Sunday, November 21, 2021

24-27 October 2021 The End of a Call from the Lord

 Sunday, October 24th.  Our St Louis stake conference was presided over by a general authority seventy in order to change our stake president.  Pres Bunderson has received a call to himself be a mission president.  He is such an inspirational and organized leader that he will surely succeed.  It has been good to be able to observe his service even if from a bit of a distance.  Near the end of the conference, I received an impression.  The Spirit confirmed to me that our service over these past two years has been an assignment from the Lord.  I have marvelled for months at the seemingly strange circumstances that brought us to St Louis in the first place, after so much expectation was built that we would serve in Thailand with people we love.  But medical delays, doubts, and nearly giving up but pleading once more allowed for our assignment to the Missouri St Louis Mission.  On reflection, no one could have anticipated the difficult but necessary work we would be a part of.  Indeed, during the pandemic, the missionary work was kept safe, reshaped, redistributed here until finally the nations of the world were ready once again to receive these trained, tutored, and cared for missionaries, reserved for redeployment to places in the world that needed to draw on the strength provided by this bulwark mission.  We were blessed to be able to contribute all our might, mind, and strength to this effort.

We ate our last supper in our apartment, and then went to the mission home where we had some teary goodbyes with the Bell family.  Then we received blessings under the hands of Pres Bell, a true servant of the Lord.

Monday, October 25th was our loading day.  Elders Sapp, Paulson, Williams, and Steed helped us load our car onto a trailer and pack the car and truck with what we wanted to bring home.  I am grateful for the help of these fine housing elders, doing unglamorous work and often on their own time, like today, but helping the work in ways they barely understand.  I will never discount the importance of temporal work done well.  Once packed, Sis Hatfield and I had the feeling that we needed to go minister one last time to Dee Marche and Annie Stewart.  So, we delayed our departure and went to see them.  We hugged, cried, and prayed together, leaving little care packages of food from our apartment.  

Finally, we were off.  Our first destination was Pierce City, Missouri, near the Kansas and Arkansas southwest corner of Missouri.  There we carefully picked our way through rural roads to see the Leavitt cousins, daughters of Aunt Sue and Uncle Robert Hull, who have married Leavitt brothers and a cousin, and built homes and are raising families together.  In our world of small nuclear and rarely seen extended family, the Leavitts’ relatively simple, large family lifestyle is a remarkable contrast.  Sis Leavitt is a missionary in the MSLM, so we were happy to report on her well being.  We had a large, multifamily family home evening that dwarfed the primary and even the branch meetings we were accustomed to in the Pagedale branch in St Louis.  We were delighted to share some of our mission experiences and encourage missionary service to young and old.  

Tuesday, October 26 we travelled across Kansas and eastern Colorado and had dinner with my sister Lori and her family.  I had wanted to stop and visit her on our way out to St Louis, but the timing just did not work well.  This time, we made it work, driving a long, hard day to make it to Denver in time to visit with AJ, Lori, and daughter Audrey.  They are a wonderful, active family.  Right now they are supporting Alex on his adventure of attending a soccer training school in Arizona.  He has been variously injured and homesick, but now is on track and learning a great deal academically, physically, and emotionally it seems.  At dinner, Lori raised her eyebrow when I mentioned the Denver hotel where we would be staying for the night.  So RaDene’s antenna were up when we drove there and saw a few too many signs of a scary neighborhood.  She called and cancelled our reservation and we drove out of town to find an alternative.  We stopped at a Motel 6 which had a neighborhood that seemed a little safer for our open truck loaded with our belongings.  The room was a little sketchy though.  I think we slept with our clothes on for an extra protective layer.  

Wednesday, October 27th started with a frosty drive over the Colorado Rockies where we picked up a thick layer of salt and dirt on our truck, its contents, and our car in tow.  We stopped in a small town on the western slope to spray off at one layer of dirt.  We had decided to take a slightly alternate route up through Vernal rather than the traditional trip through Green River and Price.  The travel time difference wasn’t much and the change of scenery sounded appealing.  We had unknowingly missed a turn though, and about 40 minutes outside of Vernal we came to the end of the paved road.  We continued on a dirt mining road for about 10 miles over a mountain pass before connecting to the highway into Vernal.  The truck was certainly up to a dirt road, but hauling a trailer with a sedan in tow seemed a bit strange on an unpaved mountain road. 

Once all was well that ended well, we had a good laugh about that.  As we drove through Dinosaur National Park, Vernal, Roosevelt, past Starvation Reservoir, and then Strawberry Reservoir, the brassy sun and dry landscape was a stark contrast to where we had been living the past two years.  But as we came through the Heber Valley with Mt Timpanogos in our view, we knew we were finally home.  

As we pulled in front of our house, Spencer, Elisa, Abbi, Ezra, and Milley were waiting for us under a hand-colored welcome home banner.  Then I had a sweet reunion with my dear Mother, the person who may have paid the greatest personal cost for my being away this past year, dealing with the loss of Dad without much support from me.  Elisa took the kids home for bed, and Abbi remarked to Sis Hatfield that she did not want to see her wearing her missionary badge tomorrow.  Little Abbi recognized the time and distance of the mission service too, and was ready for it to be over.  Spencer and Mom stayed for Stake Pres Kevin King’s visit to our home to release us.  He generously gave us time to share and be counselled.  And then it was over.  He released us.  Two years of full time service came to a rather abrupt end.  Fortunately, we have family and good habits to help us reorient our lives.  We will never forget the lessons learned and service rendered this past two years in the Missouri St Louis Mission.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

17-23 October 2021 Last Chance to Train the New Office Recruits

 Sunday, October 17th.  I was asked to give a short talk today and I chose as my topic the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I believe that the Resurrection is the keystone of Christianity. If it happened, Christ must be worshipped as who He proclaimed to be—the Son of God.  No mere mortal has the power in himself to come to life again after dying.  The Resurrection is the single most important event evidencing Christ’s divinity.  Because He was resurrected, Jesus had to have been a God, the Only Begotten Son of the Father.  As mortals, we cannot understand how the Resurrection occurred.  It is the supreme miracle.  But because of the Resurrection, we can believe Christ’s words that He had a power to which we can look for redemption.  The Resurrection was wrought by that same power that wipes away sin, pays for injustice, and heals the infirm.  The Resurrection makes our bodies everlasting, physically at one with Christ and God, just as the Atonement promises to make our spirits one with God.   Jesus Christ is the only name or way by which we can receive salvation.  I also gave my final testimony to the Pagedale branch members.   After services, Sis Hatfield and I provided a little lunch for the branch.  It was delightful, and an important chance to say goodbye.  We only wish we had had the opportunity to have more branch socials, but that wasn’t possible because of the Pandemic.  Then we were off to the mission office for training.  This is transfer Sunday, with much to be done and lots to share with the Sapps and the Winsors.  While training Sis Winsor on departing missionary flight check-ins, boarding passes, and other final documents, it was discovered that Sis Leavitt still has a ticket to fly home tomorrow, although her mission was extended for a transfer.  Sis Hatfield and Sis Winsor were on the phone with church travel to try to straighten that out.  I showed Elder Winsor how to put together traveling missionary snack packs.  The discrepancy of the level of training importance is obvious.  Then were off to greet the departing missionaries at the mission home.  They included three former housing assistants--Elders Buck, Dailami, and Smith.  And it also included Sis Hatfield and me.  We stayed for the departing missionary dinner at the mission home and testimonies, sweet traditions in missions all around the world.  The growth and accomplishments of these young disciples of Christ is inspiring.  Later that evening, Sis Hatfield jumped into the planning for Elder Wright who, heading for Ecuador, did not need a COVID test, surprisingly, but did need an original typhoid vaccination card.  His parents had sent it to him via the USPS overnight mail on Thursday but it had not arrived and likely would not be here for his flight early tomorrow.  He had a picture of the vaccination card, and church travel advised that he show up at the ticket counter in the morning and see if they would let him board.  That strategy is a bit risky:  even if the airline lets him board, will immigration let him enter?  

