South Africa MTC Reflections
By Elder Kenneth D. Reber
Realizing that our time of presiding over the South Africa Missionary Training Centre is coming to a close on January 23, 2014, Sister Reber and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on our assignment here and remembering this wonderful experience with nearly 1,000 missionaries. My wife, Janet, and I were amazed and overjoyed to receive our call from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to preside over the South Africa Missionary Training Centre from January 2012 to January 2014. My call to be a patriarch had seemed to limit any further full-time missionary work for the rest of our lives. We are grateful to our Heavenly Father for one more opportunity even though we had served together two times before in Europe.
Our predecessors, the Christensens, and Mark Mocke, the operations manager of the SAMTC, met us at the airport and welcomed us to our new home. They prepared us for our new life. We discovered that our role was not only to teach the missionaries but also to support and prepare them for the field. We helped them overcome their lack of confidence, fears, and anxiety. It is a miracle that the missionaries can adjust so quickly. One can literally see the hand of God in their lives as they develop and grow in the 12 days allotted to them. In the year 2012, the time in the MTC was 19 days, but it was reduced to 12 days by President Thomas S. Monson for 2013. The number of missionaries in the SAMTC rose from 378 in 2012 to 585 in 2013. That is over a 50% increase.
It was a spiritual experience with each new intake to determine who would be companions and who would also be the leaders. It is done by inspiration. Never did we have to change a companionship due to incompatibility. They grew together during their stay, and they really loved each other at their departure. It was especially impressive to see the different races, cultures, and nationalities blend together, strengthen each other, and truly show Christ-like love to one another. This brought a powerful spirit into the MTC. Singing for ten minutes at the close of each day was also a marvellous experience which brought the spirit even stronger into their lives and helped them commit daily to obedience. The development of the missionaries individually, as companions, and as an MTC group was in fact miraculous. Words cannot describe the conversion and change. It is a powerful experience.
We are happy that over 99% of our intake missionaries made it to the field. This was possible because of the great desire of the missionaries to be obedient and choose the right. They responded well to the teachings of the teachers and obeyed the Missionary Handbook. And all of this with the missionaries coming from over 36 different countries from around the world!
It is not uncommon for the missionaries to come with hardly any worldly possessions. Many had lost one or both parents in death and were raised by grandmothers, siblings, relatives, or neighbours--or even raised themselves. Many are converts of less than two years in the Church. They came with a strong testimony and a desire to serve. Many spoke several languages. Many spoke some English but lacked comprehension. The Missionary Department provided each of them with a study guide to study English as a foreign language during the missions. They are allowed and encouraged to study English 30 to 60 minutes each day. At the conclusion of their missions, missionaries could take a competency test online through lds.org. If passed, a certification would be provided to prove their competency English.
We were blessed that we experienced no serious accidents. There were no outbreaks of flu, colds, malaria, chicken pox, etc. God loves the missionaries. During the year of 2013, we did not have any emergency visits to the hospital, for which we are extremely thankful.
In a 12-day period of time, it is possible to have heavenly experiences.