The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is enticing missionaries to come outside into the light with two new building additions to the Provo Missionary Training Center that they hope will offer places to ponder and learn, as well as enjoy nature and feel peace.
The LDS Church has constructed a nearly 180-degree difference in missionary learning experience compared to the learning spaces it first built 40 years ago that offered few windows and small rooms.
Young Women General President Bonnie L. Oscarson’s impressions of the new classroom buildings are a reflection of a portion of her contribution to the design.
“The presence of light and spacious views, places to ponder and think, the artwork, from floor-to-ceiling winders it’s all wonderful,” said Oscarson, also a missionary executive board member.
Large art pieces adorn the walls. They are digital photos printed on cloth and are backlit. They feature individual men and women from the scriptures. On the opposite wall, scriptural references to the painting are meant to compliment the painting and cause missionaries to ponder their meaning. Walls throughout both buildings, depending on the area, are painted bright yellow, orange or lime green.
Carpets feature gray, silver, white tones and highlights of the bright color to match the area. The tone is modern with light wood finishes. Wide halls, large lobby areas and larger classrooms and training rooms complete the new buildings.
The buildings, referred to as T3 and T4, offer of variety of specialty lighting and acoustical ceilings. A large chandelier reflecting the Plan of Salvation, hangs nearly two stories in one of T4 building’s lobbies. The light features long, white strands adorned with fiber-optic lights, in the center is a globe depicting the world. Surrounding the globe and spiraling up and down the entire light are small white clothe-like pieces representing the spirits coming to earth and returning to heaven depending on your view of the spiral. Oscarson was involved in the selection of the light, and says she is pleased with the outcome.
Oscarson noted that a great deal of research had been done by the church on learning environments. In just a brief time of use, there has been a change in missionary demeanor.
Kelly Mills, managing director of International Missionary Training Centers, said the new design is all about the missionary.
The MTC has a capacity of 3,700 missionaries, it currently houses 2,212. Mills said they do not expect to reach capacity for some time. However, he does see a future need for the dormitories to be replaced. Even at capacity, Mills said there would be an outdoor place to sit for every missionary. There are numerous flower gardens, an outdoor terrace and large water feature.
New to the MTC are a variety of outdoor learning spaces called council rings that look like large pergolas with concrete benches or rocks formed in a circle to hold discussions and class time in.
“We’ve already seen a difference. There is something about this environment,” Mills said. “It’s the beginning of a missionary’s service, they are adjusting being away from home.”
The MTC was first dedicated in 1976, with additional buildings added in 1978 and 1994. The classrooms were cramped, with walls made of slump block and small windows, if any. The color was neutral and drab. Classrooms were cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
“We had known for some years there were seismic, heating and electrical concerns with the old buildings,” Mills said. “This was the most cost-effective (design) and this was a better solution than the nine-story building originally proposed.”
The new buildings have been in planning and construction for more than five years, with much discussion and change during the process. Originally there was to be one nine-story building planned that caused major controversy with local neighborhoods.
Mills said there are more spaces with the two six-story buildings and the new design is a prototype, of sorts, for future MTCs that might be built throughout the world.
“The new MTC in Ghana is patterned after this design,” Mills said.
And what a design change the new buildings are to the old. This is not your parents’ MTC, or your grandparents’ Language Training Mission.
MTC President David Martino calls it a “spiritual sanctuary.”
“My wife and I walk to the MTC every day,” Martino said. “When I walk through the doors I’m energized, I feel the enthusiasm and excitement. We eat all of our meals here. Every day brings new problems to solve and relationships to service.”
Martino has been the MTC president for six months and says that everything that has been done at the MTC is about the missionaries.
“These young adults set aside school, work and their social life. Ten percent of their life to invite others to come to Christ,” Martino said.
Deanie Martino, serves with her husband and serves as the MTC’s Relief Society president. She cares particularly for the needs of the sister missionaries.
“I love the missionaries!, they inspire me and remind me this is the greatest work that I could be involved in,” she said. “Sister missionaries come to the MTC already prepared to share their feelings about this great work. They were born talking about feelings, which makes them fabulous teachers, because they testify of truths not from what they know but they share how they feel. It is easy to be inspired by their feelings which is far better than to hear what they know. The sister missionaries are wonderful ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ in this great work of Salvation. When the elders and sisters join together they are a force for good that will change the world one person at a time.”
On Wednesday, media were also allowed to view the older parts of the complex including the gymnasium, cafeteria and laundry area, and a rare chance to photograph families dropping off their missionary outside the MTC. Those areas have not been changed since 1994. However, sleeping quarters have been renovated to accommodate six instead of four missionaries per bedroom.
The T3 and T4 buildings replace the laundry and auxiliary maintenance services buildings that were rebuilt just east of 900 East and near Wymount Terrace.