By Dan - We arrived at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah last Monday. It is hard to describe the check in experience. An overwhelming input of information, a joyful feeling of being a small part of something truly amazing, incredulity at the unbelievable organization and efficiency here, and great humility sitting together with 125 other senior missionaries bound for spots all over the world (ones that I can remember include Sweden, France, Japan, Hungary, Zimbabwe, Korea, Ghana, New Zealand, Mongolia, The Philippines, Netherlands, all over South American, Germany, The Congo, South Africa, Bellevue Washington (the Allens, Carrie) Corpus Christi Texas, and all over the USA). There were about 7 couples doing military relations missions. Regarding the organization, it was a lot like my induction day at the Naval Academy. There were folks everywhere with clipboards and handouts, explaining where you had to go next, what you had to do, and what you had to pick up. Everyone was very cheerful, helpful and knowledgeable. At first someone told us exactly where to park temporarily and where to go pick up our packet of information. ( Many of these helpers are Sr volunteers from the community) Next someone else showed us where to park to unload our luggage and where to park our car permanently. Then 2 young missionaries helped us get our bags up to our room and gave us a quick tour of our building (we are in 2M, which is on the MTC campus). We then paid in advance for our meals, picked up our training materials at the bookstore, had our shot records reviewed and recorded, got our travel per diem check, signed our ecclesiastical id cards showing we are official clergy for the church, received more handouts, and had a welcome meeting. Everywhere we went there were people to answer questions and point out where we were supposed to go. The cafeteria is huge and serves excellent food – chicken wraps for lunch and roast pig for dinner. Mom and I found the ice cream freezer at our second meal. Uh Oh;) It is amazing to be around 3600 young men and women that are in training to be missionaries all over the world. They are all so energetic, happy and engaged. It is so cool to hear them speaking so many languages- many recognize and many we have never heard. They are polite and friendly when approached, but mostly they just ignore us and mix with each other. But it is a blessing to rub shoulders with them and feel their joyful spirits. There is an excellent workout room in the basement of our building, and I got to try out the exercise bikes already. The televisions in the workout room feature talks from church leaders, Mormon ads, and a couple of historical church movies. We had an amazing first day here, and are truly happy to be a part of this work. The folks here will be spreading the message of God’s love and plan all over the world, and doing service and good works everywhere they go. It is a joy, but also very humbling, to be a part of it. //Later in the week…. We have developed a routine. We get up at 6am and walk around the edge of the campus for exercise. Usually we see multiple young missionaries running in the dark. After breakfast our training starts at 8am. We get a lunch break from noon to 1:30pm. Then we have more training until 4:30. Our instructors are young men from BYU who have already served missions, one in Japan and one in South Africa. Although our job is to work with LDS Servicemen, because we wear missionary badges we have to be prepared to answer questions and work with anyone that approaches us any time we are out- in the grocery, at the gas station, eating dinner out. etc. We had some excellent lessons on how to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, how to help invite the spirit while you teach, and how to be good examples of faith. We do a lot of role playing and teaching of mock lessons to local volunteers, which has been fun. On Tuesday evening we hurried to dinner and dashed off to the Marriott Center, where we had choir practice with 1600 other young missionaries. This picture is us waiting around with the other choir volunteers. It was so much fun- the highlight of the day. The asst director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the director. Then we sang at the Devotional where church general authority David Evans and his wife spoke. It was a great experience to sing with 1600 young people, and our song sounded good.
We met two very interesting couples one evening. The husband of the first couple served a mission in Germany as a young man so speaks German. He then majored in European History and taught for many years. He and his wife have an assignment to live in Germany and to research the history of the church in Europe. They will be traveling around Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. and interviewing older members of the church, finding historical church documents and pictures, and eventually creating a book. Cool! Another military relations couple we met are going to Japan. They will serve an Air Force base, an Army base, and a Navy base that are all near Tokyo. They have never visited Japan, so we told them about our favorable experiences there. People have asked us what Sr. Missionaries do- we cannot believe all the amazing and unique assignments we have heard- several are going to teach seminary or institute classes to LDS youth or young adults at colleges or organize youth or young adult activities in area where church membership is sparse. There are medical and dental missions, where LDS missionaries instruct doctors or dentists in that area in special procedures, some are setting up family history centers, or doing oral family histories, teaching technology, languages, helping with leadership in areas with few members, engineering water treatment, building buildings, painting, landscaping, and all sorts of random unique things. But they are all important and needed in the specific area they are in. Even though we know that this work is going on, it is not bragged about a lot, and it really is overwhelming to be in the midst of all of these fine diligent dedicated people who are trying to make the world a better place. Much of the teaching we are getting is very applicable to being better leaders and examples in everyday life.
