Sunday, June 28, 2020

21 – 27 June 2020 Food and Friends Again

Sunday the 21st we had video nursery/primary with all the grandkids again.  It was good to have Abbi and Ezra back in the mix.  Cousins sure help hold Kennedy’s attention better than Nana and Papa on their own.  We know that we are getting close to the end of our family sacrament service.  It has helped me have a little more focus and intention this past few months with the change of surroundings, people, and responsibilities.  As much as I have learned from it, I feel the importance of gathering with the saints for this renewal. 

It is Father’s Day, and RaDene had a big surprise for me.  She had taken some of her precious shopping alone time which she really needed for baby quilt materials she is working on for Amelia Rose and got me a tabletop-size propane grill.  She wrapped up some spatulas for me to open, but had some pretense for us to go to our neighbor senior missionaries’ apartment, the Evertons, and on their dining room table was a big box for me to carry home.  It caught me completely off guard, but I went right to work assembling.  It’s funny, but we had invited the APs, Elder Kilembi and Elder Harriman over for dinner last night and then bought shish kabobs.  I figured that this was a meal that Elder Harriman could enjoy with his food sensitivities.  I had wondered how we would cook them.  I actually woke up today thinking about using the broiler in the oven, the thought of which was not very satisfying.  RaDene had an alternative plan all along!  After delivering some small Father’s Day gifts that Sister Hatfield had prepared, for evening entertainment, we watched a couple of episodes of the Chosen, a crowd funded series about the life of Christ through the eyes of people who knew him.  It is a fascinating perspective.  Then the housing assistants dropped by to say hello.  They are such good hearted souls, even if sometimes scattered.  It was hot and humid outside, even late into the evening, and they didn’t really seem to want to go.  I figured out why—they had walked the mile or two from their apartment to ours.  Lucky for them, they would break curfew if I didn’t give them a ride home, which seemed to make leaving much easier for them.

On Monday the 22nd we came home from work for a dinner break.  It’s our goal to come home at a decent time to eat and then go back to the office, rather than skip dinner, keep snacking, and then eat way too late.  We were distressed to find our bird feeder hanging from the tree outside our back porch had been smashed like a piñata.  It is a little thing, but we take a fair amount of joy watching the birds, spying for the beautiful cardinals, observing the cardinal chicks maturing, and not least, laughing at the antics and tenacity of the squirrels sometimes raiding the bird feeder and otherwise feasting on the seeds the birds spill overboard onto the ground.  So we felt a little violated when our feeder was destroyed.  Ever the mother, Sister Hatfield made a sign, taped it on the feeder, and rehung it to scold the culprit, assuming he would wander by again.  We immediately went onto Amazon and ordered a replacement, and grilled some chicken. 

A while after we were back in the office, RaDene yelped, “Oh, we are getting more missionaries.”  By the time we left, it appeared that 10 more young missionaries were being assigned to the Missouri St Louis Mission to arrive in July on a special arrival and transfer.  It was surprising, because we had pretty much assumed that June would be our high water mark because the many missionaries brought home from around the world would surely be on their way to their new assignment by the end of June.  Perhaps not all in June as we had supposed.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, I divided to conquer with the housing assistants once again.  I sent them to do some needed repairs and make some deliveries to the Columbia zone, which is a full day’s worth of activity, and I went south.  The Webster Groves sisters had called Saturday night saying that their smoke alarm was going off, but that there was no smoke.  They were going crazy.  We talked them through the battery removal, but they couldn’t seem to do it.  After mistaking which alarm was going off (there are often multiple, some belonging to the apartment, and one belonging to the mission), they videoed the back of the device, and I realized it was one of the mission’s sealed, 10 year smoke alarms.  They almost never malfunction, but of course if they do, it would be late at night.  Really out of good options, I recommended the sisters toss the faulty device in the dumpster.  So this day I brought a replacement and installed it.

Then I drove down to Farmington, Missouri, a good hour south of St Louis.  We once had an apartment here, but during COVID it was closed.  Recently President Bell had wanted sisters to go back to Farmington.  They have been living and commuting from Cape Girardeau.  It’s in the same stake and zone, but over an hour’s drive.  That was tolerable during the deepest COVID restrictions, but was becoming increasingly burdensome, especially for interactions with Farmington members.  I had a list of five apartments to scout, having done my best on internet searches.  But you can only tell so much from a picture and a paragraph.  I looked at the first three apartments, and although they had some qualities, I just felt flat about them.  The fourth and fifth really felt right.  My spirit lifted with some good feelings at the bottom of my list.  I called them, confirmed near future availability at both, and started for home with a proverbial skip in my step.  On reflection, I feel like there was some discernment given to me that confirmed Heavenly Father is in the details of our work, and will guide us if we are open to prompting. 

That night (after grilling dinner again!) were back in the office and I was starting online apartment applications.  I heard some additional squeals from Sister Hatfield across the room.  She had gotten notice that more missionaries were coming in July.  We left before we saw the end of the list late that evening.

On June 24th we came in to find that over night 14 more missionaries had been assigned to the MSLM, making for a total influx of 47 for July, in three separate weeks, with no schedule departures.  We expect to be at 227 by the end of July, an all time high, exceeding the 210 missionaries of the “Surge” when Pres Monson lowered the missionary age some years ago.  Things will be busy getting ready.  That afternoon, I went to Hazelwood South to inspect what appeared to be a broken pipe to the missionaries.  Sure enough, there was a broken pipe in the wall and a good crop of mold was growing and the ceiling sheetrock was bulging.  This will be a mess to clean up—fortunately, this one is on the landlord.  We stopped at Goodwill and made some much needed donations.  Much needed by us, that is.  All the thrift stores have been closed and we have accumulated an oversupply of lamps that we can’t use and which are really hard to store without breaking.  Today we lightened our load.  Then we went across the Mississippi to O’Fallon, Illinois to the Shilo West teaching area.  Somehow, this apartment is still empty, but not for long!  We had already cleaned there, and I have been negotiating with the landlord to get new carpet, linoleum, and paint.  Meanwhile, it needed a shower curtain rod, a dresser, a large window blind, and a furnace filter to put it in final shape for re-occupancy, which is surely coming soon.  The assistants and I were a little late getting back into St Louis, so I had them drop me off at the apartment where Sister Hatfield was ready to do a final fitting for Elder Nelson and his new trousers.  I’m not quite sure how he got pants without a hem, but Sister Hatfield has him covered.