Monday, October 18th began with a trip to the airport with the luggage for the departing missionaries.  By now, I usually let the housing assistants take the luggage without me.  But Elder Sapp hasn’t seen the process before, so we both go on the early morning run so that he has departure procedures better in mind.  And there was a small miracle.  Mr. Airport Parking Security was not at the entrance station, and the person on duty was more than willing to let us in.  Avoiding the curb with the truck, trailer, and a van full of missionaries is a rare blessing.  Back at the office, Elder Sapp and I continue with transfer planning, which by COVID mission standards, is light.  With our schedule for the next couple of days mapped out, we head over to Fairmont City and Fairview Heights, Illinois to set up a tri and develop more information on possible locations for another apartment.  The President feels like we need a place that could either get the two companionships out of one apartment, and leave open the possibility for a sisters companionship in the Fairmont City Spanish branch.  Having a list of a few possibilities from an internet search, we are able to look at neighborhoods and eliminate 1 or 2 contenders.  Things like suitability of neighborhoods for possible bike use and other safety issues are hard to judge on Google Maps.  While there, we fixed a stove burner by plugging it into its socket, discarded a mostly full bag of cement, evaluated carpets for cleaning, sprayed down shower mold, cleaned dusty and dirty HVAC vents, and repaired torn sheetrock paper.  How do some of these things happen?  We have a new carpet cleaning man recommended by an apartment manager.  We gave him a trial run on the Allemans’ carpet and had the chance to meet him at their apartment.  He is a very kind, considerate person.  We’ll see how he does at cleaning carpets.  His business is new, and it would be nice to have someone that is anxious for the business.  We stopped to see the sisters in Shilo/Lebanon, Ill.  They need a set up for a third sister beginning on Wednesday, and as it turned out, a vacuum intervention, a furnace filter, and a few other minor things.  We made it back to the office and I worked with Elder Sapp on the rent payment schedule until 10 pm.  This may be the single most important recurring task that Elder Sapp will have.  It seems like it should be the same every month, but there are prorations, adjustments, and new leases every month, so the work is detailed and painstaking.  Meanwhile, Sis Sapp has run out of steam today.  Sis Hatfield is filling in to be ready for foreign transferring missionaries, and since she has been training Sis Winsor on mission secretary duties all day, the foreign transfer work had to be done tonight.  Yes, Sis Hatfield’s work really will be taken over in time by three other full time senior sisters.  

Tuesday, October 19th.  It does seem there has been a bit of an epidemic in bedbugs.  This morning, the Champaign sisters called to say that they believe they are infested.  I had no choice to let Pres Bell know so he could consider whether transfers involving the Champaign sisters should be suspended until we have the bedbugs under control.  Meanwhile, the sisters have found a member that has ownership in an Orkin pest control business in the area.  He has agreed to send one of his technicians out to assess and address the problem.  I gave him a call to thank him and he insists on taking care of the costs.  Pres Bell has decided that the Champaign sisters will sit out the transfer for about 10 days until we have more clarity or control over the bedbug situation.  We also discovered that Sis Johnson, who just went home from Champaign and stayed in the Lindell sisters’ dormitory apartment, left her sweatshirt there.  So there is a chance that the Lindell apartment is now infested, with half a dozen new sisters arriving today and expecting to stay there overnight.  The only thing worse than bedbugs in Champaign is bedbugs throughout the mission.  I worked through the rent roll one more time with Elder Sapp.  There were several wrinkles, like getting the Springfield elders apartment on credit card payment--that manager has stopped taking checks--and a landlord change in Smithton Ridge, Missouri.  We continued our transfer planning until 10:30 pm, with Sis Hatfield fighting feelings that she is not doing enough.  I don’t know how she could do more.

Tuesday, October 20th.  Our last transfer day has finally arrived.  I met Elder Sapp and the young missionaries at the Frontenac building early to set up, doing everything deliberately so that the uninitiated will have an idea what we are doing.  One of those is Elder Steed, a young missionary that is joining the housing assistants in a tri so that when Elder Paulson goes next transfer there will be a little more continuity.  Sis Hatfield gave the new missionary orientation for Sis Winsor and Sis Sapp so that they could see how it was done, but I sat in the pews and watched Elder Sapp give the housing orientation.  He is a sensitive, big hearted man that will be a real blessing to the mission.  The transfer went well, thanks in part to its moderate size.  That has not happened in a great while.  Afterwards, we treated the assistants to the President, housing assistants, and traveling technology trainers to lunch at Five Guys--my post transfer tradition with the housing assistants.  It has been a blessing to serve with all these devoted disciples.  Afterwards, it was time to finish the transfer set up.  With the new housing assistant plus Elder Sapp,  the truck’s four seats would be full.  I sat out the afternoon’s housing fieldwork for the first time in almost two years.  It now feels like my time is nearing the end.  That night, a dishwasher water valve was broken by the housing assistants in the Parkway 1st apartment chasing mice.  Water was gushing when they called me.  I talked them through finding the cold water shut off in the mechanical room.  They mopped things up and rounded up fans to start drying things out.  We’ll deal with the water valve tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21st I organized Elder Sapp and the housing assistants to make a trip to the Springfield and Champaign zones.  One of the odd tasks was to deliver luggage to two missionaries:  one had left his for lack of room in the car right back to Springfield, Illinois.  The other was luggage that was simply forgotten and left at transfers.  How do you forget your luggage when you move?  Another unusual task was to take the spare key kept in the office by the vehicle coordinator to the Springfield elders, zone leaders no less, who had locked themselves out of their car.  I might have felt left out, but I had a lot to do to start getting ready for our return trip to Provo early next week.  We have not had a minute to think about it.  And I was able to do some important lease work, like meet the St Peters sisters to sign some lease renewal documents.  Sometimes managers insist that residents sign the apartment rules and such, even if the church is the actual leasee and financially responsible party.  It also gave Sis Hatfield and I an opportunity to meet with Pres Bell and have temple recommend and departing interviews.  What a blessing it has been to serve alongside Sis Hatfield and under Pres Bell.  Generously, the Bells invited us to dinner that evening where we celebrated our imminent departure.  Who knew there would be such good cajun food in St Louis?  The office staff is a completely different mix of personalities and talents now.  I think the Bells are a bit wistful that we are leaving them.  And that is probably the hardest part about leaving for us, knowing that the Bells will need to carry on without us.  

Friday, October 22nd is our last day in the Missouri St Louis Mission office.  Can it be?  It has become second nature to us by now.  One fear is not having a place to be at 9 am every morning.  It was staff meeting today, and I gave my final devotional.  It was centered around the story of Naaman and the difficulty he had in washing in the River Jordan, a rather simple matter.  We all have our Jordan Rivers to wash in.  Simple direction from the apostles and the whisperings of the Spirit.  Recently, Pres Nelson has counselled us to make time for the Lord.  That is a Jordan River I need to keep washing in.  Sis Hatfield has done such a great job of patiently sharing her knowledge with Sis Winsor and Sis Sapp.  I know that this is the Lord’s work and he will sustain them.  Meanwhile, Elder Sapp and the housing assistants are in the Columbia zone today.  I use the afternoon to help Elder Everton with finances, which he is still bridging until the Nielsons come in November.  There are so many confusing details for which he has no context.  I have been around the financial secretary, Elder Jacob long enough that I have much context and a decent familiarity with the financial software.  I have invited Elder Everton to stay in touch if I can be of assistance in coming days.  That evening, Sis Hatfield and I were in a quiet office by ourselves, much like we have been in the evenings for almost two years now.  We took the opportunity to make a silly little video, saying “It is time to go!” and shared one last message on the zone chats for all the young missionaries to see.  Goodbye friends.

Saturday, October 23rd.  After a long day of packing and other preparations, we couldn’t leave St Louis without a last supper with Chris and Carmen Jacob, our dear office missionary friends.  After dinner with them, it was our good luck that it was St Louis stake conference, so we headed together to the Saturday evening adult session.  The messages were excellent, and we had the opportunity to say goodbye to many, members and missionaries alike.  It was bittersweet for sure.  We went home with some heaviness in our hearts, even though it was time for us to go.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

10-16 October 2021 Fulfillment of Prophecy

Sunday, October 10th began with Pagedale branch council.  The branch has been invited by affiliates of the Urban League to join Grills for Glory.  Thinking that governments, schools, and other institutions are failing society, some pastors have conceived that churches, although marginalized by some, must step forward and help our neighborhoods unite and strengthen.  A group of churches are sponsoring Saturday barbeques, with donors providing grills and hotdogs.  Looking further down the road, the vision could expand to some community education and health clinic-type functions.  Both the Lindell ward and the Pagedale branch have strategic location value in St Louis city neighborhoods and have been asked to participate.  The St Louis stake will provide additional manpower if the Pagedale branch council wants to join.  Sis Hatfield is ready to buy return flights to help with the effort.  She is a community activist at heart.  In the branch council, we talked about Elder Anderson’s prophecy in conference:  “Christians who are not among our membership will welcome our role and our sure witness of Christ. Even those Christians who have viewed us with skepticism will embrace us as friends. In these coming days, we will be called by the name of Jesus Christ.”  And so we witnessed a partial fulfillment of that prophecy in Pagedale.  

Our friend Dee Marche has taken another fall, this time in her kitchen.  Still she invited us in and accepted Sis Hatfield's suggestion that she receive the sacrament, which I administered to her.  We will miss Dee’s indomitable spirit, and I suspect she will miss our constancy in friendship.  Annie Stewart’s door was closed, and no one answered.   We provided Sunday dinner for the Pagedale district elders, all 9 of them.  Our participation in our district has been all too minimal this transfer, but we don’t often miss our tradition of Sunday group dinners.  Together with the departing young missionaries, we bore our testimonies over Zoom to the mission.  We were delighted that Sis Hatfield’s Mom was able to join in for the whole meeting, and by a small miracle, my Mom joined in time to hear our testimonies and the concluding remarks of Pres and Sis Bell.  No doubt, our moms are the oldest missionary parents to join the departing missionary video testimony meeting.  

