Sunday, August 30, 2020

2 – 8 August 2020 More COVID Precautions

 On Sunday, August 2nd we returned to the Pagedale, Missouri Branch for an abbreviated sacrament meeting.  Attendance was limited to 25 percent of capacity, which meant that about 25 people could be in the chapel.  A very few people ended up in the relief society room overflow, but not many.  We were spread out with plenty of room between families and individuals.  Clearly not everyone felt comfortable returning yet.  When it was over, we were ushered out the side door where we had a few brief conversations in the heat.  It is hard to go back to church and not be able to experience the sociality of the saints.  That evening was a special treat.  The Bells arranged a fireside for the mission consisting of a 40 minute virtual tour of Palmyra conducted by Sister Miner and her companion.  Sister Miner will be transferred to the MSLM later in the month.  They took us through the original Smith log house, scampered down the road to the newer clap board house, and then out into the Sacred Grove.  These young women were inspiring.  I have no doubt but that they will bring a spirit to our mission that could be found in few other ways.  Finally, late that evening I got a call from Sis Everton, our mission nurse.  The Elders in Jefferson City had terrible skin blisters.  The preliminary diagnosis was scabies, a very difficult pest to eradicate.  I was not looking forward to the possibility of needing to throw out beds, bedding, and furniture in an attempt to fight off the mites that burrow into human skin.  Ugh!  The next day, we learned (to my relief?) that the rashes were more likely poison ivy.  Wow, that ivy oil apparently spread through four elders, each of whom look terrible.

On Tuesday, August 4th I signed a commitment for a new apartment lease in the Missouri River ward of the Lake St Louis Stake.  It has been difficult to find, and even now, we will need to wait almost six weeks before we can take occupancy.  Low cost housing is tight.  I also took a vacuum and a smoke alarm to the Webster Grove North sisters.  I’m replacing more of these alarms than I would have expected.  They say they have a 10 year life, but on closer inspection, they also say the lifespan is decreased by heat and humidity.  Well, that explains it.  

Sister Hatfield was asked by a missionary to repair his pants at an MLC meeting a couple of weeks ago.  Like most missionary meetings, her attention is in high demand at missionary meetings.  She took the pants, but did not carefully think about who gave them to her.  After the sewing, she made some sheepish phone calls around the mission to figure out who’s pants they were.  It wasn’t easy.  I thought the cause was lost, but finally, Elder Reid, from the South zone claimed them.  Mystery solved. Sis Hatfield has been trying to help Sis Bell with referrals.  The software leads us to believe that we have as many as 70 people that have not been contacted by the missionaries.  Pres Bell has, naturally, chastised the missionaries for not following up and picking the low hanging fruit that a referral represents.  After lots of frustration, it turns out our missionaries aren’t lazy—the software refuses to change the referral status after the missionaries have made attempts to contact the person referred.  Sis Hatfield and Sis Bell were on a long conference call with Salt Lake to first identify the problem, and then to try to find solutions.  So far, the only thing that works is for an administer to manually change the referral status.  The missionaries can’t do it.  Well, that won’t work very long.  There is simply too much to do.

Wednesday August 5th started out like most Wednesdays, with me joining the video workout led by President Bell.  Is a 60 year old too old to be doing this with men 1/3 his age?  Maybe.  I do it anyway.  We headed for Belleville, Illinois to deliver some recently arrived desks and a simple set of metal and fabric drawers substituting as a dresser for the sisters tucked into the small front bedroom.  They have been good sports, basically living out of their suitcases and studying on their beds and kitchen tables.  They were so appreciative of what we brought to them—a little payback for the housing coordinator.  Later that evening Sis Hatfield discovered that her emails to the incoming missionaries were largely lost in the ethersphere.  The missionary software system allows you to create groups for email communications.  She had done that for missionaries coming later in August to communicate important information related to their arrival and service.  Almost by mistake, she learned that one person had not received the email, then another, and another!  Yikes, she spent hours recreating the message and sending it one by one to the 35 missionaries scheduled to come on August 26.  Technology!

On Saturday, August 8th Sis Hatfield and I spent some time cleaning our apartment.  It was preparation day, and I am the housing coordinator, so what’s sauce for the goslings is sauce for the goose.  For some reason, we decided to dust above our stacked dryer, and a light brush of the rag displaced the dryer exhaust tube.  It was attached only by a very insufficient piece of duct tape.  And on further investigation, the upper end of the coiled tube wasn’t attached to anything at all, just partially stuck into a sheetrocked chase.  We spent the afternoon chasing down connectors and other parts to make this darn thing work so it wasn’t blowing dryer dust into our bathroom all the time. 

