Monday, September 28, 2020

20-26 September 2020 Who Owns the Church, Anyway?

Sunday, September 20th started for us with Primary for Abbi and Ezra.  The subject was Christ’s appearance in Bountiful.  The Sermon on the Mount and as Bishop John Welch calls it, the Sermon at the Temple, is so rich with values, doctrine, and miracles to teach.  It is almost a manual for what parents should teach their children to become.  Elder Brady, a recent arrival in the Pagedale teaching area, gave a beautiful, sincere, and hope filled talk on faith.  Even as a missionary, Elder Brady authentically shared how he did not know all, but his faith and hope is helping him progress in his personal journey, and help others that are pure in their desires to learn the Gospel. 

After church, we went to see our old friend Annie Stewart and met her great (or is it great-great?) granddaughter Harmony, who is 11.  At first, Harmony was a little standoffish, what with these two strangers coming into her grandmother’s home.  But Sis Hatfield showed a video first to Annie, and then cued up a beautiful children’s video on Who Is Christ and asked Harmony if she would like to watch it.  She was very interested in what she saw, and after that, joined our discussions about Christ and even decided she wanted to participate in our little sacrament service.  If missionary work is done in small steps, we have taken a couple today. 

That afternoon, Sis Hatfield made a batch of St Louis gooey butter cake.  Rather than eat it all, we delivered some to the Bells, who were having a farewell dinner with Elder Daughtery.  He is leaving a few weeks early to get back to Idaho for the potato harvest.  Then we took a plate to the housing assistants, instead meeting their apartment mates because the HAs were teaching a lesson.  We were able to make the Frontenac elders feel like we were delivering the treat to them, too, which we were happy to do. 

We went back to the office because Sis Hatfield needed to print a boarding pass and gather a few other departure papers for Elder Daughtery.  My job was to put the ever important travel treats in a plastic sack.  We would take these materials back to Pres Bell and Elder Daughtery at the Mission Home.  To Sis Hatfield’s surprise, she could not find the reservation to print the boarding pass.  Oh well, she thought, Pres Bell would get him checked in at the counter in the morning, which sometimes is easier anyway for a travel party of one or two.  But somehow, Sis Hatfield could not let it go.  She called the church’s emergency after hours travel number, which seemed extreme, but she felt to do so.  The travel agent could not find the reservation either.  After a few minutes of hold time, she came back and told us that United Airlines had changed Elder Daugherty’s flight.  Instead of departing at 8 in the morning, his flight was now at 6 am.  It was a small miracle that RaDene had felt to press the point, or Elder Daughtery would have missed his flight entirely and maybe not gotten home as planned.  Sis Hatfield called his father who was friendly, excited for the early arrival of his son, and happy to make a last minute connection between Elder Daughtery and Elder Stevens, who it turned out had been high school opponents in the Idaho state basketball tournament, without realizing it until this very night.  The only person that wasn’t happy was Pres Bell, who now had to get up at 4 am to get Elder Daughtery to the airport on time!

On Monday, September 21st I had to fill out a corporate apartment lease like no other I had been asked to complete before.  I needed the Church’s Dunn & Bradstreet number, incorporation information, ownership, and other details no one had every cared about before, in my experience.  I felt like a lawyer again, doing legal research on my own Church.  Did you know that the Church is owned by a single stockholder, Russell M. Nelson.  Its called a “corporation sole,” a little used corporate structure authorized by a few states primarily for purposes of charitable organizations.  When Pres Nelson departs mortality, the next president of the Church will become its sole owner.  Then I was off to the bank to get another cashier’s check to go with the corporate application.  I’ve gotten more cashier’s checks in the that last two months than in my whole life before now.  Its actually not too hard to do, provided you have an account with sufficient funds that the bank can withdraw.  All that together, I went to St Peters, MO to submit my application to lease.  I hope it is accepted.  At least they had a corporate application form, so they seem to have a process to follow.  So many apartment owners and managers are completely confused by the idea of renting to the Church.  On my way back, I stopped at the long term stay hotel in St Charles to confirm when we expect our two sets of elders there to finally check out, make appropriate payments, and get statements.  It has been surprisingly challenging to get hotel statements that match credit card statements.  I’m not sure why.  After a career of staying in hotels and matching hotel folios with credit card statements, it is a bit of a mystery.  It must have something to do with not always being there to check in, check out, working through internet booking sites sometimes and directly with hotels other times, and who knows what other variables. 

On my way back to the office, I see that an email has come through with a new apartment lease.  It is the same manager that on Friday told me that they were not ready for our Saturday move in as planned.  That was frustrating, what with all the last minute arrangements that had to be made.  When I open the lease, I see they have listed the wrong apartment.  I call the manager to say there has been an error, and she tells me that the apartment we have been planning to occupy isn’t available.  Why didn’t they tell me that last week?  So I take a look at what they are offering as the alternative, see that it is just fine, sign the lease, and we move Elder Scheurman and Elder McNeil, the newly assigned traveling technology trainers for the mission, out of their hotel and into the apartment.  They will be busy.  If there is anything the missionaries need training on, its use of technology for proselyting.  We are definitely building a bridge between the way missionary work was done in the past and the way it will be done in the future.

While I’m working on the moving project, Sis Hatfield drove to Belleville, Illinois to visit the three sisters serving there.  One will be heading home to Samoa next transfer.  She has been showing a stiff upper lip, and a friendly hello, but Sis Hatfield has sensed that she needed some help.  And she did.  The stress of finishing strong, the worry of whether she has done enough, the confusion of potential quarantine in Hawaii before going on to Samoa, and the crazy long flight home have weakened her spirit.  But Sis Hatfield gave her and her companions an evening of motherly attention, and they later sent me a sweet note thanking me for “sharing” Sis Hatfield with them that day.  RaDene certainly has spiritual ears tuned to the welfare of others.

Tuesday, the 22nd was one of those two steps backwards days.  At least it didn’t feel like progress.  I got a call from a manager 30 minutes away in St Peters, where I’m trying to get an apartment for some elders in a hotel, telling me that every blank on their application needed to say something, even if it was “N/A.”  That’s pretty ridiculous, but I need the application to be viewed in its best light, so I went out there and wrote N/A on any blank lines.  It’s more than silly:  they have much more information than they need to decide if they want the Church as a tenant.  Later, I went to the Hazelwood South apartment, where the elders had told me that leaking from the upstairs apartment was flooding their bathroom and kitchen.  Actually, the flooding wasn’t that bad, but the moisture has obviously been inside the walls and floor for some time.  The sheet rock is coming apart and hanging in the mechanical room next to the bathroom, and the kitchen cabinet made of particle board is swollen and cracked.  I took pictures and sent a message to the landlord documenting the situation.  I will need to come back when we feel more certain that the leak is stopped. 

On Wednesday, September 23rd the weather has a nice fall coolness.  I recruited the housing assistants to help me with a project I have been wanting to do ever since I arrived here:  clean out the mission housing storage shed.  It has been filled with so much stuff over who knows how long that it is impossible to know just what is in there and even if you do, nearly impossible to get it out, to say nothing of trying to store something we might actually need.  The problem is that we have been moving so quickly we haven’t had the luxury of a few hours to work on the project.  Equally damming of the effort, the winter temperatures and humidity are frightfully cold in there, and the summer is like a sauna without a bathing suit and towel.  Today is quite nice, and I have a little time.  So we jump in pulling out boxes, crates, and broken appliances, equipment, who knows what of all kinds.  There are more teacup plates than will fit in two big boxes.  There are a dozen broken lamps.  The piles of rusted and lidless pots is spectacular.  You get the picture.  The Goodwill doesn’t even want this stuff.  So we load it in the truck.  We also load some serious cleaning supplies, and we head to Hazelwood South where we take out the washing machine to access the mechanical closet and pull out hanging, moldy sheet rock, ancient rags, and parts from previous repairs, and scrape, sweep, and spray with bleach.  I take more pictures to send to the landlord so they know the damage to the sheet rock, insulation, studs, and joists.  Hopefully, they will take some action.  They can’t say they didn’t know.  Meanwhile, our cleaning and mopping will make it much more livable for the elders.