Monday, October 11th included a staff meeting out of the usual weekly sequence.  The Bells will be out of town at a mission presidents’ conference the rest of the week, so we wanted to try to go over some information with the new staff before we lose the Bells to the conference.  With transfers not until the 20th, and the staff still green, I fear that we may have provided too much too early to be of real help to them, although we don’t have lots of alternatives.  While Sis Hatfield stayed at the office providing training and doing the work of the mission, I went to Annie’s house, hoping to catch her.  She was at home, but very uncomfortable.  Her illness is non-specific so far as I can tell, but she is not well.  I sung to her, played some children’s bible videos, and listened to her longings for relief, if not in this life, in the next.  I successfully distracted her sufficiently that she was able to sing some old time gospel songs to me.  What a blessing.  

Tuesday, October 12th was unusual.  I took Pres and Sis Bell to the airport while Sis Hatfield saw their youngest son Ziggy off to school.  Presciently, the Pres said as he left that it might be an interesting week and he would lean on us while he was away.  It didn’t take long for that to come true.  We had a departing missionary temple trip planned for the afternoon.  It wasn’t until the President was at the airport that an elder called him to say he did not have a temple recommend.  The President called me and asked me to go back to his house and get in his car and find his temple recommend book.  He had given the elder a telephonic interview, and if I filled the recommend out, signed with President’s permission, and sent him a picture, he could authorize the recommend on his iPad at his layover in Chicago.  But of course, that would not be the end of it.  While preparing the first recommend, a second elder came to me and said he did not have a recommend.  I got him lined up to talk to the President at the layover, and started filling out a recommend for him.  In the 20 minutes the President had, he conducted another interview, and authorized both recommends that I had prepared for him.  Blessedly, Sis Hatfield and I accompanied the 14 departing missionaries to the temple as the witness couple.  We had felt sad that the Jacobs could not accompany a second session because the temple could not accommodate another session.  It was a tender mercy that Sis Jacob had run into Sis Hintze, the temple matron, who gave special permission for the Jacobs to exceed the limit and come with us.  After some picture taking outside the temple with these wonderful young missionaries, Sis Hatfield headed for the office, and I went to the mission home to greet the boys from school.  Zander was excited to show me his pumpkin, which he wanted to carve.  I helped him pick a scary pattern, carved it, and put in a candle and took pictures.  Sis Hatfield had sent me with her family-famous hamburger soup for dinner.  Then Ziggy and I headed for basketball tryouts at the Baptist church, followed immediately by soccer practice at the recreation center.  I remembered to bring the folding chair, and it all felt familiar, even sitting there in white shirt and tie.  Sis Hatfield stayed at the office until 10 pm working on concerns the new office secretaries are having with their duties.  It wouldn't be easy for anyone to fill RaDene’s shoes, and especially not easy for seniors with little to no office computer background.

Wednesday, October 13th was a role reversal.  Pres Bell dutifully led Wednesday workout from the side of his cramped quarters in a hotel room, while I was in the spacious mission home basement.  Sis Hatfield saw that Zander was ready for school and on the bus, while I prepared for a trip to Jefferson City to replace a lost rent check.  While there, the clouds were ominous.  And in the moments it took to turn in the rent, the heavens opened.  Elder Sapp and I ran across the parking lot to the truck, but when we got there, the young elders had walked over to see the missionary apartment, locking the truck as they should have.  But as a result, we were stranded in the rain, and realized we had to run back across the parking lot to the office, and then after the elders finally ran back and opened the truck, we had to run again.  We were soaked to the bone.  My neck band and waist band being thick, they did not dry out the rest of the day.  In the Highlands area, Elder Sapp and I paused our work long enough to have the missionaries teach us a brief, powerful lesson on the Living Christ.  In Columbia, I could not figure out why there was a couch stacked on top of two square overstuffed chairs.  The elders were not there, and their eventual text responses were vague.  Finally we talked, and they admitted that no one had told them that they couldn’t have a double decker couch, and they liked it.  I told them that they should consider themselves told that the furniture needed to be on the floor.  In Smithton Ridge, foundation shifting had pushed an exterior door frame out of plumb so it didn’t latch or lock.  We shimmed the hinges, adjusted the bolt catch plate, and the sisters felt safe once again.  We made two other stops, including in far north Macon where I confiscated a spray painted sheet hanging on the living room wall declaring “Jesus Lives.”  True, but not appropriately communicated.  Being gone on a long trip, Sis Hatfield had Zander duty, and not surprisingly, when I got to the office at 9 pm they were in the office together.  I relieved Sis Hatfield and took Ziggy home for bed.  

Thursday, October 14th began in a panic when Dossan overslept, missing seminary.  Sis Hatfield peeled him an orange and sent him off while I looked for Zander.  I couldn’t find him anywhere.  Finally, I found him in his parents’ bed under the pillows, pranking me.  At the office, I got a crazy message from some missionaries in Denver saying a payment was past due.  They had received an email to that effect.  I checked with the manager of the apartments where I suspected the problem might be, and figured out that the billing service had been sending bills to missionaries in Colorado.  Who knows how that happens.  Meanwhile, I worked with the manager to try to get copies of the five bills and get the email corrected to the MSLM housing coordinator, which was not easy.  The manager in Mt Vernon, IL also reached out to say that the September bill had not been paid.  This is frustrating.  And more, a manager in Springfield said they would no longer accept checks and would not participate in the electronic funds transfer offered by the church.  That leaves payment by credit card as the last alternative, but that requires apartment web page portal access, which doesn’t work for us at this complex.  I’ll work with the manager to try to get that fixed.  It is frustrating how difficult it can be to pay bills that we are more than willing to pay if we just get notice and have a method.  I helped the housing assistants and Elder Sapp head out to the airport to take an elder bound for Guatemala and then go to the O’Fallon zone as part of an apartment search and to do some maintenance.  They are learning to work without me.  

Meanwhile, I went home and made dinner for the Bell boys and then Dossan was off to the temple to do proxy baptisms.  About 8 pm Pres Bell called.  Dossan had been in an accident.  No one was hurt, but the car was in bad shape and Dossan was shaken up.  It had been raining hard and steadily, and he had taken a turn too fast and hydroplaned into the curb.  The police were there when I arrived and directed me to Dossan.  He was emotional.  We worked through an after hours insurance claim which was particularly difficult without his parents who were in a small group meeting with Elder Gary Stevenson.  We sat in the car for 3.5 hours waiting for one tow truck and then another.  We were glad to finally get home that night.

Friday, October 15th.  I sat at the kitchen table with Dossan making calls to the insurance company, the tow company, and repair shops concerning the car he wrecked last night.  He is being admirably responsible about the situation.  Meanwhile, he has no transportation so his fall break from school will be close to home, I am sure.  At the office, the staff had an abbreviated meeting to prepare for transfers next week, even though we didn’t have the leadership of the Bells.  There are plenty of tasks for the new senior missionaries to try to become accustomed to.  In addition, a new couple of senior missionaries drove in from Colorado.  They will be heading down to Poplar Bluff, Missouri to serve in a member leadership support capacity.  They are missionary veterans, having served in France Leon previously.  After giving them the nickel tour of the office and trying our best to make them feel welcome, we handed them their apartment keys, an address, and a smoke alarm, together with a welcome basket Sis Bell had Sis Hatfield finish and give to them.  When I mentioned the contact information to sign up for the internet, the sister became very agitated that no one had done this for them, that they had to pay for internet, and that given that it was Friday they might be all weekend without connection.  She made such a scene as to be a bit of an embarrassment to her husband and to the office staff.  Too much stress in a new situation, I suppose.  Elder Sapp and I spent time searching for apartment candidates in Fairview Heights, Illinois.  We currently have one apartment, and recently we had two, that had two companionships living there.  We have learned that multiple companions in one location is a distraction from the work and from obedience.  We had family dinner at the Bells again that evening, which was fun and strange.  There was supposed to be a soccer game for Zander that night, but we didn’t get word of rain cancellation until we were well on our way.  As an alternative, Dossan told us about a covered driving range.  It seemed a fitting tribute to my Dad to golf a little on his birthday with Sis Hatfield and the boys, complete with a closest ball to the flag contest to choose the ice cream parlor afterwards.

