It was a golden autumn day, with just enough chill in the air, to tell everything was changing, as we pulled up to the entry booth at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah and announced we were Scot and Maurine Proctor, come to report for our senior mission. The gate slowly opened and we entered a world all its own, a sacred place where only missionaries and their teachers and leaders are allowed.
They gave us very specific instructions that we were to arrive between 10:10 and 10:10 AM. We pretty much figured that meant to be there at 10:10 and that’s when we arrived.
All else are not invited into this sanctuary—this place of transformation- where ordinary people become missionaries wearing the badges marked Elder Proctor and Sister Proctor.
Memories flashed before us of all the times we had only come to the curb by the entrance before to drop off a son or daughter, heading for a mission, knowing it would be 18 months to two years before we saw them again—and we would long for their voices when they could talk on Christmas and Mother’s Day. Through this MTC came our children going to Japan, South Africa, Ukraine, Chile, the Philippines, and the state of Washington. Our daughter who served in Zambia went to the MTC in South Africa.
So many tears of pride and yearning I have cried at this curb, hugging them and saying goodbye to these children who had never been out of our care or the reach of our voices since birth.
This time it was us, and since we had said goodbye to our family the day before, we were alone in our car.
As we went into the MTC, we passed the big mural of the world, that has famously shown up in so many photos, where the missionaries point to the missions where they will serve after they leave the MTC. Then we stood in line talking to senior missionaries until our time came to register.
Immediately there was such camaraderie among the senior missionaries, a sense of connection and love—as each of us had chosen to leave behind our world for a time to serve and care for others we didn’t yet know. The seniors were a highly-developed, self-selected group who were seeking to be disciples of Christ. Frankly, they shined.
Registering meant going from table to table where a missionary gave us the tools we’d need and the instructions to follow. At one station we got an envelope full of name badges, which we would be wearing every waking hour for the duration of our mission.
At another, we got ministerial cards signed by Russell M. Nelson, that would allow us the privileges of ecclesiastical leaders in a country. We got maps of the MTC campus, the schedule for the week.
Scot and I said, “Do you think these people were hand-picked to greet us? Each one is so cheerful, smiling and full of love.” Through our first week at the MTC, we learned that a place full of love was where we had come. In a world of boiling discontent, we, instead, had arrived at the happiest place on earth—and it wasn’t Disneyland.
Our first question for each new acquaintance was, “Where are you going?”, and it was stirring to hear the response. One said, “we are going to a military base in South Korea.” Another said, “we are teaching institute at several colleges in Southern California.” “I am teaching people to play the ukulele at the Polynesian Cultural Center.” “We are going to live on a remote spot on an Indian reservation and teach gardening.” “We are headed to a little branch in the highlands of Scotland.” These seniors were headed to Germany, Spain, and Portuguese-speaking Boston. They were being asked to dig deep and develop skills they didn’t have or polish the skills they did.
They had put their lives on pause, packed up their house, found someone to stay there, shopped for new clothes and endured many doctor’s appointments to make it through the missionary application process. They had worked hard to get on these missions, and it was only the beginning of the adventure.
In the many tours we have led over the years, we have noticed how quickly and automatically Latter-day Saints bond and connect with each other, pronouncing themselves family before very many days together. The same is true at the MTC. We were divided into districts with whom we had classes, and that was family. We were 117 seniors amidst a pool of young elders and sisters—and that was family. We were all missionaries in the MTC together—and though we would never know each other’s names, we were family too.
The young missionaries have a look to them, easy to identify. Their shoes are new and shiny. So are their clothes. They are eager, sometimes unsure about this new world they suddenly find themselves in. With some, you can see the insecurity on their faces, their worry about their image.
All of us seniors are given a class on how to comfort and support the young missionaries. We learn the questions to ask and the words to say to help them open up when we are with them in the mission field. Mission leaders yearn to have seniors join them for the foundation and friendship they can offer young missionaries. We will be a steadying force for them.
Oh, the cafeteria, where this bundle of humanity meets three times a day is a cacophony of noise, with hugs and greetings. We can’t imagine the task of turning out 6,000 meals per day, but that is what this cafeteria does. Can you imagine the food that must be loaded in each day, the cooking that must be done, the size of the refrigerator and stove? The cafeteria had a healthy bowl with a variety of vegetables, an Aloha station, a Café West whose menu changed every day and a salad bar. The lines were long, but the young missionaries were told that the seniors should cut right to the front of the line—and we did. They were so courteous about this.
Where the cafeteria shines is in its desserts. We particularly love the BYU mint brownies, but there were pies, 7-layer cookies, apple or peach cobbler, and cookies with white chocolate and cranberries. At first, we found ourselves going for those mint brownies every time they were offered. Then we calculated that in two weeks, that was a lot of mint brownies to pack on, so we backed off. On the other hand, how often do you get the mint brownies? You can put on the famous MTC 5 lbs. with that kind of attitude.