Friday, September 25th is part two of zone conference for this transfer.  Part two because the President feels like two shorter sessions a couple of weeks apart does more to keep the motivation up than one long day.  The conference this time is virtual, meaning we will shuffle in and out of the President’s office to appear on camera before the missionaries.  It’s the entire mission, so to call it zone conference is not really right, except that it keeps us on a calendar that in the future will relate to smaller, in person zone conferences when meeting restrictions abate. Relatedly, I’ve been hunting down county by county COVID restrictions for all nine stake centers in our mission.  Sister Hatfield is helping me devise a scheme to group some zones at stake centers with the least restrictive meeting regulations so that next transfer we can have some in person meetings with the missionaries, albeit masked and maintaining social distance.  Everything is harder in COVID. 

Strangely, we are just about to go into our zone conference presentations, when we are alerted by Salt Lake that our phones are down and it is uncertain when they will operate again.  Sis Hatfield has all the mission office phone calls forwarded to her cell phone, and then spends hours with communication technicians figuring out that our mission phones are obsolete, unsupported, and won’t ever work again.  It’s a good thing we all have personal cell phones as backups.  It sounds as if the Church will supply newer, supportable phones to us, but how long that will take is anyone’s guess.  Did this really need to happen right now?  After zone conference is over at about 12:30, we take a short break and start a marathon staff meeting that goes until 4 pm.  At least the office phones are not ringing to interrupt us. 

On Saturday, September 26th we have our monthly JustServe video training conducted by the North America Central Area JustServe specialists, the Searings.  They have had our very positions as mission JustServe specialists before taking on the role for the NAC Area so they are good at holding meetings helpful to us and missions, as well as the primary drivers who serve in the stakes.  The Church is sponsoring a JustServe campaign this fall called Real Lives. Real Change., which gives more visibility through social media of the usefulness of service and volunteerism to our communities.  The missionaries ought to be good at spreading the news on Facebook about the JustServe work they and others do for the good of many.

Afterwards, I meet the housing assistants and we load a trailer full of furniture to open a new apartment in O’Fallon, Missouri.  First I meet the leasing office and sign the lease—in person.  It has been months since I did that.  Thankfully, this apartment has easily been the shortest distance between identifying a potential to executing a lease and moving in that I have experienced, taking only about 10 days.  I’m grateful for that, because after multiple false starts, we needed to get the elders moved out of the hotel and into a place they could live in closer to their teaching area.  Naturally, we are well short of lots of furniture, and dressers seem to be in especially short supply for some reason.  For the O’Fallon elders we have accepted a donation of a very heavy entertainment center, taken out all the wiring, retrofitted some shelves, and made it do.  It will stay there for a while, even after dressers become available again, because it is too heavy to move back down the stairs without extraordinary cause.

We have a nice young couple in our Pagedale Branch that is expecting their first child.  She has had many miscarriages, so we haven’t seen them around a lot while she tries to stay COVID healthy.  RaDene has been supportive, and she has decided to make a baby quilt for them.  Sis Hatfield has a talent for designing and sewing quilt pieces.  And somehow, with everything else going on around here, RaDene made a beautiful quilt this summer for our granddaughter.  So, thinking she can do it again, for our Saturday evening end to our preparation day, we go quilt fabric shopping.  Also of note, we ate out at a Mediterranean restaurant on their patio.  A small sign of either normalcy, or just being tired of social isolation.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

13-19 September 2020 Husseys Back to Church


Sunday, September 13th was a mixed blessing.  Finally, the Husseys had the chance to return to church services.  It has been too long since little Kennedy has been to church to continue developing that good habit.  That is of course, what we want.  The downside is that she and her almost one year old brother Ben are no longer available for video Primary on Sunday mornings with us and their cousins in Utah.  We’ll try to keep it up, but at separate times.  It’s a fun way to connect with these precious young grandchildren as best we can, and supplement their parents’ good home teaching.  After our Sacrament service in the Pagedale Branch we did our ministering to our widow friends and then came home.  Our project for the afternoon was to blitz through our last 15 years of pictures on our phones.  The goal was to find some photos to contribute to a memory book niece Janie is helping put together for Dad’s 90th birthday in a few weeks.  That is another subject.  What I was reminded of in looking through my hundreds of pictures, automatically cataloged by date and place, was what a wonderful, rich life I have had.  We have been surrounded by family and friends, and visited interesting places all over this world.  Its clear that the blessings of heaven extend from spiritual to temporal, from relational to geographic, and much more.  Thanks be to God for a wonderful life—and magical technology to remind me of it.

On Monday, September 14th I received word that my application for an apartment in O’Fallon, Missouri was accepted, I made two local hotel reservations for companionships to be assigned in newly formed areas where there is no chance to get new apartments by transfers on Wednesday, and more good news, a complex we use here in Creve Coeur will have an apartment available for us to lease on Saturday.  These are small but important victories in the battle for the souls of good men and women.  The missionaries actually get excited when I tell them I will need to put them up in a hotel while I look for an apartment, but the novelty soon wears off when they figure out the inconvenience  of eating with only a microwave and minifridge and a very limited budget.  We try to give them a bit more financial help, but not much.

Tuesday, September 15th included the happy chore of buying vacuums.  I know, that sounds odd, but we have a lot of vacuums, and constantly need to get more and repair the ones we have.  The happy part is the small vacuum store off of Lindberg Avenue where the proprietor is helpful, accommodating, and knows me by name.  He must be one of the foremost authorities on what makes a good vacuum, and which brands and models to pick, and which to steer away from.  He has a great sense of humor, and sorts through his box truck, attic, and back room full of trade-ins helping find what we need.  No doubt, we are one of his very best customers, with his vacuums spread over most of two states, but it wouldn’t matter.  I’ve seen him enough to know that he treats all of his customers with care and concern.  He would make a great bishop—I wonder if he’ll ever get there.  If only I could find someone like this to bring my broken washers and dryers. 

Later, I checked into the hotels I reserved yesterday so that tomorrow the elders could go without me accompanying them.  I sent the housing assistants to set up more beds for TRIs, retrieve furniture from a generous member in Jefferson City, and get to the airport on time to pick up luggage for arriving missionaries.  I stayed back to check and double check transfer plans with Sis Hatfield, who is meanwhile preparing for the communications and technical support the incoming missionaries and their trainers will need starting tomorrow.  Our work is quite a contrast:  she is in the new world of virtual tools, while I’m literally in the old fashioned bricks and mortar world.  Nowadays, we need both. So for example, when we got home tonight, Sis Hatfield spent her late evening talking missionaries through phone glitches, while I ran bedding through the laundry. 

