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.