Friday, June 26 was mainly devoted to a mission office staff meeting.  And the meeting was mainly devoted to marveling how many missionaries we would be welcoming in July and how to be ready for them.  Sister Hatfield has spent time in the mission software setting up empty teaching areas where we have some spare bedrooms that could be filled and splitting existing area boundaries.  I have been inventorying and planning for beds.  President Bell is committed to start thinking about missionary assignments, which is the gating item for any real preparations.  He is realizing that for our group of 21 coming in the middle of the month, 20 will have no experience and need trainers.  That will spread our young missionary leadership thinly.  Afterwards, I asked the housing assistants to go retrieve a used washer and dryer that a member was donating the mission.  Its good to have a couple in storage.  You just never know when  equipment is going to stop working and it isn’t necessarily easy to fix or replace, so I’m glad to have some in reserve.

We went for haircuts late in the afternoon.  I’ve lost my former job as RaDene’s color stylist.  She has given up her job as my barber.  It was a bit awkward when she told us that she and her husband were divorcing and she was moving into the basement of her daughter’s place.  It is sad when long-time spouses, bound to together by temple covenants, can’t make it work.  But we tried to cheer her, and I’m sure we will follow her to her new hair salon.  On a happy note, our stylist lives in the same neighborhood with the Jacobs.  We dropped in on them and persuaded them to go to dinner with us.  We were a bit hesitant at first, because the parking lot was packed, and we didn’t know what the seating arrangements might be.  But, after a little wait, we went in and had a delightful meal.  There was lots of delicious Italian food, but the highlight was the St Louis style “toasted” raviolis.  That is to say, deep fried raviolis.  They were yummy.  I keep saying it, but St Louis punches above its weight in excellent eats.  Just before rolling into bed, the Pittsfield sisters called, alarmed that there was a bird in their kitchen light fixture.  They were quite excited.  I tried to call back, but they didn’t answer.  I’m curious what happened!

Saturday the 27th started pretty early with JustServe training from the North America Central specialists.  They got this calling after having served as JustServe coordinators in an NAC mission (in Colorado, if memory serves).  So they are particularly good at providing training with application to missionaries. It is gratifying to hear about all the work being done by members around North America for the simple reason of Christian service, including by missionaries.  We have come along way.  It was not that long ago when service was discouraged for missionaries because it was thought to be an unnecessary drain on proselyting time.  Now, it is recognized for doing so much good, enlivening the missionaries, knitting them to their communities, building bridges, creating natural curiosity, and just doing good.  We were introduce to the Billion Graves organization, which catalogues headstones by an easy to use application on a smart phone.  It is such a brilliant idea to capture the invaluable family history information contained on headstones before they are illegible!  RaDene pointed out that working in a cemetery in community, particularly a small community, could be a very natural introduction to families that live there and potentially have ancestors in the cemetery.

After fielding a call from the Webster Grove North sisters who were concerned about an invasion of centipedes and rolly pollies, I replaced the bird feeder that had been vandalized earlier in the week.  I decided to make things just a bit more challenging for the squirrels—I hung the feeder on thin wire from a branch probably 15 feet high.  We shall see what these clever creatures do.

We ended the day with a special assignment to present about JustServe to our mission presidency and their wives.  The business part of the meeting was effective and inspiring.  The sociality of gathering around a table full of food and kindred spirits was delightful.  That’s two evenings in a row out with mission colleagues.  It’s been a long time since we did that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

14 - 21 June 2020 Wedding Anniversary In the Mission

After nursery with the Husseys (the Hatfield Grands were visiting Arizona to give their recently delivered mother a break), Sister Hatfield and I felt like we needed to visit the Fenton, MO sisters, first for her responsibility, second for mine.  Sister Hatfield had a new member welcome packet for the sisters, and I had bathroom door hinges to fix.  Yes, it was the Sabbath, and it was probably the wrong example, but I did my work in a white shirt and tie.  Actually, I do most of my work any day in a white shirt and tie, so that doesn’t really erase the demerits.  It gave Sister Hatfield a few minutes to chat with the sisters and share her light with them.  She is good at that, thankfully, because I’m way too stuffy and formal to help these young missionaries the way that she can.  But at least I can pray with them.

Sister Hatfield had some other little gifts to deliver, including one to a St Louis-acquired friend, Patti Hintze.  As RaDene knocked on her door, RaDene’s phone rang in the car where I waited.  It was Patti telling us that her smart home told her we were there.  She invited us to her “favorite” son in law’s house (prize name for living in his mother in law’s neighborhood) where the Hintzes were having dinner.  They invited us to stay, but we had to decline, but really enjoyed meeting the family.  Maybe best of all, Patti gave RaDene a full on hug, and Elder Hintze (Area Seventy) gave me a warm handshake.  RaDene and I almost didn’t know what to do it has been so long since we have had hugs and handshakes.  It may have been inappropriate and reckless in public health terms, but we loved it.

The reason we couldn’t stay for dinner with the Hintzes was that we had invited the Pagedale Branch Elders over for Sunday dinner.  It really does help us to have someone over for Sunday dinner.  That has been a tradition for too long for us to stop and not feel withdrawals.  Later that evening the housing assistants dropped off a cookie—they remembered that it was our anniversary from Saturday.  They may be knuckleheads, but they are tender knuckleheads. 

On Monday the 15th we needed to deliver those five beds we bought on Saturday.  After picking up a few more things from storage, I left RaDene at the office and I was off with Elder Nelson and Elder John to the Cape Girardeau zone.  The first stop was the zone leaders’ apartment in the city of Cape Girardeau.  It had recently been a tri, so our job was to make it a quad so that two companionships could live there.  You won’t be surprised to hear that, although they have two bedrooms, they decided they would rather keep the weights in the second bedroom, and all four sleep in the first bedroom.  Apparently working out is more important than space, privacy, or any other such consideration.  I did make them take down the scores of limp gospel library pictures hung around the entire apartment like a crown border.  I just couldn’t imagine using the bathroom with apostles and prophets staring at me. 