Wednesday, September 16th was transfer day.  Sis Hatfield tells me that this is number 17, but I’ve long ago lost count.  Eight elders arrived last night, and one sister who came back to the MSLM after having been sent home for health precaution reasons at the beginning of COVID.  I went to the Frontenac building to do physical setup for the transfers while Sis Hatfield made a quick trip to the office to get some needed lists.  Then we conducted a new missionary orientation, which gets the missionaries acquainted with handbooks that the office staff , and especially Pres Bell and Sis Hatfield, have compiled.  It is a place the missionaries can go for a lot of the nuts and bolts of life as a missionary.  Elder Riley Schuerman, one of my former housing assistants is coming back from being a zone leader in the Champaign stake to be a Traveling Technology Trainer for the mission.  Technology is the prime tool for teaching, but some missionaries are not as adept with their phones, Facebook, and church approved applications as they need to be.  But some are very skilled, including Elder Schuerman, so he is being brought in to spread the skill.  This is a new position Pres Bell has designed and we have high hopes for its ability to raise our trajectory of success.

After everyone departs Frontenac, and I treat the housing assistants to hamburgers, we make some post-transfer arrangements in Shilo East, Fairview, and St Louis Hills.  Sis Hatfield hustles back to the office to meet missionaries in need of phones, Books of Mormon in Swahili, or whatever inevitable needs they have after coming to town and moving areas.  Later, while the housing assistants take a smoke alarm and a few accessories to Missouri River North, I meet the Pagedale elders at the home of Asfari (Dee) Marche.  She has agreed to give the mission some tables.  I hope we didn’t overwhelm her with me plus four other elders.  Pagedale now has a second pair of elders, and they are in a hotel, so the existing companionship is helping them meet members and investigators.  But turns out we needed all of us.  Sis Marche has a lifetime of possessions in her basement, stacked wall to wall, and floor to ceiling.  To get to the tables, the elders are moving a lot of stuff around.  We are forced to leave a couple of prizes because we can’t get to them.  We offer to return and help Sis Marche any way we can as she takes on the task of sorting through the valuable from that which needs to go. 

On Thursday, September 17th I spend part of the morning doing paper, telephone, and computer work, and then I need to get out and see some bodies.  Apartment leasing agents and managers are not always responsive electronically.  It isn’t necessarily easy to see them face to face, either, because offices are often closed for COVID concerns.  But I figure I must try.  It has been too long since I have heard about my applications for the Pagedale and St Peters apartments.  I want to see if I can break the log jam.  I know that the problem probably has to do with the mission’s square corporate lessee peg trying to fit into the apartments’ round individual person lessee hole.  I can at least show them that I am a real person.  I am told in Pagedale that they are still trying to get higher up direction as to how to handle our application.  They promise a response by week’s end.  In St Peters, I have more success, and actually pay $250 in application fees for a unit that will be available in early October.  Then I head off to O’Fallon, Missouri to take a look at an apartment that has accepted my application and, shamefully, which I have never seen. I can’t seem to get everything done I would wish too, especially when so many things are not going smoothly and take more time than they should.  Maybe it has to do with trying to secure six apartments simultaneously all over the mission.  Thankfully, the apartments in O’Fallon look good and safe.  Frustratingly, the St Peters manager calls me just hours after I have paid $250 and tell me that the unit I have been applying for is actually not available until the end of October.  That is a Halloween trick for sure.  Now I need to figure out how to get my “nonrefundable” application fee back.  It sure seems like I ought to get it back when they have baited and switched, now doesn’t it.  I drive all over the area looking for alternatives and go back to the office and do more web searches.  I am frustrated by the lack of success, either way. 

But I am cheered up by the O’Fallon, Illinois sister training leaders that stop by our apartment to pick up air mattresses and blankets.  They have some new sister missionaries getting endowments today that the STLs have been shepherding to and from sessions of the temple.  I happen to be cooking dinner, and RaDene and I look at each other, and invite them to stay and share a meal with us.  I’ve cooked for two, but we will feed five with it.  I laugh that I have overchopped vegetables to work out my frustrations, and its easy enough to cook some more corn.  And Sis Hatfield sets the table in a snap, and afterwards, finds our favorite candy for dessert.  Soon, no one is hungry.  Visiting with Sis Pettingale, Sis Singleton, and Sis Slater was just the medicine I needed.  We talked and laughed, shared stories about what it is like to go to the temple for the first time, and tough mission experiences we are all going through right now.  In the end, it refocused me on my service to the missionaries, and off the frustrations of it all.

On Friday, September 18th I recruit Elder Merrill to research apartments on the computer in St Peters, figuring that a fresh set of eyes can’t hurt.  What do you know.  Not knowing where the teaching boundaries are, he finds a promising lead across the freeway from the teaching area, but still in the ward.  That could work.  Why hadn’t I tried that?  It’s because I was handcuffed by my knowledge and couldn’t think outside my teaching area box. 

We would investigate the St Peter’s lead later.  First, I have gotten a call from the Edwardsville elders.  They have locked themselves out of their apartment.  To their credit, they have tried the manager, but he has said it will cost $75 for his help.  So, we open our office spare key box, and off we go to open it ourselves.  It will take us over an hour, but we need to be out anyway to buy apartment furnishings for our move in tomorrow.  Then we go to St Peters and I am liking what I see.  And the manager seems to know just what to do in the case of a corporate lessee.  She has a sheaf of standard corporate application forms, which is unusual, but welcome, actually.  If they have a process, I believe I can navigate through it.  On the way back to the office, the Creve Coeur manager we are moving into tomorrow calls and says they have decided they need to change the carpet in the unit and it won’t be available until Monday.  I feel frustrated, but would rather have the missionaries in a place with decent carpet.  It means I need to react to the delay however, including making an extension to the hotel stay.  Because I have bought the room online, the hotel can’t help me, and I need to buy more days online again, and then call the hotel back and make sure they see the extended booking and not require a checkout and check back in.  RaDene is in the office preparing the weekly baptism report for the stake presidents in the mission.  She has so many reports and projects that are relentless.

On Saturday, October 19th, we have our P-day, with me going to get two couches from a member.  There isn’t much we don’t need at this point, and I’ll put the couches quickly to use in newly opened apartments.  We make a quick stop at the office, where I request a refund of my application fees from the bait and switch complex in St Peters, and get messages off to Salt Lake for Dunn & Bradstreet information and insurance certifications that I’ll want to have in hand as early on Monday as possible.  Then I send of the elders to Effingham to take down a TRI and to Tuscola to deliver a member-donated dresser. 

Back at the apartment, Sis Hatfield has invited Elder Paul and Sis Patti Hintze to dinner.  It is a bit awkward to “entertain” in our missionary apartment, but the Hintzes are gracious and good company.  We are grateful for their friendship, which extends to the practical:  Patti has taught us about St Louis gooey butter cake, the local source for premier pies, and she has been a great quilting resource to Sis Hatfield.  Elder Hintze has been an important resource in making decisions about COVID questions.  He has come out of retirement at Mercy Hospital to join the St Louis County Health Department staff on its COVID team, so he has a lot of insights helpful to us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

6-12 September 2020 Return to the Temple

 Sunday, September 6th saw a return to church with Nana and Papa, as we called it.  Sure, it was a Primary, alright, Nursery lesson for about 20 minutes, but we love the connection, and the Grands don’t seem to mind joining us once in a while.  I think their parents like the diversion the most.  Today we taught about Samuel the Lamanite and the prophecies of the birth of Christ.  What little kid doesn’t want to get up on a wall, or table or other risky height?  We couldn’t overdo our video call this day, because Sis Hatfield was asked to be substitute organist for our Sacrament meeting.  We arranged for a building key on Saturday, and dutifully, she went to practice.  She discovered that the organ could play a good number of hymns without help.  So, Sis Hatfield practiced the start and stop buttons instead of the hymns, changing a couple to stay within the bounds of the reprogrammed music.  Anyway, she sounded great, and with only one practice on a strange organ, who could blame RaDene for using technology?  I’m sure her piano teacher will never know.  After church, I was asked to give a blessing to a member suffering from a gambling addiction.  It was another occasion when our experience at the Utah County jail gave us a measure of empathy and understanding that I never would have had before.  Naturally, Sis Hatfield gave them words of encouragement and love, helping them process verbally.  The brave couple, in their late middle ages, were sticking to their covenants in the face of severe opposition.  That’s inspiring.  And thank Heaven for the inspired 12 step support groups, inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous.  The good brother is leaning on them daily.

