Sunday, February 23, 2020

Yes, We Can't Help But Write About Our Plumbing 1-8 Feb 2020

1-8 Feb 2020

February began with a lowlight.  It began with a fine day of church and ministering to Annie Stewart and Dee Marche, followed by dinner for Elders Hamblin and Schuermann on February 2nd.  But then things went down hill in a hurry.  Actually, things didn’t go down hill, which was the problem.  Later that evening we heard a faint glug-glug sound, paid no attention to it, but before long realized that the drains in our showers and the mechanical closet were backing up with sewage.  Ugh.  At least I knew the phone number for the apartment after hour call center.  The on call maintenance man made his way from the hospital where he was visiting his son to our apartment, saw what was going on, and called the roto rooter man.  What a colorful bunch of folks the drain technicians are.  I guess you can’t take yourself or life too seriously if your job is to unclog sewer lines and keep the crap flowing.  It’s just messy business, there is no way around it. 

And so that this doesn’t become the only thing in my journal, I’ll go ahead and say that three weeks on, we have by now had four sewer backups, followed by roto rooter work, gross clean ups, annoyed neighbors upstairs that we need to keep telling not to use any water, and aggravation on our own part.  It seems that the real problem is that they did not install sufficient clean outs so that they could put 4 inch cutter heads down the line and really clean out the pipes.  Instead, they keep pulling off our toilet and putting a 2 inch cutter head down the drain, which seems to poke a hole in the clog, but leave plenty enough debris so that a week or so later, it plugs again.  Wow.  It is not easy to know what to do, but this is getting old.  We no sooner get things really clean and sanitized and sewage overflows again.  We have gotten pretty good at identifying the tell-tale glug-glug sound, moving our clothes out of the closet, clearing our bathrooms, putting down old towels, and calling the maintenance team.

February 5th was a zone conference in Chesterfield, Mo, Feb 6th in Columbia, Mo, and Feb 7th in O’Fallon, Ill stake centers.  The way it works here is we have nine zones, so every transfer (or every six weeks) we hold three zone conferences in a week, with three zones invited to one of the three conferences.  The locations are rotated, so the outlier zones aren’t always the missionaries that need to drive the farthest.  But for the office staff, it means that for practically the whole week, the office work is either pushed off, not done, or done late into the night.  President and Sister Bell, along with the Assistants, are also very busy with presentations, ad hoc interviews, meals, and the other responsibilities of leadership.  The office staff has some time at each conference to do some training in our respective areas—health, vehicles, records, supplies, finances, housing, and so forth.  The President has really encouraged us to not over do what could be hours of temporal matters training, and to make sure we bear our testimonies as part of our presentations. 

This round was the first zone conferences where the presentations were all done by the new office staff that is by now in place.  And while it is plenty disruptive from purely a normal work flow perspective, it is really a payoff to us because we are able to meet with the young missionaries in consecrated time and inspired training.  And all of the staff did a great job in weaving the messages of the gospel into their respective presentations so that it felt more like “temporal and spiritual” are all one with the Lord.  And if I’ve said it once, I’m sure I’ll say it many more times, these young missionaries are so amazing, doing a very difficult work, and it is a privilege to help sustain them.  I admire their courage. 

This work isn’t without its casualties.  We know that the incidents of depression and anxiety are high—at least equal to the general population of young people—somewhere between 20-40 percent.  We wonder if we just diagnosis these problems more astutely, or whether connected-ness has changed emotional stability, or whether the stresses of missionary work, or some combination of all of this adds up to the high rates of emotional problem.  But these young people are brave, doing their very best to not let their problems squelch their work.  Our mission nurse, President, Sister Bell, and health care professionals work very hard, and there certainly are some sad casualties, where despite the best efforts of everyone, someone must go home.  But no one gives up without a fight, and most succeed, regardless of handicaps. 

RaDene has been a blessing in this regard.  She of course relates to these young people with some emotional struggles, and has not only been a voice of encouragement, but an advocate for resources.  She has helped some leaders that have limited experience with and understanding of mental health to think more broadly about the modalities of care and the capabilities of the afflicted.  And she pitches in on the firing line.  She has taken a depressed young sister on morning walks, had supportive meetings, shared ideas, and bolstered her companion.  I have no doubt that Sister Hatfield’s intervention has helped turn the tide for this beautiful young woman from being hours away from being sent home to getting some professional help and another supportive, encouraging view from our mission leadership.  Perhaps some new ground is being broken.  At least we are not giving up!

