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!