Sunday, July 19, 2020

5 – 11 July 2020 I’m From the MBI (Mission Bureau of Investigations)

Sunday July 5th started off just a little blue, saying goodbye to Mal’s family.  But we don’t have time to wallow in any sorrow, because there is just too much to do.  We have another transfer this week.  But first, church started back up for us.  We’ve been hearing rumors that the St Louis Stake was getting going, but on checking with Pagedale Branch Pres Fingel, this is the Sunday.  It is a bit strange.  Everything is so sterile, distant, and sparse.  Don’t misunderstand, we really enjoy going back to take the sacrament with the saints.  But, many members feel uncomfortable, and they are encouraged to continue with their home-based sacrament.  We are seated every other row, with people only in family groups on the ends.  After the sacrament, we had a two testimonies and then closed.  Then we were ushered out with minimal hellos.  “Wait, is it over already?” was the feeling I was left with.  We stood out in the hot sun for a few minutes talking to the Nerhrings, the temple recorder and his wife, before we made our way to the car.  We went home to our Come Follow Me studies, like we have for months now.  And then, we were off to the office for transfers preparation work.  It is funny how what we do all week feels like it can also be done on the Sabbath, except for calling landlords and other service providers.  I wonder if that is true or if I need to rethink my belief that the Lord’s work on a mission is the same everyday?  But I won’t be thinking about it today because there is too much to do regardless.  This week’s transfers are a day earlier in the week than usual.

I got a call from the Macon elders.  They are sure that their pull out couch has bedbugs.  They are really worried about it.  I talked them away from the ledge and they asked for permission to put the couch in the garage.  I encouraged them to take it to the dumpster if they could find a member with a truck to help them (speaking again about ox in the mire on the Sabbath).  Then I gave them the standard bedbug speech.  Hopefully, we don’t have an out of control infestation.

Monday, July 6th started with a fairly early trip to Farmington to sign and deliver a lease and pay deposits.  They require certified checks, but it turns out that the credit union adjacent to our mission office is in association with our credit union in Utah so getting certified checks was not too hard.  I drove the 1.5 hours down, but no one had done anything over the long holiday weekend, so I had no trouble getting the new apartment lease for the sisters.  Then I made my way to historic downtown Farmington to the utilities office and signed up and made a deposit for electricity.  The mission will reimburse me for all these personal checks I’m writing, but it does make me wonder what happens if the mission office staff doesn’t have a substantial checking account to float the short term finance needs.

Meanwhile, I’ve sent the housing assistants off to the South and O’Fallon zones to set up beds.  Sometimes we need to divide in order to conquer our to-do list.  I raced back to the office and started making duplicate keys for areas we were opening, and lists for me and for the housing assistants to be ready at transfers.  Late that day we got word that one of our incoming missionaries missed his flight connection in Detroit.  Sis Hatfield and the Bells lit up the phone lines to make alternative arrangements, including spending the night with the missionaries in Detroit.  The missionary’s dad was okay with him just spending the night in the airport.  We have done that before, with disastrous results.  We would not let that happen again.  But it does mean that some folks will be off schedule at transfers tomorrow, because this elder’s substitute flight won’t arrive until transfers are over.

Tuesday, July 7th was transfer day.  We have the revised COVID process pretty well down, although my sense is that the missionaries are not being as careful as they once were about social distancing among themselves.  I suppose it is a reflection of society at large—we can be antisocial for a time, but it is hard to keep it up for an extended period.  After transfers, we take our sweaty selves out to a quick lunch, which has become a bit of a post transfer tradition, and then we are off to finish setting up new beds in Warrenton, Dardenne Creek, and Oak Valley.  Along the way, we do some table and couch swapping and reallocating.  Then its back to the office to work until 10:30 that night.  We have another transfer next week.

On Wednesday, July 8th I head to Springfield, Illinois.  Some members dropped off a meal at the elder’s apartment a few days ago and was alarmed by what they perceived to be a dangerous environment.  No one else seemed too concerned, but I couldn’t just brush it off as overly confident elders.  I needed to look for myself.  I met with the elders, spoke with the zone leaders, drove around the surrounding neighborhoods, and did some online searches for criminal activity.  In the end, I could find nothing upsetting.  In fact, the complex looked about as well maintained and orderly as any in our mission.  I’m sure some drug sales have gone on in the parking lot, and maybe the members happened on one, but my conclusion is that I would probably only find a less suitable neighborhood if I tried to move.  Apartment living just comes with some element of unexpected, uncontrolled environment.