On the way home from the Columbia zone conference, I asked Sister Hatfield to accompany me on the long way home.  We went down to Jefferson City to inspect a sisters’ attic apartment.  I’ve had some recommendations that they should be moved.  After looking at it, the eves are uncomfortable on both sides of the long hallway of an apartment.  And the steep steps up to the entry and the pathway to the basement laundry are not convenient or appealing.  But I must say the uncleanliness of the sisters made it a little hard to be fully objective.  Nothing looks too good when it is cluttered and dirty.  Another challenge is that members own the house and live on the main level.  I fear that they have come to rely on the mission’s rental and the blessing of having sisters upstairs, as opposed to someone less trustworthy. 

We also stopped in Warrenton, Missouri to see another sister apartment.  The complaints for it are two-fold.  One, there seems to be an inordinate amount of mold, and second, the neighborhood is rough, with some nighttime activities that could be disconcerting.  I’ve looked for weeks for an easy alternative, but Warrenton is an old town without a lot of growth, so newer apartments don’t seem available.  I’ll keep looking.  Meanwhile, hopefully the sisters will do their part to control the mold by working to keep surfaces clean and dry and using good judgment to help with safety.

After zone conference on Friday the 7th in O’Fallon, President Bell had the mission staff meet him at a restaurant for a dutch treat farewell dinner for the Ericksons.  They have worked to the bitter end.  I’m afraid to say that they never even made it to the St Louis Arch, the iconic symbol of the region.  But, while they missed the history of America’s smallest National Park and other attractions, I think they have done better at exploring a few of the food haunts.  So on Saturday the 8th they took us to a couple of their favorites—Crown Candy Kitchen, an old fashioned soda fountain-type dinner, famous for its one pound bacon BLT sandwiches, and Fountain on Locust, which features delicious ice cream treats.  Both are in old town St Louis, and fun to find and visit, especially if you are okay with seeing some of the city’s burned out north side.  At any rate, having finished my BLT and ice cream sundae, I definitely needed my statin and antacid that night.  Whew!

Irony of it all!

It's Sunday evening at 9pm.  And I am listening to the sounds of a plumber working an auger through the plumbing under the toilet in our bathroom.  For the 4th time in two weeks.  The irony of it all is I live with the Housing Coordinator for the Missouri St. Louis Mission.  The person in the mission who helps solve these types of problems for 90 plus apartments the church rents.  They rent 4 apartments in this complex alone.

Goes to show that crap happens no matter who you are or what good you're trying to do in the world!

On a brighter note... we had our first visitors from home this week!  Taz and Tammy Murray from Provo came to see comedian Jim Gaffigan in St. Louis and introduce us to some of their dear friends who live here.  For the first time ever we slipped away from the office early on a work day and visited the Gateway Arch before their friends joined us for dinner and the show.  It was great fun!


We love getting to know the missionaries as they come and go from the office or work with us on various mission projects.  I particularly love "owning my morning" with the Frontenac Sisters who live in our apartment complex.  These two sisters have earned a spot in my heart - Sister Thomas (who lends me her name tag when I forget mine) is from Utah Valley and Sister Jensen is from my home town of Hooper!  So fun!
 We have been concerned about the impact the coronavirus is having on missionary work throughout the world.  Harlan's sister copied us on the letter sent to the parents of the missionaries in Thailand who have been quarantined. As we read the letter I had the very strong impression that it was yet another tactic the adversary has found to thwart the work. That fact was confirmed the next day when we had the chance to video chat with our friends Brent and Jackie Cook, who are also serving in Thailand (doing the same jobs in that mission that we are doing here in ours!)  Elder Cook told us that the work is exploding in south east Asia. He said throngs of people are converting to Christianity generally and to the Church of Jesus Christ specifically.  He wondered out loud how they were going to keep 180 missionaries engaged in the work holed up in their apartments.  It's a little thing but...

Within 12 hours of that conversation, I received a text from some of our Sister missionaries asking if I could help them find someone to help translate for a person they are teaching who's native language is Burmese.  I reached out to the Cooks.  Turns out that the Thailand mission extends into Myanmar - the country where they speak Burmese - and there are a few missionaries in their mission who do speak Burmese!    So with President Bell's permission - Sister Cook and I will be linking up missionaries in Thailand with Missionaries in Missouri to teach the gospel to someone here who speaks a language from over there!  Miracles!

Hooray!  The auger has stopped.  They are working on putting the toilet back in place.  Now it's 10:30pm and here come the 'First Responders" coming to wet vac and clean carpets, sterilize bathrooms, and start the fans going!  Think I'll call the housing coordinator and see if he can get us a rent rebate! (wink)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Transfers with a capital T

I am gradually learning that the rhythm of the mission is based on The Transfer with a capital T.  What happens in the mission all depends on how it relates to the week when missionaries depart,  arrive, and are transferred within the mission.

