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.