We got a good laugh one day to see an elder carrying a plate that must have contained a pound of tater tots supported by no less than a dozen sausages.
Each day found us meeting with the eight couples in our district to be taught by young, returned missionaries. Our teachers for the week were Sister Allison Flitton and Sister Gina Ferreira, and while you might think that girls in their twenties would not have much to teach seniors who have had the richness and shadows of life experience, they focused on the way of teaching that brought people to Christ. We, who have spent a lifetime teaching believers, now have to learn to teach those who do not know in the Lord’s way.
We used the scriptures, discussion groups, videos and teaching exercises to discover how to do this.
Each day we started our class by standing and reciting this:
As missionaries we
Invite others to come unto Christ
By helping them receive the restored gospel though,
Faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement,
Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and
Enduring to the End.
We learned how to find out what someone really needs and what he or she wonders about God, so we could zero in on just how to offer help. We learned how to issue invitations to act according to his or her needs. “Will you pray to know that God loves you?”
We learned how to plan to teach. We learned how to help our new friends who are not members recognize the Holy Ghost. We learned how to be intentional and engaged. We learned how to use technology to further the work.
We practiced teaching with each other. One day we suggested our teacher take the invitation to play the ukulele for us and sing a song in Cantonese. Two days later, she did!
We saw videos to learn by example how to teach. We particularly liked this one below, where two missionaries and two members from the local ward, were able to turn a woman back toward the Church by using the Book of Mormon when she decided it wasn’t for her. We thought the young missionaries responded in masterful ways. Here it is.
One of the main buildings of the MTC has 12 murals about missionary work from the scriptures—two on each floor of a six-floor building. Each takes up an entire wall and is a composite of art and photography, emphasizing light, that is truly magnificent. Since the murals are lit from behind, one of the best times to see these is at night. Here is a sample of three of them, recognizing that any photo can only show a piece of a mural and fail to capture the grandeur of these masterpieces.
This is Nephi, returning to Jerusalem to obtain the plates.
Here is the brother of Jared moltening 16 stones to take before the Lord.
This is Esther, “for who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
Our daughter, Mariah Proctor Scoresby, who is the senior editor of Meridian Magazine, is in the Esther scene, appearing three times in the background as one critical of Esther. We sent these photos of her to our family (pictured in the middle here) and said, “Look, who we saw hanging around the MTC.”
Our teacher had us sit in front of this mural of Paul. When he was stopped on the road to Damascus by a vision of the Lord, he said, “What wilt thou have me to do?” We were asked to ponder that question and seek to know what the Lord would have us do on our missions. Some of my (Maurine) thoughts were these:
The Lord sees me.
The Lord had seen Paul and knew just what he would do when given the truth.
I am more than I understand.
I have not yet seen what I will be.
The Lord often uses unlikely candidates to do his work.
Have I been holding some things back from the Lord?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
What we felt so often and in powerful ways in the MTC was the Spirit. It was a program specifically designed to speak the truth and bring the Spirit. Tuesday night we were part of a devotional that was broadcast to all the MTCs in the world. We were able to sing the Mack Wilberg arrangement of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in an 800-voice choir. This is one of our favorite songs, the one we chose to lead our podcast and a song loved by our daughter Melissa when she was in the women’s choir at BYU. She passed away some years ago.
Oh, the power of singing out with all of our hearts under the masterful hands of Cory Mendenhall, who is with the Millennial Choir. He brought out the best in us, led us to a growing and huge fortissimo for these lines, “Here’s my heart, Oh take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above,” and we wept.
That night Sister Harriet Uchtdorf told us that as missionaries we were prayed for 24 hours a day in the temples of the Lord. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, we were always in the middle of our missions and not to count down the days–and mostly what we were overcome with is the way an apostle regards people with such graciousness. Before his talk, he went to all of the missionaries in the overflow to give them his special greetings. After he went out of his way to thank all the service people at the MTC, sometimes the people who rarely get thanked.
So that’s how you love, we thought, that’s how it is done.
That’s how our days went this first week—being taught during the day and given remarkable experiences at night.
All week long, the Provo temple has been just outside the window to the east. We love the way light falls upon an object, and particularly Scot is sensitive to this beauty. In the morning, through dappled orange trees, that white temple shone in early light, and Scot took many pictures of it. Then Thursday night we were able to attend the temple.
The Provo temple will be decommissioned next year and completely redone, so this was our last time to attend a temple that has meant so much to us. Again, we felt the chords of memory all around us. Here Scot received his endowments. His grandfather, as a temple worker, was there to greet him as he entered the celestial room. His parents worked here for many years. It was his mother’s special delight to work in the temple as she grew older and one day, she took Maurine and our two youngest daughters with her for initiatory work. Here our son Lucas was sealed to Jessica, his eternal love.
So, this temple, will shine for us in memory long after another holy structure stands here. This week at the MTC will also shine for us.