Saturday, October 16th.  I was at the airport early in the morning to pick up the Bells from their mission presidents’ conference.  Then Sis Hatfield and I went to Costco to get supplies for the Greenwood Cemetery appreciation lunch for the missionaries.  The young people have worked twice a week, nearly every week, for four plus years, helping reclaim this abandoned 19th century African American cemetery.  We love Rafael and Shelly Morris, the selfless volunteer leaders of the project, and they love the missionaries.  We dressed up, ate soul food, and had a bit of a talent show, with each zone singing to the Morrises in honor of their diligence and sacrifice.  Even the office staff sang a little song written by Sis Everton.  Afterward saying our farewells, we went to see Annie, who we had missed on Sunday.  Still no answer at the door.  When we tracked down her great grandson by phone, predictably, we learned that Annie was in the hospital.  We had satisfying conversation with her great grandsons indicating that our visits to their great grandma have been appreciated by her and by them.  We decided we had a bit of time so we headed to the hospital.  I noticed the “high risk” flag at the top of her door.  Not good.  When I slipped into her room, she was sound asleep.  I stepped out into the hall and called Sis Hatfield and we agreed we shouldn’t wake her.  We will miss this simple, unassuming family. 

We had dinner with Rock and Joy Erekson and Paul and Patti Hintze, some of our dearest member friends from the mission, who generously treated us.  We will forever be grateful for their kindnesses and encouragement during our COVID mission.  We sincerely hope our paths cross again with these good people.  As a former branch president in Pagedale, Rock decided he would go back to the hospital with us to try to see Annie.  We took our turns going in, consistent with protocols.  She was alert and seemed much cheered to see us.  We are particularly glad that Rock had a chance to connect with her again and might have the ability to look in on her occasionally.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

3-9 October 2021 Come Unto Christ, and Don’t Come Alone

Sunday, October 3rd.  Pres Russell M. Nelson invited the saints to go into conference with questions and that the Spirit would provide answers.  My questions were predictable:  what next?  After two years of laser sharp purpose, what should I devote my time to afterwards?  I heard some answers.  Sis Cordon spoke this to my heart:  come unto Christ, but don’t come alone.  I felt the Spirit whispering to me that my work ought to include becoming a better disciple of Christ, but that I need to help my family become strengthened and converted too.  Pres Nelson’s address on temples being the place to center on the Rock of Christ was particularly meaningful to me too.  I admit that I have been a bit pessimistic and disappointed by the structural restrictions on temple attendance as a result of the appointment process.  But I am resolved to set aside my first thoughts about this and make the temple a frequent destination for me and as many of my family as I can invite to center on Christ through temple blessings.

We had invited the housing assistants, Elder Paulson and Elder Williams, to watch conference with us in our apartment on our TV screen.  Afterwards they helped us prepare dinner for the Winsors.  These new senior missionaries have the opportunity for great collegiality, it is clear.  They are all friendly, spiritual, wonderful servants of the Lord.  We ended our gathering with Amish butter pecan angel food cake, strawberries, and cream.  After everyone went home, Sis Hatfield headed into the office to work on office staff assignment lists.  She is doing the best she can to cover all the tasks and help divide them among the new senior missionaries so that the work gets done and the staff feels fulfilled and useful, but not overwhelmed.

Monday, October 4th began with a yoga class taught on video by Sis Driver out in Jacksonville, Illinois.  As it turned out, it was a private lesson for Sis Hatfield and me--we were the only participants.  It is just the right physical challenge for 6:45 in the morning, and Sis Driver is a good instructor.  I’m not sure why we didn’t have more folks joining, but I was glad we did.  Sis Driver is a young woman with lots of potential, but also some difficult circumstances, and is in need of some love and support.  Aren’t we all?  At the office, we had a 15 minute introduction to the office environment and our roles in it.  It is a landmark day that the Hatfields’ replacements are fully in the office now.  Elder Sapp got a little introduction of the importance of paying rent accurately and on time.  A manager in O’Fallon, Missouri called me to let me know that we had shorted the rent payment by $5.  No she answered me, she could not carry the small balance.  So we drove the probably $10 in gas to take my check for $5 in order to avoid a $150 late fee.  The manager was pleasant, but she had no flexibility to change her company rules about rent payments.  To make it a more than one stop trip, we dropped into the apartment in St Peters where we are working on the lease renewal but struggling a bit because of the obligatory online background checks for the missionaries.  The missionaries can’t get into the apartment portal.  But I persuaded the manager to give us paper forms for the sisters to fill out.  We also were alerted to the paperless rent payment requirements starting the first of the year.  I explained that we would be happy to deposit rents into the owner’s bank account--an electronic funds transfer.  The manager said that would work just fine.  I hope so.  More than once I’ve seen the local staff be wrong when it comes to the owner’s receivables policies.  We shall see.  But, at least, they offered to clean carpets in the apartment as a part of the renewal, something I wish everyone did.  We ended the night in the office sharing the rest of our Amish angel food cake with everyone else that stayed late tonight to work at their new responsibilities.  But as is common, after everyone had finally gone home, Sis Hatfield continued to work into the night preparing for the training planned for tomorrow.  Being a trainer is a bigger effort than just doing the work, that is for sure.  

Tuesday, October 5th began with setting up a “school room” in Pres Bell’s office.  Sis Hatfield has scheduled mission software training for the new office staff three times this week, beginning this morning.  In order to use the projector, and knowing that the President is out in the zones for missionary interviews most of the week, we are setting up rows of tables and chairs in his office.  Today, Sis Hatfield is teaching about the Google Drive, where many mission documents are kept nowadays, mission email on Outlook, and Facebook, including the Messenger feature, which is the regular way we communicate with missionaries online.  This is a high hurdle for 5 of the 6 new senior missionaries working in the office.  They have little experience with office software.  They sometimes struggle to log into their laptops with their own credentials.  We had a video inspection of an apartment in Illinois this afternoon.  On the way, Elder Sapp saw for the first time the Mississippi River, barge traffic, the Arch, Busch Stadium, and other landmarks of the St Louis area.  It is a bit of a wonder at first sight.  At the O’Fallon, IL apartment, the virtual inspection was nearly a failure for lack of connectivity between me and the apartment manager who has an office offsite.  We started and stopped the Facetime session a dozen times.  But finally, on a phone call, she said she “had enough.”  I wasn’t sure if it was enough of the technology snafus or visuals of the apartment.  We made a late trip back across the Mississippi and then the Missouri to St Charles to retrieve a washer dryer donation from a member that was was moving.  It turned into much more than anticipated.  We helped move until 10 pm, well past what I wanted Sis Sapp to experience as her husband’s second day as housing coordinator.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was back at the office after everyone else had gone home, trying to catch up on crucial work after a full day of training.  We are trying to come to peace with the truth that our levels of anxiousness and work ethic are not shared by everyone.  

Wednesday, October 6th.  This was Elder Sapp’s first long road trip in housing.  We went to Sandy Creek in the St Louis South zone to drop off some medical supplies and in the process discovered a linen back closet wall wet and covered with mold.  It seems to be leaking from the joint in the ceiling, so the upstairs apartment is probably the source.  The landlord heard from us about this and expects to come by tomorrow to address.  I wonder why the elders didn’t think it was important to address?  We also found a bedroom floor covered in game pieces from a game called Dark Souls.  I’m not sure that the President thinks this is the best bedtime diversion activity, so I took a picture to show him.  The housing coordinator is often the snitch of the mission.  We went through Cape Girardeau to drop off bikes to the sisters who drove up in their car to greet us.  I was a bit confused about that because of the scarcity of transportation in the mission.  I concluded that the bikes were probably for therapeutic purposes, since I knew one of the sisters was struggling emotionally.  Also strange, they planned to keep them on the elders’ ground floor patio, accessible only through the elders’ apartment, in order to avoid hauling them up and down stairs.  I’m not sure this has been thought through, but I’m only the delivery man in this arena.  We were then off to Poplar Bluff, one of our southern outposts, to see and hopefully lease a furnished apartment for the Stewarts, a new MLS senior couple arriving in the next week or so.  Greg West, the landlord, was a most interesting man.  Clearly self made, successful, entrepreneurial, full of opinions ranging from healthy living to a conservative brand of politics.  But he was good to us and we struck a deal.  Finding this place at all was a blessing indeed.  And it is only the next building over from the young missionaries.  We dropped in to see them, and in the process found significant settling cracks, moldy vents, a disconnected shower drain leaking through the living room ceiling, all of which are the landlord’s problem, and boards lag bolted to the second bedroom wall, which are clearly our problem.  I made a list.  We were home by 10:30.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield worked a similarly long day from her post in the office, tutoring Sis Sapp until she said uncle late afternoon, and then into the evening with Sis Winsor, and then solo thereafter.  Elder and Sis Sapp are getting the picture of the time involved in this mission.  

Thursday, October 7th was a virtual mission wide zone conference for the morning, featuring Pres Spencer Melby’s message on fasting and praying with members, teaching members Short Powerful & Frequent (SPF) lessons, in order to be present in the members’ lives.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  Then we had staff meeting that required chairs around all the walls in the Presidents’ office, much like a ward council meeting, with the Hatfields, Evertons, Jacobs, Saps, Winsors, and Bells.  That was a full office staff meeting.  Afterwards, we went to Balducci’s for dinner, sans the Bells, who are always overcommitted, to celebrate the transitions going on.  I’ve been telling Elder Jacob I would take him here for lunch for a year, but we haven’t got there.  Today is the day, with lots of guests, toasted raviolis, and St Louis style pizza.  