The week when this happens is called "Week 1" of the transfer.  I've learned that I will barely be able to keep my head above water during weeks 1, 2, and 6 of transfers. If I've stayed caught up, week 5 won't be too bad. And I've come to expect that pending any mission wide emergencies, weeks 3 and 4 will be practically manageable!

Tonight marks the beginning of Week 3.  The past couple of weeks have been whirlwinds!  Not only has it been weeks 6, 1, 2 of transfers - we've also completed the turn over to an entirely new office staff!  Our new Mission Nurse (Carolyn Everton) and Vehicle Coordinator (John Everton) arrived from Bountiful in week 6.  Two days after they came into the office, our new part time service missionaries - Elder and Sister Jacob from the St. Louis Stake came in to the office to learn their new jobs as the Financial and Assistant Mission Secretaries.

And then we were off!  The first transfers of 2020 had a few exciting moments - including the phone call I answered at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, from the arriving missionaries who had just landed in the St. Louis Airport - a full 5 hours before we expected them!  Apparently a friendly Delta Gate agent seeing that a direct flight to St. Louis from SLC was departing out of a nearby gate invited the 5 missionaries transfer their seats to that plane, but didn't give them time to call us or the MTC to let us know that they wouldn't be going first to Detroit and then to St. Louis that afternoon.

Fortunately the group was small because Elder Hatfield and the property brothers were a couple of hours away with the trailer that we typically take to the airport to haul luggage in.  We scrambled and modified meal preparation and incoming interview plans. And made it work.  The rest of the 1st week of transfers went off as well as could be expected - having novices run it!

Zone conferences happen in the 2nd week of transfers. Our 9 zones are divided into 3 zone conference groups. Each group has a separate Zone Conference in a different location 3 days in a row.  Which means the Mission administration puts a few hundred miles on our cars as we drive and participate in 3 days of day long conferences. Attending and participating in these wonderful zone conferences comes at a price - of extra evening and weekend hours at the office.
Zone Conference Transfer 1 - OFallon, Springfield, Champaign Zones

Elder & Sister Hatfield Zone conference - Columbia, Lake St. Louis, Hazelwood Zones

Friday night after Zone Conferences

   Sister Erickson and her final project:  The 2019 MSLM History       

On the last Saturday of their mission, Elder David and Sister Becky Erickson took us to a couple of their favorite places in St. Louis.  They included Crown Candy Kitchen, where we ordered their famous 1 lb, BLT                                             

And the Fountain on Locust, where we ordered aged ice cream Sundaes... - one made with almond joy ice cream and hot fudge sauce and one made with Lemon ice cream topped with homemade raspberry sauce.  YUM!

January 20 - 31 2020

Jan 20th.  Martin Luther King day 2020 found us on a housing maintenance trip to Troy, O’Fallon, Belleville, and Fairmont Heights, Illinois.  These apartments are within an hour or so across the Mississippi River.  Naturally, to be efficient, we try to look at the needs and create several places relatively near each other and make one trip of them, particularly if the need is relatively minor.  We’ll make a special trip if the need is great.  It feels like I am in danger of discriminating against those missionaries that live more than about an hour away from the office.  Within an hour, and it seems like we are pretty responsive.  Over an hour, and we don’t seem to get there as often, so needs can go unaddressed.  I think I need to try to do more training on self-help, which in the end, will be longer life skills for these young adults.

Jan 22nd.  I’ve mentioned briefly that a missionary office couple that arrived a month or two before we did left the mission unexpectedly in December.  Who knows why for certain, but it seemed to be a combination of disappointment with their assignment, serious personality conflicts, and family crisis back home.  She was serving as assistant secretary over referrals, proselyting publication orders, baptism reports, and other important functions.  He was serving as financial clerk.  Needless to say, it left a big whole when they left, even if it did settle down some of the discord we had among some office missionaries.  We would have been in a lurch to get the work done, except that the Ericksons and the Hatfields overlapped by two months, an odd timing arrangement, or so it seemed.  As it turned out, the Ericksons trained us, and they took over much of what the prematurely departed couple had been assigned to do.  The odd overlap turned out to be a big blessing.  After some serious asking among stake presidents, the St Louis South Stake came up with a couple that was willing to serve part time in the office as service missionaries.  The Jacobs are in the throes of retiring, and have been mulling over putting in their papers for a full time mission, perhaps later this year.  But, in the interim, have taken on service mission work in the office.  Whew!

Jan 26-29th.  Sunday the 26th began transfers.  After a couple of after church visits to members, and a trip downtown to the Lindell East apartment to drop off a missionary, we headed for the office so RaDene could print out boarding passes and make final travel arrangements for departing missionaries.  We are trying hard to make our appearances in the office on Sunday the exception rather than the rule.  So far, it has been the rule.  It is all in the service of the Lord, but it still feels like we ought to have sufficient control of our work and schedule so we can spend Sundays worshipping and ministering, rather than paper and computer work at our desks.  I am sure that Christ would be the minister to the one, but I sometimes wonder how he would act as mission secretary or housing coordinator?  Missionaries and staff arrived at the mission home that evening for dinner and departure testimonies. 