Next we were off to Mahomet, about an hour north and east of Springfield.  We were taking down a tri, moving out unwanted furniture, and fixing fans and lights.  Both of these sisters are on reassignment from South America and seem to be adjusting well to their new home and work.  Finally we went to Champaign to deliver some chairs before praying and starting the long journey back to St Louis. 

Thursday the 9th was moving day for the Farmington sisters.  We loaded our mission trailer with beds, a couch, tables, chairs, and kitchen utensils and small appliances that we had purchased a few days before.  We met the sisters at the leasing office and got the keys, then went around to the apartment.  It is nice, but small.  It was satisfying to see the sisters excitement about getting into their teaching area and near their ward.  Then we went the hour to Cape Girardeau where they were moving from and got the things that needed to go to Farmington.  While we were there, we fixed a blind and smoke alarm for the Cape Girardeau sisters and then went to Goodwill and Walmart to try to find a kitchen table.  No luck.  The Farmington sisters are going to need to make do with the round plastic table until I can find something.  Furniture is pretty tough to find right now.  Most of what I’m looking for comes from manufacturers that have been shut down during COVID, and supplies are scarce.  Goodwill isn’t accepting furniture donations or selling it right now.  They only take and sell what fits in a box.  We did find an inexpensive dresser though, which I was reluctant to buy because it won’t be durable.  But I got it anyway because they needed something.  We went back to Farmington and moved the rest of the furniture in and assembled the dresser, which was a Chinese puzzle.  I really had a hard time keeping the housing assistants focused on the work because, dare I say it, the sisters are really cute and engaging.  They cooked chicken for us while we worked and I did not have the heart to say we would not eat it.  It is surely part of my job though to chaperone these small group encounters!

Friday July 10th was mostly an office day, except for the gun shot investigation.  The elders in the Wentzville teaching area (Troy, Missouri) had reported a gun shot in their neighbors apartment that came into the elders apartment.  No one was hurt, but like Springfield, I could not let it go uninvestigated.  The neighbors, who were a father, son, and son in law, had told the elders not to report the matter and they would patch the hole.  I told the elders not to patch the hole until I could investigate.  I called the police, and they said that the accidental discharge of a weapon under the circumstances I described was not a crime.  It would have been in a church or public place, but not in a private residence, even if the bullet goes into another residence.  I went to the apartment and saw were the bullet had entered the bedroom of the elders, right above one of their pillows and then gone at a 45 degree angle into the front of the house where the slug got stuck in the wall.  No one had been in the bed when it happened, but they had been in the room just feet away.  This was much too close for comfort.  Next I went and knocked on the neighbors’ door and asked to speak with them.  They were blue collar men for sure.  But they seemed not to be addicts or irresponsible, and said that they had not been drinking.  The 9mm handgun had dropped from a table while unloading a holster and discharged.  I explained how seriously we took the situation, with the safety of the missionaries being of utmost concern.  They gave me every assurance that the accident would not repeat.  I’m confident it won’t.  It is a reminder of how many guns there are in Missouri.  About 30 percent of residents own them.  For better or for worse, the Missouri population is well armed.

Saturday, July 11th was a P-day with very little time for personal preparations.  We had another transfer next week, and we are really running low of excess resources to accommodate them.  We spent a good part of the day in the office planning.  That afternoon I took the housing assistants to the furniture warehouse to buy 13 box springs for incoming sisters.  The elders would need to make do with mattresses on the floor which I buy online.  Our office neighbors have surely wondered what we do with the scores of mattresses Amazon has delivered to our office hallway over the past several months.

28 June – 4 July 2020 How to Baby Sit a Grandma

Sunday June 28th is the last time we will video church with “Nanna and Pappa” and the grandkids.  And they surely are kids.  We started several months ago with carefully prepared, detailed lesson plans.  By now, we are much more general and fluid, finding that we need to adapt on the fly to what is on their minds and expanding on what grabs and holds their attention.  We still are trying to get a message across, but it is pretty simple.  We will miss this precious time, hearing that we will be going back to church of some kind in our Pagedale Branch next Sunday.  Even if the effectiveness of a virtual nursery is not optimal, requiring a fair amount of support from the on site parents, at least it has been consistent and memorable.  We will miss it for sure.