Friday, October 8th was another school day for the staff.  Today we trained on the church’s mission operating system, and included the assistants to the president so that we could all learn about how our work was intertwined, with cascading effects from one database to another.  We’ve had our share of trouble with seemingly small changes in one area of the system causing much trouble in another, mostly by enthusiastic, creative, and enterprising young missionaries not afraid to try things, and not knowing of the downstream effects.  For my part, I feel like Elder Sapp is starting to spread his wings.  I’m going to let him take the lead on the computer more and more, so he is learning by doing, not just watching.  In the afternoon, our job was to move the St Peters elders in the second bedroom of the St Charles elders so that the former apartment could be renovated.  In the process, we ran into a few unexpected stumbling blocks--a couch that for the life of me I don’t know how it got into the apartment, had to be sawed apart to get out, and an unapproved piano with names carved into it that now I had to figure out how to dispose of.  We carted off the couch pieces and piano for disposal at the stake center dumpster, and nearly filled the local apartment dumpster with lots of other clutter.  After I cleaned the refrigerator, we considered the move complete, and dropped off the keys and turned the utilities over to the landlord.  

Saturday, October 9th was spent in service to Sis Rose of the Pagedale branch.  The storage costs for her belongings were more than she could bear, so our branch president offered that she could store them in our branch garage.  That required cleaning out the garage as a preliminary matter, and then loading and moving in the stored goods.  It turned out that inner city folks are not often well practiced at driving, much less driving trucks, so I was nominated to drive the moving truck.  I was surprised that the storage unit was in north St Louis county, so the trip was substantial.  But I felt gratified that I was able to help move a poor widow on Saturday, after moving poor missionaries on Friday.  It's what I do.  

Sunday, October 3, 2021

26 September - 2 October 2021 Training in Earnest

 Sunday, September 26th.  After church, we realized that with general conference and stake conference in the near future, we have only two more Sundays participating in the Pagedale branch.  That is a wistful thought for sure.  We had a long, productive visit with Annie Stewart this afternoon, introducing her to Susan Bazoo, a member of the Pagedale branch and personal finance advisor.  Susan and her husband will transition into the ministering role with Annie that Sis Hatfield and I have filled this last couple of years.  Susan was able to quickly and professionally ask questions and assess Annie’s situation, taking a look at her fistful of papers.  Even more impressive than Susan’s prodigious skill was Annie’s memory and knowledge about her contacts, benefits, and financial arrangements, some of which are new, and some of which stretch back for decades.  I will be very fortunate to be so sharp and independent at 94, soon to be 95 years of age.  We next stopped into see Asfari (Dee) Marche to drop off a small gift.  We haven’t seen much of Dee for several weeks now, and have had a hard time connecting by phone.  It turns out that Dee had taken a bad fall and broken nine ribs and bumped her head in her own hallway, leaving herself with a concussion and prescription pain medicine.  She sat with us in the carport, and at some point mentioned that she should try to restart for the third time her attempt to make chili.  Picking up on that, Sis Hatfield volunteered us to go inside and help her.  I chopped onions while Sis Hatfield measured spices, browned hamburger, and added sauce and beans.  We left Dee with a simmering pot of chili on the stove.  We hosted dinner for the Sapps and the Evertons, missing the Jacobs for sure.  Wouldn’t you know it, it seems we are starting to find our social stride as the end of our mission draws near.  It has been a COVID mission indeed.  Pres Bell called and alerted us to changes in the St Louis and South St Louis stakes, where the new Union and Meramec wards have been formed.  This will be a challenging change to teaching areas, maps, names, and a host of data points.  

Monday, September 27th started with Pickleball at Schroeder Park.  It is a bit farther than where we have played recently, but the missionaries have started making some pickleball friends who pay at Schroeder.  That seems like a good reason to go to alternative courts.  Except for the missionaries, the players seem to be older folks.  But that may be a deceptive descriptor.  Age and treachery often overcome youth and vigor.  Elder Jacob has a badly hurt ankle and is staying home.  Apparently he tripped in his hallway at home and is practically immobile.  That is unfortunate, not only for Elder Jacob, but also because Elder Everton needs Elder Jacob’s tutoring as financial secretary.  By mid afternoon, Sis Sapp is struggling to stay awake, much less focus on the training.  Sis Hatfield and I are sure that the stress of new responsibilities, a strange home, and senior citizenship are all taking their toll.  We will need to adjust our pace of office work.  We had some gooey butter cake and berries left over from Sunday dinner and about dusk took them to Dee Marche.  She was asleep, but her significant other Charles thanked us for the treat.  It took him multiple keys and locks to get the door open, a bit of a reminder about what part of town Dee lives in here two blocks from the Pagedale building.  

On Tuesday, September 28th I took the Sapps with me to send off Elder Felix to Ecuador.  It will be important for the Sapps to know their way to and around the airport and the resourcefulness required to get the foreign assigned missionaries through the check-in process.  They watched as Elder Felix and I deflected several irrelevant questions from the ticket agent and steered her to what she really needed for a flight to Ecuador.  It must be frustrating to be working on procedures that are different for each nation and constantly changing for each of them.  Elder Sapp accompanied Elder Paulson and Elder Williams to the Missouri River North apartment to pick up bikes for missionaries sent last night to the Lake St Louis apartment on account of country reassignments shuffling.  First we got the bikes loaded, but then did our standard walk about the apartment.  We found several issues needing attention and repair, as well as food left on the counter and perishables in the refrigerator that won’t last until transfers when the missionaries come back.  So we spent a bit more time doing our housing work.  I had walked by the fireplace and was disappointed to see it overflowing with ashes, but thought I would ask the missionaries to clean it up.  Then Elder Williams reached down to pick up a five gallon bucket next to the hearth, and it cracked in his hand.  And cracked more in both his hands.  He couldn’t move it.  I intervened, sure that Elder Williams was handling this wrong.  But when I grabbed the bucket, I found that what was left of it was fused to the carpet.  It would not let go, so I cut it out of the carpet with a utility knife.  In the process, the carpet pulled up, and we saw that underneath the bucket, the heat had not only melted the carpet, but burned through the pad, and charred the subfloor.  I was stunned.  Clearly this could have been a catastrophe, had the apartment caught on fire, and then perhaps the entire apartment building.  I could not shake the disappointment, worry, and unsettled feelings for the rest of the day.  I’m afraid that when we caught up with the elders in Lake St Louis whose bikes we were transporting caught a stern lecture from me.  It was undeserved in the sense that they did not cause the damage, but deserved in the sense that they had failed to report what they surely must have observed in their apartment.  This event seems to be an excellent topic for Elder Sapp’s initial zone conference training next month.  

We made a stop in O’Fallon, MO East to repair the sisters’ vertical blinds and reattach a linen closet door with hinge screws that had stripped completely out.  Then we drove out to Warrenton to replace a microwave that had reportedly been infested by cockroaches, and while there conducted a HVAC filter demonstration, caulked some bothersome holes, and attached some weatherstipping that the sisters had bought hoping to keep pests out.  I think today Elder Sapp is getting a pretty good idea about the housing coordinator maintenance work I have tried to do.Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield has called church technical support for a computer issue.  The support workers made a problem into a complete crash of Sis Hatfield’s computer, and although escalated through multiple tiers of technicians, with promises to get it solved before the work shift ended, alas, they failed, and Sis Hatfield can’t do anything on the computer this evening.  Hopefully the technical staff will be expert in the morning.  At 9 pm we joined the Bell family Zoom call to observe Jaxson open his call to serve in the Georgia Atlanta Mission.  Pres and Sis Bell cried with equal measures of joy and longing.

Wednesday, September 29th.  Today we decided to divide and conquer.  I asked the housing assistants to head to the Springfield zone to pick up a broken washer and dryer and then to Champaign to fix blinds and deliver bikes.  Meanwhile, Elder Sapp and I drove down to Eureka to help oversee the installation of the first apartment internet arranged by the church.  It is an interesting partnership between the missionary department, physical facilities, and the internet service providers.  Sis Hatfield has been the catalyst to make this happen, and it is clear that her leadership is making installations here among the first in missionary apartments anywhere.  She is included in the email strings among all the people working on the project.  And we now have approval for 17 apartments where we have done the testing to demonstrate need.  We continue to help work out kinks.  For example, the installation in Eureka came without an order for a wifi router, the crucial last link between the internet and the missionaries’ phones.  But since we were there, we were able to persuade the technician to provide the router and Sis Hatfield will try to confirm that this is part of future orders initiated by the church to the service providers.  Back at the office, we continued training, Sis Sapp on baptism records and transferring missionaries, with the real time preparation of Elder Flake for reassignment to the Dominican Republic, and Elder Sapp on lease renewals, utility arrangements, insurance, and required record keeping.  They are exhausted and nearly overwhelmed.  Hopefully my recommendation for pizza at Dewey’s will renew and energize them.

