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. 



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