Thursday, October 29, 2020

18 – 24 October 2020 Heartache for the Bells

 Sunday, October 18th, RaDene and I journaled on our experience helping our fellow Pagedale Branch member, Sherri Cullen prepare for the temple.  I’ve written about this before, but President Fuller of the St Louis Stake presidency called us one recent evening and asked us questions and invited us to write to him about what we had felt and learned.  It was good to revisit the temple preparation experience and organize thoughts about how the Spirit led us.  Later that evening, I fielded a call from the sisters in Webster Grove North area.  They could not get their furnace to work.  After coaching them on some basics that didn’t help, I put in a maintenance request for them to the landlord.  It will be a chilly night, and I’ll want to follow up promptly tomorrow because the fall temperatures are starting to drop. 

 On Monday, October 19th, I received an email from Sun River Apartments in St Peters.  They were rejecting my application to lease an apartment.  That’s the fourth rejection in this one area, setting a record of difficulty securing a new apartment.  Complaining out loud about the situation, Sis Hatfield recalled that I had withdrawn my application at a place called Meadowridge apartments because they had at first indicated they would have a vacancy in early September, but just as I was about to complete the application process, told me that there wouldn’t be anything before mid-October.  In August, that seemed much too long to wait.  I suppose it was a rational decision to withdraw given what I knew then.  Looking back, maybe I was wrong, since here I am, still with no apartment.  Sis Hatfield encouraged me to contact Meadowridge and ask again.  I admit it took a bit of humble pie to swallow my pride and call them, but I did.  They say they will have something on November 3rd, so I hustled on over with an application and a check for $250.  Just applying is expensive. 

 RaDene and I took a trunk load of mail to the mission home for Pres Bell to distribute in his out of town interviews around the mission this week.  When we arrived, he looked terrible.  He also kept his distance.  He is suffering from headaches and a brain fog.  Naturally, we are concerned that he may have contracted COVID.  He will be in our prayers.  Pres Bell also is discouraged because he will be sending a beloved missionary home early for a poor choice of action.  This is always heartbreaking.  Back at the office, while Sis Hatfield meets with the young missionary technology specialists, one companionship of elders, and one of sisters, I head to our old apartment to clean our bathrooms, kitchen, and floors.  I have become pretty expert at cleaning apartments by now.  And can I just brag a bit that the apartment RaDene and I are turning over was oh, so much easier to clean than other missionary apartments?  Ha, I have strong skills in the less weighty matters. 

 On Tuesday, October 20th, I make arrangements to send the housing assistants to Farmington to collect the table and chairs I picked out with Sis Hatfield after zone conference last week but didn’t have room to carry.  Meanwhile, sat down in the office with the St Peters elders and helped them with the occupant information that Meadowridge apartments was requiring to do background checks.  It is nearly impossible to navigate some online forms from a phone, and literally impossible with the Church security firewalls blocking all be a very few websites, not including apartment websites, from missionary access.  But my office computer will allow us to turn the trick.  That afternoon, Elder Jacob and I conduct our monthly ritual of setting up rent payments for our now even 100 apartments around the mission.  We work hard to do this every 20th of the month, even though rents aren’t due until the 1st, because by the time the President approves the payments and the Church payables folks finally write checks and mail, 10 days may seem early, but it isn’t, especially with the slower than usual mail delivery of the COVID era.  Then I stop in the office of our apartment complex and turn in the keys for the apartment we have now vacated and cleaned, and turn in a punch list of items we need to have corrected in our new place, emphasizing the need for hot water in the bathroom sink and the useless wall switches in three rooms.  And then, sadly, it turns out it is my responsibility to take the young elder to the airport that the President has had to send home early.  I know this elder well so we have a comfortable and positive conversation, avoiding any discussion of his transgression, but trying to review what he has contributed to the mission and his bright future.  I help him check in and get him to security.  Then I break protocol and give him a hug as he heads on through.  I have a feeling I will see this young man again someday.

 Back at the office, Sis Hatfield has a tiger by the tail.  AT&T has stopped supporting 3G smart phones, effective today.  Somehow, the Church has not shared this development with us, so many of the phones of the mission and the missionaries are becoming useless hour by hour.  She discovers that if SIM cards are not removed, phones will not be deactivated immediately, so a standard safeguard of swapping the SIM card in the companionship phones is suspended on an emergency basis until further notice.  A missionary companionship without working phones is next to helpless in the current environment of finding and teaching through technology.  Sis Hatfield is franticly communicating with tech support and with the AT&T representative, who she has become all to familiar with, to try to figure out what can be done.