Thursday, September 30th.  This morning we rode down to Farmington in the Cape Girardeau zone.  The purpose was to give the STLs there some relief from the extra furniture for the third missionary that went home.  Of course we helped with a variety of minor other needs while we were there.  Driving home, the heavens opened and the rain came in a torrent.  I will miss the midwestern thunder and rain.  We stopped at Dellwood Washer back in St Louis and introduced Elder Sapp to Mike, one of the key vendors for me the last 18 months.  It took me six months to find Mike, and those were difficult washer and dryer repair months.  Both Sis Hatfield and I went over responsibility lists with Elder and Sis Sapp today.  There are still a number of items that I haven’t done much to help with the knowledge transfer yet.  Sis Hatfield on the other hand is struggling to find the right set of responsibilities for Sis Sapp.  We could only guess at her skills and energy before she came.  Sis Sapp is not willing or able to continue the day’s work into the evening which we have done almost without fail for two years now.  And it is a weird feeling to know that doing the work after the Sapps have left hurts the training process a lot, so the best choice is to hold off and hope we can get to it tomorrow.

Friday, October 1st (What?  Did I just write October?) was a big day.  First up was to get the Sapps moved into their apartment.  I had planned to meet the housing assistants at 9 am to get a jump on loading furniture.  But first, I intended to print off the large check for the first month rent, deposit, and other fees in order to be ready to meet the manager at 10 am to sign the lease.   The software demons had other ideas, and although I had managed to go through the bureaucracy of getting a local check approved, this morning it would not print, regardless of how I tried.  We miss Elder Jacob now!  After 30 minutes I was exasperated, and decided to let the computer cool off and head over to storage and get the missionaries started with furniture loading.  Then I took Elder Sapp back to the office to try one more time, and finally, it worked.  I had the check, so we dashed off to the manager’s office.  We were late, but no one seemed to mind much, and we went through the lease and got all the papers signed.  The manager had failed to include a carport, but we caught that.  The good news was that manager told us the rent had been decreased by their owner from what the original offer had been.  So my first check was too big, but a credit balance for next month won’t hurt.  We met the housing assistants and started unloading things and hauling them up the stairs.  It isn’t perfect, but I think that the furniture choices we have set aside and the layout will work pretty well for the Sapps.  The HAs broke the desk loading it into the trailer, but with some glue and clamps in strategic places, no one will ever know, unless they try to move it again.  I brought along the last leather chair left over from Pres Bell’s office remodel, and I think it nicely rounds things out next to the desk.  Then we hustled to get ready for a office staff meeting, delayed by 30 minutes to finish the move in.  

At the staff meeting, I asked Elder Sapp to report on the burned floor next to the fireplace we had found in the Missouri River North apartment.  We all paused at the close call that was, the shortsightedness of the missionaries, and speculated who might be responsible.  We will do more investigation on that score, although it would seem the likely culprits are long home, leaving yet another puzzle as to why no one has thought to bring the obvious problem to my attention since then.  After the meeting, I encouraged Elder Sapp to let Sis Sapp driver herself home.  I knew she was anxious to do more work in her new apartment.  He obliged and stayed to do some office work with me for a while since we hadn’t had the chance to do that all day.  Finally, it was time for Sis Hatfield and I to head to the airport to pick up the Winsors, arriving in the MSLM from their MTC training.  The airport was a madhouse, but we finally connected and greeted each other warmly.  Sis Winsor will take the heart of Sis Hatfield’s mission secretary duties, and although I won’t get to work with Elder Winsor directly in housing as originally thought, he brings a jovial personality and some information technology skills that will welcomed by all.  After some dinner with the Winsors, we meet the HAs at the storage unit to retrieve a pickup load of boxes the Winsors have set aside for use during the three weeks they will be in the extended stay hotel and help them get all in.  This was an important day in the office transition.

Saturday, October 2nd.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have been planning for breakfast for the missionaries within about a 40 minute drive of the mission home before the morning session of general conference.  The forecasted rain has been pushing back, so the decision is to set up tables and chairs in the backyard of the mission home.  After set up, the office staff and the Bells cook eggs, bacon, and pancakes like crazy.  And just as breakfast is winding down, the rain starts.  We clear out the garage, set up rows of chairs, and move all over the mission home for the broadcast.  At the beginning, Sis Bell announces that she has arranged for memory books and blankets as farewell gifts for the Hatfields, Evertons, and Jacobs.  We are all touched by the words of the young missionaries.  While cleaning up, I get a phone call from the sisters in Mattoon, Illinois.  They have locked themselves out of their apartment when on a walk between sessions.  We try to get ahold of the landlord without success.  After some deliberation on what to do, Sis Hatfield says she will accompany me to Mattoon to help poor Sis Rader and Sis Williams.  We listen to the afternoon session of conference on the drive, and conveniently, arrive just as conference concludes.  Sis Rader is embarrassed, but has drawn a beautiful picture of Christ and a child which she gives to us as a token of her appreciation for our effort.  

Yoder’s Kitchen is a Amish family buffet and restaurant famous among the missionaries that have served in the Champaign zone.  I’ve almost made it out there a few times, but I always seem to have something more to do so a stop to Yoder’s hasn’t happened.  A few weeks ago, Sis Hatfield heard about the restaurant but assumed she would never make it.  This was our chance, so we took it.  Yoder’s isn’t exactly next to Mattoon, but it is about as close as we would get.  So we drove through the corn fields a bit farther to Arthur, IL.  We knew we were getting near when the black, horse drawn carriages started appearing on the road.  Yoder’s had a 35 minute wait, but we were by now hungry and at least that far from lesser alternatives.  And they had a great Amish gift shop and bakery where we browsed and spent more than we should, getting Sunday morning cinnamon rolls, a butter pecan cake, apple butter, and other goodies.  The bakery was dangerous place to be while hungry.  When we were seated, a sweet, matronly server helped us pick a chicken and a pork chop dinner, along with homemade pie for dessert.  The food was good, maybe not great, but the atmosphere was fascinating, with all the farmers and other rural folks mixing about together with the Amish.  It was an experience that made up for the many lost hours of the day driving.  We did stop for groceries in Effingham, Illinois as we realized that the grocery stores in our neighborhood would be closed before we got home, and we had invited folks for Sunday dinner.  And the travel interfered with our monthly family call which I could barely follow.  But we were in the service of the missionaries, which is our purpose.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

19-25 September 2021 The Beginning of the End: the Transition Begins

 Sunday, September 19th started with ward council.  Our objective was to impress on Pres Nehring and the rest of the council that our time with the Pagedale branch was drawing towards its close, and the sisters we minister to will need some new contacts.  Pres Nehring seems to have some ideas.  Sis Hatfield gave a short talk on 2 Nephi 25:23, focusing on the truth that the Lord’s grace is what saves us, after all we can do.  The same is true for our missionary service.  We do our best, and then the Lord sees to it that what must be done is done, after all we can do.  That is a very comforting and freeing thought.  After church meetings, we had the pleasure of taking Grandma Kay with us to visit Annie Stewart.  The matriarchs connected in a special way.  

Back at the apartment, (former) Sis Kenady Pettingill dropped by to see us with her fiance.  They were both working in St Louis, and took the time to come around and make introductions before their return trip home tomorrow.  Sis Pettingill will be married next time we see her in Utah.  We hosted dinner with the APs and the St Louis STLs.  No matter how much we rub shoulders with these young people, we continue to be impressed with their spirit and character.  After dinner, we persuaded Kay to come on a sunset ride with us to the Greenwood cemetery.  She was a bit reluctant, but after getting there, hearing the history of the cemetery and the Morris’ personal mission to reclaim it, she was so glad that she didn’t pass on the visit here.  Sis Hatfield then went into the office to help the sisters that met her there to get their departure papers in order for travel to their assignments in Costa Rica in the morning.  Monday travel is challenging because of the disruption to the work required on Sunday.  Oh well, the cause is more than worth any inconvenience.  Indeed, making this happen is the reason we are here.  

Monday, September 20th.  Grandma Kay requested a priesthood blessing this morning on her departure day.  She has multiple health challenges, weighty family concerns, and a husband who is struggling to maintain his independence from admittance to a long term care facility.  Sis Hatfield had some inspiration for her Mom that led her to Boyd K. Packer’s April 2003 general conference address, “Golden Years.”  Elder Packer shared some remarkable statistics.  At that time, the 15 apostles had a combined 400+ years as general authorities, and 1100+ years of life experience.  Elder Packer noted some important roles of seniors, including a testimony the burns so bright that children and grandchildren can warm their hands by it.  “That is what grandfathers and grandmothers do.”  In the office that morning, I carefully prepare the rent payment report for the 100 apartments in the mission.  There are many junctures in the rent payment process where something could go wrong, and I am determined that my report won’t be where something does go wrong.  I also take the opportunity to stop by the manager’s office and I am successful in getting an appointment for Thursday to take a look at the new senior missionary apartment we have been working to secure.  I return to the office to accompany Grandma Kay to the airport and make sure she gets checked in and helped with a wheelchair through security and down the concourse to the gate.  It has been a sweet visit to share a little bit of our mission with her.  She had to be so brave to come on her own, knowing that a short week ago she was in the hospital with a hip problem, but she and we are so glad she did.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield attended what was originally planned as a sisters p-day activity in the St Louis zone but has morphed into a multi zone sisters’ conference.  The young sisters love the wisdom and cooking of the senior sisters, and the senior sisters love the vitality and sweetness of the young sisters.  Elder Packer would be proud of what these grandmothers are doing.  

