For the Spirit of It: Students Workers at the MTC


 

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By MaryLynn Johnson

In any given year thousands of young people return from LDS missions and enroll or re-enroll at BYU. And more than a few of them come to Provo hoping for another chance to wear a name tag every day.

“It was always my dream,” says Daniel T. Rowe, who has worked at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for nearly two years. “I remember on the airplane down to Bolivia thinking I would

MTC mailroom

R.J. Harris, a math education major from Las Vegas, distributes letters and care packages in the MTC mail room.

really like to be a teacher at the MTC just because of the effect that my teachers had on me. I think I actually applied five days after I got home.” A communications and Latin American Studies major from Orem, Utah, Rowe was first hired to teach missionaries learning Spanish, and he now supervises other teachers.

MTC teachers can sometimes be identified by their campus attire—they’re men who wear white shirts to class, women who always wear skirts. At certain hours, the car-less among them can be seen biking past the Marriott Center or sprinting north along 900 East. What draws them back to the orange-brick buildings where, as new missionaries, many of them studied harder, felt more homesick, and woke up earlier than ever before in their lives?

“I adore these missionaries,” says Jessica R. Newman, a psychology major from Stafford, Va., who has taught Dutch at the MTC for more than a year. “I love the language lessons, and I love making them laugh and making the gospel fun and practical for them.” Personal growth is also a factor: “I’ve learned more about how to be a better missionary by working there,” she says. “One of my most favorite things is learning something new about the gospel every day.”

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Brooke Ellefsen (second from left) supervises other cafeteria employees. A physical education teaching major, she has worked in the MTC cafeteria throughout her time at BYU.

Though the numbers fluctuate as demand for teachers parallels the supply of entering missionaries, today the MTC employs an average of 1,800 BYU students. Most are teachers who work with missionaries daily, training them in teaching skills while offering crash immersion courses in some 47 languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese, and generally trying to instill faith and confidence in their charges.

But there are also plenty of nonteaching student workers at the MTC. Since the center typically houses and feeds on average 2,600 missionaries, it requires its own corps of food service, custodial, secretarial, and security employees. BYU students also help to staff the MTC’s mail room, gym, travel services office, front desk, and bookstore. There are even students employed as translators, curriculum writers, and computer specialists. Together they make the MTC the largest single-location employer of BYU students.

And they have more in common than workplace or dress: MTC workers are unified by a sense that their jobs matter in a special way. Says social work major Mary Ann Clayson, a senior who worked in the MTC check-cashing office both before and after her own mission, “When I got the job I felt really good about working there. I felt like I was making a contribution.”

That sense of importance may explain why some students keep their MTC jobs as long as possible. Brooke L. Ellefsen, for example, has worked at the MTC since she came to BYU. A friend’s sister helped her find a dishwashing job, and she has since held every position in the MTC cafeteria, where she’s now a shift supervisor. “I enjoy working with the missionaries,” says Ellefsen, a senior majoring in physical education teaching. “It’s neat to see them go through the process of learning a language and getting the confidence needed for the mission field. Most of all I’m proud of what they’re doing.”

While the location, size, and technology of the missionary facility have changed substantially over the years, the MTC-BYU partnership has existed since day one. In fact, Brigham Young Academy had a missionary training program as early as 1899. MTC administrative director Allen C. Ostergar Jr. says that in 1961 when the LDS Church established the Missionary Language Institute (later the Language Training Mission or LTM), part of the reason for locating it near campus was the chance to hire returned missionary students as language teachers. The facility added training programs for English-speaking missionaries in 1978, a couple of years after the first buildings of today’s Missionary Training Center complex were dedicated.

Alan F. Keele, ’67, now a BYU professor of German, found his profession while teaching missionaries in the early years. “I had been a chemical engineering student before I became a missionary,” Keele says. “After my mission I needed money, so I came to teach at the LTM. The more I taught German to these missionaries, the more I liked it.” So Keele switched majors, and he’s been teaching German ever since.

Other alums who spent years working at the MTC confirm that the jobs shaped their BYU experience. Sometimes the effects are social: Like students working anywhere, MTC employees occasionally fall in love with their co-workers or recruit their friends when jobs are available. And working together with a shared spiritual purpose often binds them tightly together. “It’s unbelievable the relationships I’ve made over there,” says Newman. “Some of my closest friends have been people I’ve met at the MTC.”

Sometimes, however, MTC workers sacrifice social options. Steven A. Roy, ’92, MOB ’97, worked with English-speaking missionaries at the MTC for six years—usually during the evening shift because he couldn’t fit his classes into a morning or afternoon block. That meant that he could rarely attend evening events on campus, and his dates had to start after 9 p.m.

Why did he stay? “It was definitely the experience and the Spirit,” Roy says. “Every day was another set of spiritual experiences coming out of the classroom.”

Not surprisingly, spiritual benefits are the most frequently cited reason for loving an MTC job.

Says teacher supervisor Rowe, “I don’t really count this as a job. I mean, I pick up a paycheck every two weeks. But I don’t really connect the money that I get for the job with coming here every day because this job in itself is so fulfilling.”