Sunday, March 29, 2020

15-21 Mar 2020 Who Will Go?

Sunday, March 15th turned out to be only a prelude of things to come.  We had received word that we were not to meet together in church, but could minister and have small group meetings at our homes.  We had a delightful Come Follow Me lesson using internet video conferencing with Malory and her family, Ancsi and Gareth, and our parents.  Poor Malory had to have her laptop on mute most of the time so we could hear each other over Kennedy’s delightful, disruptive chatter.  We were not completely tech savvy, as we held up one computer in front of the camera of another to share some videos, but everyone felt good about “being together” if only via microphone and camera.  Afterwards, we picked up the missionaries and took the sacrament to two elderly sisters in the Pagedale Branch that we have grown quite close to considering the short amount of time we have been here.  Then, we came back to our little apartment and taught a temple preparation class to Sherri Cullen and shared dinner with Sherri, her husband, and the missionaries.  It all seemed pleasant and somewhat sociable.  Little did we know it would be our last sacrament in a social setting for a while.

On Monday, March 16th, it started to feel like the coronavirus was causing the Church to take steps that would affect us in important ways, but that would not radically change the work of the mission.  That morning, we were told to give Elders that had been out for 21 months the option to end their mission early if they had some physical or emotional vulnerability.  The president called those who might qualify for early release, but he had few takers.  Before the day was over, the option had turned into a mandate.  Now, many of our most senior missionaries would be going home early.  We assumed that this might be to make room for foreign serving missionaries who were apparently coming home for their protection.  But it was all a little blurry. 

On Tuesday, a new communication came out that mandated the departure of all missionaries, regardless of tenure, that might be physically or emotionally vulnerable.  We met together with the Mission President and Sis Bell and the mission nurse to evaluate our missionaries and make a working list of who might need to return home in response to the communication from the area presidency.  It is hard to express how difficult that discussion was, realizing that these decisions would affect lives in real ways. 

On Wednesday, we left work early to go to Sherri Cullen’s delightful, old, small house to share a meal with her and Dan, her husband, and the Pagedale missionaries.  After a yummy pasta dinner, we had another temple preparation lesson.  We went back to the office afterwards, trying to keep up with our work.  Somewhat humorously, we mimicked what the missionaries do—we made a short video and posted it on the mission Facebook feed, exclaiming energetically that we had we had “someone on date!” which means for the missionaries that someone had committed to a baptismal date.  In our case, we had a member who had an appointment for receiving her endowment in the St Louis temple on April 18th.  We were excited to be a part of her preparations. 

Thursday, March 19th was strange.  We held zone conference by video link.  Ordinarily we hold 3 zone conferences on 3 consecutive days in 3 different stakes, rotating around the mission.  This time, we had 1 zone conference on 1 day by video.  So it was effectively a mission conference, with missionaries meeting in their local churches to participate.  That way, there wouldn’t be more than 3 companionships in a building at one time.  On our end it was difficult, because we set it up from Pres Bell’s office in the mission office.  But it is too small for all the staff to get into all at once, at least comfortably, especially with screens, cameras, etc.  It was the least participation I’ve had in a conference since we’ve been here.  And of course, there was no feeding or eating with the missionaries.  They simply ate their sack lunches they brought at a break.  We missed the fraternization with the young missionaries.  Instead, we conferenced during the lunch break further discussing which missionaries were candidates to return home.

Maybe it was just as well that I couldn’t easily participate in zone conference.  That morning, Pres Bell came in and asked me to call the senior missionaries and let them know that they needed to return home on instructions of the Church.  That was challenging in some cases where the seniors had been out only a fraction of the mission they had planned to serve.  Many of them really had no place to go, having sold, rented, or put family in their homes.  Moreover, they were asked to self-isolate themselves once they got home for two weeks.  Pres Bell also asked me to contact stake presidents so that they would be prepared to greet missionaries coming home.  He couldn’t preside at the zone conference and quickly contact everyone that needed to know of the decisions to send missionaries home.  That same day, we received word from the church that the missionaries should no longer go into anyone’s home.  This was really going to change what the missionaries could do to contact and teach.

Saturday the 21st, I spent a good part of the day greeting senior missionaries that were departing that day and collecting apartment keys.  I did my best to express my gratitude for their service in the MSLM and encourage them to be safe and find alternative ways to continue to share their valuable talents.  I also cleaned and readied an apartment for turning over to management.  Sending so many home, I wonder if there will be a lot of this in coming weeks and months.

8-14 Mar 2020 The Virus Is Coming

8-14 Mar 2020 The Virus Is Coming

Sunday, March 8th was the end of the St Louis Stake Conference.  Elder Henry J. Erying was the visiting authority.  He is President of BYU-I and looks like a young version of his father, Henry B.  In trying to get some background on Pres Eyring, Sis Hatfield came across a BYU-I devotional promotion featuring Henry J. trying to waterski in suit pants, white shirt, and tie.  I can’t really remember what the attendance “hook” was, but it certainly was amusing, and out of character for a spiritually powerful, albeit soft spoken man of few words.  He did have some amusing stories.  His likeness to his father was illustrated by this story:  He related that he unexpectedly met Pres Nelson in a parking garage one Saturday in December.  And although it was understandable that Pres Nelson knew who he was, he didn’t have any real reason to think his life details would be known to the prophet.  Surprisingly, Pres Nelson said, I understand you are a season pass holder at Park City!  A bit shocked and embarrassed, Henry J. admitted he was, but asked how Pres Nelson knew this.  With a twinkle in his eye, Pres Nelson said, well, a few weeks ago, I was at Park City getting my season pass.  As I got to the ticket window, the young man exclaimed, oh my, one day and I’m giving passes to two apostles!  Pres Nelson asked him, Oh, who was the other one?  The clerk said, Elder Eyring.  Then Pres Nelson told Henry J., I know your dad is not a skier.  Trying to be equally quick, Henry J. retorted, well, I’m sure you are not getting up to the mountain as often as you once did.  Pres Nelson dryly replied, You are right, I haven’t been up since Thursday!