When we finally left the Pagedale building, it was time to go see Sister Annie Stewart.  Last week’s visit was etched into my memory.  I was determined to not visit her with a message if what she really needed was nourishment in her belly.  I asked Sis Hatfield to go in with me and get the priest’s shewbread, or less euphemistically, go to the grocery store.  We came out with fried chicken, cheese, crackers, and some DingDongs.  Off we went with our picnic lunch for Annie.  She was delighted, and nourished.

Sunday evening we had a great video devotional by Bro Achmed Corbett (sp?), Second Counselor in the General Sunday School Presidency.  He has a niece in our mission, which might be why we were able to persuade him to join our little band of missionaries for a fireside.  He was a mission president in the Dominican Republic a few years ago and so very in tune with what we are about.  His central message, to me anyway, was the central roles that faith, repentance, and seeing the outcome have in successful missionary work.  He is a bright young light in Church leadership, that is for sure.  It is no wonder he is in the General SS presidency. 

Monday, September 7th was Labor Day, but you couldn’t tell by the Mission office.  It was business as usual.  My efforts to find apartments for the influx of missionaries is reminiscent of selling Headwaters.  I feel like many are depending on my success, and the task requires full attention.  So today, rather than going to Jefferson City, Washington, and Arnold, Missouri with the housing assistants like I would have preferred to do, I organized their itinerary and stayed in the office doing my best to find, apply, and persuade potential landlords, whose agents don’t seem all that motivated, probably because they don’t need to be.  There is plenty of demand for what they are selling.  I remember the months stretching into a year or more at Headwaters when there was lots I would otherwise need to do in our factories and field offices, but I simply could not afford to spend the time away from my office where I could use all the time, tools, and resources I had to try to capture the biggest prize for our stockholders—a sale of the business.  In the case of Headwaters, I sent my younger lawyer associates out, hoping they would do what I would do. 

In this case, I was sending housing assistants.  Mostly they make good decisions.  Sometimes they don’t do what I would do.  Today was an example.  Last week, some sisters in a distant town called me excitedly that they had someone with a “warehouse” full of furniture to outfit missionary apartments.  Who could turn that away?  We long ago had run out of basic furnishings, with all the new apartments we have opened.  Some missionaries were doing without desks, study chairs, kitchen tables, couches, shelves, and other things.  Not all of these are immediately necessary, and the missionaries are good sports, making do.  Dressers are especially in short supply.  So the sisters’ offer of furnishings seemed too good to be true.  They would get back to me on the particulars of what and when.  Today was the when.  To jump to the conclusion, the what turned out to be completely disappointing.  After traveling too far for what in my mind turned out to be a service project, the elders returned with a truck and trailer full of junk.  Oh sure, there was some beds and other furniture, but it had clearly been in a very dirty environment for a very long time.  I would not put a missionary in any of these beds for fear of what they might catch.  And the wooden furniture was also filthy, broken, and not helpful for filling missionary needs.  I saved a single end table we could use as a night stand.  I tried to mask my disappointment and frustration, verging on anger.  I knew I would spend the next several days going from dumpster to dumpster discarding all of this mess, so rather than being helpful, it was an extra project I didn’t have time for.  I could not decide if I was happy I had not gone and “wasted my time,” or whether it would have been better if I had gone to tell the donor thanks but no thanks.  As it was, it probably worked out for the best.  The people received the elders’ cheerful service, which they clearly needed, without my expressions of ingratitude.  The sisters never saw my disappointment and frustration, and the housing assistants are resilient, knowing I appreciate them anyway.  And I was able to do my work in the office. 

Tuesday, September 8th took me to Carbondale, Illinois to sign the lease for the member’s small house in Murphysboro, tender a rent and deposit check, and move in.  After we moved in the furniture we had brought, we went to Walmart to purchase some kitchenware and cleaning tools.  We took the Carbondale elders with us, whose specific assignment was to seek out and teach Spanish speaking people.  After getting the elders settled, we stopped by the sisters’ apartment to replace their smoke alarm which had been malfunctioning.  We also took the opportunity to discard some of yesterday’s acquired junk in the sisters’ apartment dumpster, and in the Carbondale Branch dumpster.  We had carefully packed our trailer to include furniture for the elders, and with what room was left, stuff I now needed to discard.  A key quality of a housing coordinator is the ability to find acceptable places to get rid of junk.  In this case, we had hauled stuff across most of two states to do so.  To the elders’ delight, I let them smash things into pieces so as to very considerately not overfill the dumpsters. 

Late in the afternoon, I got back to the office to learn that an apartment in Mahomet, Illinois had called to say we were more than a week late in rent.  I looked at our records and saw that we had deposited the rent directly into their bank account two weeks ago.  It took another day to get tracking data from Salt Lake, but sure enough, the money had been transferred.  I wonder why landlords always assume the rent has not been paid.  Meanwhile, Salt Lake was struggling to figure out how to pay a new apartment complex we were about to move into.  It had the same tax id number as a different apartment complex in another part of St Louis where we were already renters.  The accounts payable folks purportedly could not make payments to different addresses with the same TIN.  Okay, the Church systems are failing us this time.  I think if there is any potential problem in housing, we find it.  Sis Hatfield has spent the day feverishly helping missionaries and their parents get ready for endowments on Thursday.  The task of getting copies of missionaries and all their parents’ recommends collected and sent to the temple recorder ahead of time, together with contact information so the temple can have brief phone interviews with the missionaries and their parents to alert them to COVID procedures is a crazy challenge.  Only RaDene could and would do it.  Exhausted, we went to the Drunken Fish for a sushi dinner and spent too much money for a Tuesday.  Oh, well, it tasted great, and we sure didn’t have the time nor inclination to cook tonight.

Wednesday the 9th was the start of a zone quarantine.  Some elders had gone to dinner on Saturday with a member family, probably in a lapse of judgment, wanting to see a loophole in a vague mission rule about not going into homes unless necessary.  (Who could blame them, really?)  The father didn’t feel well, and sure enough, was later tested positive for COVID.  The missionaries didn’t know by Monday, P-day, and played a long game of basketball with their zone at the church.  More, today the entire zone had in person zone council and were not careful about wearing masks.  Late today, the test results came back, and it is known that they have all been directly or indirectly exposed.  So, the protocol is that they all stay in their apartments for 10 days.  Yikes.  Today is a reminder of how quickly things can get out of control.

Thursday, September 10th started with a complete surprise.  Pres Bell asked Sis Hatfield and I if we would serve as the witness couple for the missionaries being endowed on the afternoon session.  There was a mix up, and the President’s schedule would not allow him to participate as he would have liked to.  The attendance restrictions are so tight that it didn’t look like we would be able to attend with the missionaries at all, notwithstanding all the work Sis Hatfield has done to make it happen.  But today it happened for us.  I told Pres Bell I was moving some elders into a new apartment that day, but with his encouragement, RaDene and I went to the temple anyway.  It was a blessing to us.  We needed the peace and fortification.  The much ballyhooed “changes” to the endowment ceremony seemed to me like straightforward procedural efficiencies.  I am sure that I will hardly notice them as changes next time.