We set up our second quad in Sikeston down on the Arkansas border.  I threw away a bent Christmas tree.  Yes, it may be sacrilegious, but someone must do it to make room in the second bedroom closet.  Then it was off to Poplar Bluff.  I used to feel sorry for the elders clear down there so far away from the heart of the mission.  On this trip I learned that a member owned the local meat store and he supplied the missionaries gratis.  Steaks, chops, ribs—I wasn’t feeling too sorry any longer.  I had learned the secret as to why Elder Westrup, a known foodie, had been down there for so many months without complaint.  I need to clarify one thing for the record, which is that I am using “quad” loosely.  It is really two companionships, but for housing purposes, it is four people in the apartment.

Tuesday, June 16th—Anniversary Day.  Well it was by the calendar, but there was little time for celebrating today.  Missionaries started arriving, in the first of a two day rolling wave of arrivals.  It is much harder to execute with precision when the missionaries don’t all arrive at once.  I realize that precision is not the weightiest matter, but it isn’t clear to me why mission travel doesn’t have them coming on the same day at least.  I spent the afternoon making preparations for opening some apartments, like getting new keys made, and gathering bedding, signs, traffic cones, etc. for the transfers tomorrow.  The best part of the day was the arrival of Marie Leavitt, Sister Hatfield’s cousin.  Sister Leavitt was originally assigned to Japan, but she never got there because of COVID.  She was reassigned to come here.  Interestingly, her home is in Missouri, although Pierce City, in southwest Missouri, is outside of the Missouri St Louis Mission.  It was a lot of fun to meet her, and see again her stake president-father Ben and mother Megan, as well as recently returned missionary-big sister.  After scooping up Sis Leavitt’s luggage, and sending her off with the Frontenac sisters, we had dinner with Ben, Megan, and big sister.  What lovely people.  Marie will be fun to watch because she will be an outstanding missionary.

On Wednesday, June 17th, I started the day with what has become a weekly ritual:  President Bell leads the elders around the mission on Zoom in “Workout Wednesday.”  The exercises are challenging, but no one would expect anything less from Pres Bell, a pro-level athlete in his younger days.  One of his mantras with the missionaries is to “own your morning,” meaning, an exercised body will provide stimulation to the mind and spirit, so we take our morning exercise seriously in this mission.  There are weight sets littered all over, in almost every apartment, although they get swapped around some, when the most energetic get moved and find the equipment deficient.  Speaking of exercise equipment, RaDene uses her stationary exercise bike religiously.  It may just be the most important thing we brought from home.

After “owning our morning,” I dropped RaDene off at the office and I went down to Webster Groves North, an apartment that has been vacant for a couple months, and not visited in several weeks, but that I knew would be the new home of some sisters by day’s end.  I didn’t know that there would be any problem, I only know that critters have a way of moving in when there are no humans to keep them out.  I am sure the sisters did not miss the bugs I swept up off their floor and felt better with the AC on. 

I have already whined about missionaries not being sent in a single flight (or in the case of the last two days, five flights) and set up for the actual transfers emphasized my concern.  With the last group not arriving until 1:30 pm today, we could not start transfers until 2:30, but meanwhile, the housing elders and the trailer had to be at the airport at 2 pm.  We thought we had explained that dropping off tables, signs, shade tent, markers, bedding, etc. had to happen before going to the airport in order for us to be ready for the start of transfers.  But, it didn’t happen, so Sister Hatfield and I did everything we could at the Frontenac parking lot, but I was at a slow boil while we waited for everything to arrive in the truck and trailer, way behind schedule.  And it didn’t help that our most experienced housing elder was not coming at all because of a toe procedure scheduled for that afternoon.  For all the handwringing, it worked out, and we didn’t delay the transfers by much.  And in the end, I had a new housing elder, Kyle Merrill, a fine young man from Santaquin, Utah.  Elder Merrill did not replace anyone.  For the second time in recent arrangements, we had a housing elder threesome.  I think Pres Bell has some hopes that Elder Merrill will feel useful and be kept busy to boost his spirits.  I am sure we will succeed at that.  It isn’t without challenge having three assistants.  It makes me feel responsible to make our efforts especially productive and efficient, knowing all the man hours that are being expended in anything we do.  And Elder Merrill and Elder John have a tendency to feed off of each other’s “silly” energy, which can be exhausting.  Selfishly, it also means the truck seats are always full, so I can’t invite Sister Hatfield to come along on trips where her insight, spirit, and company are very helpful.

Thursday the 18th was a pretty typically post-transfer day.  There are always tasks that need to be done that couldn’t be done before hand.  I solved the problem of not having RaDene by sending the assistants to deliver furniture and bikes all over the Cape Girardeau zone.  I was happy to be able to do so, because they really wanted to eat at Lambert’s Café, the home of “throw’d rolls.”  We had talked about it last time through Sikeston, but the timing wasn’t right.  Meanwhile, RaDene sacrificed her time in the office to come with me where we saw most of the Columbia zone.  In Perche Creek, the newly arrived sisters discovered they had almost nothing in their kitchen to cook with.  Off we went to the rescue, spending some money at Walmart to get a microwave, pots and pans, etc.  The Church must either trust me or have no options, because I have a Church Visa card with a very high limit.  I don’t approach the limit, but I use it almost daily, trying my best to be a frugal spender of Widows’ mites. 

Then we went north to Moberly to deliver bikes.  The missionaries were not home because they were at a service project that evening.  Knowing this would be the case, I brought a key.  But when we got there, I looked down at the key and to my chagrin, I had brought the key to the Macon apartment, not Moberly.  RaDene called the elders, and explained our plight.  They sheepishly admitted that the door was probably unlocked and we could let ourselves in.  All those zone conference lectures I give about locking doors don’t seem to sink in.  In this case, it was a blessing.

On the way home we stopped for some ice cream on our way back through Columbia.  The ice cream was disappointing.  But, it wasn’t one of the St Louis trademark ice cream stores, it was a national chain, so what should I have expected?  What wasn’t disappointing was listening to Elder David Bednar’s talk on religious liberty.  Without being critical of government action during the Pandemic, he pointed out how very swiftly executives all over the country, at national, state, and local levels, had eviscerated religious gatherings, ordinances, and associations of all kinds.  It is rather sobering to think about.  The conclusion he reached was that religious liberties must weigh heavily in the balance when governments consider the public needs.  We certainly do not want to set precedents for religious freedoms being easily swept aside.  Governments must make accommodations and allowances to narrowly tailor necessary religious restrictions for even the most crucial government objectives.