Less humorous, Pres and Sis Bell spoke in the Saturday evening session and then were excused for a family matter.  The family matter was to try to get to their son’s solo dance performance being held at a competition an hour away across the Mississippi in Illinois.  Their son is an excellent dancer and trains and competes at a high level.  Happily, their son took second place.  Sadly, Pres Bell missed the performance again.  He hasn’t seen his son dance at a competition since they got here.  The sacrifices they have made to leave home and lead this mission are very real, and costly by anyone’s reckoning.  Only the Lord could compensate.

This is another transfers week.  It is still amazing to me how the Church has so carefully orchestrated arrivals and departures into the mission field and how missionary movements within the mission revolve around that.  There must be some former Swiss watch makers in the Missionary Department.  On Monday, we said goodbye to some beloved sister missionaries, gathering them up at the Frontenac sister’s apartment and helping drive them to the airport.  Which meant, of course, that on Tuesday, March 10th, a new group arrived, and on Wednesday, we had new missionary orientation, where Pres and Sis Bell imbue the missionaries with their spirit, the APs train the trainers, and the office staff introduces themselves and how they are here to support the work.  You won’t be surprised to know that Sis Hatfield decorated with a fun and cheerful St Patrick’s Day theme.  We served a lunch of fresh green salad and grilled chicken.  RaDene is doing an admirable job of finding healthy things to serve the missionaries.  By 12:30 pm the missionaries from around the mission have descended on the church parking lot, and we do our best to pass out mail, collect and redistribute car and apartment keys, deliver teaching materials, and send them off.  For me and Elders Hamblin and Shurmann, we had to hustle away.  We had to get to Effingham and Pittsfield, both in Illinois, to set up what we call tri’s—a three person companionship, with an extra desk, and importantly, a bed, before it was time for bed.  That might not sound like a feat, but when Effingham is two hours north east of St Louis, and Pittsfield is 2 ½ hours north west of Effingham, and you don’t start until 2 in the afternoon, it is a bit of a trick.  Effingham is a small farming community in the plains of southern Illinois.  It is home to the largest cross in the US, known as the “Cross at the Crossroads,” standing near the intersection of some important roads and railroads.  It stands 200 feet tall and is made of gleaming steel.  It is unmistakable.  Unhappily, it was made famous by a Life Magazine cover story of the terrible fire that burned St Anthony’s Hospital to the ground, killing 74 people.  Donations to rebuild came from all 48 states and several foreign countries.  It also was the impetus for implementing improved fire codes around the nation. 

I allowed the Elders to stop outside Pittsfield long enough to get gas and for me to buy them a snack, having no time for dinner.  The Pittsfield apartment is notable for being a renovated mortuary.  The sisters there have a long narrow apartment on the top floor.  It doesn’t seem ideal, but a little looking the next day confirmed what I suspected:  there hasn’t been any apartments built in Pittsfield for many years, so the prospects for improvement are slim.  Pittsfield is even smaller than Effingham, having less than 5,000 people, but it has some characteristics that belie its few people.  It was settled in the early 19th Century by yankees from Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Perhaps that heritage is why it has some beautiful buildings, including a county courthouse that rivals the best architecture of the 19th Century.  It had large pork raising farms for many years, feeding into the huge meat packing that helped make Chicago famous.  It still has Pig Days every July.  It is well documented that Abraham Lincoln practiced law in Pittsfield as he rode the Illinois Circuit and the local paper was among the first to suggest him for President. 

But the town had rolled up by the time we left the sisters’ apartment, having done what we could to set up beds, desks, fix lights, and miscellaneous other maintenance items.  So we started the 2 ½ hour drive south to St Louis, having had no dinner.  I mention that only because when we finally got near civilization again we found a Hardy’s that hadn’t closed.  We went in and the elders ordered quite possibly the biggest hamburgers I ever saw, with huge double patties, cheese, and bacon.  It became an endurance contest to see if they could actually finish the food.  I think they both regretted eating the whole thing.  Missionaries!  And more specifically, Elders.  I was more modest and skipped the second patty and bacon.  What a healthy eater I am. 

On March 12th we came into the mission office and found ourselves locked out.  Our office has a mechanical key lock, but we rarely use it.  Instead, our office, like all the others in our building, relies on a magnetic lock that is opened by a card like you might use at a hotel.  The lightning storm the night before had fried the building’s electronic lock circuitry.  Somewhat counterintuitively, the fried circuity held the doors locked, rather than releasing them.  We alerted the rest of the staff to not come in until we gave the all’s well signal.  An hour turned into two, and then into the morning, and the day, and finally two before the electrician could get the doors opened.  Now we were using our mechanical keys!  Technology is great, until it isn’t. 

On Friday the 13th, RaDene and I joined the Bells after work to do some initiatories and sealings before the St Louis Temple closed for health protection reasons.  It was a sweet experience, but also a bit melancholy to think that the doors would be closing, for who knew how long.  Perhaps it was a very small taste of what the saints must have felt leaving the Nauvoo Temple, knowing they would not ever return.  Afterwards, Sister Hatfield and I found Andy’s Frozen Yogurt, a walk up storefront serving the most delicious frozen treats.  Ugh, I’m writing this on a fast Sunday, and it is the wrong time to reflect on this experience.  It was so good.  St Louis has its share of good eats!  If anyone ever comes to visit, remind us to take you there.