Afterwards, Sis Hatfield went to the office, and I loaded a trailer to move into a new apartment.  The elders moving in were Elders Kai Brown and Isaac John, both housing assistant alumni, so it went quickly and smoothly.  No critical omissions for having attended the temple, as is always the case.  Pres Bell’s prophecy that the Lord would help provide a way was true indeed.

Friday, September 11th.  We started the work day with new missionary training by video conference for the group of 35 we welcomed to the mission two weeks ago.  The office staff takes turns training on our respective responsibilities and bearing testimony.  The new missionaries are such a wholesome, good spirited group.  I love the missionaries.  My service to them is its own payment.  I then raced home to take off my suit so I would be ready for another new apartment move in.  If you weren’t counting, this is the third since Tuesday.  But first we started a staff meeting.  I was put early on the agenda so I could leave early to make my appointment to meet the complex manager and tender my cashier’s check in exchange for keys. The novelty of this move was that we were moving in some quarantined elders from that zone that had been exposed to COVID.  Our plan was for me and the housing assistants to get our trailer unloaded, washers and dryers hooked up, beds, assembled, etc. and then passing keys and hotel receipts they were coming from through the window of the car, masks in place.  I think we avoided the plague this time.  I hope the elders stay healthy.  One of them is Elder Buck, who I was honored to bless when his grandfather died a few months ago.  He was a young, inexperienced missionary then.  Now, these several months later, he was training a new missionary.  Around here, a couple of months is about all the experience we can afford. 

May I just admit what a bubble I am in?  As we were driving around today, my assistants and I mused about who had died meriting the flying of flags at half mast.  Well, most of these missionaries were either not born on 9/11, or as we have joked, were 9/11 conceived.  So they can be excused for not remembering.  What’s my excuse?

Saturday, September 12th was P-day.  What does a housing coordinator do on P-day?  Well, he helps a member of the branch move, of course.  I got a text a couple of days ago telling me that the Elders Quorum was helping a single sister move.  I had already moved 3 apartments this week, so I was reluctant to commit to another.  But then my opportunity to attend the temple with Sherry Cullen, to whom we had been teaching temple preparation lessons, was lost in the temple attendance restrictions.  Sis Hatfield was still able to squeeze into the endowment group.  So, I decided I would help with the move.  I persuaded the housing assistants to join me for the Saturday morning service project.  I had never met Sister Price before because I don’t think she is attending these days.  She is a pack rat, and lived in a third floor apartment with no elevator.  I got my steps in today.  It turns out the Pagedale elders came too, which was a good thing.  As it turned out, the Elders Quorum work party consisted of one graduate student elder, and the aging nonmember husband of the relief society president, who was a great truck packer, plus the missionaries.  The seven of us worked all morning until the student had to leave for studies and the older fellow had had enough.  The missionaries worked until 2 pm to get the job done.  I don’t know what Sis Price and her young son would have done, but I am sure glad I lost my temple spot and that I invited the missionaries, who constituted the Elders Quorum today.  She ordered pizza which we hungrily ate on the curb while building our new friendship a bit more.

We finished the day going out to dinner with Pres and Sis Bell.  They picked us up and we wandered around downtown until we stumbled on some barbeque that unbeknownst to us was sub-St Louis standards.  Maybe it was because they really struggled to get our order right.  Maybe it was because their drink machine spit out bad soda, and then was turned off altogether.  We didn’t order, but sheepishly tried the florescent green jelly dipping sauce for the hushpuppies, that we also didn’t order.  Both were nasty.  Some dinners are more adventure than culinary bullseyes.  Tonight went in the adventure category.  Not to worry, we went to the Dairy Barn for a tried and true orange sherbet twist ice cream to melt away everything but the funny memories.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

30 August – 5 September 2020 Inspiration in Tuscola


Sunday, August 30th was remarkable mostly because of a troubling visit after church Sis Hatfield and I had to Sister Annie Stewart’s home.  She had been in an out of the hospital that week, suffering from severe headaches and high blood pressure.  She was very uncomfortable during our visit.  Moreover, she was very hungry.  She wondered out loud about whether she should find out what options she might have for moving to a senior care facility.  I am sure that it is not easy for her two live-in grandchildren to care for her every day.  I felt so bad for her.  Sis Hatfield helped her think about living alternatives, although poor Annie could not think too clearly about it that day.  Mostly, she knew she was not well.  I administered the sacrament, giving her the entire piece of bread.  As we finished our visit, Annie sang a plaintiff hymn loudly, asking for the Lord’s mercy.  It was heart wrenching.  I vowed I would bring her food next time we came.  I left with the strong impression that the necessities of life are a condition to spiritual growth. 

 That evening, we hosted the Pagedale Branch missionaries, Elder Brinley and Elder Brady, the latter of whom had just joined the area.  We enjoy keeping up with these young men who we see at least every Sunday at church.  Moreover, Pres Bell confided that one of these young men was struggling a bit with his testimony.  We want to strengthen him however we can.  After dinner, Sis Hatfield continued to communicate and coordinate with missionaries and their parents about temple endowments, which start this Thursday.  This week, most of the ordinances will be for missionaries that won’t have parents coming, because they will be ready on the short notice that parents have had.

 Monday, September 31st was inspiring to me.  I had some possible apartments in Tuscola, Illinois for two sisters that had been assigned there.  For the moment, they were in the local Holiday Inn.  Actually, it is almost odd that Tuscola has a Holiday Inn.  It is a small, agriculture-based community that has not seen any growth to speak of in decades.  It is quaint and picturesque, but options are limited.  I drove the 2 and ½ hours north and east of St Louis and met a local agent.  She showed me two properties, the first of which was clearly unacceptable, for many reasons, although it was in a nice, quiet city center neighborhood.  The second property was a definite fixer upper.  It had a lot of charm.  But I just could not get over the age of the property and lack of renovation.  I left wanting to feel good about it, but I was not getting there.  I literally drove up and down the streets of the entirety of Tuscola, and wrote down the number of every property indicating it was for rent.  I called a few, but nothing was panning out.  Finally, I needed to leave for Decatur to take care some housing needs of the four elders living in an apartment there. 

 As I was leaving Decatur, I got a call from an elderly gentleman back in Tuscola who was responding to my message earlier that day.  He indicated that the property that he owned had a vacancy, that it was newly renovated and clean, and that he would like to show it to me at about 6 pm.  I knew that time would not work given the distance I was from both Tuscola and St Louis.  I thanked him for calling, and said I would like to take a look, but would need to get back with him as to when that could happen.  I called Sis Hatfield, and as I explained my impressions of what I had seen of Tuscola, she said, “why don’t you have the Tuscola sisters meet the elderly landlord and take a look?”  I pondered that for a moment, and realized that it was a good idea.  I called the sisters, who nervously agreed.  They feared that I was going to ask them to negotiate a lease.  I assured them that all I wanted to know was whether the apartment was clean and livable.  I had already scoped the neighborhood and believed it was safe, and conveniently, less than a mile from the small church building.  The sisters agreed.  I called the landlord back and set up the inspection appointment. 

 Back at the office, I nervously awaited for the sisters’ report.  They said it smelled of smoke, but that otherwise, it was great.  I carefully questioned them about their sensitivities to smoke, and they assured me that they didn’t have any particular concerns.  We worked until 10 that night, with me working on application papers.

 On Tuesday, September 1st, I called the landlord in Tuscola first thing, and he told me that the church was approved in his mind as a lessee.  He connected me with his friendly and efficient manager, and we worked later in the day on lease papers.  But first, I had potential apartment tours set up in Carbondale, Illinois, two hours east of St Louis.  I had come across a very helpful local manager of multiple properties named Keith who had steered me towards a couple of potential apartments for missionaries in Carbondale.  The man seemed especially friendly, having toured the St Louis Temple during its open house about 25 years ago.  He knew well who I was and what I represented, and genuinely wanted to assist me. 