 Wednesday, October 21st is an effort by Elder Jacob and I to modify and resubmit paperwork needed by the Church accounts payable department to pay rents on newly leased apartments.  The Church is very careful to check tax id numbers, owners, W-9s, dates and signatures, and other information so that their records of payment are impeccable.  Unfortunately, apartment managers are not nearly so careful, and even if they are, they are not accustomed to the information that the Church needs and requires to fulfil corporate payor obligations, which are more complex than exist for individual person renters.  It takes a lot of phone calls, explanations, calming assurances, and delays moving papers from one persons desk to another.  But I’m determined to not take personal checks around to all the new apartments for their second month’s rents.  (Typically, I pay the first month as a part of the application and move in process, along with application fees and security deposits, and then request reimbursement.)  We end the day doing something we rarely do:  we make a scratch dinner.  At Costco we had purchased far more mushrooms than we could use in our regular menu rotation, so Sis Hatfield has found a recipe for mushroom soup.  It is delicious, but it will take two trips to the local grocery store and lots of chopping and measuring and cooking before it is done.  But it’s worth it. 

 Thursday, October 22nd is a travel day for me.  With the housing assistants, we are working our way through a long list of tasks in the Champaign zone that have been piling up for a couple of months now.  The COVID crush of incoming missionaries has kept me from responding to things three hours from St Louis for too long.  Our first stop is Mattoon, Illinois.  The sisters have taken my advice seriously to change furnace filters, but they for the life of them cannot figure out where it is or how to do it.  I’d promised to help.  On entering, it took about five seconds to see the problem with finding and changing the filter:  the Mattoon apartment doesn’t have a forced air furnace; it has baseboard heaters.  I can’t keep the equipment straight in 100 different units, and the sisters had searched in vain, despite my coaching.  We had a good laugh!  After everyone was in a good mood, I delicately asked the sisters to take down the two walls that were plastered with postcard sized pictures affixed with scotch tape.  The COVID boredom had led to some understandable, if poor choice of decorations.  I’m cringing a little to think about how the paint is going to look once the tape is pulled off.  But, it will only get worse as the tape’s glue dries even more, and gives future missionaries the wrong idea of what is acceptable to do to an apartment wall. 

 We continue farther north to Champaign.  Our job is to re-affix two handrails in two different apartments that the elders have managed to pull from anchors on the stair wall.  We have new hardware and a stud finder so we can resecure them.  We also work on a screen door that has been nearly torn from its hinges with a closer hanging bent and useless.  Surely the apartment maintenance folks could fix these things, but my goal is to minimize the damage the mission is charged for, and acrobatics on stair rails seems likely to be categorized as tenant abuse.  Then we head over to Mahomet, where the sister training leaders are located to deliver a working vacuum, tighten a faucet, and take down a couple of beds that are not being used.  A temporary three-some in Champaign had forced the second companionship to temporarily move to Mahomet, but the tri was over, and the 2nd set of Champaign sisters were moving back to Champaign.  Its complicated keeping up with missionary moves.

 Its getting rather late in the afternoon, and we have a long trip home, but for some reason I have the feeling I should go to Rantoul, another 30 minutes or so north of Mahomet.  Rather doubting myself, we head up there.  The elders don’t respond to my call and text to announce our coming.  When we get there, we figure out our key doesn’t work.  The locksets have been changed.  But no matter, the apartment is not locked.  On entry, I swallow hard.  The apartment is in as bad a shape as any I’ve seen.  There is evidence of water leaks on several walls, a bucket under a drip in a closet, lights not working, a kitchen that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in days, and most striking, a bathroom that has paint literally falling off the walls, and every metal surface brown with rust.  But its clearly not just the condition of the apartment, but its upkeep.  There is cereal boxes taped with strapping tape on two walls, clothes and objects everywhere, a floor that sorely needs sweeping but can’t be touched for all the clutter, to say nothing of the dishes in the kitchen.  I can hardly imagine that I have not heard from the missionaries about the condition, and am very disappointed that I haven’t made time to inspect before now.  I left rather shocked, only fixing a couple of lights.  I never do see the missionaries on this trip, which is probably good so that I’ll have a chance to collect my thoughts and measure my words.