Saturday, March 14th was emergency supply assembly day.  We have counseled our missionaries for weeks to put together some emergency medicine and food supplies, just in case.  Sis Bell is an energetic doer (quite like RaDene in this regard), who decided that we needed some back up supplies.  So, she went to Costco, the Dollar Store, and who knows where else, carting in cases of food.  We spent most of the day sorting it out and boxing it into banker boxes.  We now have 12 boxes of emergency food supplies we can drop off when and where needed.  If not, we will have a great spaghetti feed with the missionaries someday.

1-7 Mar 2020 Golfing, Anyone?

Sunday, March 1st was our first day in a new Pagedale Branch assignment.  Pres Fingal has asked us to help sister Sherri Cullen prepare to go to the temple to receive her endowments and to be sealed to her husband Dan Thomas.  She wants to be ready for April 18th.  It is an exciting assignment and goal.  RaDene and I have been blessed by our temple service and attendance and happy to be helping Sis Cullen prepare.  The Church resources on the temple are so rich now.  The Brethren have provided a great deal of information about temple ordinances that enhance our ability to discuss the important covenants and promises available in the House of the Lord.  Because of intervening conferences, stake, general, and zone, we have developed a schedule that doesn’t have a lot of float, but that should cover the territory in the time available.  Here we go.

Tuesday was Mission Leadership Council for the Mission President, Sister Bell, and the young missionary leadership.  The office staff doesn’t participate in the council directly, be we do get to spend some time with these wonderful people because we prepare and serve them lunch.  We wanted to break our menu mold, so we ordered teriyaki sauce, aluminum bowls, and sesame seeds, and bought broccoli, chicken strips and rice.  We gathered up all the crockpots of the office staff and went to work.  RaDene, as usual, added a real visual touch, with green table clothes, shamrock plates and napkins, and shimmering green center pieces.  A feast for the spirit, eyes, and belly.

Wednesday, March 3rd was what we call Temple Tuesday.  The missionaries are invited to attend the temple soon after their arrival, and then again on their 6, 12, 18 and 24 month marks.  One of my jobs is to keep track of whose turn it is to come into St Louis on Temple Tuesday and post the information for the missionaries to see.  We don’t typically attend, although we surely could, but it just is so hard to leave our office posts during the day in the middle of the week. 

While Temple Tuesday was going on, I went out to St Peters to check on the elders’ apartment where the water heater had burst and flooded the place.  I was glad to see that the dehumidifier, fans, and carpet cleaning had all done its work so that the apartment was ready for the elders to move back in. 

On my way back to the office I got a call from RaDene that a sister had left some of her temple clothing at the temple.  She was enroute to Effingham, Illinois, so returning would be very difficult.  So, I went by the temple to see if I could retrieve them and get them into the mission mail delivery system (of which I am an integral part, if I do say so myself).  I went to the laundry counter and found the clothing.  Moreover, the temple worker behind the counter, having seen my name badge, introduced herself as related to the Hatfields in Utah County.  We had a grand time getting acquainted.  It is fun to know our family is all around us, even in the mission field.

This is the week before transfers so President Bell is spending time in the office seeking inspiration about what missionaries should and shouldn’t be transferred.  There are so many thoughts that go into those decisions to take to the Lord.  One factor is how the missionaries are embraced by the members.  This cycle, the President has become very concerned that some sisters are not being used by a ward in the Columbia Stake anywhere near potential.  He is inclined to move them to a ward in the zone where the elders are leading the mission in baptisms, with no small amount of the effort coming from the members.  He is thinking that a second set of missionaries, some sisters, would flourish there.  Of course that means they need a place to live.  And fortunately, their current lease only has a couple of months left.  I did all the computer searching I could, narrowed my vision to three apartments, then it was time to go look.

On Thursday, March 4th Sister Hatfield got a call from one of the Elders we work with in the Pagedale Branch.  He is from Brazil originally, although his family has immigrated through Utah and now lives in the Atlanta area.  Early on in our relationship with Elder Windmiller, Sister Hatfield insisted he talk to Gareth Vidal, our Chilean son-in-law, confirming that they both speak Spanish and Portuguese.  Elder Windmiller had lost his cell phone.  The Church has the missionaries’ phones heavily loaded with filters, encryption, and other daunting software to help keep missionaries safe.  One feature provides for phone location.  Sister Hatfield figured out how to turn it on for the lost cell phone from her computer.  Rather remarkably, it showed the phone at a commuter train station called the Delmar Loop.  It looked like it was on the tracks themselves, based on the mapping.  Well, having found a locating signal, we had to go look.  So we jumped in the car and headed towards downtown. 

It turns out the Delmar Loop station is in an area that is a bit sketchy.  All sorts of yelling and commotion was going on at the station, including a police presence.  It felt a bit risky to park the Audi and go searching.  Indeed, Sister Hatfield demurred, and stayed locked in the car.  The locating signal was now not pointing to the train station, but to an old building across the street.  Several old men that could have passed for homeless were walking up and down the sidewalk.  It wasn’t clear what the building was, but being intrepid missionaries, Sister Hatfield left the car and joined me to knock on the door.  We were greeted at the door by an old man who seemed genuinely confused by our introduction:  “Hello, we are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One of our colleagues has lost his phone and we think it might be inside your building.  Have you seen it, and can we come in and look?”  It turns out the building was home to a County funded senior men’s residential facility.  No wonder the poor old fellow was confused.  Helpfully though, he invited us in and found the on duty caretaker.  She was a middle aged woman who was accommodating.  We explained the situation and that the locating signal had brought us to her facility.  She asked around for us, made a general announcement, and invited us to make a search. 