 While Keith’s properties seemed fine, I could not make myself say yes to either of them.  I wanted to see a third property first, although I wasn’t exactly sure why.  The third property was a small house owned by a member, and it was advertised as needing yard work as part of the deal.  I wasn’t about to sign up the missionaries for a yard maintenance project, and old houses are magnets for problems of all sorts, particularly plumbing, but many other things too.  Old is old, and a house is often maintained even less by nonprofessional owners than apartments.  And I worried that it was in Murphysboro, a few miles west of Carbondale, not actually in Carbondale.

 But I wanted to see it anyway.  I drove up and Bro Perry Smith warmly greeted me.  His son had been living in the property until recently, and a fair amount of work had been done to fix it up, including redoing the plumbing.  It was great space, with a good sized bedroom and a single bath, but a decent sized kitchen.  It also had a good sized living room.  Four rooms, that was it, including the bathroom.  Bro Smith said that he would take care of the yard himself.  But what really sold me was that Bro Smith was willing to rent on a month to month basis, from the start.  That is almost unheard of, at least without a steep rent premium.  It seems sure that at some point the COVID bubble of missionaries will be past, and we will shrink again, and I will need to figure out how to exit leases.  This lease would be terminable without too much problem.  And now that I was here looking at things, I realized that the Carbondale church building is on the very western edge of the town, not far from Murphysboro.  This seemed like it would work.  I left town letting both owners know I would call them.  I prayed and pondered that night and by morning the Murphysboro property seemed like the right one.  I called and let Keith know my decision, leaving the relationship on a positive note.  Bro Perry was certainly happy, although he did not have a form of lease.  I would be taking care of that. 

 When I arrived home that night, I found Nana ‘Dene reading books to Kennedy Pearl.  RaDene had the bright idea of buying children’s books for the Grands in triplicate, and having one set sent to each of the kids’ homes, and one set sent to us.  She would read while Kennedy (or Abbi and Ezra, at different times), followed along looking at the pictures in their copies.  We were making an unexpected use of video conference technology.  It works well, and has been a big hit.  I am sure it also has something to do with the excellent choices of children’s books RaDene has picked out.  One is titled, “How to Babysit a Grandma,” but Kennedy insists that it is “How to Babysit a Nana.”  We are consistently corrected by her if we ever slip.  The video book reading is not the same as having them on our laps, but a lot better than nothing. 

 On Wednesday, September 2nd, I signed the Tuscola lease for the sisters’ apartment.  That surely set a record between first sight on Monday evening to lease signing.  It also broke a cardinal rule of renting without seeing for myself.  But it all felt right.  We spent a part of the day shopping for housewares and scoping out furniture for the Tuscola apartment for a return trip and set up. 

 Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield had another project.  Our mission was being asked to help supply service opportunities to some young sister service missionaries from the St Louis area.  That may sound like a blessing to the stressed office staff, and it still might be someday, but right now, Sis Hatfield has the duty of identifying tasks they can do and training them, while not interfering with the existing office staff.  That is tricky.  Virtually nothing meaningful can be done in this day and age without a computer, and we don’t have any extras of those.  Salt Lake has told us we have too many.  Well we don’t—they are clearly working off an antiquated notion that people can share computers, which doesn’t work unless people are not in the office at the same time.  Meaning that Sis Hatfield now needs to negotiate with the service missionaries and the Jacobs, the only staff members that are not in the office every day, to set schedules that work for everyone involved.  The service missionaries’ first task will be to put together a slide show of baptisms that Pres Bell has typically produced.  But he is not available to train them, and his software isn’t available in the office either.  So Sis Hatfield must now train on a job she hasn’t done with software she doesn’t have or use.  They are all troopers though, with the service missionaries staying until 9:30 that first night trying to get that slide show done after several slow and false starts. 

 Another piece of good news was received from the Fenton sisters in the Columbia zone.  They have a member that says they have lots of furniture to contribute to the mission, which we badly need at this point.  They will get me some details about what, when, and where.

 Thursday, September 3rd and we are back on the road towards Tuscola.  I will stop in Arcola, 20 minutes before Tuscola, to meet the landlord, pick up keys, and drop of the deposit and rent check.  By the way, I am writing many personal checks, acting as bank for missionary apartments.  We get reimbursed eventually, but most often the mission can’t move fast enough to get vendors approved and checks written.  Fortunately, we haven’t exhausted our liquidity in our missionary service, but we have fronted a lot of money to make this happen.  Arcola is an even smaller version of Tuscola.  It has huge grain elevators, a railroad line, and a hippy memorial park.  (I don’t know why.)  But meeting the landlord in his old downtown office was a scene right out of Mayberry RFD, North Carolina.  The buildings were definitely that old, and sparsely used.  But the staff was friendly and the landlord looked for all the world like Wilford Brimley himself.  He couldn’t have been more gruff or gentle.  (Nobody under 60 will have the faintest idea what I am describing in this paragraph.)

Up the road to the moment of truth:  had I made a big mistake?  I was delighted to find that the apartment was clean and renewed.  The refrigerator was brand new.  The carpet was new, and the paint seemed quite fresh.  Now, don’t misunderstand, the apartment complex is probably 30 years old, at best, but at least lately, it had been taken care of.  The windows, to my amazement, were new vinyl framed windows with good screens.  We immediately popped open every window and began to air it out.  We had come prepared with buckets, rags, and the secret weapon, white vinegar, to wipe everything, and I mean everything down, to help eliminate the smoke odor.  We were taking advantage of the completely empty apartment to do the work.  The sisters pitched in too.  By 1 pm or so, the cleaning was done as best we could do it, and I took everyone for sandwiches while the smoke and vinegar odor went out the doors and windows.  Then we moved them in.  By the time we turned on the AC, it was smelling pretty fresh, if I do say so myself.  The sisters were happy and I was relieved.  It was amazing really.  On Monday afternoon, I had zilch in Tuscola.  By Thursday afternoon, the lease was signed and we had moved the sisters in.  Now that is Providential Guidance, no doubt.  One last stop at the coolest old-timey hardware store to make a spare key, and we were off for the return trip to St Louis.  We stopped at every Walmart conveniently located along the way looking for computer desks and chairs, and found zero.  COVID had made them hot commodities.  We were back to the office by 7:30 and I was able to convince Sis Hatfield to leave by 9:30.  Short day, but satisfying!

 Saturday, September 5th was JustServe day for us.  Elder Jeremiah Morgan, the new Area Seventy and his wife had been visiting with Pres Bell the past couple of days.  On Saturday morning, he wanted to participate in a local JustServe project.  Rock Erickson, the local JS coordinator, had been encouraging the stake JS specialists for months to make this a big day for projects all through their respective stakes and around the mission.  As it turned out, Rock cut his Missouri heat respite short and come back to St Louis and pulled a JS project together.  He arranged for a St Louis park clean up sponsored by the Friends of Lafayette Park and St Louis Parks.  Stake JS specialists are ideally integral members of their communities to help nonprofits connect with the JS resources, particularly web promotion and volunteer forces (not least, the missionaries).  That is not everyone’s talent though, so stake JS specialists sometimes struggle. It turned out to be pretty light duty, because the park was in surprisingly good shape.  (Sis Hatfield and I won the garbage prize, mostly because we found a broken down folding chair.)  Lafayette Park is the third largest in St Louis, behind Forest Park and Tower Park, and is in honor of the French friend of the American Patriots.  It is beautiful, and surrounded by period houses that are colorful, because zoning ordinance do not allow any changes to house architecture, except color.  Sis Hatfield and I did some night before contacting of the St Louis zone missionaries and a few others, like the ever dependable housing assistants, so that we had a good turnout and made a measurable difference to the park.  We concluded our project with a discussion with the volunteer park historian, an interesting and appreciative gentleman.  I think he was a JS convert.

