More than 80,000 missionaries now serving in the field began their service in one of 15 missionary training centers. In the MTC, missionaries practice teaching, study the scriptures, “Preach My Gospel” and other materials, and (in some cases) learn another language. But there isn’t nearly enough time for missionaries to learn everything they need to know in the MTC.
Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general president, referred to this problem in her 2007 conference address “Mothers Who Know.” She said, “Mothers who know are always teachers. … Think of the power of our future missionary force if mothers considered their homes as a pre–missionary training center. Then the doctrines of the gospel taught in the MTC would be a review and not a revelation. That is influence; that is power.”
But making your home a pre-MTC is more easily said than done. Here are five things to help you get started preparing the future missionaries living under your roof.
1. Help them gain a testimony of the Restoration and the Book of Mormon
Before your kids can teach people about the gospel, they have to understand it for themselves and gain a testimony of their own. Specifically, they need to be able to teach about the Restoration of the gospel and have a testimony of the Book of Mormon.
This process is gradual and largely personal, but parents can help teenagers begin the process. Read the Book of Mormon as a family and invite your children to share what they are learning in their personal scripture study. Using “Preach My Gospel” as a resource, teach your children about the Restoration often. Encourage discussion and answer questions. A testimony is built a piece at a time, so be patient and be consistent.
2. Use “Preach My Gospel” in the home
“Preach My Gospel” is a missionary’s bread and butter, so introduce them to it early. Make sure everyone in your family has a copy of their own and use it frequently in family scripture study and family home evening. Better yet, invite your pre-missionaries to teach the lessons they will soon teach investigators. This practice and familiarity with the lessons will put them ahead when they enter the mission field.
3. Teach them how to study
In the MTC, missionaries spend about half of their time studying. In the mission field, study continues every morning. If your missionary has never learned to sit down, study and apply what he’s learned, he will have to catch up in the mission field.
Let your kids see you studying your scriptures. Ask if they need special materials for their study, and periodically ask them how their study is going. If you sense your child’s scripture study could use improvement, invite them to join you for your study or teach a family home evening lesson on good study techniques. These skills are useful for all Church members, but especially for future missionaries.
4. Teach them life skills early
Preparing your kids to live on their own is always important, but especially if they plan to go on a mission. With the lower missionary age requirements, young men no longer have a year after high school to live away from home and learn to do their own laundry, budget, go to bed and wake up early, grocery shop or prepare balanced meals. Many missionaries enter the field without these essential skills and have to learn them in the field, which only adds to their stress and takes away from time they could be spending more productively.
As much as they might hate it, your kids need to do their own laundry at least a time or two. Teach them to prepare meals, especially simple ones that can be made quickly and inexpensively. Take them grocery shopping so they know how much things cost and how they can stay within their budget when they leave.
Social skills, while often overlooked, are especially important on a mission. Preaching the gospel is a largely social endeavor, and missionaries who can easily connect with people and express themselves clearly are often more successful. Expose your kids to social situations that might make them uncomfortable, and don’t fight their battles for them. These important life skills will be invaluable on a mission.
5. Teach them to work
Missions are hard. Really, really hard. And if your kids have never had to stick it out in a difficult situation, they might struggle under the stress of a full-time mission.
Start teaching your kids to work when they’re young. As they grow, give them more challenging things to do. It is difficult for missionaries to keep working on particularly discouraging days, so don’t be afraid to let your kids get discouraged with difficult tasks at home, at school or in the workplace. When they do, encourage them to keep trying, to keep working, to keep going. If your kids know they can do hard things, they will be better, more confident missionaries.