My MTC Experience: Oct to Dec 1995

I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah from October 25 to December 26, 1995 as I prepare to go to Rosario, Argentina to serve my full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article is one of a series of posts I have written about my mission to the Argentina, Rosario mission. Click here to see them.

I loved the MTC from the very beginning; everyone I met there was so nice and the spiritual growth I experienced was phenomenal. I’ll have to tell you about it in words because I only have a couple of pictures from my MTC experience. I had a camera, but it was the first time I had ever owned a camera, thus I wasn’t very familiar with the process of loading and unloading the film. Apparently, I did something wrong in the process and all the pictures got exposed and turned out completely blank. Thankfully, my friend Mark Bigelow, who was my freshman roommate at Brigham Young University (BYU) the year before, was at the MTC at the same time as me and he donated this picture he snapped on his camera.

mark bigelow and jimmy smith at Provo MTC Oct 1995

Here’s my friend Mark Bigelow and I in front of the map at the Provo, Utah MTC.

Traveling to and entering the MTC was the typical experience in some ways, but in some ways not. I flew from my home in Maryland to Utah on a Tuesday and spent the night in Provo at the college apartment of my brother Stephen. I don’t remember getting dropped off. I presume it was Stephen, so it probably wasn’t the typical family tearful goodbye.

I liked the MTC from day. I enjoyed the spirituality and I felt comfortable. My comfort level was helped by the fact that the MTC facilities reminded me of the dorms at BYU. My MTC stay was just a few months after I completed my first year of college at BYU and all the facilities (beds, laundry, cafeteria) was just like in the BYU dorms. Check out this post for more information on the life and schedule at the MTC and what facilities and services are available.

I was amazed at how they just threw us into Spanish, teaching us to pray and contact people in Spanish, on our very first full day. I was in one of the first trial runs of the Technology Aided Language Learning (TALL) program which included a daily class in a computer lab where we had the ability to listen to native Spanish speakers and also record ourselves and play it back. I believe using this kind of technology, which was very new at the time, is now part of all missionaries’ curriculum at the MTC.

At the MTC, I felt I had a peaceful, happy life that was relatively stress-free. I had few worries about what was going on in the outside world, I just studied Spanish and the gospel and felt the Spirit God almost all day, every day. I loved learning more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how to share it with others. I think my ability to really enjoy the MTC came from the preparation I received during my youth, at home and at church. I had been an active member my whole life, my parents held family home evening weekly, I attended early morning seminary, I had read the Book of Mormon, and I had prepared myself spiritually and physically for the mission. These things I did to prepare led me to receive a strong testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew the gospel was true and I knew that a mission was where God wanted me to be, and I was able to immerse myself in the work and truly enjoy it.

Of course, I know not all missionaries enjoy the MTC and the experiences there as much as I did. I have known plenty of missionaries who struggle with the transition to missionary life. Many missionaries have a hard time adjusting to life away from home, some have trouble learning the language, and many, frankly, have a hard time being spiritual all day every day. If youth have largely ignored spiritual things throughout their life, then going to the MTC can be a difficult transition. I believe that preparing spiritually is the most important thing to prepare for prior to going a mission because a firm testimony will help youth overcome any other trials. But physical and emotional preparation, as discussed throughout this website, is also vital mission prep.

I had many special, spiritual, faith-promoting experiences at the MTC, but I’ll share just one that happened after I had been there for about a month.  We had a lesson on faith and as I sat there listening, my mind and soul seemed to open up and receive knowledge from heaven. After the class, one of the other missionaries asked me what I had learned about faith, and as I tried to convey through words what I had felt the Spirit of the Lord poured over me like never before.  The other missionaries and I worth both greatly edified by this experience.

The more I learned about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. The more I studied the scriptures, the more I wanted to immerse myself in them and learn all that I could.  An hour a day of personal scripture study suddenly didn’t seem like nearly enough.

I came away from the MTC with more gratitude in my heart, more meekness and penitence, a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon, a firm understanding of the importance of obedience to the commandments and to the mission rules, deeper gospel knowledge, a stronger testimony of the Church and of the atonement of Jesus Christ, greater sensitivity to the Spirit, greater trust in the Lord, and joy and happiness that worldly things cannot bring.

At the conclusion of my MTC experience, I wrote in my journal, I knew I had had a life altering experience, even if I never set foot in the mission field.  While that is certainly true, oh how little I realized how much I would learn and grow once I got into the mission field. And believe me, I was anxious to get to Argentina and start real missionary work. I was in the MTC for 9 weeks, and as much as I enjoyed everything there, by about the halfway mark, me and the other missionaries in my were getting stir crazy. I remember feeling like I might burst if I didn’t get out of the MTC and start tracting and teaching people. As it turns out, once I did get the Argentina, on my first day, I wished I had made better use of that time and learned the Spanish language and the missionary techniques better. But the Lord blessed me, as he will all of you.

Here’s a video I made a few years ago about my experience in the MTC:

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