On one day for example, our theme was listening well, to understand what people’s problems really were, and then address the root problem rather than just “the tip of the iceberg”. Our exercise was to meet mock investigators that are having some sort of problems in their lives and to try to help them learn to use the gospel to deal with the problem. Our couple was very nice, but it ended up coincidentally (or maybe not) that he had actually been a marine medic in Vietnam. Even though it was 40 years ago he still had bad feeling about the awful things he saw there. It was pretty humbling and we got good feedback and some insight on the types of military issues that we will be dealing with. We got mail - a care box from the Hong family from the Idaho State Fair, our military relations badges, and the receipt for my hepatitis shots, so it was pretty exciting (getting mail is a big deal here). Tonight we shared the kettle corn with our friends from Menan, Idaho, who usually went to the Eastern Idaho State Fair, and had a lovely visit with them out on the 3rd floor patio, and met some other very interesting people while we were visiting. It is really amazing how quickly people can bond when they are in the same situation. When we have the same Gospel backgrounds, experiences and goals, there is an instant closeness. We have been receiving emails from the church leadership in Virginia, so our service there is starting to seem real. We feel very humble and blessed to be having this experience. It has made Dan and I feel very close to go through this training together.
Saturday was our first real day off. We did not sleep in though, we got up early and went to the Provo Temple. It was nice to be there with new friends. Then we went to the Family History Center for the day. Although we had planned to walk we had heavy bags, so we drove down to the BYU campus via the Creamery where we had some fantastic ice cream cones. Luckily we found a nice visitor parking lot near the Wilkinson Center, and had a short walk to the family history library. When we arrived in the morning the campus seemed very deserted. After some good family research we went outside to eat lunch (the MTC cafeteria provides good sack lunches). It was still hot, but we found some good shade for our little picnic. This was a BYU football game day, and we noticed a definite increase in campus activity. Lots of folks walking around in their Cougar gear. After more family history work we were tired by 4:30. We headed up to stop by the bookstore before heading home and found that there was a major thunderstorm in progress. It was so bad that they delayed the BYU football game for two hours. I guess the prompting to drive the car was more than just heavy bags. We made it back to our room without getting too wet.
Sunday has been pretty amazing thus far. We had sacrament meeting early with about 50 young missionaries. As we walked down the hall we could see many other sacrament meetings taking place. The whole MTC is divided into multiple branches, and branch leaders are called from the nearby community. The young missionaries did everything except for 2 talks by branch leaders. It was a very nice meeting. Then after a quick breakfast we went to a large gym and watched Music and the Spoken Word, which was excellent. It was not quite as cool as seeing it live last Sunday, but it was still really good. Next Lezlie went to Relief Society and I went to Priesthood. There were about 20 young missionaries and about 20 of us seniors. Once again the young missionaries handled almost everything, and they did a great job. It was inspiring to see them and hear about where they came from and where they are going. I had an interesting experience at lunch. A young missionary tapped my shoulder and very seriously said, “Excuse me sir but I was told that there was an Elder Couch here that was a Naval Academy graduate. Is that you?” We chatted for several minutes. He has finished his first year at the academy and is now taking a two year break to serve a mission in Tokyo. He was an impressive young man, and it was fun to talk to him. I am sure he thought I was ancient as I told him how things were in the old days at the academy. Tomorrow we start our specialty training. First we will learn about church education, since we might be teaching institute type classes to the young Marines. And then Wed we start out two and a half days of the military relations training. If it is even as half as good as last week, it will be awesome. It is incredible to be here among these amazing young people as well as all of these competent seniors. We feel humbled to be a small part of this group that are going all over the world to spread the message of God‘s love, to teach of Christ, and to do good works among the people. Finally this evening we went to two devotionals, one for missionaries leaving this week and one for all the missionaries. At the first one, they called out various countries and states, and the missionaries going to that area would stand. It was so impressive to see these devoted young people and all the places they are going! Each devotional had excellent speakers and wonderful music. We are ending the day tired but feeling very well fed spiritually. It was a wonderful day.