Lingfield, Surrey, England—
“That’s the trouble with an English garden—it’s always between seasons,” the gardener explained, apologetic because not all of the flowers were in bloom.
It was, in fact, an odd time to be strolling the grounds at the London Temple. The temple itself had been closed for renovations, and construction equipment was still being cleared away for its reopening in the autumn.
It was an equally odd time to visit the Missionary Training Centre. Electrical repairs were under way in the Manor House, where the MTC usually operates, so classes were being held in the Visitors’ Centre theatre or occasionally outside.
An odd time, yes. But in a way a symbolic time, too. Everything was between seasons, in a flurry of final preparation for the temple reopening. And final preparation is what the Missionary Training Centre is all about.
Here elders and sisters from throughout Europe undergo two weeks of polishing for full-time missionary service. Many will work in the British Isles. Some will return to their own lands or serve in other countries. Already set apart as missionaries, they bring with them enthusiasm and dedication; they leave with even more commitment to serve with heart, might, mind, and strength.
For two weeks, the missionaries here could also be said to be between seasons. Many have grown up in the Church, nurtured in youth programmes and seminary studies. Others, converts, have grown quickly through the power of testimony and fellowship.
In either case, the season of initial growth is now concluded, and they are in a flurry of final preparation for a new season—a season of finding and teaching, of thrusting in the sickle and harvesting. In the next few pages, join us for a quick tour of the England Missionary Training Centre. Meet some of those we met there, and feel the anticipation they feel for the season of missionary work ahead.
Elders Tucek and Barry are companions at the MTC. Both will be serving in London.
Jan Tucek, 24, of the Ceské Budejovice Branch, Czechoslovakia District, left his medical studies with only one year remaining before he would have become a doctor. “I wasn’t sure I should go,” he explains. “Then I saw the video Called to Serve, and it answered my prayers.” In it, an elder told how his mission fortified his testimony of the Book of Mormon.
“Through him, the Lord was telling me, ‘If you want to have a stronger testimony, if you want to help other people have this same knowledge, then you have to go on a mission.’”
School officials promised to hold a place for him. “But the hard part was explaining to my parents. They felt I could help people more by being a doctor. But I have more important work now for two years. Then I can work my whole life as a doctor.”
James Barry of the Caerphilly Branch, Cardiff Wales Stake, is a natural in rugby. He still holds a club record for most senior appearances by a 19-year-old prop (a specific position on a rugby team). He had five years’ experience and a good chance to go to international level. He dreamed of representing Wales in world competition.
“I trained on Sunday for a year, but never felt right about it. Then last year, when I was making the commitment to come on a mission, I stopped training on Sunday, because I thought it was wrong. And I got dropped from the district side, just before they were picking the Welsh international side.
“But I look at it now as a blessing. If I had made the international side, perhaps I wouldn’t be serving the mission. And the mission’s more important.”
“I wish I had. …” It’s a phrase elders and sisters use over and over when asked what advice they would offer to youth preparing for full-time missions. Take some tips from them and begin—or improve—your season of preparation now.
Prayer. “Learn to build a relationship with your Heavenly Father. Learn to speak with him about your concerns, to listen to him as he speaks to you.”
Experience. “Take every opportunity to work with missionaries in your area. They uplifted me and helped me understand what missionary work is really like.”
Scriptures. “Start reading the scriptures now. Commit to read at least a chapter every day. There are special messages in each story, and the Spirit will touch you as you read.”
Seminary. “Pay attention to the lessons, and learn the scriptures. If you know your seminary scriptures, you’ll be miles ahead when you get here.”
Testimony. “I wrote a letter to a Czech sister who’s serving in London,” said Elder Tucek. “I asked her what I should bring with me on my mission. The first thing she said was ‘Bring your strong testimony, because you will need it here.’”
Here’s a typical MTC schedule:
6.00—Get up, then personal Book of Mormon study.
8.00 to 12.00—Class, including learning and practicing discussions, being taught from the “Missionary Guide,” video presentations (some from General Authorities), and guest speakers. There are short rest breaks.