After the home projects were under control, we cleaned up and went with the Bells to a drive by wedding reception along the front walk of the Mahaffeys, the first counselor in the mission presidency.  It was a unique experience, greeting people without even getting out of the car.  But something tells me that this can’t be part of the new normal!  Afterwards, we went to dinner with the Bells and while we were at it, accompanied them to the dance studio to pick up their son from practice.  He has been back in Utah for a good chunk of the summer.  The Bells are especially glad to have him home because his older brother has decided to spend his whole senior year back in Utah.  That was certainly a difficult decision for the Bells, especially if he decides to go on a mission soon after graduation.

Monday, August 10, 2020

26 July – 1 August 2020 Housing Miracle and Cancelled Blessing

Sunday, July 26th, hooray, its RaDene’s birthday!  There is no one I’d rather celebrate.  The trick is doing it by myself, when she is such a people person, and parties are verboten.  Well, that didn’t take long to get fixed.  The darling sisters in our neighborhood were knocking on our door at 7:30 a.m. and, er, we were still lounging in bed.  I think I embarrassed them to death when I answered in my bathrobe.  They blushed, backed away, and apologized all the way off the porch.  I pulled it together and made an omelet for breakfast, and off we went to Pagedale to sacrament meeting.  We went from church to the office so boarding passes could be printed for a few missionaries departing for home the next day, along with travel treats, copies of mission letters, and other instructions and papers to be assembled.  Blessedly, Patty and Paul Hintze invited us to dinner, our first in someone else’s house (besides the mission home) in many months.  They are such good people, and good cooks!  Patty had graciously given RaDene a gift earlier in the week and now blessed her with gooey cake, a St Louis tradition, and a berry pie from a local vendor that now goes on our repeat list.  Paul, in addition to being a area authority seventy, is a leading physician at Mercy Hospital.  His job presently is to discharge COVID patients when all CDC protocols and milestones are satisfied.  We learned a lot about the sickness.  Then as if on cue, at 9:30 p.m., four of the neighborhood elders dropped in with homemade cookies for Sis Hatfield.  Fortunately, we were not yet in our jammies.  But being aroused and practically put to bed by young missionaries on RaDene’s birthday was symbolic.  We love, and are loved by, these beautiful young people who have sacrificed all for the cause of the Lord.  She received scores of birthday wishes from the missionaries all day long on the MSLM Facebook page she administers.  The society I could not provide our mission family supplied in abundance. 

Monday, July 27th we wished farewell to two sisters who were headed home a few weeks early for school (at least that was the original plan; who knows if that will actually happen for them).  Each one of them takes a little piece of your heart with them as they go.  Then, more sadly, later that afternoon we saw a young elder leave very prematurely.  For some, the mission is just too much.  I certainly can empathize.  It is hard.  Then we buckled down to finalize tranfers for tomorrow for the five elders arriving that afternoon.  Originally, this group was supposed to be 10, but five have dropped out.  Some I know got cold feet, after serving and then being at home for months.  This is a very hard time to be a missionary.  I made a reservation at a Super 8 hotel in Washington—my option of last resort after the Missionary Department chains could not help us.  This is our first, but probably not our last hotel arrangement for a mission bursting at the seams with missionaries but still slated to receive 35 more in August.  Monday night was my housing coordinator nightmare:  Sister Liddle was moved to Springfield, Illinois and I had missed the late breaking news about it on the President’s transfer board.  So there she was, in a tri with no bed, and at 9 p.m. at night, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  Fortunately, the Springfield sisters had an air mattress.  That would just have to do until we could get there with a bed.  This is the first time in eight months I failed someone.  But I’ve learned, missionaries are resourceful and resilient.  Sis Liddle will be okay until we get there.

Tuesday, July 28th is transfer day.  We modify the usual plan a bit by setting up shop in the mission office parking lot.  We had thought we might actually conduct the transfers from the office itself, but Pres Bell wisely and carefully asked everyone to stay socially distant, outside, and masked up.  In some ways it is remarkable that we have managed to get hundreds of young people through the COVID months with only one companionship suspected of contracting the sickness (although never confirmed by test).  My job was to take Elder Hobert and Elder Bingham to Washington and check them into the Super 8 hotel.  I have only a few shaky leads on an apartment—Washington, Missouri has very few rental vacancies of any sort.  They followed me out with their mission assigned car (a rental, and a soccer mom minivan at that—even rental car companies are having a hard time getting new cars because of manufacturing shutdowns).  I took them to lunch and we checked in for 10 nights, and I asked that the cable be removed from the back of the TV.  The hotel obliged, sending their housekeeper to do the job.  At least they have a couple of big beds, a microwave, and a minifridge.  I encouraged them to get cozy with the mission leader in the ward, get keys to the building, and make a few meals in the church kitchen, and maybe study there a few hours a day to get out of the cramped hotel space.  I said a prayer with them and left, very motivated to find something for them as soon as possible.  Like Sister Liddle, yesterday, Elders Hobert and Bingham are well adjusted, confident, and have no unmet expectations.  They will be fine for a while.  This is certainly an expensive way to house missionaries, however.  I am amazed at the resources the Quorum of the Twelve are dedicating to the continuation and regrowth of missionary work.

