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PROVO -- The Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the MTC, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The Church first started the training program half a century ago. Since then, the idea of how to train young men and women and senior couples to do missionary work has changed in the 21st Century -- everything from learning languages to staying fit. But it begins with leaving family and friends -- always an emotional experience.
Every Wednesday, families and friends say farewell to young Latter-day Saint men and women, volunteering 18 months to 2 years to preach, teach and serve somewhere in the world.
"It's very exciting but it's hard too," said missionary mother Kim Bracken. "It's mostly exciting. I have to admit, it's mostly exciting.
There are approximately 52,000 full-time missionaries currently serving in 334 missions in approximately 120 different countries around the world. -LDS Church
Missionaries greet the 300 to 400 new arrivals each week, and 100 cars unload every 15 minutes. Every year, 20,000 new missionaries pass through the doors of the MTC in Provo.
For 50 years, they have come here to learn how to teach the basic principles of their faith.
"Before I got my call, I never knew they sent missionaries to Madagascar and suddenly everybody knew somebody that's been there," said Elder Scott George.
First, new missionaries take photos for I.D. badges. Then, they receive seam rippers to open the pockets of new suits, a place for those internationally-recognized name tags.
Approximately 50 languages are taught at the Provo MTC. -LDS Church
Next, the host missionary takes each new missionary to his or her room, which houses two bunk beds -- four people to a room.
After a quick look around, they're whisked away to an important meeting, where they are paired with a companion. The pair will serve together anywhere from three to 12 weeks in preparation for working in pairs in their assigned countries.
Fifty-two languages are taught in the MTC. Missionaries spend nine hours a day in classes. Most of the instructors are former missionaries.
For in-depth study, missionaries can take advantage of the language lab.
In 2-hour blocks, three times a day, 500 hungry young people arrive every half hour at the facility's dining hall. It's all you can eat, and last year, missionaries consumed more than 200,000 apples, 163,000 pounds of bananas and 25,000 gallons of 2% milk -- with chocolate milk close behind at more than 22,000 gallons.
In addition, they ate more cereal than anyone cares to count or weigh.
In order to burn off some of those calories, the young missionaries have an opportunity to come to one of the busiest gyms in America. They exercise 60 minutes a day. Last year, instructors logged half a million missionary hours. They even have early-morning options for the young women.
"There's a 6 a.m. class that the sisters are allowed to go to," said Sister Megan McAdams, who has been called to Poland. "They have Pilates and yoga and kickboxing and a step class."
The clean-cut concept starts at the MTC barber shop.
"I'm glad to get it off. It's my first haircut in the MTC and it's my first haircut by someone outside my family," said Elder Meril Francom, who will serve in Columbia.
The Provo MTC is designed to accommodate up to 4,000 missionaries. -LDS Church
Keeping their clothes clean takes up some of the missionaries' day of rest.
"Today it's our P-Day, which is Preparation Day," said Elder Damian Darrach. "We do laundry, we write letters home."
At the mailboxes, they look for letters in return.
Elder Devin Frix said, "We even get excited for each other when we get mail so it's really awesome."
What happens at the MTC remains one of the most unique religious programs in the world. More than 52,000 missionaries are living in more than 120 nations where they share their faith and service.
For most, it begins on the 40-acre campus known simply as the MTC.
There are 15 MTCs around the world. Two-thirds of all missionaries receive training in Provo.
KSL 5 will air an hour-long special on the MTC Conference Sunday, April 3 at 1 p.m.