Monday, June 29th is the day I decided to not let any other distractions get in the way doing a boots on the ground search for an apartment in Farmington, Missouri.  By internet, I’d narrowed the choices to five that met the online searchable criteria.  But there is no substitute for taking a look.   It felt a little like a “fourth floor, last door” experience.  The first three seemed okay, but left me feeling flat, for reasons that I can’t really articulate.  Maybe it had something to do with the age, neighborhoods, or who knows what.  The fourth apartment complex seemed quite promising and I began to get a little excited that maybe I had found what the mission needed.  But I decided to take a look at the fifth on the list anyway.  It turned out to be two blocks from the meetinghouse, which I had not known, and in the middle of a vibrant, growing, family oriented part of town.  Now I was excited.  I made some phone calls to confirm availability, and headed home, feeling like something good would happen either from the fourth or fifth apartments on my list. 

That night RaDene spent several hours working on a baby quilt for little Amelia Rose.  Sis Hatfield has been so diligent in her missionary work, spending almost no time on something resembling a hobby, craft, or other distraction.  But she so wants to make an expression of her love for our newest granddaughter.  It is a labor of love for sure, doing it without her tools or space or usual supplies.  Her heart is in every stitch, working and reworking to make it just right.  I know what care and love this little rose colored quilt represents.   

Wednesday the 1st.  I can’t believe its July!  It must be a new season, because we are holding the Mission Leadership Council, composed of approximately 40 young leaders from around the mission, live and in person at the Frontenac Ward building.  Which is not to say that we are being careless:  companionships are sitting six feet apart scattered throughout the chapel, wearing masks.  Sis Hatfield and I have the primary role of setting up for lunch.  No other seniors are participating, to reduce unnecessary exposures.  We miss them, underestimating the work, even if we have done as much preparation as possible.  We have 10 round tables (accented smartly for Independence Day, of course!) with only four place settings per table, or two companionships.  Sis Bell has carefully packaged salad into individual serving bags which we are handing out, donning masks and gloves, along with individually prepared servings of dressing, slices of pizza, bottled water, and individually wrapped cookies.  I hope this prevents some illness, because we are certainly increasing our use of plastic.  (A conservation issue for another day.)  Even with all the awkwardness of the precautions, it is so good to see some faces (okay, parts of some faces) that we haven’t seen for months.  These young people are bright lights who surely shouldn’t be hid under a basket.  After lunch, the MLC organized in a large circle, with space between companionships, to complete the day’s training.  Sister Hatfield and I made a short presentation on JustServe, one of our subsidiary responsibilities for the mission, and for which we receive monthly Zoom training.  RaDene has urged the zones to get all their missionaries registered and to meet with their stake JustServe specialists.  We have had more administrative success than I would have expected.  Now, we need to encourage the stakes to seek out worthy projects to post on the JustServe web site so that these energetic young people can, well, just serve.  I see so much wisdom in this effort.  It not only provides needed volunteer help for worthy causes, but it weaves the church members more tightly into the fabric of their communities.  It helps dispel erroneous notions of what the missionaries do, naturally creating interest in what they represent.  And it is oh so therapeutic for the emotional health of the missionaries.  There are few balms for the soul like service for service’s sake.

I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things, when Sis Hatfield called and said the mission technology specialists from the Champaign zone, Elders Scheurman and Cary, were in the office and needed help.  A relatively new mission laptop was not working, despite efforts to get warranty service.  I was not past the produce section, so I restocked in the grocery store (a no-no, I’m sure) and raced back to the office.  Sis Hatfield and I assessed the situation and decided the only sensible thing to do was buy another laptop.  I was delighted to have a short reunion with Elder Scheurman while I took him to Best Buy and picked something out and bought it on the mission credit card.  We’ll deal with additional warranty claims next week.  Meanwhile, these elders have a long way to go to get back to their zone and work. 

And what was I doing anyway at a grocery store on a Wednesday afternoon?  Malory and here little family were coming to visit for the Fourth of July holiday!  We expected them that evening, so I needed to get a few things.  Before I was back from the electronics store, AJ, Mal, Kennedy, and baby Ben were here.  I met them and RaDene at the hotel across the street from the mission office where we had made them a reservation.  Then we went to our apartment for supper and to our delight, Kennedy wanted to sleep with Nanna and Pappa.  We were more than happy to oblige. 