After having sized up the elderly residents of the care center, we realized that if one of the men had picked up the phone in or around the train station, which seemed distinctly possible, there was a strong likelihood he would not remember he had, or where he had set it down if he brought it in.  These men were really not accountable for their actions at this stage in their lives.  So rather than intrusively search in vain, we just left our card and asked for a call if something showed up and that some young missionaries would be by the next day to check.  We parted on friendly terms with the caregiver, feeling a bit of kinship with her in our respective roles to help God’s children.  We had tried, but alas, the phone never did show up.  Fortunately for him, Elder Windmiller had a connection with the mission secretary who promptly arranged for a spare mission phone for him. 

On Friday the 6th, my duty was to try to find an apartment for sisters in what we call Bear Creek, a ward in Columbia, Missouri.  Bear Creek already had a set of Elders, but they were the highest baptizers in the mission, and it seemed directly connected to the efforts of the ward.  President Bell wanted to fan the flame.  My practice is to do an internet search, narrow the candidates to a manageable number, then go look.  An internet description is no substitute for eyeing the neighborhood and looking at the apartments inside and out. 

I quickly ruled out one of my candidates.  This was going to be the home of sisters, after all, and the complex looked somewhat unsafe in context.  A second choice was a townhouse on the outskirts of town in an older neighborhood with small homes surrounding it, and a pleasant park nearby.  It seemed like a possibility, but I wasn’t feeling sure.  The third choice was a very new complex that had a somewhat pretentious name, “The Links at Columbia.”  It wasn’t a PGA tour stop, but it did have some units that overlooked a small golf course.  I was a little worried about the message I might be inadvertently sending to the ward, even though the price was really quite reasonable. 

I stewed about it for the next couple of days and then it hit me.  I needed to call the Bear Creek Bishop.  That was a flash of inspiration.  He quickly steered me away from my second choice, knowing that although the park looked pleasant in the daytime when I had seen it, it had long been a magnet for untoward activities after dark and just too near to the townhouses for comfort.  And he heartily endorsed my third choice, quickly assuring me that “The Links” had a family friendly reputation with a good blend of all sorts of people, young, old, students, singles, and families.  Calling the local priesthood is an excellent tool for the toolbox.  I quickly wrote my check and made a deposit.  While somewhat of an administrative hassle, it is on the other hand somewhat comforting that we needed to have a background check on the proposed resident sisters.  Presumably all residents have passed.  I joked with President Bell that our lease comes with discounted green fees.  Shall we go golfing after missionary interviews in Columbia when the weather warms up?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Elders Are Movers 23-29 Feb 2020

23-29 Feb 2020

On Sunday, February 23rd Sister Hatfield and I joined the Pagedale Branch leadership in blanketing the branch territory looking for lost members on the rolls.  We got the list labeled southwest, with about 12 names on it.  The long-time branch president gave it a quick look and confirmed that he didn’t know any of the folks on the list.  We scooped up the full time missionaries, Elder Stamper and Elder Windmiller, and off we went.  We went address by address.  I’m sorry to say we didn’t make a lot of progress.  Most doors we knocked on didn’t answer.  We left notes on each one of them.  We did have a “Fourth Floor, Last Door” experience.  The very last house on the list wasn’t answered by the member, but by a very friendly roommate.  A Presbyterian, we learned.  But she was helpful and quite sure the owner would be happy to see us sometime when she wasn’t at work.  We chatted long enough that the member’s young adult son drove in the driveway, so we chatted with him.  He explained that the family was actually long time members.  His grandfather had been a bishop in Puerto Rico when he was a boy and before the family moved to St Louis.  The young man was also friendly and invited the Elders to make a return visit.  We learned that his mom’s day off is on Wednesdays and that she works in the local grocery floral department.  We have more to go on here. 

On Monday, I had a housing breakthrough.  Some sisters in a town called Warrenton have been plagued by mold and a somewhat scary neighborhood environment for some time now.  I have been looking in vain for an alternative.  Everything seemed to be equally or more scary, be really rundown, or just too far from the heart of the teaching area.  But today, I got a tip for a townhouse very near the church building in a much quieter part of town.  That is, quieter excepted for during the county fair, because the fairgrounds are in the new neighborhood.  I spoke to the owner and his brother the manager, and things look very promising.  The property is not brand new, but there isn’t mold, and the environment seems safe.  Honestly, I believe the mold is mostly a problem of missionaries not keeping their place clean and dry.  And sometimes I’m a bit skeptical about how dangerous a neighborhood really is.  But as (Luke Skywalker?) says, perception is reality.  Sometimes the best solution is just to change the perception to help the missionaries get refocused. 

We also had a meeting with Rock Eriksen, the Area JustServe coordinator, and Mission President Bell.  We are all hoping that the mission and the missionaries can expand their good works by participating in JustServe.  RaDene and I have been asked by Pres Bell to be the mission just serve coordinators.  RaDene will be good at involving the missionaries if we can get our feet under us sufficiently to give it some attention.