I headed across the Mississippi to O’Fallon, Illinois to conduct a virtual tour with the landlord of one of our missionary apartments over there.  Last year, they wanted pictures, and this year, they wanted a video tour.  I was a little nervous about whether the elders would have it in decent shape, even though I have urged them to clean it thoroughly.  To my delight, they had done an excellent job of cleaning up and cleaning out.  The conversation with the manager went smoothly and we will both be happy to renew the lease.  We had ordered two filing cabinets to accommodate the changing work stations for the new office staff.  I arrived at the office to find that our cabinets had arrived, but on opening and inspection, were badly damaged.  With a little effort, I was able to get through the Amazon maze to the seller and request replacement cabinets.  During the evening, we had our last family home evening as an old staff with the Evertons, Jacobs, and Hatfields.  Sis Hatfield observed that Pres Bell has been pained over a struggling missionary.  It has been inspirational to watch how Pres Bell takes so personally his stewardship over these young people.  He aches right along with them, mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort.  Thinking that it was appropriate for us departing seniors, we reviewed Elder Packer’s “Golden Years” address and had pot luck refreshments.  We certainly have had good treats with this group!

Tuesday, September 21st is more than a little disturbing.  Our daughter, who is back at work after a painfully short six week maternity leave, is feeling overwhelmed and in crisis at work, with ghastly murder and abuse trials on the schedule this week, starting today.  She even asked the judge for a recess because she couldn’t control her emotions.  Sis Hatfield and I are praying mightily for her.  It hurts that we can’t be there to support her in this difficult time.  She is not getting support from her inlaws who refuse to be vaccinated or to follow doctor’s orders to wear a mask with baby Richard.  Our prayers are answered by an experienced, albeit part-time prosecutor who steps in to take one of Malory’s felony trials.  He may never know how grateful we are for his work.  We reorganized and refitted the office work stations today in anticipation of the arrival tomorrow of Elder and Sister Sapp from Meridian, Idaho.  I ordered some undercounter files for the new vehicle coordinator station in the front office bullpen.  Its going to get a little snug in the office.  In order to make time for these preparations, I sent the housing assistants to Champaign all day without me.  It took going to three stores to find all the materials and supplies they needed for the trip.  Meanwhile, Elder Jacob and Elder Everton are working together on mission finances, because Elder Jacob will be released next week and the new financial secretary won’t come until November.  Bless his soul, Elder Everton will be the bridge to get the work done in the interim and train the replacement.

Wednesday, September 22nd.  We worked at the office for a while, and then I headed out with Elder Paulson and Elder Williams to check on a refrigerator that keeps going out and a dishwasher that keeps falling out of the cabinet.  It turned out that the fridge gasket has a gash in it, no doubt allowing warm moist air to be sucked in until the vent is frozen over.  I patched it with duct tape as a temporary fix.  The dishwasher cabinets tabs were broken, so we fashioned replacements with conduit tabs.  As we were leaving for our next apartment, Sis Hatfield called and said that Elder and Sister Sapp had arrived, hours early.  So I hustled back to the office, participated in the introductions with Sis Hatfield, and took them to lunch.  Then we helped them check into their extended stay hotel where they will be for the next week.  Sis Hatfield’s eagle eye saw the torn couch cushion and encouraged me to call the manager for replacements and get more dishes sent in.  Elder Sapp is an infectious storyteller and a hard worker.  He will be a great replacement for me, inspiring the young missionaries wherever he meets them.  After spending a little more time in the office with the Sapps, we sent them home to settle in, and we settled in for a long evening at the office.  

Thursday, September 23rd.  I took Elder Sapp with me to Pagedale and the old Hawthorne School to meet Madeleine Lee, the manager, to sign a lease renewal.  It is obvious that Elder Sapp’s easy personality will win many friends here in the Missouri St Louis Mission.  We swung by the office to pick up Sis Sapp so she could take a first look at the apartment we are planning to move them to in the neighborhood of the other office staff.  It looks like it will be great.  I detected a smile from Sis Sapp.  We walked downstairs so I could introduce them to the Lindell South sisters, their new neighbors.  Back at the office, the training is feeling a bit overwhelming, so I took the Sapps out to lunch for sandwiches while Sis Hatfield hung back at the office to work.  That evening, Sis Hatfield and I went to the home of Sherri Cullen and Dan Thomas.  We have appreciated their friendship over the past two years.  Their non-traditional background (she was raised Mennonite and he practiced Buddhism) is fascinating and refreshing, but very much faith filled.  We ended the evening talking tattoos, something they both have many of.  Sis Hatfield even got to see some of Sherri’s hidden tattoos on her back, which are, apparently, spectacular.  I understand that tattoos are addictive, but I still don’t understand how the pain, described by Sherri as a slap on a sunburn, is willingly tolerated.  We went back to the office to work in preparation for tomorrow until 10:30 pm.

Thursday, September 24th was our final new missionary training.  Sis Hatfield’s testimony that these young missionaries are the legacy of the pioneers was touching to this very large group of new missionaries and their companions, and to us.  I spoke on their missionary work being the most important work, more important than that of doctors, engineers, political leaders, or civil rights lawyers.  Back at the office, we had a staff meeting, missing the Jacobs since Elder Jacob had food poisoning and twisted his ankle.  That is unlucky timing, just as Elder Everton is trying to train on finances.  And then we had a introductory Zoom meeting with missionaries preparing to enter the MTC to arrive in the October transfer.  It felt a little strange to introduce myself, knowing that I will have only moments with these new missionaries.  

Saturday, September 25th began with me listening to Elder and Sister Gong’s worldwide missionary devotional.  Sis Gong’s focus was on the safety of obedience to the commandments.  Elder Gong explained what some of the “needful things” are that we must prepare as suggested in DC 88:119.  He also gave a great plug to “a house of order” having meaning and application as relates to missionary apartments, from the same verse of scripture.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is communicating with Dr Anderson, her mission field psychiatrist, looking for answers to her sleep deficiency during this period of high stress receiving and training new senior missionaries.  He is very generous to help, considering that he is hospitalized himself right now with kidney stones and colitis.  

We met up with the Nehrings to drive across the river to Cahokia, Illinois.  The Mississippian native american civilizations had a strong center in the east St Louis area.  It’s signature surviving relics are conical, ridgeline, and flattop earthen mounds, including one that is the largest in the US.  The large, powerful community had about 20,000 people at its zenith in the 13-14th centuries, archeologists estimate, larger than either London or Paris at the same period in history.  From atop the largest mound, the St Louis skyline stands out in bright relief.  I had stumbled onto the Cahokia church while researching the mounds, and so we took a swing by on the way back.  The church is the oldest, longest continuously used Catholic church in America.  It was built in 1698 from black walnut posts and beams growing at the time of Columbus and then filled with rubble in the old French style.  Its candlesticks and sacramental goblet were gifts to the church by King Louis in the early 1700s and taken over to the St Louis Cathedral upon the visit of Pope John Paul for his use at mass.  As we poked around the outside, a man bustled over and asked if we wanted to look inside, which was an understatement.  He was mildly excited and proud to open it up for our inspection.  He showed us a trap door in the chapel floor that reputedly was used for hiding and refuge by freedom seeking slaves and their protectors during the era of the nineteenth century underground railroad.  We ended the evening at dinner with the Nehrings, he working as temple recorder, and Patti and Paul Hintze, the new temple matron and president.  This sort of rarified connection does not happen for us in Provo!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

12-18 September 2021 Emergency Trip to Utah


Sunday, September 12th.  The Pagdale elders called me this morning and asked if I would pick up JW Miller again and give him a ride to church, which I was happy to do.  He told me that he had to start his work shift at noon, so he won’t be able to stay for the second hour.  Maybe that was good.  Our priesthood meeting lesson was interrupted by another visitor that took issue with the principles of agency being discussed.  He insisted loud and long that God would make us do His will, until finally Dan Thomas, our elders quorum president, verbally engaged him.  The visitor stormed out and we worked to real the Spirit back in, and the lesson went on.  After church, we visited Annie and sang hymns and read scriptures.  It was as if her time with us was a warmup.  She broke into a baleful song with self made verse that was a prayer to the Lord.  I am sure He heard her.  She is so sincere in her faith in Christ.  We hosted Sunday dinner for Dan Thomas, Sherry Cullen, Marilyn Greene, and David Fingal, members of the Pagedale branch.  We discussed our hopes and dreams for the branch, and learned about the ups and downs that it has been through over the years.  It certainly has been a struggle for this little branch of the church.  That night we talked with Malory who is girding herself to go back to work next week.  We tried to be encouraging, pointing out that she plays a vital role for her community in keeping the peace, something that benefits many, even if it is of some cost to Malory’s children and husband.  Inwardly, we are mourning that our grandson Richard will soon be in the hands of daycare workers at the tender age of six weeks old.  

