A taste of Thanksgiving for 1,050 at the Provo MTC

PROVO, Utah – Thanksgiving Day at the Provo Missionary Training Center included a large portion of teaching and ministry from an Apostle and his wife, side dishes and a movie, then an evening treat with a musical performance by one of the Piano Guys, all topped with a final piece of Christmas lights and carols.

And we haven’t even started talking about turkey — or the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal at the MTC cafeteria on Thursday, November 24th.

devotion and nursing

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Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a Thanksgiving Day devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, November 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Thanksgiving activities for the 1,050 full-time missionaries being trained at Provo MTC began with a late morning devotional with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook. Elder Cook spoke of gratitude, humility, joy, and love, while Sister Cook led the elders and sisters to sing a Thanksgiving hymn—once with a Christmas twist.

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Sister Mary Cook, wife of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, leads missionaries in song at a Thanksgiving Day devotional Thursday, November 24, 2022 at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Because the anthems “Come, Ye Thankful People” (“Hymns,” 94) and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (“Hymns,” 209) share the same 777D time signature, Sister Cook asked the missionaries to sing the second verse of the former to the melody of the latter as a reminder that “Christmas is just around the corner is”.

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Left to right: President Benson L. Porter, President of Provo Missionary Training Center; his wife, Sister Kerry L. Porter, Sister Mary Cook; and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make their rounds at the Provo Missionary Training Center on Thursday, November 24, 2022 to greet sick missionaries in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

With the onset of fall flu season and the ongoing backlog of the COVID-19 pandemic, Provo MTC has seen a surge in illness, with a handful of sick missionaries isolating in their residential buildings for the day. The Cooks joined Provo MTC President Benson L. Porter and his companion, Sister Kerry L. Porter, on duty calls by waving through windows or chatting remotely through open doors with isolated missionaries who were the missed activities of the day.

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Missionaries add spices to their plates on Thursday, November 24, 2022 for Thanksgiving at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

After the devotional, throngs of missionaries flocked to the cafeteria to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, salad, buns, and pumpkin pie.

Service project fight hunger

The afternoon began with a humanitarian presentation from the Church and a training video for the day’s service project — which will become an annual collaboration with Hunger Fight, a Jacksonville, Fla., nonprofit charity focused on hunger and illiteracy.

At the opening Thanksgiving 2021 mission, missionaries wrapped 380,000 food packages in about four hours in what Hunger Fight officials gratefully described as “controlled chaos.” This year, MTC and Hunger Fight executives forecast a total of 400,000 wrapped, bagged and destined for the Utah Food Bank food packages.

Mike Gant, development manager for the Hunger Fight area, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “one of the greatest organizations we’ve worked with” and admittedly “bragged” about the church’s organizational and volunteer efforts.

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Missionaries participate in a Thanksgiving service project on Thursday, November 24, 2022 at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“They run this place better than the Marine Corps,” he said of the MTC and its collaborative efforts on the relief project. “No one is harsh or rude – the love of the Lord is evident in everyone.”

The MTC Relief Project is one of three major efforts to end hunger in Utah — another two-day effort this year involving 6,000 volunteers with the Silicon Slopes, an organization representing Utah’s business community that has produced more than 1 million meals, while a separate project with the church’s IT department and 1,200 volunteers resulted in an additional 360,000 food packages.

During the presentation, Luis Camara Manoel, senior manager in the Church Humanitarian Services Department, shared insights into the work the Church is doing around the world to meet human needs.

“I hope that we’ll be inspired by the Holy Spirit, that we’ll strive to be a little bit better and kinder, to care a little bit more about the welfare of others, and to be moved to action wherever we stand,” he said .

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Missionaries participate in a Thanksgiving service project on Thursday, November 24, 2022 at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

He reviewed part of the history of the humanitarian efforts of the Church and Latter-day Saint charities since their inception nearly four decades ago, and listed the humanitarian totals for the past year—nearly 4,000 projects in 188 countries worldwide, partnerships with 2,300 organizations and providing $906 million to help more than 50 million people worldwide.

He listed the current priorities and initiatives of the Latter-day Saint Charities – food security and water; health care and disabilities; Education, Employment and Emotional Health; stability services; child nutrition, immunization and well-being; and emergency response.

He said missionaries could play a role in helping through fasting and giving a generous fast offering; Find opportunities to get involved and volunteer; focus on the rising generation; service to families and individuals in need; and reaching out to other faiths and communities to build relationships.

make food packages

At 2:00 p.m., half the MTC missionaries spent two hours packing meals and the other half watched the movie “The Rescue of Ephraim.”

Eight to ten missionaries lined each of the 60 production tables, two-thirds of which were used to make oatmeal and brown sugar meal packets and the other third for cheese and macaroni packets. Once the production line had produced 42 packets of food—enough to fill a box—a missionary rang a handbell in celebration.

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Sister Zuster Besaw rings the bell along with other missionaries as they participate in a Thanksgiving service project Thursday, November 24, 2022 at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“I’m glad to do this,” said Sister Emma Hamblin of West Point, Utah, who was in training for the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission. “It’s a good opportunity to know that I’m helping others, that it benefits others.”

Sister Gwen Stewart of Salt Lake City, who is assigned to the France Lyon Mission, said that Christ would do something to help others. “I feel truly blessed to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

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Sister Hall, right, stands among other missionaries participating in a Thanksgiving service project at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Thursday, November 24, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Two hours later, all of the missionaries ate a packed lunch in their classrooms, allowing the cafeteria staff to have afternoons and evenings off during vacation time. Then the two sides swapped places – those who had served watched the film while a new group took the service project tables.

music and Christmas lights

The evening ended with a special musical program featuring Jon Schmidt, pianist from The Piano Guys. The missionaries could then walk around campus and enjoy the Christmas lights outside the MTC campus while singing carols.

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Missionaries participate in a Thanksgiving service project on Thursday, November 24, 2022 at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

For Elder AJ Smith of St. George’s, Bermuda, who serves in the Abidjan East Mission in Ivory Coast, Thursday was his first ever Thanksgiving holiday. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It was incredible to feel such a sense of gratitude. It was one of the highlights of my MTC experience.”

Elder Logan Duersch of Tooele, Utah, also assigned to the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission, said he “loved” his Thanksgiving at Provo MTC. “It wasn’t what I expected, but I see the focus as loving everyone else and being thankful for what we have.”

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