all of God's laws and ordinances and doctrine. It makes possible for the people to be exalted and live forever with our Savior.... It paves the way for us to be forgiven of our sins and prepares us to again live with our Father."

Pertaining to Joseph Smith, Elder Perry said he, like each of the biblical prophets, made the bold claim, "God has spoken to me; thus sayeth the Lord."

"If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith truly had that glorious First Vision declaring the true nature of the Godhead," Elder Perry said, regarding the book's power as proof of Joseph's mission. Likewise, he said, if the book is true, then the priesthood has been restored with all of the sacred ordinances required for eternal salvation.

Elder Perry told the newly called leaders that of those missionaries who may be influenced by them, "I want them to leave with that testimony burning so brightly in their hearts and souls that it will carry them on through the full life of mortality, that they may have the gospel, that they may be able to witness that they understand from these basic truths the cornerstones of our religion." (R. Scott Lloyd, "'Bearing down in pure testimony':At seminar, Elder Perry speaks of gospel's 'four cornerstones'" Church News, [Saturday, January 19, 2008]: 4).

"I hope our missionaries are so prepared and so powerful that they 'astonish' the people they teach," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve declared Jan. 17 in a seminar for newly called missionary training center presidents and visitors center directors.

Elder Holland is a member of the Missionary Executive Council. His talk in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City came during the closing session of the three-day event in which the 16 presidents and directors and their wives received intensive instruction prior to departure. (An earlier address given to the group by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve was covered in the Jan 19 Church News, p. 4.)

Elder Holland's comment about astonishing people was given in the context of Book of Mormon passages in which Alma and the sons of Mosiah were "astonished" when an angel spoke to them with a voice of thunder (Mosiah 27:11, 18-19); when dissenters from the Nephites as well as 8,000 Lamanites were "astonished" and converted by Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman (Helaman 5:17-19); and when the sons of Mosiah had success because of the "power of their words," as these missionaries taught with "power and authority" from God (Alma 17:3-4).

The apostle stressed that these scriptures did not mean that the missionaries were to be theatrical or loud in their approach or that they should deliver their message in a way that is anything but sincere. "But every missionary has a gift," he said. "Every missionary has a commission. We just need them to believe in those gifts and embrace that commission. There will be power in such an approach to missionary work."

Earlier in his talk Elder Holland admonished the newly called leaders to "talk to the missionaries about the influence of words that are communicated by the Spirit. The only hope they will ever have as a missionary is to convey the words of the gospel as directed by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost."

Having served in an earlier assignment on the Missionary Executive Council, Elder Holland said he was involved in the development of Preach My Gospel, the new missionary guide. He noted that the title is taken from Doctrine and Covenants 50:13-14, wherein the Lord asks his servants, "Unto what were ye ordained?" and then provides the answer: "To preach my gospel by the Spirit."

"The title of this document could well have been 'Preach My Gospel by the Spirit,"' he said, "but that might be a little bit long for a title. So it is 'Preach My Gospel,' but always with the understanding of where that phrase originates and what the next phrase following it is."

He emphasized the pronoun "my" in the title as spoken by the Lord, and commented, "It is not our gospel, it is His. So we preach His gospel; we do it in His way; we keep His commandments; we follow His procedures and practices of good missionary work for the simple reason that this is His work and for His glory, and we must have His Spirit with us as we teach and testify."

Elder Holland said that the new missionary guide was developed with an eye for "strengthening the missionary as well as converting the investigator."

"We are always heart-broken if even one missionary returns home without that testimony which will stay with them for a lifetime," he said. "If we lose one returned missionary, that's too many. Surely, . . . whatever the spectrum of success or difficulty faced in a particular mission, at least the missionary can come home blessed with a testimony burning in his or her soul."

He added, "Once missionaries have their own conversion experience with the Spirit of this work, they can then be the kind of missionary God wants them to be, that they themselves want to be, and that their parents believe they are. But it won't happen in any permanent sense until they are as converted as they want their investigators to be. That theme is written into Preach My Gospel from the opening cover to the back page." (R. Scott Lloyd, More astonishing in preaching: gospel Missionary success comes with teaching by power and authority," Church News Saturday, [January 26, 2008]: 4).

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