Monday, September 13th.  A member had offered that I use his chainsaw at our Greenwood cemetery project last week, but I couldn’t get it to work well, so I rented one.  Today I asked Andy the vacuum man if he had a small engine repair recommendation, and as a fixture in the blue collar community, of course he did.  Ron was his name, and he was very willing to take on the project.  He lived in St Ann, which is convenient to Maryland Heights, so I took it over to him.  Ron is a self educated man that seems to be expert in electronics as well as combustion engines.  Now days, disciplines cross over a lot.  He was very talkative and interesting.  We’ll see what he can do with the chainsaw.  We’d like to get it running so we can donate it to the Greenwood Cemetery Restoration Assn.  I spent a portion of the afternoon studying Elder Dale Renlund’s address to mission presidents on making lifelong disciples of missionaries.  This is surely a chief objective of a mission president, right behind their safety.  Elder Renlund likened the application of the first four principles of the Gospel to a road up a mountain.  The path seems circular, but it is a gradual ascent.  Similarly, enduring to the end means applying faith, repentance, recommitment through the sacrament ordinance, and enlightenment by the Holy Ghost again and again, iteratively improving who we are.  This analogy is helpful to break through the notion that enduring to the end is merely gritting your teeth and waiting for the end.  

Tuesday, September 14th was zone conference in O’Fallon, Illinois.  I was anxious to be engaged in the spiritual feast of conferences this week, knowing that these would be my last in person zone conferences in this mission.  Pres Bell laid out for the missionaries his invitation to the nine stakes in the coordinating council that make up our mission to give a gift to Christ of two convert baptisms in each ward and branch before the end of the year.  The missionaries will not lead out with this invitation, but allow the priesthood leaders to embrace it and set their course with the assistance of the missionaries.  At the end of zone conference, plus the post conference picture (which I missed while on the phone), cleanup, distribution of materials, discussion with missionaries, planned and unplanned, we were famished.  But, there didn’t seem to be enough time for lunch, so we satisfied ourselves with a trip to the Dairy Haven for orange twist ice cream cones, probably for the last time.  I’m thinking about lots of things being “the last time” without being too sad about it.  But it is interesting to think about the singularity of so many life experiences.  I parted ways with Sis Hatfield who went back to the office, and the housing assistants and I went to Highland, IL to replace that alarm I was called about on Saturday, fix a closet door hanging so low it wouldn’t move, and then we were off to Champaign.  There we found the sister training leaders in good spirits, but Elder Dailami not.  It is hard to see him struggling after thriving as a housing assistant.  Pres Bell is counseling with him, and hopefully his optimism is on the rise.  We were home after 10 pm, which was too late for the young missionaries, but they are loyal and diligent about accomplishing our work.  

On Wednesday, September 15th, I hurried to the office to get some office work done and meet Sis Atkins.  She will go with us to zone conference in the South St Louis Stake.  We thought we might be late, but it turned out we had lots of time to set up the mail station, find our seats, and lots of other things, because Pres and Sis Bell went to the wrong building in Chesterfield.  In my rush to be on time, I had forgotten some mail and supplies, forgotten to leave instructions for the housing assistants, and was feeling the inexorable pull of office work.  So, I headed back in to spend another hour or two there before coming back for the end of zone conference and washing the trays from Sis Bell’s delicious cinnamon rolls.  Sis Hatfield didn’t come with me, but she was in the back of the chapel working away on her computer on mission business, all the same.  She is feeling overwhelmed with the prospects of training new senior missionaries while keeping up with the regular work, communicating critical information to the next batch of incoming missionaries, and working on itineraries for the departing.  When I returned, I heard Elder Everton give an inspiring message on US civil rights history, weaving in the local heroes of Dred and Harriet Scott, and Abraham Lincoln.  

Thursday, September 16th started early with a trip to the airport with Elder Elijah Aken-Mathewson, headed for his original assignment in Toronto.  We love sending the new spirit of St Louis around the world.  Sis Hatfield had spent a portion of her evening last night helping him prepare his travel documents, and things went smoothly.  But it was still worthwhile that I was there because his checked bags needed to be paid for.  Credit card carrying adults have a place in the mission field.  Today, Sis Hatfield hung back from zone conference in Lake St Louis for a while to work in the office.  I rode with the housing assistants because it was their turn for conference too.  Sis Hatfield finally came, and we enjoyed practicing Short-Powerful-Frequent lessons for members with some sister missionaries.  Noticeably, but not particularly surprisingly, Pres Bell had spent a fair amount of time out in the hall on his phone rather than in the conference.  I found out why when he tapped me on the shoulder to come visit.  We had a young elder who was suicidal and apparently had a plan to end his life.  That was of course an emergency, and the missionary department and mission travel were preparing to send him home immediately, and Pres Bell asked if I could accompany him to Salt Lake City.  The lateness of our arrival in SLC would not allow for a same day return flight, but Spencer said he would pick me up so I could spend the night with his family.  So we hurried back to the apartment where I packed a small bag and then headed over to St Charles to pick up the missionary and his luggage which he had quickly packed.  We had some frank but warm conversations while together.  I was relieved when his parents and siblings warmly greeted us with hugs and welcome home signs.  He is well loved.  Out at the curb, Spencer had kept up Abbi and Ezra way past their bedtimes to come with him to pick me up.  It was delightful to be greeted by them and read them a bedtime story once home.  I highly recommend The Day the Crayons Quit.

Friday, September 17th.  Changing places, Elisabeth drove me to the airport with Ezra and Millie coming along.  Ezra, who had refused his breakfast, vomited in the back seat, apparently not being over his stomach bug.  Fortunately, he had refused his breakfast!  Still, it was up to me to unbuckle and clean him up with diaper wipes, a must have for children, proven yet again.  Elisabeth won’t be able to do the shopping she had hoped to do on her way home.  After pulling myself away from Elisabeth, Ezra, and Millie, I headed in to find the security line in the airport wrapped entirely around the building, which must have a ¼ mile perimeter.  I was beginning to form plans in my mind of what to do when I missed my flight, because this was going to take more than an hour, and I didn’t have that long.  Fortunately for me, a Delta agent walking up the line invited everyone with departures in the next hour to skip to the head of the security line.  This day, it did not pay to be early--it only meant you had to stand in line longer than everyone else.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was managing a difficult staff meeting back at the mission office.  The discussion included a very full calendar, office physical reorganization for the incoming senior missionaries, ordering needed cabinets, and computer peripherals.  Grandma Kay also arrived for a visit to St Louis late this afternoon.  She had been in the hospital a short week earlier, so the prospects for her travel were not looking good.  But she showed great courage and came, relying on airport wheelchairs more than she liked.  Sis Hatfield and I gave Kay a bit of a city tour, including the requisite bbq dinner which we enjoyed on the very pleasant sidewalk at Salt and Smoke, with street jazz serenading us.  We stayed up too late, catching up and visiting with Grandma Kay, but it was worth it.  

Saturday, September 18th included a trip to the Kirkwood farmers’ market with Kay.  We almost turned around when we saw we were driving into a parade, but we persevered and were rewarded with some fine Missouri and Illinois produce, including yummy peaches for our Sunday dinner.  Earlier than we expected, Elder and Sister Winsor arrived with their pickup and U-Haul trailer.  I called housing assistants and they met us at the storage unit to help offload the substantial Winsor belongings and set out the two king size beds we had found in the depths of our storage unit so they could pick one.  Then I sent the HAs to Columbia to take some sisters a replacement washing machine, stopping along the way in Wentzville to deliver pots and pans and in Oak Valley to check on their air conditioner which apparently has frozen.  Meanwhile, all the office staff, including the Winsors and Kay, and the Bells took the mission van to the Hill for Italian food at Zia’s.  While we waited for our table, we wandered down the block to the local Catholic church, where we met Father Jack, the priest who was more than happy to let us come in and show us around and take his picture.  The church itself has a fairly unremarkable but handsome brick exterior.  But inside, the saints statuary and predominantly green and blue stained glass is beautiful and, naturally, tell many scriptural stories that must be inspiring to the parishioners.  After consuming an overabundance of excellent food back at Zia’s, we left the Hill for Ted Drewes to finish our gluttony with frozen custard.  The Bells have been here for more than two years now without coming to this iconic ice cream stand, and there was no better finish to our introduction to St Louis for Grandma Kay and the Winsors.