Meanwhile, while I went West to Washington, I had sent the housing assistants east across the Mississippi to set up other bedrooms.  Now we rendezvoused in Farmington, Missouri, first to take down a tri where sisters beds had to be set up without room to pass between, and move that bed to the elders in a tri, also in Farmington.  We moved the furniture into the Elders’ apartment, when I needed to call Sis Hatfield about something back in the office.  In the course of the conversation with her, I felt to ask, “now, there is a Tri in Farmington, right?”  She agreed there was, and then said she would double check the board.  Ugh, we had forgotten to take into account the elder that had left unexpectedly.  The President had solved the departed missionary slot by removing the Farmington Tri.  So while we were right a few days ago, were weren’t right today.  So we quickly removed the extra furniture and made a bet on whether the elders, who had not been home while we had been there, would notice that some things had been moved around.  We decided against the surprise, and gave them a call to let them know. 

Wednesday, July 29th started with an intense effort of searching and calling for an apartment in Washington, Missouri, knowing full well that I had just put elders in a hotel room there.  I am pretty discouraged about the whole thing.  I announced to no one in particular in the office that it was time to pray more intently about the need.  After reaching that conclusion, I actually felt more at peace about the situation than I had in weeks, even though there was no observable reason to feel better.  I just let the Washington project go, and turned my attention to apartment applications for vacancies I had found in South St Louis (Oakville) and Lake St Louis (Missouri River).  Some of these big landlords’ have very complex application processes that don’t reflect the realities of the mission very well.  For example, criminal background checks, while understandable, are really hard when we don’t know who will be assigned to an area.  We recruited the assistants to the president to subject themselves to a background check in Oakville so we would have real live persons to complete the application checklist.  Each time I need to get a background check, it invariably requires some phone calls to parents to get help finding social security numbers and sometimes, driver’s license information.  It is easy to forget that these young missionaries are still in a transition from youth to adulthood, and a mission helps them on their way. 

We have information that the Church is going to try to help missionaries complete their endowments on a priority basis when temples reopen.  Sis Hatfield has worked with the temple secretary here to identify 12 missionaries that have not received there endowment.  It has been a very long time since the Church sent out missionaries without their endowment in any numbers.  It feels a little like the story of Joseph F. Smith being sent to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1850s when he was 15, and unendowed.  We had the Frontenac sisters over for dinner, first, because we haven’t had them over for a while, and second, we want to recruit them to water our flowers for the next five days while we go to Utah for Amelia Rose’s baby blessing.  They are such dedicated, strong, sweet young women (currently, Sis Huffaker and Sis Jarman).  Afterwards, we nervously begin to pack small travel bags.  It is hard to be ready to go, or even want to, at some level, with important work that so many are depending on us to do.  But on another level, we ache to see our families, even if briefly, and are so anxious to see our newest granddaughter. 

On Friday, July 30th, we awoke to a strange text message indicating that Elisa and the children are not feeling well.  We finish our morning preparations and head to the office.  Late in the morning, I receive an unexpected call from a leasing agent in Washington.  Yesterday, nothing was available.  Today, she called to say something has changed, and would I be interested in taking a look?  Would I ever!  Except, of course, I can’t.  I’m headed to Utah in a few hours.  I simply can’t make it out there and back.  It’s a good hour’s drive, one way.  I make an appointment to see it anyway.  Considering the alternatives, I wonder which elders might be up to the task of evaluating the situation.  That would be risky.  Then Sis Hatfield has the brilliant idea of sending the Evertons, who are on the case in minutes.  I give them a mental checklist of what I need and what I would like, and send them with my check to make a deposit if the vacant apartment passes muster.  They get to the appointment and call me.  I’m excited to help them decide to put down the deposit and bring back the application. 

But my excitement is suddenly stunted.  Elisabeth is not feeling well at all.  Some frantic calls are made to her parents in Arizona and us, and just that fast, the blessing is off for Sunday.  RaDene jumps on the phone with Delta, and although we are too late to rebook in normal circumstances, the kind agent helps us play the COVID card and gets us our full cost back.  But we are stunned.  The anticipation had been so high, and now, just like that, we aren’t going.  Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe the feelings.  Sis Hatfield and I have worked so hard to clear the decks, and suddenly, we don’t have anything to do or anywhere to go.  We drive 10 miles to a church parking lot to talk it out.  It turns out to be a rather interesting experience in people watching.  This particular church building, in the heart of Frontenac, is visited by missionaries, what looks to be a primary presidency, several sets of casual walkers, a police cruiser, and several others with unidentified purpose. 