12.00 to 13.00—Lunch.
13.00 to 17.00—Class.
17.00 to 18.00—Dinner.
18.00 to 18.30—Personal study.
18.30 to 21.00—Class.
In “district meetings” each day, missionaries teach each other the scriptures and share the Book of Mormon. At evening appointments with MTC staff and other volunteers, missionaries practice discussions and answer “investigators’” questions.
“The MTC is a practice run,” says Elder Marc Saunders from the Newbury Branch, Reading England Stake, who will serve in the England Leeds Mission. “It gets us used to getting up early, gives us a chance to teach and bear testimony, and makes us knuckle down on scripture study and morning and evening prayer.”
“The MTC can be spiritually exhausting,” says Sister Rebecca Jones, who will serve in the France Paris Mission where her father is president. “You want to think about everything you’re learning. But it’s like trying to drink out of a hose that’s shooting water. You can’t get it all, but what you get is wonderful.”
“When I first got my calling to Leeds,” says Sister Janice MacDonald, of the Livingston Ward, Edinburgh Scotland Stake, “my heart was bursting. I wanted to take it out and say, ‘Enough, go and expand somewhere else!’ I had no more room. But then coming here and teaching the gospel and knowing those feelings are the Holy Ghost speaking to you, again there’s not enough room. At the end of a discussion you want to say, ‘Let’s step outside and expand a little,’ because there’s not enough space to hold all you’re feeling.”
“I’ve learned never to be afraid,” says Elder Mark Plumridge of the Norwich Ward, Norwich England Stake, who will be serving in the England Manchester Mission. “If you feel the Spirit strongly, and you know you should say something, don’t hesitate. Don’t be ashamed of the things that you hear. You’re on a mission to help, with the Spirit, to convert. So you’ve got to be guided by what it says.”
During a typical year, some 450 elders and sisters go through the England Missionary Training Centre. “About 40 percent come from English-speaking countries—33 percent from England, 7 percent from Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Wales,” says MTC President Arthur J. Sperry.
The remaining 60 percent come from non-English-speaking countries of Europe, including part of the former Soviet Union, and a few from Africa. Most already speak English as a second language.
The England MTC recently received the first missionary called from Ukraine. He is now serving in the Manchester mission. “We have also trained two sister missionaries from Germany who are now in Ukraine,” President Sperry says. “We’ve had our first sister from Czechoslovakia and our first elder from Poland. They’re both serving in London.”
“My dad’s been a less-active member of the Church now for 20-odd years,” Elder Barry says. “He’s fully supported the family; he just hasn’t come to church himself.
“But since I got my mission call, there’s been a change. The branch president said I could ask Dad to speak in sacrament meeting before I left. And Dad said it would be a pleasure! In the meeting he said he loved me and wanted the best for me on my mission.
“Just like that he’d given me a blessing straightaway. Those words meant a lot to me and to our family. Now I have a letter from him, and at the end he said, ‘Jim, do your best in the Lord’s work.’ I feel if I do and if I’m obedient, maybe Dad will understand how important the gospel is. So I’m going to do my best.”
One of the first lessons elders and sisters learn at the England MTC might surprise you. The mission president’s wife, Sister Carol Sperry, talks about peeling oranges.
“It’s a lesson I learned from my father-in-law,” she says. “When my husband and I were first engaged, he wanted to get better acquainted with me. ‘Let’s go peel an orange together,’ he said.” It wasn’t the orange that was important, it was the time spent listening to each other. It became a tradition in the Sperry household, and now it’s a tradition at the MTC.
“I talk about getting along with companions,” Sister Sperry says. “I tell them sometimes you need to work out your concerns. Peeling an orange together is a way of saying I care, I want to know what you’re feeling.”
It’s also a principle that works with investigators. “Of course you want to teach them, and the discussions present the gospel in an orderly way,” Sister Sperry advises. “But there are times when you need to just peel an orange together, too.”
The lesson is well remembered. “I receive lots of letters saying, ‘I’m still peeling oranges,’” Sister Sperry notes.