We experienced another first on Sunday, April 26th. Sure, we had virtual Nursery with the grands and home sacrament just the two of us, but we also had a mission-wide devotional. Pres Bell continues to look for new ways to inspire the young missionaries during this time of physical isolation. Where ever they were around the mission, they connected by video conference to share another experience together. I’m pretty sure this mission-wide Sunday devotional was another first—and we were there. (By the time this is over, I’m pretty sure we will all be Zoom subscribers.) Pres Bell invited his two mission presidency counselors and their wives, the Mahaffeys and the Slezaks to share some information about who they are and their testimonies. They are great people, and a great bridge between the mission and the local membership. They made the mistake of telling Pres Bell that they would be willing to help with the apartment cleaning and inventory project this week. They may be sorry. Missionary apartments can be surprising, good or bad.
On Monday, the plan was for RaDene to go with me across the Missouri River to St Charles and, wait for it, clean and inventory an apartment. But we realized as we were getting ready that morning that that was optimistic thinking. RaDene really couldn’t be away from the office. She is the communication hub in so many ways. And with prospects for missionaries coming, zone conference on Tuesday, reports to write (partly because they weren’t done on Saturday because of a cleaning project), she really needed to hold down the fort. But, I had the trained housing assistants and I recruited a couple other elders in the area to come help. We went in like a white tornado. It seems like I scare each missionary that watches my decision making for the first few garbage bins, but pretty soon, they catch the vision and happily pitch along with me stuff that has accumulated over years of member donations, care package contents, and countless missionaries and that now has no discernible value. And so the week would go.
Tuesday, April 28th was zone conference. Ordinarily it would be over three days at three stake centers, but like last time, we held one video conference across the entire mission. For some, I know the experience is painful watching a small phone screen for hours at a time. But on the whole, it works remarkably well. The Spirit is not bound by present senses.
On Wednesday, the assistants and I headed out for Macon, Missouri, a good three hours from St Louis. I knew that the apartment was in tough shape, which is why I assigned it to myself, in addition to it being such a far trek. Otherwise, the work was about how my descriptions have gone above. But there was one tender mercy involved. While we were enroute, one of the missionaries we were meeting to help us asked if I could give his companion, Elder Buck a blessing when we got there. I responded that of course I would, not knowing what the problem was. When we finally arrived, we went inside to find Elder Buck red faced and in tears. I asked him what was wrong and he shuddered that his grandfather had died recently. I asked how recently, and he said, earlier that morning. President Bell had just the hour before called Elder Buck to give him the news. Elder Buck and his companion, the housing assistants, and I all sat down and quite literally cried with each other for a while. I could not help but recall losing my own Grandpa Reed while I was a world away as a young missionary. We talked about Elder Buck’s memories of his grandfather and comforted him that his grandfather was now beginning a mission of his own. Finally we circled together and gave Elder Buck a priesthood blessing. Looking back, I am so glad that we took time to really listen and take some time to mourn with Elder Buck. And as we got to work, Elder Buck seemed to be in much better spirits, working cheerfully alongside the rest of the day. Not long before we left, Elder Buck came to me and showed me a picture on his phone and asked if I knew an Amy—his mother had said that I might know an Amy. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I looked at the picture, and it was David and Amy Rawson and their boys. Elder Buck’s mother is Amy’s cousin. Elder Buck’s Grandfather Ken is Amy’s uncle. I told Elder Buck that I was related to Amy—she is my sister in law—which made me a relative of Elder Buck too, I reasoned. He seemed contented to know that someone from the family had been there for him in his morning of sorrow. Tender mercy indeed.
A cleaning on Thursday was remarkable for what happened near the end of the project. Elder John had been invited to participate in a baptism going on in the Bear Creek Ward in Columbia, where he had come from the week before. His former companion was baptizing a young lady and we together paused our work and witnessed the ordinance by video conference. Only about five people were at the baptism in person. But, this was Elder John’s 16th convert in Bear Creek. What a remarkable, humble missionary. It was a beautiful thing to watch him talk and share his feelings by video, something that would never have happened now that he had been transferred without the COVID changes to missionary work. And lucky for me, it was the first baptism I witnessed in the Missouri St Louis Mission, and it was by video. Interesting times.
Saturday, May 2nd finally arrived. We have worn out many brushes, rags, and senior missionaries. Our friends the Evertons have been particularly hard working. We could not have made it this far without the work of many. And now, there was one last vacant apartment to work on in Mt Vernon, Illinois. I had really wanted to take the housing assistants because by now, they were well trained in what an apartment should look like. But there were so many things that needed to be delivered in various areas that we could not stay together and do it all. By Friday night, I had made a list of places for the assistants to make deliveries. At least it was Saturday, so RaDene could go with me to Mt Vernon. Thankfully, the apartment, although getting up there in age, was in great shape. The last senior companion there, Elder Robb, got messages from us giving him the prize for best kept apartment. We only removed two garbage bags of clutter and a bag of clothing donations. Three garbage bags was a winner, by all accounts. After doing a bit of polishing and door repairs (I must rehang doors in virtually every apartment I visit) we could check the last vacant apartment off of our list. Elder Johnson, who met us to help clean and inventory, had made apple scones that morning and shared with us. A treat for sure.
When we arrived home, we knew we needed to get caught up on a bunch of office work. We struggled with whether to stay in P-day clothes or put on missionary attire. We opted for the latter, grumbling a bit, and RaDene even had me turn the car around and go back so she could change, not feeling like she was dressed well enough. We had not been there more than half an hour when President and Sister Bell and the APs came in to set up for a Zoom conference with the 19 incoming missionaries on Tuesday. President Bell invited us into his office to participate in the conference. We had completely forgotten about it, which is odd, because it was Sister Hatfield’s bright idea in the first place. We needed the chance to orient and get acquainted with these missionaries before they even got on the plane because everything was happening so fast in their lives and in ours. They and we had received their reassignments late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. President Bell gave us the chance to introduce ourselves and make a few remarks in the conference. Well, we were sure glad that we had gotten dressed in missionary attire before we went to the office. We stayed very late that night while, after the conference, RaDene set up interviews with the missionaries for Sunday and Monday. We realized that with things moving so fast, and social distancing being a concern, we didn’t really have the luxury of having upwards of 80 missionaries, 40 cars, house keys, and SIM cards to exchange and transfer while waiting through the expected four hours it would take for regular intake interviews with the President and mission nurse. The interviews needed to happen before the missionaries even got on their flights to come. RaDene communicated with everyone and made it happen. I think we are about ready for our first post-COVID missionaries reassigned after serving in foreign countries.