After coming to grips with our feelings, we did what anyone would do:  we went for ice cream at Andy’s our favorite frozen custard.  I don’t really know what that means—its just great ice cream, owned by a member.  The gal that took our order saw my badge and asked if I wanted a box of mistakes.  She said that two other sets of missionaries had been by already today to get some.  I said no, I like mine fresh!  We finished off the evening doing some service by visiting some sisters that needed a smoke detector, priesthood blessings, and some good advice from an a wise, skilled Sister Hatfield.  These sisters have had some relationship problems, and RaDene helped them with some ideas and perspective.  She is such a blessing to so many missionaries.

On Friday, July 31st we had to set our priorities because we didn’t think we would be in town doing our assignments.  I had the luxury of spending found time on apartment applications.  And at lunch time, I persuaded RaDene to take the short drive to our apartment so we could have lunch together.  That was a first.  I can’t figure out why—it seems like we ought to taking a break for lunch together often!  Thinking about Spencer’s sick family, we thought about what we could do for them.  The best we could come up with is order pizza for them, which we did.  Having it on the brain, we got an itch for some good pizza ourselves.  We called our resident consultant, Elder Jacob, who recommended Dewey’s.  We ordered, and then went to pick it up to take home.  I’m not sure why, but our order was much too slow, so we were a little miffed.  But we got the pizza home and oh, my, it was good.  We have identified our favorite St Louis pizza.  I loved there veggie pizza, which is pretty much a singular experience. 

After dinner, we went back to the office, and believe it or not, we worked late, even though we were not scheduled to be there at all.  The project was to fill teaching supply orders for missionaries all over the mission.  This consists of finding the order, going down the list and pulling the books and pamphlets and pictures and cards and whatever off the shelves, and then boxing them up and labeling them.  The push was the Missionary Leadership Council being held tomorrow, where all the zone and sister training leaders from all over the mission will be together to train, counsel, and set goals.  It also is a convenient time for the leadership to take supplies and mail from the office out to their various zones around the mission.  So, we decided to get it done.

Which also determined our Saturday, August 1st.  Sister Bell loves to feed the missionaries and had planned a wonderful lunch for 50, but had not recruited any help.  Sister Hatfield realized this, and recruited the Evertons to go with us to the St Louis stake center to provide the bodies to make the lunch happen, as well as distribute the mail and supplies, which took the housing assistants to bring their trailer to get it all there.  Instead of laying sod with my son Spencer in Utah as I had planned, I helped cook, serve, and clean up, which took almost all day.  I honestly don’t know how Sister Bell had planned to pull this off without the office staff, but we were available, so we pitched in. 

It was late in the afternoon, but I had the idea of renting bikes and riding around Forest Park, the pride of St Louis, boasting about twice the acres of New York’s Central Park.  The problem was our service at MLC took so long, we couldn’t get bikes, take a ride, and get back before the shop was closed.  But we decided to go anyway and see what was possible.  We were discouraged when we found the shop, near the park, but found the customer line out the door and into the parking lot.  Timing didn’t seem like it would work at all.  But RaDene found the rental manager and arranged for us to get bikes and locks and we would leave them locked to the fence when we were done for the day.  The manager was very helpful, more than fair, and confident that the bikes would be safe until he got there on Sunday morning.  I was less confident, but finally was ready to take the risk—the bike ride was important to us.  We headed off on our bikes the mile to the park and off we went.  It was gloriously sunny, but only warm, not blazing hot, which was a miracle.  We circumnavigated the entire park, which is filled with community goods, like the zoo, museum, sports courts and fields, ponds, creeks, and seemingly endless groves of trees and lawns.  We got off our bikes and soaked in the landscapes from the World’s Fair Pavilion set on a stately hill at the center of the park.  We grabbed some bad Mexican food on the way back to the bike shop and then locked the bikes to the fence, as instructed, leaving the keys on the appointed ledge.  It felt sketchy, but we had no choice.  

We thought we would make up for the bad dinner with some good ice cream at a local shop we had found.  It was in a beautiful old neighborhood and looked charming, but the line was out the door and felt like we couldn’t wait.  So we left.  Our way back towards the freeway took us by the bike shop, and to our horror, the bikes were gone, and someone was crossing the lot with bikes that looked suspiciously like our rentals.  I whipped the car around and cut off the would be thieves, only to be greeted by the shop owner who had safely stowed our bikes and was on his way home on his own bike that was like the ones we had used.  All was well after all.  Still tasting the bad Mexican, our trip home took us very near to Andy’s, so yes, we made our second stop in as many days for our favorite frozen custard.  It didn’t make up for not meeting our new Amelia Rose, but it did satisfy some primal urge for cream and sugar. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

19 – 25 July 2020 What, In Person Zone Conferences?