On Tuesday, we needed to move some beds, desks, and chairs so that there would be places for the new missionaries who would arrive that night and be transferred out to their teaching areas on Wednesday.  We went as far as Macon, Missouri, which is a good three hour drive, one way.  The Elders out there are pretty isolated.  As I have said before, from there it feels like you are on the edge of the great plains, and that not much has changed in the last 150 years.  If I squint, I think I can see pioneers, cowboys, and Indians.  In addition to setting up for a threesome, I hauled out some broken, worn-out furniture that looked like it came across the plains in a wagon.  I unloaded it in dumpsters on the way home.  I took note of the broken toilet seat, tank float, and said a prayer with the elders and headed out. 

Jan 29th.  On transfer day, RaDene and I helped with the new missionary training, introduction to their trainer companions, and lunch at a centrally located church building.  Then about 12:30 p.m. other missionaries involved in the transfer begin descending on the building.  Because of snow and cold, the sisters were allowed into the hallway.  The elders had to stay outside.  After long experience, the mission president has learned that it is hard to get the missionaries back out to their teaching areas if they are made to comfortable at the transfer building.  The pull of socialization still requires the assistants to the president to be shewing the missionaries along through the process.  We deliver and disperse lots of mail and other necessary supplies during the process, and RaDene is the primary clerk.  Meanwhile, cars are being inspected and impromptu interviews are going on by the mission nurse and president.  All in all, it is quite a production. 

Personally, I was sad that my senior housing assistant, Elder Renkert, was being made a zone leader in O’Fallon.  He has served long and well as an HA, showing good judgment and organizational skills, as well as working hard not only with housing projects, but with proselyting.  Elder Hamblin, his junior, will need to step up and fill the big shoes.  I also met Elder Shuermann, the young man rotating into the junior role as housing assistant. 

But there was no time for wistfulness.  We had to take the truck and trailer to St Charles and take all the furniture from a sisters apartment that was being closed there and move it to Lindell South, and inner city teaching area which had been empty for a few weeks.  This was one move that could not be done ahead of time because the sisters in St Charles needed their accomdations there right up until transfer day, but set up and ready to go in Lindell South before the day was over.  Thankfully, Elder Shuermann, who looks a bit slight, is wiry, and up to the work.  We wrestled couches, beds, dressers, desks, boxes, etc. down the St Charles stairs and carefully packed the truck and trailer so we would not need to make more than one trip.  Then off to Lindell South to unload and set up.  It was cold and showery, to keep things just a bit more interesting, but we did it.  Everyone had a place to sleep by night time on transfer day. 

Jan 30th.  This day I knew I had to get a senior apartment cleaned because the lease was up and would be inspected the next day.  I had hopes of going in early afternoon, but the press of things in the office just wouldn’t allow it.  So, about 7 p.m. I headed over with my cleaning supplies.  Is it impolite to say that the apartment was left in filthy condition?  The couple leaving had plenty of reasons to have not kept it up really well.  Their work was exceedingly demanding, leaving know time for deep cleaning.  And I am pretty sure deep cleaning wasn’t their style anyway, particularly as they were well into their ninth decade of life.  To my great pleasure, the Evertons, the sweet, demure couple newly arrived from Bountiful, showed up bucket in hand.  They labored through the remnants of years of senior couple living along side of me and we overcame late that night all manner of mess, including mice remnants.  The next day, on the exit walk through and turn over of keys, the manager was very happy with the condition.  I had passed my first apartment inspection.

As a humorous side story to this, we had done a lot of furniture moving the week before in preparation for the apartment cleaning day and turnover.  One appliance available for others was a toaster.  It was packed in its box, and we delivered it to another couple who had expressed an interest in a toaster.  RaDene and I came home late one night to find the toaster back on our doorstep with a note reading, “we changed our mind about the toaster.”  Well it was a four slice toaster, and so it might have been just a bit too big, or so we speculated.  We took it inside and RaDene took out the toaster, and to our horror, the box was ¼” deep with mice droppings.  We had not opened the box before delivering it and so we had no idea.  But the couple that “changed their mind” had said nothing about the awful contents of the toaster box.  We said to ourselves, they surely must not have actually opened the box to see what was inside.  Curiosity got the best of us, and so asked them, “did you see what was inside?”  To our amazement, they said yes, but didn’t think to mention it to us.  We still belly laugh thinking about what we would do if we had a box of crap to return to someone—would we say anything about it?  Ha!