PROVO -- It's not every day that residents of Provo can see nearly 3,000 missionaries converging on the Marriott Center, but through August every Tuesday around 6 p.m. be prepared for the army of young men and women moving en masse to their weekly devotional. They will also be joined by their fellow missionaries of nearly 200 coming from the west MTC area at the Wyview/Raintree location.
According to Spencer Christensen, manager of operations at the Missionary Training Center, as the swell of incoming missionaries has begun, Tuesday evening devotionals have been held in the regular MTC multi-purpose room, but has also had to be simulcast to other areas of the campus.
On Tuesday for the first time all of the missionaries will be able to experience hearing the general authority devotional together in the same location.
This is just one of the accommodations and changes the MTC and its missionaries are experiencing. According to Elder Joe Giacalone, 19, and Elder Levi Neeley, 19, the whole experience has been wonderful.
Giacalone and Neeley are companions at the MTC. They are both going to Budapest, Hungary. As a companionship, they have had the opportunity to not only live in the main MTC for 6 1/2 weeks, but they got their first transfer notice and were sent to the west campus and now live at Wyview and attend classes at Raintree.
"The morale is great, everyone is enthusiastic," Neeley said. "It's just wonderful to be a part of the MTC." He added it doesn't matter which campus you're at.
Both missionaries already had plans to serve missions at age 19 before the age change to 18 announcement was made. In fact, Neeley said he has a couple of 18 year-old friends that will be entering the MTC in the next few weeks.
Those 18-year-olds could end up being part of the largest group yet to come in one week, and will most likely be in the MTC at what is anticipated to be the peak of the biggest influx of missionaries.
"July 10 is projected to be the peak," Christensen said. "It's difficult to predict with the number of Spanish speaking missionaries going to the Mexico MTC."
According to Christensen the largest group ever to enter the MTC in one week came in last week with 944 missionaries. On Wednesday 820 more will join them.
While the numbers are smaller at the west campus, the spirit is just as strong, Neeley said.
Giacalone added, "There's not as many missionaries here, but it still has that feeling. It's awesome."
For this companionship the time spent in the MTC is also shorter. It used to be that missionaries learning foreign languages stayed 12 weeks. That has been reduced to nine weeks. However, with the way classes are taught and technology used, these missionaries are going out more prepared.
Describing the teaching areas at the former Raintree apartments, Neeley said, "We have classes in the living room, in room B there are couches where we hold mock discussions. There is a wall between the living room and the dining room where computers are set up."
Giacalone noted, "we use a computer program called TALL. One hour a day we go to the computers. It's a program that has native speakers that teach phrases and their words."
Giacalone added that with the computerized help on natural expressions and understanding of common phrases, missionaries not only learn how to use LDS teaching words and phrases or church words, but they are learning the language that can help them with speaking generally.
Missionaries study 10 to 12 hours a day; they have gym class and enough time to eat as well. Neeley and Giacalone are in a district of nine people, all going to Hungary. They have four to five main teachers every day to help them learn the language and LDS principles in Hungarian.
"We love our teachers. We've grown close to them. They have helped us learn to love the people before we ever get there," Giacalone said.
Neeley added, "Our teachers are fantastic. They help us learn about the gospel. The MTC has been a wonderful experience."
According to Christensen for the meantime operations will consist of missionaries living at Wyview and studying at Raintree. As more missionaries come in they will also use Raintree for housing purposes.
When Giacalone and Neeley leave the MTC in five days, they may be taking the FrontRunner in downtown Provo, transfer to TRAX in Salt Lake City and ride all the way to terminal A at the airport.
Christensen noted that FrontRunner has worked nicely but there are some missionaries that still need to be transported to the airport because their flights are too early to catch the train. Over all the changes and growing pains haven't been as painful as first thought.
"It's really been great to experience both sides of the MTC. We feel really blessed," Neeley said. He added they are looking forward to finishing up and getting out to their assigned areas in Budapest.