We have recently received information that we can start having in-person missionary meetings of up to 50 people.  This means we can have zone conferences, if we limit to a single zone.  It may seem obvious that a zone conference is for a single zone, but since we have been here, they have generally been combined as 2 zones (to reduce travel and the number of meetings), or in the COVID Era, held by video mission-wide.  The news that we can meet by zone is very welcome.   The young missionaries, and frankly, the mature missionaries, hunger to see each other.  Here we go.

Sister Bell shares her love in part through food.  So she wants to provide a meal at zone conference.  And because there are nine zones, that means nine meals.  Logistically, we organized to have two zone conferences at a regional stake center each day, one running from morning until lunch, and the other beginning in the afternoon until dinner.  We would do this Monday through Thursday, and on Friday have a single morning conference.  On Saturday, we would have a mission-wide zoom conference for a few hours to finish things off. 

If that sounds a bit ambitious, well, it was.  I can hardly speak to the sacrifice that President and Sister Bell made planning themes, organizing young leaders, preparing and delivering messages, and for Sis Bell’s part, planning, buying, and baking food.  The office staff would deliver training messages, and have primary responsibility for meal set up, delivery, and cleanup.  The meals would be simple:  grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, or chicken, together with chips, fruit, dessert bars, and water.  Bless her heart, Sis Bell made the hamburger buns and her mission-famous peanut butter bars nearly every night or early morning, rather than buying them.  For my part, I have somehow garnered the reputation as a grill master, and so was in charge of having the protein ready twice a day for about 40 people.  We drove the mission home grill from stake center to stake center all week, along with coolers, and crates of water.  We made special shopping runs in towns around the mission for propane, ice, food and other needed supplies all week long.  RaDene put her many years of hosting skills to work marshalling the staff and missionaries to set up tables and deliver meals lunch-lady style, complete with masks and gloves.  It was simple fare, but much appreciated by those brave young missionaries doing their very best in the COVID Era. 

There were a few humorous sidelights.  We loaded the mission home grill onto the back of the mission pickup truck on Sunday to be ready for an early departure Monday morning.  Of course, it was raining like crazy at the appointed time to meet at the mission home to make final zone conference preparations and do the loading.  There was really no alternative but to work outside in a driving rain in our white shirts and ties in the dark to load the grill, tanks, tools, coolers, and other supplies and strap them down for travel.  The assistants hesitated until I led the charge, showing them that no one melts working in the dark, in the rain.  Everyone was soaked and had to towel off in the laundry room when we were done.  My leather shoes couldn’t be worn again for several days while they dried. 

The first day of conferences were in Lake St Louis on a predictably hot and clear day following the severe storm of the night before.  As we scoped out the place to serve lunch that morning, I found a shady spot for the grill under the portico.  As it would happen, the first meal was a hamburger lunch, which, with all the fat and grease, was an especially smoky grill session.  I’m not sure I got the smoke smell out of my hair all week.  Part way through my grilling, RaDene stuck her head in the chapel where the President’s training and motivating was going on—she could hardly see from the back of the chapel to the podium because of the haze.  My grilling spot turned out to be right under the fresh air intake of the HVAC system that was pumping smoke into the chapel furiously on this sweltering day.  Before we figured out what the problem was, the damage was done:  the smoke was in the system and would circulate most of the rest of the day.  It was a miracle we didn’t see the fire department that day.

And there were a few not so humorous happenings.  The scariest was on Monday, July 20th, when we got the news that there had been an accident in the Champaign Zone.  Elder Scheurman had been helping with a service project that involved pulling out a tree with a cable and a come-along (hand cranked winch).  Something went wrong, and the cable and hook, under tension, had recoiled and hit Elder Scheurman in the crown of his head.  He was taken to the Emergency Room and that was all we knew of a while.  We were all very concerned, perhaps me as much as anyone, having served closely with this fine young man.  He ended up with a concussion and stiches, and slowed cognition for a time.  But he is recovering.  It could have so easily been a tragedy.  We feel blessed that he survived with relatively minor injuries.  When I actually saw him three days later, I could not help but weep with gratitude.

