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.