Saturday, June 20th was sobering.  I participated in my first membership council with our mission presidency, acting as clerk.  A young missionary had gotten himself into very deep water and the Area Presidency asked our mission president to hold a council before sending the young man home.  I’ve been in many councils over the years, but there is something particularly poignant about doing this with a full time missionary.  I am happy to report that the recent changes in procedure have really brought a Atonement of Christ focus on membership councils that is very healthy, it seems to me.  We don’t even use the harsh words of discipline, disfellowship, or excommunication any longer.  I pray this is the start of a journey back for this young man.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

7 - 13 June 2020 We Are Strong

On Sunday, June 7th we had a video fireside.  I was looking forward to it, because the speakers were Gifford Nielsen and his wife Wendy.  Giff was the BYU quarterback when my family moved to Provo all those years ago, and he was the first of a long line of admired football players that I cheered for.  He is also a General Authority Seventy, and the President of the North America Central Area, which covers the Missouri St Louis Mission.  When I first heard of the fireside, I thought it must surely be going out to a wide audience.  I was surprised to tune in and find it was just our mission.  That meant the audience was small enough we could see all the participants.  And I was embarrassed that I wasn’t wearing a tie, much less a coat, which is standard dress in the MSLM (and maybe the NAC Area) for missionaries attending meetings.  I joke with Sis Hatfield that President Bell was obviously a young missionary in England, trained to default to a suit.  Maybe it has something to do with CES training too, I don’t know.  But if he had been a missionary in Thailand, he would be much more comfortable in shirt sleeves.  I wore a suit coat twice on my mission:  on the way out, and at a wedding.  That was it.  We’ll see if the Church’s modified dress code ever makes it to the MSLM!

Elder Nielsen and his wife had many great messages.  But perhaps the message that meant the most to me was his discussion of labels.  We know each other by many labels.  I’ve been a student, a skier, a BYU fan, and for a long time, a lawyer.  Right now I am a missionary and a grandfather, among other things.  All labels, to one degree or another, are limiting.  Elder Nielsen pointed out that the only label that does not create any limitations is our first title—children of God.  In fact, that label brings limitless potential.  We are first and most importantly offspring of Heavenly Parents, which means we cannot be put into any box.  We can do and be anything.  Earth’s greatest accolades do not begin to match the simple description we came with:  Child of God.

On Tuesday, June 9th, COVID became a little too personal.  Elder John, a young housing assistant had not felt good for a couple of days, and on this day, his fever spiked to 103 and he had a sore throat.  Our mission nurse sent him to urgent care, fearing the worst.  The doctors and nurses, following protocol, actually met Elder John outside, and one after another, shook their heads grimly.  From all appearances, he had it.  Finally, a nurse jammed a swab up his nose (into his sinus, Elder John is sure), and sent it off for testing.  We would find out in three days.

Meanwhile, the missionaries that had been with him on P-day were all instructed to self isolate.  The mission nurse and her husband followed their own advice.  Few had spent more time with Elder John than me the preceding few days, and as luck would have it, Sis Hatfield had shared his air for several hours in close truck cab quarters on a trip to the O’Fallon zone two days before.  We had to self isolate too.  On Wednesday, we were having the second day of a mission-wide video zone conference.  With a few adjustments, we could participate from our apartment.  We went into the office early before anyone would possibly be there and got our notes, carefully wiping surfaces as we left.  Not many people went into the office that day, under the circumstances.  After the video conference, we did as much work as we could on our laptops.  But I finally got antsy, and frankly, a bit frustrated, because my work is pretty paper records intensive, so there is only so much I can do.  So about 7 pm we walked the mile and a half to the office, feeling confident that anyone that might have been there would have left, and worked at our stations for several hours, then walked home in the dark. 

By Thursday noon, we were starting to feel grumpy and a bit trapped.  Even after the short couple of days we were starting to see the frustration that was building as we felt fine, but were limited in the work we could do.  Sister Hatfield is the main switchboard operator for the mission, after all.  How do you do that without being at the phone?  The list of restraints seemed almost endless.  We were skirting around the edges of our responsibilities.  And it is really hard to feel motivated to get up and dressed and going when there is no where to go.  I had much greater empathy for the isolated missionaries.  We have been spoiled in having an office to go to pretty much throughout the COVID time.  We have been socially restricted, for sure, but at least we had another venue to go to.  Finally, the call came.  Elder John’s test came back negative.  He didn’t have COVID, and neither did we.  Whew!  That was an experience I don’t want to repeat.  But we probably will.  Health experts say that 60-70 percent of the population will need to have immunity before this slows down. 

Having the all clear was all we needed to get right back to work.  RaDene headed for her desk at the office and me and the housing assistants, including Elder John, who felt remarkably well by now, headed for Shilo West to prepare one of the few apartments still vacant for missionaries.  It had gotten the time and attention of the missionaries that had lived there last, so I was hopeful, but alas, on inspection, sure enough, it needed some senior missionary effort.  As was our pattern, I directed the housing assistants in pitching useless stuff, and donned the rubber gloves to get down to the nitty gritty.  It took much longer than planned, and in the end, I had a list of things I would need to procure and bring back to make it habitable.  I also tried calling the landlord to ask if there was an empty unit we could swap for and get some better floors and finishes.  No luck.  But they were somewhat sympathetic that the mission has been in the unit continuously for more than eight years.  That long will take its toll on carpet, linoleum, paint, etc. no matter who the resident is.

Have I related the story of our recently wedge shaped trailer?  A couple of weeks ago, Elder Everton, the vehicle coordinator came to me one evening and said, has anyone called you yet?  As it happened, no one had called me, so I didn’t know quite what to say other than, no, I haven’t gotten any calls this evening.  It was a very ambiguous question, but he said nothing more.  Later that night I knew what he was asking about.  The housing assistants called.  Elder Scheurman had forgotten he was towing the trailer and had run into the concrete beam of a parking garage.  The garage won the fight.  The truck got through, but the trailer was too tall.  About 3-4 feet of the top of the trailer had been mashed down.  They got it unstuck, but some seams were pulled apart, which is a problem in rain-prone Midwest weather.  Maybe worse from my perspective, I couldn’t stand up anymore.  And I about scalped myself on the bent and twisted roof ribs.  Elder Scheurman felt terrible.  He wanted to know what to do.  He wanted to know if he should tell President Bell.  I calmed him, and we agreed that it was best for Pres Bell to hear it straight from him.  And we duct taped some of the gaps, making it somewhat more protected, at least towards the back of the trailer.  It’s a big deal to the missionaries because they are told that there is a one strike policy on avoidable accidents and driving privileges are revoked. 

