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What will happen at the Provo MTC? Missionary center transitions as new arrivals greeted on Wednesday

Sister Katie Clark, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Newport Beach, California, hugs her crying mother, Jeannie Clark, as they walk near the Provo Temple and the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The church announced Wednesday that April’s general conference sessions will be held virtually, some incoming missionaries will train remotely, and gatherings of multiple congregations in some areas will be postponed due to the spread of COVID-19.
Sister Katie Clark, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Newport Beach, California, hugs her crying mother, Jeannie Clark, as they walk near the Provo Temple and the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The church announced Wednesday that April’s general conference sessions will be held virtually, some incoming missionaries will train remotely, and gatherings of multiple congregations in some areas will be postponed due to the spread of COVID-19.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Some of the missionaries who arrived Wednesday at the Provo Missionary Training Center found themselves on an unusual emotional roller coaster when news broke that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was going to ask missionaries to train from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We live a couple of hours north, and we were already on our way to drop off our daughter when we started getting all these texts from people saying the MTC was closed to new missionaries,” said Olivia Moore Brower, of West Point. “I got excited that we might have her home with us an extra week or two.”

Sister Charity Brower, 19, didn’t like that idea at all. She was scheduled to start her training for a mission in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she is a hands-on learner, so she wanted to be in the MTC.

When the Browers pulled up to the gate, the first person who leaned in to talk to them through the car window asked if any of them had been sick at all recently.

“We told them our younger daughter was but she had different symptoms and had been tested for strep and mono and the tests came back negative,” Olivia Brower said. “We wondered if we hadn’t taken her to the doctor last week if they would have let Charity in.”

She made it, but she was among the last who will enter the church’s missionary training centers in Provo or Preston, England, for the foreseeable future.

Those whose mission calls instructed them to report to Provo or Preston now will train six hours a day by remote video conference, the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Missionary Department said in letters issued Wednesday.

They still will be set apart as missionaries before their assigned start date, and their training will begin on that start date, but they will train from home or another suitable location.

“This will be a unique experience for you and all who are affected by the precautionary measures taken to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” according to a letter sent Wednesday afternoon by the Missionary Department to all missionaries with callings to report to Provo or Preston.

The Provo MTC has about 1,100 missionaries on its campus now. The Preston MTC has about 60, according to church spokesman Daniel Woodruff.

One of the 60 in Preston, Sister Megan Unbedacht, 19, is a former Utah State University soccer player from Lindon who arrived in England today.

“We put her on a plane by herself,” her mother, Valerie Unbedacht said. “She met up with other missionaries in New York and landed in Manchester early this morning.”

Her mother was OK with her daughter traveling and serving a mission during a pandemic.

“As long as she takes the necessary precautions, she’ll be OK,” she said. “We’re all facing it, right? And the church is pretty cautious and looks after their missionaries and will take the necessary steps to protect her and the other missionaries.”

This is the fourth missionary the Unbedachts have sent into the mission field. The other three trained in Provo.

“This is the first one I’ve sent off from an airport,” she said. “It was a little bit different, a little bit more emotional.”

Missionaries called to report to the church’s other nine MTCs around the world still continue do so.

However, missionaries from a region experiencing government restrictions also will train online.

Online MTC missionaries will be assigned a remote mission companion and receive their missionary badge and ministerial certificate by mail. They also will take part in additional activities on evenings and weekends. They still will hold personal study and join in remote companionship study.

Families of missionaries who now will train from home quickly began to readjust.

“Our daughter is scheduled to enter the MTC on April 15, a month after the virtual MTC is scheduled to start,” said Dennis West, of Provo. “Not sure if the change will still be in effect at that point, but we are talking about how we can make our home more MTC-like during that time if she needs to do virtual as well.”

Olivia Brower said her nervousness about her daughter serving during the pandemic was eased by seeing the precautions at the MTC entrance and by the church’s other actions.

She had asked her daughter to delay her mission start date until after spring break so the family could go on another vacation together, but Charity Brower, who spent four months working at a fishing lodge in Alaska to save money for her mission, felt strongly she should not delay.

“Today felt like an answer to that,” her mother said. “It was inspiring, comforting, easier letting her go knowing it was imprinted on my mind that she is meant to be there now.”

Sister Charity Brower, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, poses with her family, left to right, Rebecca, Ryker, father Travis, Emma, Mary Kate, TJ and mother Olivia Moore Brower, as they drop her off to begin her mission at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Sister Charity Brower, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, poses with her family, left to right, Rebecca, Ryker, father Travis, Emma, Mary Kate, TJ and mother Olivia Moore Brower, as they drop her off to begin her mission at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Brower family

Read the missionary department’s letter to new missionaries in full below, as shared from the church:

Subject: Adjusted MTC Training (COVID-19 Precautions)

Dear Missionary,

As was announced today, and under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, your missionary training experience will now take place online. This will be a unique experience for you and all who are affected by the precautionary measures taken to protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. You will learn through video conferencing in your home or other suitable location rather than in person at the missionary training center. Be assured during this time that the Lord loves you, is aware of you and the challenges that this may present and will support you as you serve Him.

Your training experience will begin on your originally established missionary training start date and will count toward your time of missionary service. Your stake president has also been made aware of this change.

Missionary training center staff will contact you directly in the coming days to provide additional information and to begin the process. We appreciate your patience as these changes are implemented.

Prior to beginning your online MTC experience, you will be set apart as a full-time missionary.

Along with another group of missionaries, you will take part in online training led by an MTC teacher. 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. You will be expected to hold your personal study, participate in remote companionship study, and complete other assigned activities provided by your MTC teachers throughout the day. You should expect to be anxiously engaged in study, practice, and preparation. You will receive all necessary training materials in the mail, along with your missionary badge and ministerial certificate.

During this online MTC training experience, you will be encouraged to follow missionary standards found in Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ, including the approved schedule and dress and grooming standards.

Prior to departing for your assigned mission, your stake president will conduct a final interview. Information regarding your itinerary will be sent to you prior to your departure.

We are deeply grateful for your willingness to serve the Lord. We invite you to take full advantage of this unique training experience. The Lord trusts you, and He will guide you as you strive to use this time for learning and devoted service.

With great love and appreciation,

The Missionary Department