At the beginning of their service, LDS missionaries usually spend 3-12 weeks at an MTC where they receive training in doctrine, conduct, proselyting methods, and when required, a foreign language. There are 17 MTCs located in nations throughout the world including Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.
New missionaries assigned to the Provo MTC arrive on Wednesdays, at which point they begin using their titles of "Elder" (for the young men) and "Sister" (for the young women). They are also assigned companions and are organized into districts and branches. During their training, the elders and sisters will spend the majority of their time in class, with breaks for meals, church services, temple attendance, fitness activities, service projects, and personal preparation time (for laundry, letter writing, etc.).
All missionaries are given at least three weeks of training in proselyting methods. This includes lessons on church doctrine and teaching, mission rules, and proper comportment and interactions with investigators and local members. Missionaries are also encouraged to use their time outside class to actively study Church doctrine.
Missionaries who already speak the language of their assigned area are sent to their mission after just three weeks. Other missionaries may spend as much as an additional nine weeks in language training. The Missionary Training Center language programs encourage a full immersion experience with the motto "SYL" for "Speak Your Language". In some cases, missionaries learning foreign languages go directly to the MTC in the country where they are called to serve. This depends on the capacity of the MTC in the area.
Each MTC is directed by a mission president, just like any of the 345 missions worldwide (this number is ever changing). Classes in the MTC are typically taught by returned (former) missionaries. Branches are led by local church members called to serve in the MTC.
The Missionary Training Center was originally started by the LDS Church after some of its missionaries were stranded in the United States due to difficulties in obtaining passport visas to other countries. Diplomatic relations between the United States and other countries where LDS missionaries served became strained, limiting the number of missionaries serving in those areas. Often these missionaries would simply be reassigned to another area, but as the number of missionaries grew this became more of a problem.
The missionary experience prior to the establishment of the MTC was in some ways quite different from what would happen later on. In 1925, a small building adjacent to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City had a dormitory for brand new missionaries. Missionaries arriving here would then be set apart to their missionary service by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Often they would even be interviewed by these Apostles during this time and attend a service in the Salt Lake Temple, staying just a day or two before leaving to their assigned areas. Missionaries who had difficulty trying to get to their assigned areas would then either serve as tour guides on Temple Square or do clerical tasks at the LDS Church headquarters.
In part to keep the missionaries occupied while they were waiting for their visas, many of these missionaries were enrolled in courses at the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. As language instruction was considered essential, most of these missionaries were enrolled in courses to learn the languages of the areas where they would be serving.
This proved to be problematic, however, as missionaries would arrive and depart at random intervals throughout the year as they accepted missionary assignments or as the visa paperwork was completed and approved by the country they were trying to get into. This certainly didn't fit well within the semester system for the rest of the BYU students, and eventually required professors that were dedicated strictly to teaching missionaries instead of the traditional university students.
A more permanent organization was needed to cope with the needs of these missionaries.
By November 1961, missionaries gathered at the Hotel Roberts in downtown Provo under the direction of Ernest J. Wilkinson, a professor of Spanish in the BYU Languages department. In 1968, the activities were moved to the Amanda Knight Hall (Knight-Mangum Hall), one of the buildings on the lower campus of BYU, which was reserved exclusively for the training of missionaries. A new LDS mission, the Language Training Mission (LTM), was created with its own mission presidency and mission organization, with the geographic extent of the mission to be the perimeter of the building. This building included dormitories as well as classrooms for the missionaries. Eventually, other buildings on the campus of BYU were also used for missionary training activities.
The Church constructed and operated a large LTM in Laie, Hawaii. Through the 1970s, the Hawaiian LTM received missionaries from around the world who were preparing to serve as missionaries in the Asia Pacific regions, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Polynesia.
Instructors for the LTM were employed by Brigham Young University. Sometimes these were full-time professors from the university, but more often they were teaching assistants or simply university students who had skills in the languages being taught. In many cases, instructors were former missionaries who had just returned from the areas where the missionaries in the LTM were to be sent. Curriculum was still planned directly by the Foreign Language departments at BYU, in coordination with the LTM mission presidency.
In the beginning, the LTM was intended to be a temporary place for those missionaries who were having visa difficulties. However, mission presidents who received visa-delayed missionaries started to notice a significant improvement in their proselytizing skills over similar missionaries who were able to get their visas almost immediately. It was estimated that even a few weeks of intensive language training at the beginning could save almost a full year's worth of effort trying to learn the language "on the streets." Mission presidents soon asked the church headquarters to have all the missionaries who were going to their areas, regardless of their visa status, to attend language training before their departure.
During this expansion of the LTM's role, additional types of instruction were also added to the curriculum, including leadership training and basic instructor training. After several years of language and general missionary skills training, the mission presidents serving in English-speaking areas were requesting that their missionaries have this same opportunity to take some of the additional classes taught at the LTM. As there were an increasing number of missionaries serving overall, as well as a large number of missionaries who would be attending the LTM due to program changes, plans were made to move the whole mission to another location.
Due to the growth of the church, the number of buildings and the size of the main administrative building were expanded to cope with the increased activity at the Provo MTC campus. Ultimately, even this growth could no longer be accommodated and it became apparent the church would need to build training centers in places other than Provo.
With the growth of the LDS Church outside the United States, it soon became almost impossible for LDS missionaries living outside the USA to be able to come to Provo and attend the MTC, both for financial reasons as well as for visa difficulties. Just as it had been a problem for American LDS missionaries to obtain visas to go abroad, it became difficult for foreign church members without American citizenship to come to Utah, often for the same reasons.
After the development of the Area Presidencies as a level of administration in the church ecclesiastical hierarchy, Area Presidents outside of North America were authorized to establish independent Missionary Training Centers for the members living within their area. This removed most international travel requirements for many missionaries, especially for missionaries who spoke the language of their own country as a native speaker and were able to serve on a local mission.
One of the first of these missionary training centers was established in 1977 at São Paulo, Brazil, adjacent to the newly dedicated São Paulo LDS Temple. The Church has constructed a new building in the Casa Verde neighborhood of São Paulo. The building is the largest Church-owned facility outside the United States and is home to the world's second largest MTC.
As the number of missionaries coming from North America grew, it was decided to send many of the missionaries directly to areas where they would soon be serving, if there was a local MTC capable of servicing them. This has allowed the growth of these MTCs outside of the USA instead of building another MTC campus in North America. Missionaries from North America who have visa difficulties still attend the Provo MTC first, and temporarily serve in areas of the United States while they get their visas. Missionaries from countries outside the US where there is not a Missionary Training Center in their own country, attend the MTC of the country closest to them.
The Teaching Resource Center (TRC) gives the missionaries some experience teaching the gospel in their mission language. All missionaries (including those going to English speaking areas) visit the TRC each week. Volunteers who speak the language role play as investigators in these teaching situations. Missionaries then watch a video tape of their teaching session to find ways to improve their language skills and teaching style.