 After the JS project we had a mission office staff meeting, including Elder and Sis Morgan.  The meeting was not nearly as remarkable as hearing Elder Morgan’s conversion story.  He was raised in Lamoni, Iowa, a member of the Community of Christ (Reorganized) Church.  His father left the family when he was very young, but his mother was faithful all her life.  She raised him in the light of the Restoration.  He always knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God.  Sometime in his middle teens, he learned something about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and for a time went to meetings at both churches on Sunday.  He came to know that the CJCLDS was the fullness of the gospel, and he became a member, against the wishes of his devout mother.  She never would accept the Gospel as we know it.  On her deathbed, she asked her son Jeremiah not to perform baptism for her when she was gone.  He has not done so, yet, partly out of respect for his still living stepfather.  It generated some discussion about the offshoots of the Church, which are many, with some interesting views on the Restoration and all that entails. 



Sunday, September 13, 2020

23-29 August 2020 The Big Transfer


Sunday, August 23rd was a different kind of day.  First, we went to church with family.  Gareth and Ancsi accompanied us to the Pagedale Branch were we got to show them off.  Then we went to the office to print boarding passes, create departing papers packets, and travel treat bags for the departing missionaries.  That is always a bittersweet project.  Then, we took a Sunday drive, so to speak, to Jacksonville, Illinois, to set up the apartment that I had signed the lease for three days ago, and where we had dropped off bags, boxes, and furniture in a pile.  The maintenance crew hadn’t quite been ready for us that day, so we left everything in a big pile so it could be easily worked around, including polishing the floor.  (Who knew that waxing dark linoleum helped so much?)  So now, with the help of Ancsi and Gareth, we put it all together, assembling and making beds, organizing the kitchen a bit, putting together desks and dressers, hanging the shower curtain, and so forth.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t try to do this variety of work on Sunday, but there would be no opportunity to get here again before the huge group of missionaries arrive on Tuesday.  And anyway, the Vidals need to see a bit of the Illinois countryside where Abraham Lincoln split rails, tried cases, and stumped for the state legislature, Congress, and ultimately, the Presidency. 

Monday the 24th we took the Vidal’s to the airport, which was a bit sad.  We loved having their company and help these past few days.  But we didn’t have time to mope.  There were hotel reservations to finalize, TRIs to set up, and most importantly, transfer checklists check and recheck.  I went to St Charles to purchase two long term stay hotel rooms for companionships in areas relatively nearby.  We want apartments, for the areas, but searching and applying won’t happen fast enough. 

My main tool is to study what is called the transfer board, and look for changes from the way the missionaries are assigned.  It is not easy to pick up all the modifications, but that is how I know what areas the President is opening and where missionaries might be in threesomes.  In turn, I create my own list of where we need apartments, temporary hotels, beds set up in existing apartments, where keys need to be made or exchanged, and so forth.  Normally, I don’t miss much, but with 35 coming in, I can’t be too careful.  There just won’t be time nor room for lots of last minute adjustments.  I ordinarily bring an air mattress or two to transfers, just in case I have missed something, or more likely, the President feels impressed to make a last minute change in assignment.  We then spend transfer afternoon and usually the next day picking up loose ends. 

On Tuesday the 25th, I secured another long term apartment in Arnold, Missouri where I am working on an apartment, but it isn’t available just yet.  We set up a TRI in River View South (Crystal City, MO), and then hustled back so the housing assistants could take the mission trailer back and forth to the airport and the Frontenac building for storage between flight arrivals.  Although our trailer is 6’ x 12’, and can hold all that we put in a two bedroom apartment, it can’t hold 70+ large pieces of luggage, which will be the checked bags of the arriving missionaries.  At Frontenac, the luggage sat two deep around two entire walls of the gymnasium.  Amazing.  How all of this plus its owners will get into the mission cars and out to their areas seems a bit of a stretch to me.  We’ve pull out all the stops to find beds (loosely speaking) for all these missionaries, staying at multiple apartments around town, and at the mission home.  Sis Hatfield and I have had lots of side chats with President about what apartments can help with the overnighting.  After a full days work, I head to the office to join Sis Hatfield, who has been in the communication chair all day long.  We stay until 11 pm continuing our transfer planning. 

Finally, it’s the day.  Wednesday, August 26th won’t soon be forgotten.  We start early with setting up the transfer at Frontenac (tables, chairs, tents, mail, teaching materials, and all sorts of signage), then head into the chapel for new missionary orientation.  Usually this happens in the relief society room for a more intimate setting.  That won’t work today, not with any sort of social distancing, what with 35 new missionaries, their trainers, office staff, Pres and Sis Bell, and the Assistants.  We are in the chapel and the cultural hall.  But oh, such powerful spirits.  These young people glow.  Many are assigned here perhaps temporarily, because travel to foreign countries is not available.  But a good number are MSLM assignments.  All of them are the best youth the Church has to offer.  Anyone with any reservation or excuse has not made it this far, no, not in the COVID era.  These truly are stripling warriors. 

The transfer itself is so well planned that it went amazingly well.  There were somewhere between 130 and 160 missionaries involved (no one knows for sure) and scores of mission vehicles.  Afterwards, I treat the housing assistants to Five Guys.  They earned it. 

Thursday, August 27th, I got a message I wasn’t expecting:  the long term stay hotels don’t have any kitchen utensils.  The appliances are there, but the cupboards and drawers are bare.  Who would have thought?  Not me, so the ball to catch this afternoon and tomorrow morning is to get to Walmart and take kitchen gear to the elders in the long term stay hotels.  This isn’t too big a problem, because we were going to need to buy kitchenware for these companionships when we get them into apartments, but we just hadn’t planned on doing it today.  There is always something to take care of, and the missionaries need our help.  The funds they are given is enough for sustenance, but not any extras.  This job gives much great appreciation for the quartermasters of the armed services.  On the way to delivering one companionship’s kitchen gear, we call them to ask if they are at home.  They say no, somewhat sheepishly saying that there car has broken down and they have made there way to a nearby missionary apartment.  So we head to that apartment and get them back to their hotel with their gear, and help coordinate a vehicle tow. 

Back at the office I work on frustrating apartment applications.  It was so much easier for out of the ordinary applications like a mission application when you could meet with a leasing agent and work through the issues.  The COVID era has pushed applications to being required to be done almost exclusively online.  This really makes it hard for someone that has a profile outside the norm.  I realize that this problem is not just mine—prospective renters that don’t meet the ideal will struggle—the poor, under or unemployed, immigrants, the unlicensed, without a SSN, exconvicts, and on and on.  I worry that such systems will further divide our society. 

