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.