I’ve said little about the substance of our presentations at the zone conferences, which we repeated nine times.  We carefully orchestrate topics and allocate time, but almost inevitably, we are running behind somewhere.  Poor Sister Hatfield bats cleanup in the staff presentations section and must flex to what little time we have left.  But I am so proud of the help that she is to these young missionaries.  Honestly, modern missionary work leans very hard on technology, and in this period of transition, it isn’t working smoothly, if at all.  RaDene is the lifeline for the missionaries to get some help.  She is more effective as the tier one help desk of the Missionary Department, and gets down to business with the tier two managers.  She has a working relationship with the MD’s software system architects.  Her training is vital to keep the missionaries working.  Although called as the Mission Secretary, I estimate she spends 70 percent of her time as the Mission technology specialist. 

Also on Monday, while back at the office working our day jobs during the night, RaDene started seeing some messages of incoming missionaries.  It was late already, so we were excited to see what was happening.  Overnight, we had received notice of 32 additional missionaries coming late in August.  These missionaries are a mixture of people originally assigned to the MSLM, and others originally assigned to foreign missions who have finished their MTC virtual training and need to go somewhere.  That somewhere is here!  We have no idea how long these missionaries will be with us—perhaps briefly, or perhaps for their entire missions.  I suppose the Missionary Department doesn’t know either.  It must have a lot to do with how soon foreign missions open back up to US missionaries.

The evenings this week were full of efforts to line up apartments and our first hotel for the missionaries coming next week.  This is stressful.  Having missionaries come with potentially no place to stay is not a successful result for a housing coordinator.  And the Missionary Department’s suggestions on hotels from chains it has negotiated with hasn’t worked.  One after another, they have been unable to get me rooms where I need them.  Meanwhile, it is impossible to get additional apartments on short notice.  Finding vacancies, sorting through acceptable properties, getting applications accepted, and more is a cumbersome, slow process in a tight housing market (which seems to be true virtually everywhere—the 2009 housing recession has had persistent, pernicious effects).

On Friday, July 24th, we finished our last in person zone conference.  Good as they are, I am not interested in a Costco hotdog for a very long time.  I don’t know how we had the energy, but we went to dinner that evening with the Bells, the Evertons, and the Jacobs at the Jacobs’ favorite Italian restaurant.  The food was superb, but the evening was a bit of a blur.

On Saturday, July 25th, RaDene and I juggled two virtual conferences:  she covered the last session of the mission-wide “zone” conferences, and I covered the JustServe area training.  Ordinarily we would have excused ourselves from the latter, but we knew there would be discussion about Elder Morgan, a General Authority Seventy’s visit to the mission/coordinating council, including a JustServe project our mission would help host.  After the morning’s conferences were complete, we headed into the office to do transfer planning for next week, knowing that some missionaries would be on their way to us on Monday, and I did more online apartment and hotel hunting. 

Late in the afternoon, I persuaded RaDene to travel with me to O’Fallon, Illinois to perform a landlord required apartment inspection with the app the missionaries can’t have on their phones.  While there, we helped them change air filters, gave them instructions on fixing their stove, and helped put in a repair order for a couple of small leaks.  Mostly, Sis Hatfield bonded with the four young Elders in her charismatic way, and I left them with a prayer.  On the way home, we found the Dairy Barn in a small forgotten Illinois town, where we stopped for orange twist ice cream.  Believe me, we were the only couple in the parking lot with skirts and ties, or a German engineered car.  I can’t eat orange and vanilla ice cream without remembering my Grandpa Reed.  I have fond memories of holding his hand as a small boy walking through the BYU education building where he had an office, and stopping at the vending machine for an orange cream cycle.  Afterward our treat and a trip back to St Louis, we worked in the office until 10:30 pm getting ready for next week’s transfers, which for some reason, seem tricky this time.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

12 – 18 July 2020 O’Fallons Everywhere

Sunday, July 12th was marked by a farewell dinner for Elder Isaac John.  He had been fretting for days that he might be transferred, but we have a pretty strict non-disclosure policy until transfers happen.  Sister Hatfield knew it was under consideration a week ago, but by now it was fairly certain.  (Although we have learned from experience that until it happens, we never know for sure.  Sometimes the Spirit moves late in the process.)  Elder John would ask questions about a possible transfer for himand I would give lawyerly non-answers.  If he was listening, he would learn more from Sis Hatfield, who is a very unpracticed fibber.  So even at dinner this Sunday night, we did not talk about transfers much, and certainly not his. 