July 2nd was a bit of a break during the day from our mission office duties.  Instead, we took Mal and family to the St Louis zoo.  RaDene had to make reservations a week in advance because of COVID admittance limitations.  But we got in, masks on.  This is a world class zoo.  And although every exhibit wasn’t open, we didn’t get to all that were open.  We rode the train around the park twice, which was a thrill to Kennedy.   Late that afternoon during belated naptime, RaDene and I went to the office to keep up as best we could with crucial tasks.  For me, that consisted of signing a lease and scanning it back to a leasing office in Farmington, and stewing that I couldn’t get a certified check before the holiday break to hold the unit as the leasing agent requested just today.  I’m banking on the fact that no one else could get farther along on the holiday weekend than I already am.  Bathtime that night was hilarious.  To Kennedy, the bath was fun, but to Ben, it was like Christmas in the bathroom.  He could hardly contain himself, splashing and squealing.  I had to hold tight to one of his arms to keep him from diving under the water.  After getting on jammies and sending Ben and his parents to the hotel, Nana and Pappa read stories to Kennedy on her little pile of blankets and pillows laid at the side of our bed.  RaDene had planned ahead, and the books were amazing entertainment for Kennedy and her grandparents.  The best was How to Babysit a Grandma, which we almost wore out in one weekend.

July 3rd we went to the Magic House, a children’s hand’s on exploration of natural, scientific, and social displays and experiences.  It was so good!  It’s setting is an old St Louis mansion with every room, hall, and corridor set up with a different theme, some gauged a bit towards a younger person, and some a bit older, but all sufficiently interesting to spur anyone’s curiosity.  We then treated ourselves to a feast of Pappy’s Smokehouse ribs, judged the best in America by the Food Network.  Best or not, they were very tasty.  I’ll be making a return trip there for sure, hopefully with Spencer, who along with Malory, appreciates good barbeque.  After a short stint at the office, and then I sent the baby and other adults out for ice cream.  Kennedy and I had another bathtime and I put to her to bed myself, thank you very much.  I’m sure reading How to Baby Sit a Grandma helped. 

Saturday, July 4th was blazing hot and humid.  Fortunately, we were able to get into the St Louis City Museum—perfect for a day uncomfortable to be outdoors.  It has some art and artifacts, for sure, but its big draw is the crafting of larger than life experiences within the building—chutes and ladders, ramps, crawl spaces, outsized fish tanks, and on and on, built loosely around themes like dinosaurs, sea life, city life, or just for fun, with no discernable theme.  A magic house for big people (and the little people the big people bring with them).  It is just plain fun and really not well described in words.  You just need to see it.  I’ve said it many times before, but it’s true:  St Louis punches well above its weight in attractions, parks, and yummy food. 

RaDene and Mal went out looking for flowers to hang on our patio—the greenery outside is spectacular, but it could use some splashes of color, and the squirrels keep eating the buds on our begonias.  They came back with three beautiful baskets of impatiens, screw hooks, and a “squirrel proof” bird feeder.  We spent some time organizing the patio accordingly.  It seems that any gathering must involve some sort of household project, even if it is at an apartment.  Then we barbequed salmon for Malory, one of her favorites. 

Towards the end of the day we took our family to the mission home to meet Pres and Sis Bell.  About 10 missionary sisters were there for a Independence Day celebration (the mission was watching Other Side of Heaven II via technology, but it wasn’t working).  Kennedy did a dance for them, which was darling.  I wonder if she would have been so comfortable around 10 elders! We decided we would do a fireworks “driveby” in St Charles, were fireworks are legal and the city was having a display along the Missouri River.  But to get us to dark, we looked for ice cream and low and behold, there is an Andy’s frozen custard stand 3 miles from home.  We had found the one 10 miles away in a different direction, but it will be dangerous to our waistlines to have found one so close to home.  The fireworks were fun and beautiful, but most interesting was the stark, dark line of the Missouri River, marking the county line.  St Charles was alive with light and color, St Louis looked like it was in the midst of a power outage by comparison.  We spent one more night with Kennedy and then Mal and AJ came early and scooped her up and headed out, but not without cinnamon rolls Nana had gotten up way to early to send with them.  We will miss the Husseys, but it recharged our batteries that they would make the long drive with little kids up to see us.