We figured out where the trailer had been purchased a few years ago and with some effort, I made an appointment to go see them to get some bids on repair or replacement.  The damage was enough that the yard couldn’t do the work, but they took pictures and sent them to the factory in Arkansas for a repair bid.  One thing we had learned in the process of the trailer folks looking over our trailer was that the axel hubs needed tightening.  Knowing that there was a fair chance the Church vehicle department would not want to bother to fix the trailer (I had already seen how hail damage could qualify a car as a total loss), I didn’t want to run up a big bill lubing axels and tightening hubs.  Still, we needed to make some long trips with the newly wedge shaped trailer setting up apartments.  I didn’t really want to do that with wobbly wheels.  With a few tips from the trailer store and a YouTube tutorial, Elder John, who is quite mechanically inclined, joined me in the task. 

We got up early on Friday, June 12 and had a little Indy pit crew practice.  I had new missionary training to be ready for, and then a staff meeting, but right afterwards we needed to hit the road for the Columbia zone, which was almost guaranteed to be a long trip.  So we started the day jacking the trailer, pulling tires and wheels, tightening axel nuts, and lubing the axels and hubs.  That would at least make me feel safe and more responsible about taking the trailer out all the way to Moberly, Macon, and Columbia setting up apartments.  We did get a recommendation for a barbeque restaurant in Macon.  It felt strange, but the housing assistants and I sat down in a local establishment and splurged a little.  In places like Macon, it seems like the social distancing was never observed quite like the national authorities would have expected. 

On Saturday, June 13th we were still pressed for time, knowing that missionaries were coming next week and another zone that needed a lot of housing set up.  Yes, we are in the stage of bringing back missionaries to well past the number we had before COVID.  I persuaded the Elders to meet me at my new favorite mattress warehouse, which really is a warehouse, meaning they have stock on hand (yay!).  We bought five more beds and frames, put them in the trailer, and hoped it wouldn’t rain for a few days.

Meanwhile, RaDene and I celebrated our anniversary early.  She had gotten us reserved tickets for the opening of the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  It was a lovely day, sunny and warm but not steaming hot.  Many of the corners of the garden were closed, and it was obvious that many beds had not been attended to.  But the main path, nearly 3 miles in length, has so many glorious gardens: English woodlands, Japanese, rose, lilies, ponds, streams, and on and on.  The collection of stately trees, some going back to the founding in 1859, is magnificent.  Also on the property are three period houses.  The benefactor Henry Shaw’s garden home, his gardener’s home, and Shaw’s city house relocated to the garden after his death.  We look forward to exploring more, and sharing it with anyone who might visit! 

Hungry, we tried sandwiches at the garden café, but they were lacking.  We had a solution for that—ice cream.  I don’t know why, but St Louis seems to have more than its share great ice cream, and there is a great shop not far from the gardens in the same historical district.  Because of COVID, we ordered by phone, and waited and people watched on the sidewalk under a shade tree until our orders were cheerfully delivered to us.  My “rocky road” was undoubtedly the best rocky road I have ever had.  The chocolate ice cream was so rich, the nuts were mostly cashews (what a great idea!), and the marshmallows were nothing like what you buy in the bag at the grocery store.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.  We had to hurry home and get looking like missionaries again to join the Zoom video call to be introduced to the missionaries coming next week.  They are a good looking bunch.  I am impressed by these young people who have the courage and determination to accept a new assignment, somewhere different and perhaps less exotic than their original calls.  It would have been so easy to have ended their missions with no questions or expectations of additional service.  But here they come to strengthen us, like reinforcements to Helaman’s stripling warriors.  Alma 57:6.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

31 May – 6 June 2020 A Rose

Sunday, May 31st was eventful.  We took flowers and condolences to Sister Annie Stewart, our 94 year old widow.  Her daughter had not only contracted COVID, she had died.  Of course there was little we could do and the services were family only.  We offered what comfort we could to a sweet lady now outliving her children. 

Later, RaDene and I piled in the truck with the moving assistants to limit the traffic and stood in the front yard of the mission home to collect departing missionary luggage (me), distribute travel documents (Sister Hatfield), and say goodbye as best we could (both of us).  COVID makes goodbyes much more sterile than they should be.  And frankly, despite our urgings, these young people could not be restrained from final embraces with those they have served with, doing the hardest and most meaningful thing of their young lives.

We had invited the three housing assistants to our apartment for dinner.  We knew it was a farewell dinner of sorts for Elder Schuerman, although he didn’t know it.  I guess we were getting too hungry for barbeque, because we tried a honey glazed barbequed chicken recipe on the stove top grill.  It was a miracle we did not have the fire department for dinner.  By the time I had it all cooked, every door and window was open, with fans set through the kitchen.  But I didn’t care, it tasted great.  We are wondering how we can barbeque though.  The apartment complex has a strict rule against open flame cooking, in or out of the apartment. 

Just as we were about finished, the sisters who had traveled all the way from Columbia to drop off their departing companion knocked on the door, needing something from Sister Hatfield, and asking to use the bathroom.  The elders and I hustled outside for our dessert, while Sister Hatfield fed a second round of dinner to the sisters.  Funny we haven’t hosted anyone for months, and this night we had people over for dinner twice.

On Monday, May 1st I went to the Oak Valley YSA apartment in St Peters, MO.  President Bell had decided that he wanted to move out the elders and put in sisters.  I just had a hunch it wasn’t ready for the transition.  Boy, was I inspired.  It was a disaster.  A kitchen drawer was broken, sitting on a counter, a hanging ceiling light was broken and dangling, one of the panes of the sliding glass door was shattered, abandoned shoes and clothes filled the closets, and on it went.  I was actually pretty discouraged.  I called the elders that were last there and told them (with the President’s encouragement (prodded by Sister Hatfield!)), that they needed to spend tomorrow, their P-day, working on the problem.  Meanwhile, the Elders and I rolled up our sleeves and dove in for a first cut.  I was pretty discouraged and on the edge of angry, but by now Elder Schuerman was well trained on cleaning and decluttering, and inspired us to action.  We also took the weights set out and delivered them to some elders in nearby Dardenne Creek where they might get used, and certainly would make cleaning easier in Oak Valley.