July 13th started at 7 a.m. for me and the housing assistants.  We had to set up for 20 incoming missionaries, which of course translates into 40 missionaries.  First we needed to get to Springfield to set up another bedroom in the members’ cottage.  I had called on Friday to get permission, which was graciously extended.  But the second bedroom in the cottage had the members’ queen size bed in it, which had to be dismantled and moved to the basement for storage.  Next we headed for Champaign to set up a second bedroom for the sisters’ apartment.  Most of the sisters seem to be taking the extra company with much good humor.  I get the feeling that they generally like the extra company.  Then we went in the same complex to the Champaign elders’ apartment and set up a second bedroom.  We also delivered bikes which Elder Everton asked us to transport.  We don’t have enough cars to go around at this point, or even share meaningfully, except by special arrangement.  Then we went to Mahomet to set up a second bedroom (we had taken down a tri just the week before) and delivered a replacement washer and installed it.  I have been to Mahomet too many times for dryer problems.  In each of these apartments, we also delivered extra chairs, lights, bedding, and other items to make things more or less functional.  But we are certainly short on desks and dressers, partly because there is not much stock of these items in stores or online right now, and partly because we don’t want to overspend on furniture that could have a short use for us if foreign reassignments start taking some of these missionaries away.  Tomorrow will be an equally long day, except we have a deadline for picking up missionary luggage in the afternoon, so we need to start even earlier.  So, we went to the storage unit that night and loaded up.

Tuesday, July 14th started with a 6 a.m. road trip to Perche Creek in the Columbia zone, a good 2.5 hours to the west.  We waited until 7:30 to tell the sisters we would be there by 8:30.  Well, I had told them yesterday we were coming but that the timing was still being planned.  After setting up the Perche second bedroom, we went to the Highlands apartment, not far away in Columbia and delivered some mail, a phone, and looked at some maintenance items on my list.  By then, it seemed like breakfast time, but I couldn’t persuade Elder John to stop for an Egg McMuffin.  He is so intent on looking like Hercules, that the only fast food he will eat is Subway.  Instead, we got gas and he bought an energy drink, a beef stick, and a huge energy/protein bar.  Why is that better than an Egg McMuffin?  Regardless, it is surely true that elders (I don’t know as much about sister attitudes) have a heightened focus on strength and weight during their last few months before going home.  I suppose there are families and girls to impress. 

Then we were off to Farmington North to set up a tri in the brand new apartment.  Once we were set up, the beds were shoulder to shoulder.  The sisters will be sleeping as if in one bed, which also doesn’t seem to bother them.  In fact, I’ve been in more than one sister apartment where they have pushed the beds together in the room anyway.  We raced back to St Louis and with 20 minutes to spare, we stopped at Subway at 2:30 pm for a sandwich.  Back at their apartment, the elders changed into their obligatory suits, and Sis Hatfield came and picked me up out front so the housing assistants wouldn’t be late for the first flight’s luggage pickup at the airport.

Once at the office, I scurried off to the locksmith to cut more key duplicates and make other transfer day preparations, including the lists of items for the young elders to pick up at the office and at the storage unit for set up and distribution at the church where we conduct the transfers.  Then, Elder John called and asked it I would make the late airport luggage run with his regular companion so he could work on packing.  I’ve been working the young elders so long and hard that they have had no preparation day to get packed and ready for transfers.  My contribution towards rectifying that was going to the airport.  I wasn’t dressed in a suit, but I looked just fine to take the incoming group’s picture. 

Wednesday, July 15th was transfer day.  Because COVID protections are now allowing less than 50 group gatherings, President Bell has decided we should do some new missionary and their trainers training before the transfers.  We haven’t done this in months.  It means that we need to have transfers physically set up—tables, chairs, signs, etc—before the training meetings.  Fortunately, the housing assistants have been through the drill many times by now, so we can lean on them while the senior missionary staff trains in the Relief Society room.  It was good to meet the new missionaries in more than a hi and goodbye type greeting, which is most of what we have been doing for months now.  Elder John got to meet his new companion and received his new assignment to work with single adults.  He will be great.  We took our parting “companionship” picture, and then went to lunch with Sis Hatfield and the assistants.  Then, we were off to set up some more bedrooms! 

First, we went to Belleville, Illinois first, where the sisters were more than a little put out by the prospects of sharing an apartment among the 4 of them.  But we helped them get rid of some junky furniture in the living room and told them we would get another set of desks, and in the end, they seemed okay with things.  It is clear that I have set the expectations of the brand new incoming missionaries pretty well, but the long time MSLM missionaries aren’t quite understanding that we all need to be patient and make some accommodations that we haven’t had to before as we cozy up in the high missionary environment of COVID transferees.  Interestingly, in the process of discarding some gawdy lights, end tables, and broken easy chairs in the community dumpster, we had the chance to meet a poor woman that was interested in most of what the missionaries didn’t want or need any more.  It was a lesson to all of us that although the missionaries live a “vow of poverty,” in a manner of speaking, there are still plenty of folks around us that are worse off.  We were honored to give a blessing to one of the sisters that had injured her knee on a run just before getting a flight out to St Louis from home.  She is brave, and I have no doubt she will overcome.