On Tuesday the 25th, the housing assistants and I finished a wild goose chase.  The washer we had replaced in St Charles the week before was still in our trailer because we had tried a couple of metal recyclers on the county recycling website without success.  Why the county would list closed facilities is a mystery.  But this day we took one more stab at it, with success.  We punched in the address of the facility in central St Louis and were off.  The closer we got, the more burned out the place became, until we finally got to a facility that looked like the epicenter of a WWII bombing raid.  We somewhat sheepishly turned into the walled and razor wired city block and drove up onto the scale.  The piles of scrap and the clientele looked like they really were WWII refugees.  We quickly unloaded our washer into the mud, and drove back onto the scale.  I was given a scrap of paper by the weighmaster and he pointed to a block building in the corner of the lot that looked like a WWII bunker.  There was not a single window, and frankly, from where I was I never saw a door either.  But there was a large arrow painted on the exterior pointing to a spot where one concrete block was missing and the hole covered by a canvas flap.  There were a line of men, so I went and stood in it.  When it was finally my turn, someone took my paper and my driver’s license.  I had the feeling that giving up my license was a bad idea.  I waited long enough that I did start to worry whether I would ever see it back again.  Even the men in the line behind me thought something was taking too long.  I never learned why.  Finally, I was handed $6 and my driver’s license back through the opening.  The Elders and I had been trying to have some conversations with the men at the yard, but we really were not on the same wavelength, and so we hustled out.  The $6 didn’t even pay for the gas of the trip, but at least we were free of the burden of a broken down washing machine.

That night while back in the office, RaDene received a call from a father and referred the call to me.  It was an unsophisticated man who had heard that his son, an elder in our mission, had gotten himself into trouble.  I didn’t know a lot about it myself.  I had heard that the elder and his companion had been tracked by the vehicle satellite system to have been out driving around a remote and forbidden part of the mission in the middle of the night.  Pres Bell was still gathering the facts and deciding what action to take.  Meanwhile, this heartbroken father was asking for more information that I didn’t really have.  I told him I would ask the President to get in touch with him and assured him that his son was safe and would be dealt with fairly and with love.  I felt very bad for the whole situation, the Elders, the President, and the sorrowful and worried families back home.  There wasn’t much I could do but to try to reassure this poor man that everything would work out.

Wednesday, February 26th, took us to Saint Vincent de Paul.  We had collected a small menagerie of things from the Erickson apartment, storage unit, office, and the real impetus, a desk that sisters in Oakville had been using as a seat until they got themselves some bar stools.  Then the desk was just in the way so we picked it up.  So that it would not be perpetually in our way, we went to my favorite local charitable thrift store, St Vincent de Paul, run by Catholic Charities.  We have been there several times since I arrived here, and they have come to recognize me.  They really appreciate our donations.  By now, they don’t bother to ask if I need a receipt, understanding that from one charitable organization to another, a tax deduction won’t help.  Somehow it always feels good to help the poor.  I think I appreciate that more after having worked with inmates and former inmates at the Utah County jail last year.

Thursday was a big day.  The housing assistants and I made a big push to move out everthing that was left in the Erickson apartment.  We stored what seemed sensible to store for future missionary use, and threw a lot away.  Honestly, there isn’t a lot a missionary has that is worth saving, or even donating, for that matter.  We live a vow of poverty, in a manner of speaking. 

That was the morning.  In the afternoon, we responded to some sisters laboring in St Peters that had felt like they were being stalked at their apartment.  Apparently this has gone on for some time, with greater and lesser concerns.  Police were even called once, but were of no assistance.  Without an objective threat of some sort, they wouldn’t do anything.  I spoke to management, but they said they were not the police and couldn’t judge what was legal and what was illegal, so they were of no help either.  Some brave zone leaders had even confronted the guy once, but after a while he surfaced again.  The problem was becoming too big a distraction not only to these sisters, but to others.  President Bell wasn’t intimidated.  We counseled together and finally he asked me to trade the sisters’ apartment with a pair of elders in nearby St Charles.  Elder Fanika stands about 6 foot 5 inches, pushing 300 pounds, a football player at the University of Nevada Reno.  Elder Jensen is nearly as big, a Scandinavian stock cowboy from Ephraim, Utah. He packs a lassoing rope around the mission, and wears boots on P-day. Yes, really.  They were thrilled that the sisters’ apartment was one of the newer places in the mission.  The sisters felt safe, cared for, and content.  And somehow, the creepy guy has not bothered the missionaries since.

Just as I was heading back to the office, quite exhausted, RaDene called and said that some elders had called and their apartment was flooded.  I went out there, and sure enough, their water heater had burst, sending several inches of water through their living room and down the hall.  I gave them air mattresses to move to another companionship’s apartment for a few days.  The elders and I then paid a visit to the management to make sure that they had a plan to dry the carpet and clean it.  Mold is just too big a deal around here not to manage the problem aggressively.  Happily, they were accommodating, hiring a firm to bring in large fans and a dehumidifier, pulling back carpets, and wet vacuuming. 

Saturday, February 29th.  This day, I joined the Pagedale elder’s quorum move a poor African American family from Pagedale to Hazelwood in search of improving the education possibilities for their young children.  I arrived and was taken short and left rather breathless at the living conditions.  As it turned out, there was little to move.  A dresser or two, a kitchen table, a couple of flat screen TVs, and some boxes of miscellaneous possessions.  It all fit in one pickup and a minivan.  And honestly, what we moved hardly seemed worth the effort.  Mostly we helped clean the very dirty, broken down rooms they had used in a house shared with two other families.  It has been a long time since I have seen such poverty.  I take it back.  The missionaries do not live in poverty.  I wish this family the very best in their quest to better the future of their children.  At any rate, so ended the fourth move of the week.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

When you are prepared....

