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!