Tuesday, May 1st was the day before transfers, and so there was plenty to do.  We were opening up a new area of Spanish speaking missionaries, called San Carlos 2.  We needed to move bunkbeds out into the spare bedroom so regular single beds would be available for the new companionship.  It was frustrating that the rails and hardware were deficient to hold it together firmly.  It needed some attention or to be thrown away.  Later that afternoon, we went back out to Oak Valley YSA, holding our breath a bit, hoping that the elders had done some serious work for their P-day.  To my relief, they had made a strong effort.  With a couple more hours of cleaning and polishing, I would not feel embarrassed about sisters coming in tomorrow.  So, I donned the rubber gloves (I’ve gone through several pairs by now) and the elders took my directions.  After that, we stopped a burger place for one last meal with Elder Schuerman before transfers tomorrow.  Back at the office, Sister Hatfield joined us for a planning meeting.  There is never too much planning for a transfer.

On Wednesday, May 3rd we had our 4th transfer in 7 days.  Mind you, these are only supposed to happen once every 6 weeks.  But it is sunny today, verging on hot.  I think we have proven out our COVID transfer process. 

It was a wistful day for me though.  I have grown really fond of Elder Riley Schuerman, but with all the changes in the mission, the President was in need of leadership, and Elder Schuerman was made a ZL and sent to Champaign today.  He had about convinced himself that he had dodged the bullet for this transfer, mostly because he stayed through the regular transfer and it seemed unusual to make such a change on a special transfer.  He has become an organized, forward thinking young man in the time he has been an assistant.  And with his technical skills, he helped streamline several processes in the office that needed help, several of which will have long term benefits, like improving proselyting materials ordering.  This, and he is just a happy, optimistic, hard working, humble young man, with style and good humor.  Oh well, missions, like the rest of life, go on.  Best of all, Elder Schuerman and Elder John had a baptism two weeks ago, so the transfer was a success by that measure.

In our post transfer efforts, the (now two) housing assistants and I went to the Frontenac sisters bunk room and repaired a broken rail.  And by now I had bought some long screw fasteners which would hold the San Carlos 2 bunks firmly together by gosh.   We also made a delivery to Rockwood 1st, and took down the tri in Rockwood 2nd.  Sister Hatfield had reminded me that the senior companion in Rockwood 1st was made a district leader and trainer, after having served as a zone leader.  To some, this might have seemed like a demotion.  Sensitive like she is, Sister Hatfield urged us to encourage this young man when we saw him.  As we drove down there, I mentioned the situation to the assistants.  When we arrived, I was tickled that Elder John, the cowboy from Idaho, spoke with love and tenderness to the district leader, explaining how the President must trust him more than anyone else in the mission, having placed a new companion in his trust, assigned him district as leader, and designated the area for biking (meaning, no car for the hot summer months).  I could tell that the encouragement was welcomed.  We left with a prayer and saw smiles on the faces of the elders we left.  The lessons we learn in our church service.

At Rockwood 2nd, of the sisters with COVID fame, we disassembled the set up for the third missionary, because one of the COVID survivor sisters had been transferred out.  Sheepishly, one of the sisters showed me a patch of sheetrock in the bathroom where all of the paint, mud, and tape had deteriorated down to the green board.  I took a little bit of a lick’n from the apartment manager when I reported the problem.  But she was right.  There is no reason why this should have gotten to this point without being reported sooner.  It is just hard for the missionaries to treat their dwelling like more than extended hotel rooms to dip in and out of, with little ownership during their time living there.

On Friday, June 5th we made a follow up trip to Oak Valley YSA.  We replaced the broken living room light fixture, changed the furnace filter, and refabricated the kitchen drawer rail.  Not a bad place now, after considerable effort by many.

But this day was hard.  Our daughter in law was being induced and we were completely out of position to help like a parent feels she or he should.  Gratefully, extended family filled the breach.  We also sorely missed not being able to be a part of the earthly greeting party, an opportunity that doesn’t happen very often in one’s lifetime.  We had consoled ourselves in a long made plan to go home in July for a brief visit and a baby blessing, but even that is not practical given the COVID concerns of air travel.  Broken hearts might be a little dramatic, but not much.  But we will quit wallowing and instead rejoice.  Little Amelia Rose is blessed to be in a family that loves her, and she is beautiful by any standard.  Even the housing assistants, our near constant companions said so.  Welcome Millie, as Abbey sweetly said, or Rose, as Ezra said, we love you too.

Saturday, June 6th was one of those rare days where I persuaded Sister Hatfield to leave the office and join us on a small trip to the O’Fallon zone.  The Fairmont City Spanish elders had told us a few days before that their washer had quit working.  Maybe it was karma—we replaced their dryer not more than two weeks ago.  As we were leaving, the Fairmont elders warned me that maybe we should put off the trip because there were protests scheduled for that afternoon in their small town.  Looking at the schedule, I could not see another window of opportunity for some days, so we said we would come anyway, being alert to our surroundings.  Sure enough, the relatively small town of Collinsville, IL had streets blocked, a good size police presence, and people about looking like they were organizing for a march.  We carefully avoided the crowds and went the back way. 

After removing the broken washer and installing the replacement, consulting on a toilet leak, and delivering new missionary handbooks, we had a good visit.  Elder Windmiller was special to us because we came to know him quite well in our branch before he had transferred out, and because Sister Hatfield had helped him a lot with phone problems.  His companion, Elder Konold, turned out to be from the Grossmont Ward in San Diego—the very ward my family attended when I was in 9th and 10th grades.  We enjoyed reminiscing on the community and ward.  I had a rush of feelings as I thought about this formative time in my life so many years ago.  So now I have a connection with Elder Konold.  It seems there is something about every missionary that is special and relatable, once you know them.