Next we went to the sisters in Parkway 1st, and set up another bedroom, then back to our own neighborhood to provide a few things to elders in San Carlos, Maryland Heights West, and finally, set up a bedroom for Elder John and his new companion in the new Frontenac West area, with a special assignment to work with middle aged single adults.  He will be a blessing to the ward and the MSAs.

Thursday, July 16th took me to O’Fallon, twice, and in different states.  First to O’Fallon, Missouri, where I needed to find an apartment for the Missouri River North elders who where living in Troy, well out of their area.  I’ve been slow in getting this done, at least partly because it is difficult to find places in our general housing shortage in desirable areas like the suburbs west of St Louis.  But I had come up with a set of places to check out and today I set aside some time to go look.  Its an area about 20 minutes west of the office in some pretty rolling green hills.  The neighborhoods are relatively new and affluent.  I’ve talked to the elders and they haven’t actually spent too much time in their area because of COVID restrictions.  I worry that the people there will feel self sufficient, and have no need for a savior.  Still, the population is probably family oriented, with lots of soccer fields, playgrounds, and parks. 

After circumnavigating the area, I settled on a quite complex on the east edge of area, sometimes called Dardenne Prairie.  It won’t be great for walking to appointments, but things are spread out enough here that I’m not sure that is a virtue to be had.  I called and sure enough, they have some vacancies.  It is a bit pricey compared to mission averages, but again, I don’t think there are alternatives here.  I started the application process, which is a mixture of starting accounts on line and requesting papers on the phone.  It seems like the path to renting is pretty straight forward for a person, but much more complicated for the Church.  Corporate rentals are pretty rare so leasing machinery isn’t set up to accommodate.  And it is made even harder by the Church having zero credit history because it doesn’t borrow money.  Also, the usual method of paying is by credit card over an internet account, or secondarily, by giving the landlord your bank account information to make automatic withdrawals each month.  The Church doesn’t allow this.   And because our occupancy is transient, it is hard to get required background checks—we don’t necessarily know who will be living at a given location until assignments are made at transfers, and that happens several times a month these days.  The good news is that most decent complexes are checking backgrounds these days, so it gives a little more confidence that the missionaries’ neighbors won’t be criminals.  (This doesn’t happen everywhere!)

The second O’Fallon for the day was in Illinois.  We were just getting to the point of packing out of the office for the evening when we got a phone call.  The Shilo East sister training leaders had lost their apartment key in a cornfield while taking pictures.  Luckily, they hadn’t lost their phone or car key.  After thinking about it for a minute, there didn’t seem to be any good alternatives that night other than to leave Sis Hatfield in the office and jump in the car and head for a rendezvous 40 miles east in O’Fallon, IL.  We planned to meet at the Walmart where we could get an key made.  So I grabbed my office duplicate and went.  The plan seemed slick until we found that the key machine in Walmart was out of order.  I gave the sisters my spare, and while they had me and my credit card, they prevailed upon me to purchase a few items for them, like desk chairs.  At less than $50, a Walmart desk chair is not super great, but beats a hard folding chair. 

On Friday, July 17, Sis Hatfield accompanied me back out of the office to O’Fallon, Illinois.  First we would complete a virtual inspection of the O’Fallon YSA apartment, where the landlord thought they were doing everyone a favor by requiring use of a phone app to answer maintenance questions, report problems, and provide some pictures of the apartment condition for the landlord.  Naturally, the app is not compatible with a software controlled missionary phone, so I had to do it myself.  And if that weren’t inconvenient enough, the app doesn’t work if you have multiple units under the same management.  Of course we do!  So it took some effort to figure out why the app wasn’t working and get help uninstalling and reinstalling for a single unit at a time.  Ugh—technology.  It turns out it was good to have paid the visit.  The elders needed my help finding and changing the furnace filter and reporting some relatively minor water leaks.  Sister Hatfield looked at the stove and saw only a single burner.  On investigation, the problem was relatively simple.  They had elements that worked in the cupboard, but only one burner drip pan.  We explained how that problem was easily solved, had a good morale building discussion, and left them with a prayer. 

Then we met back up with the Shilo East sisters who by now had found a place to get duplicate apartment keys made so I could return the spare to the office.  Later that night, President Bell called.  He had spoken with the in field representative of the missionary department who advised that we move towards eliminating double companionships in an apartment so as to more fully follow the scriptural counsel to send the missionaries out “two by two.”  Four together in an apartment, the counsel went, leads to companionship problems of various kinds.  This is contrary to earlier missionary department directives, but we will follow as best we can, although change in housing is a slow process.