I’m going to be honest.  I’ve never much cared for the ‘war chapters’ of the Book of Mormon. Too much blood and guts and stories of men who cared more about power and money than about people.
But this morning, this first Saturday of what I’ve come to understand is going to be a season,  and not just a single passing storm, of living through the COVID-19 health crisis, I have been taught and inspired by some of the ‘war chapters’.

Early this week, pre-public closures due to COVID-19 and the public panic emptying grocery stores, I was reading in Alma 48, especially verses 13-16.  The message I read was:
  1. remember and act upon what I’ve been taught about how to love, serve, and defend myself and my family against ‘enemies’.  (Anything that threatens health and safety) 
  2. To have faith in God and His promise to all of us that if we keep His commandments (the good old fashioned 10 ones cover the bases) He will
    •  Prosper us in the Land
    •  Warn us
    • Show us how to prepare
    • Let us know when we are in danger
    • Let us know how to defend ourselves
Today, early in the morning, my book opened up to Alma 49.  Not remembering that I had already read this chapter this week, I read the opening verses and about jumped out of my seat!  I read words like:

  • The city had been rebuilt (hello, didn’t the prophet promise us in October 2018 that “as you diligently work to remodel your home into a center of gospel learning, over time your Sabbath days will truly be a delight”.  Hasn’t President Nelson guided the remodeling of the church’s online library, church programs: visiting/home teaching, missionary training, youth organization – even temple ordinances? )   
  • Others were “astonished at the manner of preparation” (can’t tell you the number of times non members of the church have thought my practice of always having food storage, a more than 2 week supply of household goods etc was astonishing)
  • Had prepared their “places of security” (what does society see as places of security? Homes, churches, community connections)
  • Had “cast up dirt”  (reminded me of the physical preparations I’ve made to have a strong immune system – the regular exercise, attention to nutrition, vitamins and nutritional supplements I take)
And so on….

Today, the war chapters in the Book of Mormon are speaking to me.  Comforting me.  Reminding me that all will be well.  I am prepared.  Even without access to the physical food and supply storage I left in Utah. Because of my faith, my physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional preparation, I will be guided to know how and when to act during this season of the COVID-19 crisis to be healthy and safe and be able to support those I have stewardship for in doing the same.  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

2020 Feb 16-22The Arch

16-22 Feb 2020

February 16th just might have been our busiest Sunday ever.  It isn’t always true, but Sunday is generally a day that we turn from our regular mission assignments to participation in our Pagedale Branch.  This is refreshing, and usually we have a somewhat more personal morning, getting to church by 10 a.m. and our ministering is ending by 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  Not this Sunday.  We were invited to participate in Ward Council, which had a missionary focus this week beginning at 8 a.m.  Then we spoke in Sacrament Meeting, our first Sunday address since our short talks in the MTC in early December.  We were privileged to speak about President Nelson’s concluding questions from October Conference:  How would my life be different if I didn’t have knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon?  And, how have events following the First Vision made a difference to me?  What inspiring topics.  We loved exploring our thoughts on these questions, and had lots to share.  It’s a good thing, because in Pagedale, the Sacrament service goes fast, leaving 40-45 minutes for the two speakers. 

After our ministering visits to members becoming fast friends, plus some detective work searching out lost members, we had Elder and Sister Thomson over for dinner.  They are serving in a CES capacity, teaching institute, helping with other YSA activities, and seeking out single adults that are not actively participating.  By their own description, they have a challenge in little structure and few deadlines.  It is clear that not all senior missions are the same.  I am grateful for ours, even if it feels overwhelming at times.

Monday February 17th was a day in the office, but not like other days.  The Church wants and audit report from the missions every year, just like it gets from all other Church units.  But unlike a stake, there are no called mission auditors.  Missions rely on stakes answering the call for an audit.  And unlike many units of the Church, there is A LOT of spending and many transactions to look at.  The Ericksons tried mightily to get an auditor in the office before they left, without success.  Which meant that the rookie office staff had to respond to questions and document requests for 2019 with very little knowledge of things.  But we muddled through.  Our auditor was a Boeing operations auditor by profession, so he was quite proficient and kind.  He even helped us ferret out some information we could not find ourselves, reducing somewhat the exceptions in the audit findings.  Housing generated no exceptions, which is to say, Elder Erickson was a very capable housing coordinator. 

Tuesday was a half day in the office and then just a complete change of pace for the rest of the day.  I picked up Taz and Tammy Murray from the airport and brought them to the office to meet folks and see our digs.  Then the four of us headed out to the St Louis Arch, the smallest National Park in the country.  And yes, we rode the capsules, much like an enclosed ferris wheel, to the top of the arch were we walked the last two flights or so of stairs to the top.  The top is an arched platform looking out through a series of smallish horizontal panel windows, both east over the Mississippi towards Illinios, and West over the city of St Louis.  The sky was only partly cloudy so the views were spectacular.  We didn’t stay up top too long for those with fear of heights and claustrophobia.  Surprisingly, I didn’t feel that, but was exhilarated by the experience.  Beneath the arch is a great underground museum not only about the arch itself, but with the great symbolism it represents.  Although Missouri is a pretty conservative place, St Louis itself has long been quite tolerant, perhaps partly by necessity, with the original Spanish settlers, followed by French, the English, and the Americans lastly, including a very large population of immigrants that came up the Mississippi from New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century to outfit for treks west.  It has been a melting pot for sure.  The museum has quite a bit of information about the Mormon Migration, much of which came through St Louis (including the Hatfields!).  The museum has a 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon prominently on display.  We were too late for a tour, but we also saw the historic courthouse in the vicinity of the Arch were the infamous Dred Scott trials were held, also in the mid-nineteenth century, a black mark on the American judiciary, not overruled until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment following the Civil War.

