(by Jason Swensen deseretnews.com 8-9-13)
Several weeks ago, Bryce Rodabough was serving as a Bingham High School student body officer, sporting T-shirts and enjoying his final days of class before graduation.
Things have changed. The 18-year-old South Jordan native now calls Mexico City his home — at least for another week or two. He wears a tie every day and tops off most of his meals with a corn tortilla. He's doing his best to converse with others in Spanish.
And everyone calls him Elder.
Elder Rodabough is one of 733 full-time Mormon missionaries studying at the recently opened Missionary Training Center in Mexico City. Many, like Elder Rodabough, are from Utah.
For the past few weeks, almost all new missionaries from the United States and Canada who have been called to Spanish-speaking assignments in those two countries are coming to this sprawling, 91-acre campus for intensive language training. Many other North Americans assigned to serve in Latin American lands are also spending their first six weeks of missionary service here at the Mexico City MTC.
Just a few months ago, the majority of North American missionaries with Spanish-language assignments studied at the MTC in Provo.
That changed following the pivotal announcement last January that the storied, church-owned Benemerito de las Americas school would be transitioned into a missionary training center.
Ceremonies for the final high school graduating class at Benemerito were held on June 14. The MTC's first wave of new missionaries arrived about two weeks later.
"The transition is practically complete," said Mexico City MTC President Carl B. Pratt. "And we still have a lot of room to expand."
An emeritus general authority and a Mexico native, President Pratt has witnessed decades of steady growth throughout his country and across Latin America. Still, he recognizes the new MTC in Mexico City is a dynamic symbol of a historic, hastened period of missionary work in the church.
Last year, the church announced a new minimum age policy for missionaries beginning full-time service — age 18 for men, 19 for women. Since then, there has been a surge in young people accepting mission calls. New or repurposed facilities and infrastructure, such as the former Benemerito school, were needed to handle the increase in missionaries.
The Mexico City MTC is able to accommodate 1,000 missionaries.
Despite the large number of elders and sisters studying here, the facility feels open and airy. Each day, instructors take their students outdoors to review their lessons under tall shade trees.
Companionships practice their Spanish outside their dorm rooms or on a bench in one of the center's many plazas.
Time at the Mexico City MTC is not limited to rigorous study. Almost every day the elders and sisters have access to the center's variety of athletic and exercise facilities. Many missionaries have fun playing basketball, outdoor volleyball, ping-pong, soccer or Ultimate Frisbee. Others burn off the day's stress in the center's training room.
"Sunday is my favorite day of the week," said Elder Collin Butterfield, 19, of West Jordan. "It's a break from all the regular study of the week, and it's very spiritual."
In a few weeks, Elder Butterfield will leave Mexico City and begin his Spanish-speaking assignment in the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission. His time at the Mexico City MTC has provided him an appreciation for the Latino culture and people.
"I love it here," he said. "You can approach anyone, say 'Hola, como esta?,' and in an instant you have a new friend."