24-30 May 2020 Transfers Like Never Before, Never Again

Whatever reprieve last week was, this week is its antithesis.  It was time to implement our revamped transfer process, because we would begin receiving missionaries on Monday, May 25th and start conducting transfers in the mornings while welcoming additional arriving missionaries in the evenings for the next three consecutive days.  This week was a “special” transfer, meaning it wasn’t part of the every six week calendar that the Missionary Department has mapped out for years in advance.  In that respect, it was not unlike a lot of transfers we have had in the past several months.  But what was different this time was the Missionary Department decided that sending out too many missionaries in too large of groups was not good health practice.  So they broke the large group of missionaries they were sending into 3 groups, and sent them on consecutive days.  I sure hope we prevented someone from getting sick, because it about did the mission staff in.  Arrivals and transfers are a big deal.  Getting ready for one is challenging.  Getting ready for three would have been overwhelming, especially while trying to keep social distance.  The ace up our sleeve was we saw this coming, and we had a plan.

Tuesday, May 26 was our beta test.  We had lists and schedules and had been checking and rechecking for several days.  Now it was time to do it.  We had a new set up scheme in the Frontenac parking lot, and the senior missionaries, moving assistants, and APs arrived an hour and a half early to get ready.  We had driveways to block off, traffic cones to place, tables and chairs to set up in stations, parking areas to designate, luggage to set out, mail and other deliverables to assemble, and our secret weapon, transfer instructions, in three different colors for handing out. It was a warm, sunny day, and the set up went well.  Some missionary cars arrived earlier than we had planned, throwing us off just a bit, but we recovered.  By the time President and Sister Bell got there with the new missionaries, we had a good deal of the transfer work completed, which was the goal.  Our plan had really helped. 

Meet Elder Nathaniel Nelson.  He became a third housing assistant today.  Ordinarily after three transfers one housing assistant is sent back to the field.  Not this time.  We have three Has.  This is a bit odd, but these are strange times all around.  Elder Nelson is a bright young man, interested and skilled in the performing arts.  He might just bust out in a show tune at any moment.  And he’s good!  But, even though he is from Wyoming, he seems a stark contrast to the rough and ready other two housing assistants, especially Elder John, who fancies himself a cowboy.  Missions bring all kinds together in the service of Christ.

Off we go for post-transfer work—first a stop at a new found mattress warehouse store that supposedly has twin foundations ready and available.  And yes, they do!  The simple pleasures of a housing coordinator.  Then we left for Rockwood 2nd to set up a Tri.  Normally, this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Rockwood 2nd is the apartment of the only two known cases of COVID-19 among the missionaries.  Sisters Austin and Greer had suffered together for about six weeks, and only recently found themselves getting back to normal.  President has assigned a new incoming sister to join them, and she needs a place to sleep.  I must admit, it felt a little—hmm, I don’t know what the word is—something like uncomfortable?—to go into a place where you know that the Corona virus has been in force.  We kept our masks on and stayed socially distant.  What would it feel like to actually move in there with the rccovered missionaries?  The new sister is brave!  But Sister Austin and Sister Greer look good, so its just a mental thing (right?). 

Then we went to St Charles North to deliver luggage that wouldn’t fit into the Sisters’ car at transfers earlier today, to O’Fallon, Missouri to drop of a Missionary Support Funds card to a hungry missionary, and finally to Troy to set our second apartment that would hold four missionaries, at least until I can find another apartment in the area.  This last arrangement includes a young man that Sister Hatfield looks after because of their shared diagnosis, so I have some feelings for him.  He is brave too.  He could have taken the easy way out and gone home during the COVID purge (that sounds wrong, but it was a difficult and negative experience for most everyone), but he (with Sister Hatfield’s encouragement and support) decided to stay.  He now gets to add on top of the social isolation period a cozy living arrangement.  I’m proud of him.

Wednesday, May 27th was the second test of our new transfer process.  And the forecast was for rain.  We recommended to move the transfer stations into the gym, but the decision was we
would conduct the transfers outside, rain or shine.  This time it was definitely rain.  In fact, there was a small river dividing our parking lot space in two.  The HAs went to the mission home to borrow some patio umbrellas, which were of marginal help.  The square shade tent clearly was for shade, not rain.  Packing tape would not stick to hold up signs.  Tables could not be kept dry.  We had to keep luggage and bedding (especially pillows) in the trailer.  It rained constantly during the hour we had for set up and the 45 minutes of transfers.  Jackets became a wet nuisance.  Afterwards, it took three days for my shoes to dry.  Only about the time that the Bells arrived with the new missionaries did the rain ease off a bit.  We were clearly not as smooth as yesterday in the clear weather, but we did it.  I’m not sure the benefits of doing this outside in the weather outweighed the burdens.  We’ll talk about this more at the staff meeting on Friday.

On Thursday, May 28th we did it again.  Only it didn’t rain this time, and we were smart enough to leave a bunch of our stuff in the back hallway of the building where it was easily retrievable.  We were learning, if not exhausted.  After the transfers we headed for the Columbia Zone to Fulton,  to drop off some chairs, and to Riverview South in Jefferson City.  I need to make a decision to renew the lease there, or not.  And we have had a couple of issues, like ants, so I really did want to take a look.  A new Elder Logan Morrison just assigned to serve in Riverview is the son of my cousin’s best friend in Arizona.  So it gave me the chance to welcome Elder Morrison to the mission. 

Having done all this, it was getting late, and the elders are hungry.  We talked about what we could eat, and I learned a little secret.  Thursdays are boneless 2 for 1 day at Buffalo Wild Wings.  The missionaries take frequent advantage of this.  And since I had three assistants, the arithmetic was just right to split orders.  We found one in Jeff City, and from the parking lot phoned in our order.  It was hilarious though, because it was raining and banging on the truck roof so hard that Elder Scheurman and the hostess could not hear each other.  It was a wonder it worked at all.  In the 15 minutes we waited for the order to be ready, it slowed enough for us to go in and buy our wings.  When we got inside, to our surprise, there were people eating at tables.  Sheepishly, and not knowing for sure whose rules we might be breaking, we asked if we could eat our takeout inside.  They obliged, and I left a good sized tip.  This was my first eat in meal in months, and it felt good.  We were so tired after this week that we took turns driving the 2.5 hours back to St Louis.   