Then we went to dinner with the Taiclets, long time friends, fellow students, and business partners of the Murrays who live in St Louis.  They were part of the Murray candy business and actually lived in Salt Lake for a number of years when they were operating the business.  They are delightful people and we hope to see them again a time or two while we are here.  We went to a Jim Gaffigan stand up comedy show, which as a Christmas present from their kids, was real impetus for them getting out here.  We ended the evening with a stunning light show on the beautiful old train station lobby ceiling, where reputedly every soldier from west of the Mississippi came through on the way to Europe for the World Wars. 

On Wednesday the 19th I met Richard Lindmark, an older member in south St Louis, whose son was transferred to Florida and had no need for his washer and dryer.  He had called the mission office the week before and asked if the mission could use the equipment.  The timing seemed providential  a few days before I had been out to St Charles and concluded that the washer pump was no good.  But I was unsuccessful in finding a repairman.  Then RaDene called with the message, which I promptly returned, accepting the generous offer.  On this day we made the trip down to pick up the equipment, and met Bro Lindmark.  He seemed jovial enough, but I could tell life was not altogether easy for him.  His wife passed away two months ago of Alzheimer’s disease.  He was tending a grandson that apparently had been expelled from school.  And now his son was moving away.  His home was modest, to put it generously.  In all, I was grateful for the widower’s mite.  And the Elders in St Charles could now wash their clothes!  Lucky for us, the Murrays and Taiclets invited us out for dinner one more time that night.  It was so good to see old friends, and make new ones.

On Thursday, I made a trip out to O’Fallon, Missouri, to replace an old refrigerator handle.  The sisters had been using their fingers to pry the fridge open for who knows how long.  I got the make and model number and with a little more detective work, bought a very good looking “used” replacement and needed bolts on Amazon for less than $20, when new was about $60.  I think the real issue was a to me undetectable paint flaw.  The sisters made me feel like a hero.  You now know that the modern supply chain is the real hero. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sometimes Safety Glass Isn't Helpful

8-15 Feb 2020

Saturday, February 8th seemed like it would be a fun day as we anticipated accompanying the Ericksons on their last few St. Louis outings.  But, before we could get out the door, I got a call from the Elders serving way down in Sikeston, Missouri, on the Arkansas border.  They said they weren’t sure, but they thought they might have bed bugs.  They said they had red bites all over their upper torsos.  They also sent a picture of some bugs.  Sure enough, their bugs looked just like the bugs in the literature.  Before now, I thought that bed bugs were just part of a nursery rhyme.  I had never heard of a real one, much less seen one.  Well, it was time to learn.  It turns out they are pretty much human parasites.  They follow us around, living primarily in our beds and bedding or sometimes in couches.  Missionaries, transferring from apartment to apartment, and visiting all manner of people in their homes, are perfect carriers of bedbugs.  Their eggs are burrowed in seams and crevices, and pretty much impervious to pesticides.  So even if you kill the adults, the eggs will hatch and the cycle will start again.  They sustain themselves on blood, and are tricky, little buggers, putting in an anesthetic before taking their bite so you almost never feel them until after the fact.  The only good news is that they are not known to be transmitters of serious disease. 

It takes a professional to eradicate them.  And the most effective treatment is to seal up the apartment and put heaters in to heat up the place to 130 degrees or so, and hold that temperature for three or four hours.  That kills even the eggs.  Afterwards, you get to vacuum up all the little carcasses, eggs, and other unpleasant remainders.  Alas, they do not discriminate between rich or poor, clean or messy.  The best you can do is not share furniture or bedding.  So there you have it.  An encyclopedic entry on bedbugs written without reference to anything except the learned experience of a mission housing coordinator. 

On Sunday the 9th, we received a formal ministering list, and so off we went with our Elders to see them.  We made some new acquaintances, including Carol Market and the daughter of Diane Fleming, two sisters that haven’t been out to church in a while.  It is fairly easy to befriend folks like these.  They are usually of very humble circumstances and in need of some sisterly love.  It is harder to know how to help them in any fundamental way.  When life is hard, thinking deeply about the Plan of Salvation can seem to be an unaffordable luxury.  We pray for them, teach them, invite them, and give encouragement.  Thankfully, Christ will meet each of us in our personal circumstances and overcome exactly what we cannot.

Although Sister Hatfield and I have been functioning quite well for a couple weeks now in our respective roles as mission secretary and housing coordinator, there has been lots of Erickson experience and assistance to fall back on.  But today, Monday February 10th, the umbilical cord is cut.  I meet the moving assistants at the Erickson apartment early to carry boxes and bags and pack cars.  Then they came in for exit interviews with the President, and were off.  After a few hours, I figured they were probably in Kansas.  It turns out they spent the day mailing boxes of stuff they couldn’t fit in their cars and cleaning their apartment thoroughly.  I suppose that having lectured missionaries for two years that they must keep their apartments neat and clean, the Ericksons weren’t about to leave theirs without cleaning.  Sometime well after dark I stopped by to turn off lights, turn down the thermostat, and such, and to my surprise, Elder Erickson was pacing the sidewalk talking intently on his phone.  Apparently his car battery was dead.  This was the last hurdle to a frustratingly slow departure for them.  AAA said they could be there in about an hour to give him a jump.  He hung up and then explained the predicament.  I said we could get a new battery installed ourselves and were about to head out to the auto parts store when the AAA truck pulled up 45 minutes early.  Although it cost a good deal more, at least Elder Erickson had the peace of mind to know that his alternator tested good.  And in the end, we all agreed it was better to have a bad battery in St Louis than on the plains of Kansas in the middle of winter.  That night, they were finally off, and we were on our own as the newly comprised mission staff.  The Ericksons and their colleagues had done a great job creating mission systems, and it was now our job to carry them on with our own adaptations suited to our skills and helpful to President Bell.