Later that afternoon the temple recorder, who is a friend of ours from the Pagedale Branch, stops into the office to talk about endowing missionaries that have come without any personal ordinance work.  The St Louis Temple has gone to Phase 2 opening, meaning it is available for personal, living ordinance work.  This has turned into an enormous project.  We have 30+ missionaries that have arrived over the past couple of months without temple ordinances.  The temple has reserved Thursdays for missionary endowments for the next several weeks.  But the constraints are significant, in terms of times of day, limitations on numbers, social distancing, escorts, temple clothing and garments, recommends, travel and lodging, and most tricky of all, inviting parents to participate.  The fairness or unfairness, travel flexibility and burdens, hurt feelings, expectation of time with missionaries and other factors make parent invitation and coordination a bit of a nightmare.  I work on a letter on behalf of Pres Bell with Sis Hatfield to send to the parents explaining what is going on and parameters for participating.  We sort of hope (in a selfish sort of way) that not too many parents will accept the invitation.  We are wrong on that score.  More than half of the parents want to come.  Some are easy to work with and understanding, and some, well let me just say it this way, are not so understanding of the effort and disruption to the mission.  And like most special projects, Sis Hatfield takes the leading oar.  She has put together spreadsheets, schedules, emails, and text messages, and called missionaries, parents, temple officials, and Beehive Clothing, The logistical planning, communications, negotiations, and required diplomacy, not to mention unplanned catches (e.g., “I can’t find my recommend!”) are almost overwhelming.  I am almost mad that the missionary department, and the temple department, for that matter, have laid this all on Sis Hatfield, primarily, when we are running faster than we are able already.  The only thing that keeps her going, and me from getting really upset, is knowing that these missionaries need the gifts of the temple.  What did Jos. Smith say?  A religion that does not ask the sacrifice of all does not have the power to save.  Or something like that. 

Friday, August 28th was filled with a video meeting with missionaries, letter to missionaries and parents about the temple opportunity, an office staff meeting, and a serious internet and phone search for an apartment in Carbondale, Illinois for a new apartment out there.  The President was inspired to send a set of Spanish speaking elders out there, who have been living in a Comfort Inn.  It is time to find something more permanent.

Monday, September 7, 2020

16-22 August 2020 The Baby Blessing


Sunday, August 16th was a beautiful day.  RaDene had suggested we start with a sacrament service, that Thayne Lyman, Elisa’s father and I conducted.  Spencer, a worthy, loving father himself, gave Amelia Rose Hatfield a wonderful baby blessing.  He was full of emotion and power. Sis Hatfield gave a beautiful, handmade, rose colored quilt to Elisa and the baby.  Having no knack for crafts, much less textiles, I really appreciate what a hand-pieced quilt represents.  Colors, fabrics, and patterns lovingly chosen, and hours of labor neatly sewing it together.  It makes me appreciate my Grandmother’s and Mother’s gifts of quilts to me.  


Then we shared some brunch that Elisa and her mom had put together.  We said goodbye to Amelia for the day and headed to Hooper to help welcome home Jason Sheets from the Texas San Antonio Mission at an open house in LaDawn and Darryl’s home.  LaDawn had helped stage things so families moved through without overcrowding.  Then we spend a lovely time at Kamie and Garff’s house catching up with them.  It was insightful to hear them talk about how hard it has been during these pandemic months to not feel busy and full of purpose.  Then we were off to visit with Momma Kay and Karl on the patio of their assisted living home.  Karl’s son Gary was also there.  Karl has had some rough times as his strength and health, and not least, hearing, continue to deteriorate.  Kay is full of vim and vigor.  See?  It was a beautiful day. 

Tuesday the 18th was our “bonus” day, and we spent it in Spencer and Elisa’s home with their kids interacting with them in their home environment.  We could not get enough of swings and water play outside, and puzzles and books inside.  After dinner, we helped put the kids to bed and said our goodbyes, remembering how hard it was to say goodbye when we left eight months ago as we drove away.  We stopped by Terri’s house and said farewell to Mom, Dad, and Terri’s family.  It is painful to leave my parents again too.  Dad will be turning 90 in October!  But they are happy and blessed by their health, posterity, and faith.  Who could really ask for more for them?

Wednesday the 19th we caught our flight back to St Louis and went straight to the office.  We would spend the next several days working hard to catch up and get ready for the biggest arrival in mission history set for next week. 

On Thursday the 20th we wasted no time getting up to Jacksonville, Illinois, signing a lease for a second area in that town and delivering the furniture, even though no one would be there for six more days.  Will all the new missionary areas to set up in preparation for next week, it will take a lot of early preparation.  I also started making arrangements for hotels for five areas that have just been identified and can’t possibly have apartments before next week.  Going through the missionary department’s recommended chains is a mixed blessing.  Sometimes they can help, and sometimes they can’t, and it seems like finding out whether they can or can’t is much harder than it should be, with the wait adding to the stress.

On Friday the 21st we went to the office extra early, in part get a jump on the day’s work and in part to prepare for staff meeting.  Sis Hatfield and I are antsy because transfer areas and assignments are still not final, and we are days away from the biggest influx of missionaries in the history of the Missouri St Louis Mission.  It is hard to make preparations and secure housing when you are not sure where the missionaries will be assigned!  The President is working just as hard as us, trying to get information from stake presidents about where to expand the missionary force, meeting incoming missionaries by video conference, and working to discern the Spirit to finalize transfer areas and companionships.  Late that afternoon, Gareth and Ancsi drove into town, bringing my truck.  We have come to realize that we can’t both do our jobs and be in the same place all the time.  Too much of my work is in the field, and I can’t continue to leave RaDene stranded for long hours at a time.  So, we asked them to take a little road trip out here and we would fly them home.  But first, we had to share some of St Louis with them.  We picked up a picnic of ribs and took them to the arch, then drove across the Mississippi for ice cream so Anci could check one more state off of her list.

On Saturday, September 22nd, we divided to conquer.  RaDene went to the office, and I took Ancsi and Gareth to the Hazelwood North apartment where elders had been moved out and sisters were moving in next week at transfers.  The Evertons had taken the assignment to make sure it was ready to go.  They called me last evening while we were at the arch pretty much in a panic.  They thought the apartment was pretty much a disaster.  Knowing that the Evertons are hard workers, and that a little dirt doesn’t stop them, that was kind of a scary thought.  I called the elders who had left and told them that I had a report that the apartment was not in acceptable shape.  They promised they would do something about it, and I told them I would visit it tomorrow to check up on them.  Ancsi and Gareth would be my secret weapons.  We went with buckets and cleaners at the ready.  As it turned out, the elders made me very proud.  Although they hadn’t done enough by the time the Evertons got there, by Saturday when I arrived it was in really good shape.  Oh, sure, we did some more cleaning, and through a bunch of clutter and old refrigerated food away, but on the whole, the elders had repented and made it very livable.  I felt much better, not because my cleaning was cut short, but because the young men had heard me and taken their responsibility seriously. 

With a bit of found time, I took Ancsi and Gareth to Walmart to do some housewares shopping for the apartment we were getting ready to open in Jacksonville, IL.  I’m getting pretty good at knowing just what aisles I need to cruise for missionary apartment outfitting.  And since Walmart stores are almost always laid out the same, I can get in and out pretty quickly anymore.  Sometimes I come out and it takes me a minute to remember what city I’m in.  I have been in scores of Walmart stores across two states, and it is sometimes a little disorienting.  Whatever else you can say about Walmart, I certainly appreciate the service they provide to the poor segment of our society.  Meanwhile, RaDene finished the Harvester newsletter back at the office.  The time it takes to format the pictures and captions for the departing and arriving missionaries, to say nothing of testimonies and staff articles, is daunting.  To do it for the largest transfer in history is epic.  No one really knows the effort Sis Hatfield makes.  But she did it, and we celebrated with dinner at Balducci’s, a whole-in-the-basement restaurant that looks like a Chicago speakeasy from the Prohibition era.  We found it searching for St Louis style “toasted” ravioli, something Ancsi and Gareth needed to experience.  It was actually about our 4th choice, having struck out three times with COVID restaurant closures. Were we ever pleasantly surprised.  Not only was the ambience a little exciting, but the raviolis were delicious.  And best yet, they also had St Louis style thin crust pizza that was so tasty!