Sunday, June 7, 2020

17-23 May 2020 Plenty to Do in a Down Week

This week was one of those rare weeks when we didn’t have missionaries coming or going.  But we knew that was temporary.  For my part, I used it to get better prepared for transfers next week.  On Tuesday, we moved the Assistants to the President from Renew Creve Coeur, a near by apartment complex, to the Arlington apartments, where we live.  A couple of months ago the Arlington apartment had been left by our senior CES missionaries, the Thomsons.  We had used the apartment on and off for various meetings and dinners, but had not moved anyone back in.  We wondered if we might see the Thomsons return or have some other senior missionary need.  That didn’t seem to be happening any time soon.  But, we did need space for young missionaries being sent to us.  So we decided to move the APs for two reasons:  first, it freed up another apartment for Spanish teaching elders that were expected, and second, we could set up a second dormitory of sorts for incoming and departing young missionaries.  When I first got here, we had set up a sisters apartment with six bunkbeds for that purpose.  Elders stayed at the mission home with the President’s family.  But because the Bell’s have a son with a compromised immune system, it didn’t seem wise to introduce virus pathways to the mission home.  We would expose the APs instead!  But with two bathrooms and a large kitchen table (not to be confused with a large kitchen), the apartment was suited for the temporary housing purpose.

There were some challenges though, like what to do with the king size bed in the formerly senior couple apartment, not useful to the APs.  We jammed the mattress, frame, and headboard into the walk in closet, rendering it useless.  Rather cleverly though, we repurposed the two king box springs by setting them on twin frames and extra long twin mattresses.  Thank you, Amazon.  We have been buying mattresses in a box by the dozens, which I’m sure our local Amazon delivery man has found odd.  What could an office do with all of these, and why do I need to go to the hassle of carrying them through double glass doors and up elevators to an office?  One time during a meeting I got a Seattle originated call, which I stepped out to take.  It was the Amazon driver.  I told him to pile my mattresses by the outside front door, for which he was relieved.  Most of the office workers weren’t coming in these days, so they probably didn’t think too much about it.  Less humorous, Amazon ships metal bedframes by USPS.  Our postman is not amused by carting around those long, heavy boxes.  One day he made a stop at the office next to ours making his delivery before our office.  Someone exited that office unexpectedly, and with the door, started our frame boxes tumbling, landing on the postman’s ankle.  He has a very friendly relationship with Sister Hatfield, seeing her face to face almost daily.  So he related the tale of why he was smarting.  I felt a little sorry that my housing order had contributed to his pain.  Hey, Amazon, the postman is not set up to deliver large, heavy items!  Use UPS or your own delivery trucks.

On Wednesday, May 20th we made a few more forward looking efforts.  We moved the O’Fallon, IL zone leaders from their one bedroom apartment in the Shilo West teaching area to another apartment in the nearby town of Fairview Heights that has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, to be shared with a set of elders already there.  The thinking is that the vacated zone leader apartment would be a good place to put a second set of sisters in the area.  Honestly, I was pretty depressed when I walked into Shilo West.  First, I expect more from the zone leaders, whether that is justified or not.  They were not ready to move and their apartment was a mess.  It seems that their only real concern was to make sure that a huge collection of barbells, dumb bells, and other exercise equipment made it over to Fairview Heights with them.  We obliged, loading all the weights in the back of the mission pickup truck, which sagged under the weight.  And if that weren’t enough, the existing missionaries in Fairview were not the least ready for the arrival.  We quickly moved their desks, chairs, and general overflow out of the second bedroom, piling the second set of beds, desks, chairs, to say nothing of large pile of weights in the living room.  No one turn around in place.  Ordinarily, I would have had preliminary discussions with the missionaries to be ready for us.  This time, I spoke only to the lead zone leader and he took the responsibility of making the necessary communications and preparation.  I could say he sorely let me down, but my expectations were probably wrong.  Moreover, Sis Hatfield believes that he has been struggling with some issues of his own.  So I will withhold judgment.  Still, I told the ZLs I needed them to go back to the apartment we moved them out of and clean it deeply.  I won’t hold my breath.  But I have a report that it does look better.  I’m sure I need to take my rag and bucket back there before I will feel good about sending in sisters to live there. 

We still had the problem of the king mattress and headboard in the assistants’ apartment making the bedroom closet unusable.  President Bell had made an offhand comment that he didn’t love his mattress in the mission home.  So we picked it up from the APs’ closet and dropped it off in the living room of the mission home for President to give a real try.  I couldn’t figure out what to do with the headboard, though.  It was massive (and ugly, in my opinion; note the past tense).  Elder Schuerman new what to do.  As housing missionaries, we specialize in dumpsters.  We often have stuff to discard.  So we know where they are in all the apartment complexes and business parks.  We try not to use more than our share of dumpster space, spreading things out between them, and try to stick to places where we are tenants anyway.  But we do know about a lot of them.  One of them has a hydraulic compaction mechanism.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the young elders love to smash things in that dumpster.  Buttons, motors, pistons, and pressure plates are always a male attraction.  You get the picture.  Yep, Elder Schuerman wanted to compact the kingsize headboard.  I relented, not really feeling like I had any other options:  It would basically cap off most dumpsters, and the donation centers are all closed because of COVID.  In the headboard went, to the squeals of delight of the elders as it bent, moaned, and finally cracked into pieces.  Secretly, I hope those seniors don’t return so I don’t need to tell them why we don’t have their headboard anymore.

On Friday, May 22nd we made our last major influx preparation for the week.  We had given our notice to not extend a lease to management two months before a senior couple was scheduled to leave because we had no prospects of senior missionaries being assigned to replace them. When it was time to vacate, we had stored the departing senior couple’s furniture away into a temporarily vacant young missionary apartment.  (Vacancies happen from time to time as missionaries are moved around, but where it is too expensive to break a lease, particularly when the President thinks we will soon be coming back.)  I do hate to just throw things away, although my ability to store in this time of major apartment disruption is limited.  But now I knew I was probably out of time with the transfers coming next week and the need for young missionaries to have additional places to live and serve.  We went back to this young missionary apartment in Hazelwood and removed all the senior missionary furniture that we hadn’t found places to use in the meantime and then deep cleaned it.  By now, Elder Schuerman and Elder John were pretty skilled at all this—they do a great job of decluttering, which is mostly being able and willing to make decisions about what is usable and what is a distraction, often accumulated over years.  While they decluttered, I donned the rubber gloves.  I’m really good with Ajax and Pinesol.