Sunday, May 3rd. On a too infrequent walk, I had my first hay fever sneeze of the season. The grasses must be coming out. It probably won’t be the last: I’ve never seen more acres of thick green grass. It seems like every homeowner, to say nothing of the farmers, owns a John Deere tractor for mowing. We joke that folks don’t retire around here, they just mow. Seriously, how do they keep up with it? By the way, I’ve learned that corn is a grass, technically, which explains why southern Illinois is planted with so much corn.
May 5th is our first special incoming missionary transfer. We are starting to see the draft of where the 19 missionaries will be placed around the mission. I’m sure that 19 new missionaries doesn’t seem overwhelming, but consider this: each missionary has a companion, each companion must be brought to the transfers by a companion. Each of those must leave with a companion. So 20 missionaries coming very likely involves something more like 80 missionaries. And those missionaries probably represent 25 to 35 vehicles. To say nothing of luggage, mail, bedding, phones, keys, SIM cards, and documents. Add in the Mission President and his companion, the office staff, Assistants to the President and housing assistants, and well, it is quite an undertaking for those 20 incoming missionaries. Ah yes, lets add social distancing rules to the mix, and the challenge starts to present itself.
On transfer day, we must make final preparations. I find myself short of a few box springs. We go to Costco, the Mattress Firm, and a few other places. It’s in vain. Somehow, the COVID environment has drained the stores of bed parts. I sort of suspect that the few stores that are open are having a run on goods, and resupply is challenging. Fortunately, I’ve thought ahead a bit, and at least I will have mattresses and clean bedding, bought or laundered. It seems that very a respectable mattress can be delivered in a surprisingly compact box, and I’ve bought a bunch. I’ve also bought comforters and pillows, which we supply to new missionaries. I’ve also found my way to the local laundromat and spent some time there, having collected during our vacant apartment cleaning project a fair number of mattress covers and comforters that are in good shape but need to be cleaned. Some missionaries will temporarily need to make do with a good mattress set on the floor. But either my chivalrous or sexist self reserves that lower station for the elders. I dashed around setting up “tri’s” as we call them, in apartments where an odd numbered companionship has been assigned. These tri’s regularly must be taken down. But it makes for a bit of a mad dash just before and immediately after each transfer to get apartments ready.
Setting up for transfers is not all administrative. We move people, luggage, bedding, vehicles, and set up a tent and tables to try to create some flow. So we are on it several hours before the appointed time. So as to avoid giving appearance of inappropriate church meetings (COVID rules, lots of cars and people), we are presently holding tranfers in our mission office parking lot. No one is coming to work lately, so we don’t think anyone minds.
We have tried to plan things so as many new missionaries as possible can arrive and leave the transfer quickly with their companions out to their teaching areas. In ordinary times, there would be a large arrival dinner, some orientation, and spending the night at the mission home for the elders and a local apartment outfitted for the purpose for the sisters. But we need to try to minimize COVID vectors, so we are trying to dispense with anything unnecessary and streamline. In the end, we did it. The transfer happened, but it wasn’t as rapid a process of getting the missionaries out as the President had hoped. We have things to learn. And in spite of our intentions, a pretty good size group of sister missionaries spent the night together anyway, for a variety of reasons, sort of making that arrangement on their own.
On Wednesday the 6th, there were enough loose ends that I determined that me and the housing assistants needed to divide and conquer. I sent them west to the Columbia zone, and I stayed closer to home, visiting the St Louis South zone (Crystal City), the western reaches of the St Louis zone (Washington City) and the Lake St Louis zone (O’Fallon, Missouri). Missing keys, left luggage, forgotten mail, and so it goes. We are the mission pony express. Thursday the 7th took us north and east to Springfield, Jacksonville, and Pittsfield, Illinois. In addition to either setting up or taking down tri arrangements, we did some repairs along the way. We hung blinds in the windows of the bedroom of the sisters in Pittsfield. I trust the landlord won’t mind. It just couldn’t be put off any longer.
On Friday, May 8th we held an orientation meeting for those new missionaries arrived earlier in the week. But we did it by Zoom video conference, as so many things are done these days. It was a chance for the President and companion to give some valuable thoughts, for the staff to give some training on their respective responsibilities in the office, and to hear from their AP colleagues. I think we did a good job. It is difficult to hold attention on a tiny screen that the missionaries hold in their hands and try as I might, it feels more like a lecture than an interactive exchange. It turns out that we are much better at talking over each other in person, than over video, if you know what I mean. After the new missionary orientation, the President and his staff had an extended discussion about how we could improve transfers in this COVID era. We will have many more.