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.