By Thursday, February 13th I was running out of time.  I had told a landlord that I would be ready for a final inspection and to turn in the keys in our St Charles North teaching area apartment that had been vacated the last transfer.  We had gotten the sisters out and moved to a downtown location near Washington University, but I had not got the apartment cleaned sufficiently to turn in.  So, on this day I headed out for a solo cleaning party.  The sisters had certainly done some cleaning, and to be fair, it is hard to do a deep clean when the place is still loaded with furniture, boxes, and whatever, but honestly, their standards didn’t quite measure up.  So, I loaded up the bathtub with cleanser, mopped floors, cleaned windows and sills, etc. 

But the real story was in the kitchen.  It was all too obvious that something purple and gooey had slipped down the back of the refrigerator long ago and had basically glued the bottom shelf and drawer into place.  It did not look good.  So, I put enough hot water down the back to loosen things enough to get the shelf and drawer out.  The kitchen floor was littered with fridge parts to clean after I cleaned the interior walls and floor of the fridge.  Finally, I was just about there, with only one glass shelf to put through the paces in the soapy water in the sink.  Unfortunately, I tapped—not very hard, but apparently at just the right place—the glass on the stainless steel sink and BOOM, the safety glass burst into who knows how many thousands of pieces.  Glass bits were everywhere in the kitchen.  I swept and collected for along time, both the floor and the sink, and all sorts of places.  How could glass go so far? 

Worst of all, a handful had ended up down the disposal.  Luckily I had a glove, and I painstakingly pulled out as many pieces as I could.  Alas, I could not get them all, and the disposal was jammed.  I had to take apart the disposal to clear it up.  And of course, I now had a missing glass shelf.  I went back to the office a bit discouraged and much later in the day than I had planned.  But, praise be to Amazon.  Armed with a picture of the ancient refrigerator make and model, and after a little online detective work, Amazon was able to ship me a replacement shelf for about $30.  It fit perfectly.  Finally, all was well in St Charles North.

Friday, February 14th was a special day.  The newest missionaries had by now been in the mission for a couple of weeks, and so it was time for some additional training by President and Sister Bell, the APs, and the office senior missionaries.  But to begin the day, as is the custom, we accompanied them on a temple endowment session.  After spending so much time in Utah temples, and the Provo Temple in particular, it has a different feel in the temples where there are so few workers.  We call ahead to tell them we are coming so that they can be ready for what seems like a big crowd to them.  But the Spirit is equally strong, and knowing how important it is to fortify these young missionaries who are doing very hard work, the time in the temple is especially meaningful. 

After the temple session, RaDene and I raced to the church building where she had beautifully decorated with a Valentine’s theme and served yummy chicken tortilla soup, chopped salad, and brownie sundaes with Sis Bell’s home-made fudge sauce.  Heaven!  Afterwards was the real test of whether the new staff would measure up to Pres Bell’s expectations for our presentations.  He wants content that covers our topics, e.g., baptism reports, housing upkeep, vehicle safety, and health but a strong dose of spirit and testimony blended in, and all within a compact amount of time.  Afterwards, Pres Bell said he felt as if the staff did a great job.  We were finally all “his staff,” having arrived and having been trained on his watch.  I think he was particularly talking to RaDene, who has such a strong ability to connect with people, sharing who she is and what she stands for.  The missionaries really love her concern for them.

On Saturday, for P-day I joined the Housing Assistants on an all day trip to one of the eastern edges of the mission, out to Centralia (Salem), IL where we delivered a treadmill to some lonely elders, among other things they need.  On inspection, I think I will put them on the list to look for an alternative apartment.  That one is in pretty rough shape and a fair distance from the majority of their work and the church building.  But I think our visit and prayers with them gave them some cheer and encouragement, knowing that we cared.  On the way back, we stopped in Shilo East (Lebanon), IL to check on a vacant apartment, then on to O’Fallon, IL to pick up an extra couch from a sister’s apartment needed elsewhere.  They were not feeling well, so we gave them blessings, and of course, fixed a few things, like a bathroom plug that wasn’t working.  Ah, the mixed life of a housing coordinator. 

We stopped on the way back towards St Louis for a late lunch, and our nametags caught the attention of a fellow diner, who remarked that she loved our name.  One of the young elders was a bit confused as to why she loved all our names.  I pointed out that she was referring to Jesus Christ.  Her comment was actually good to hear, bolstering faith in our fellow men and women.  We delivered the couch we had picked up and a kitchen table to the elders in the Lindell east teaching area, the most downtown teaching district in the mission.  The apartment building has a style that is reminiscent of Manhattan.  Honestly, I’m not sure how we got the couch in the elevator, and I hope I never need to take it out.  But the elders were very grateful.  It is amazing the gratitude one receives for delivering a few household items that would surely be in the sale section of Deseret Industries.  The missionaries learn to get by on very little.  A long day on the road meant no P-Day work, again!