 On Friday, October 23rd we head east to New Baden, Illinois.  A member there in the O’Fallon Stake is relocating to Florida and isn’t taking much furniture.  The STLs have received word that the mission is invited to take furniture.  We get beds, desks, leather couches, end tables, and a nice dresser.  I have a plan to furnish the St Peter’s elders apartment with these generous donations.  Now I need to make sure the application is accepted—by no means certain.  Back in the office, Elder Jacob and I are able to finalize the last paperwork to authorize the most recent leases to be added to our accounts payable list.  That may not sound like a victory, but we are to the end of the time for a check to be issued and received timely, and trying to pay rents outside of the payables system is unmanageable with so many leases to keep track of.

 On Saturday, October 24th we start early.  Because of North America Central Area training, President and Sister Bell couldn’t find time for new missionary training and staff meeting this week before today.  We start early, with video training at 8 a.m.  It is a big group of about 25 missionaries at the training.  Unfortunately, with that many participants, the visual tiles were very small, so I’m not sure I got to know the missionaries any better because of the training. 

 We gather for staff meeting at 10 a.m., but something feels very odd.  The President and Sis Bell are late and not together.  Finally, Sis Bell arrives, but Pres Bell stays out in the car.  While we wait, Sis Bell finally can’t hold it in any longer.  She bursts into tears and it tumbles out that her daughter is to be engaged to be married on New Years, but after making as strong a case as they can, Pres Bell can’t get permission to attend.  I’ve never seen a mission president be able to go home to a wedding, but somehow the Bells had believed he could.  Their daughter is semi-defiant, and not altogether supportive of the sacrifices of the mission already, and Sis Bell is sure this will be the disappointment that shoves her feelings strongly away from the Church.  We learn that President Bell is sitting in the car after another unsuccessful call with the Area President and doesn’t feel like a staff meeting.  We try to carry on without him, but the elephant in the room cannot be ignored.  Sis Bell bemoans that she cannot find or afford a wedding celebration venue, with the only place of any hope being in Brigham City, much too far from their family and friends in West Haven, Utah.  Hearing the plight, Sis Hatfield offers that her sister has transformed the family ranch in Hooper, on the border with West Haven, into a country-themed event center.  Sensing some interest, and real benefit to the possibilities, Sis Hatfield gets on the phone with Tana, her sister, and checks the schedule and briefly explains the situation.  Finally, Pres Bell comes in, and we get through a couple of meeting agenda items and adjourn.  We decide we will meet on Monday, if necessary.  After people head out, I visit privately with Pres Bell, and Sis Hatfield talks with Sis Bell.  We are both trying to console and problem solve.  Our hearts are broken vicariously, as we feel the pain of the Bells.  Later, having more information, RaDene continues to communicate with Tana about what can be done.  It is looking like Sis Hatfield and Tana might just be able to help.

 Now it is late afternoon, and we have done nothing like a preparation day.  We head out for groceries.  Sis Hatfield invites the Bell family for Sunday dinner tomorrow, something we have never done before.  To my surprise, they accept, which ups the ante to pull something together.  Then we do a bit of Christmas craft shopping, and stumble on a 40% off sale that ends that very evening, and we have found exactly what we need, we think.  A small but welcome blessing.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

11 - 17 October 2020 Childhood Memories of Columbia, Missiouri

Sunday, October 11th seemed like it was going to be a bad day.  Our nonagenarian sister in the Pagedale Branch, Annie Stewart, was not at home when we stopped by after sacrament meeting.  She had been hospitalized a few days ago.  Her grandson said it had to do with headaches and chest pains, so it was probably related to her high blood pressure.  She might be released in a few days, but she did not answer when we called her hospital room.  We made sure he had our phone number.  We can’t help but worry about Annie.  Later that afternoon, another sister we visit and talk to regularly said she “needed a break” from church.  In talking to her, she does not want our relationship to change, which I am grateful to hear.  I’m thinking that she is just feeling overwhelmed with life pressures, and trying to give herself some space where ever she can.  We will stay close to her.  Better feelings were shared later that evening when Dad celebrated his 90th birthday with the family.  Malory, AJ and their two adorable kids made a surprise trip out from Alabama to be with him.  I am so thankful for the health and strength my parents have enjoyed in their old age.  I miss not being able to celebrate with him and the rest of the family, but I know he is my biggest supporter for serving this mission.  One of his greatest qualities is faithfulness, putting the Lord first in word and deed.  

Monday, October 12th started with a meeting with Sis Hatfield and Pres Bell.  Technology has become such an integral part of missionary work, and Sis Hatfield plays a key role for the MSLM.  It starts early, with helping missionaries bring compatible phones, to providing directions on setting up the church’s safety application, which restricts use to approved internet sites.  She has become a sharp shooter in helping missionaries use Area Book, the missionary department’s proselyting data collection app.  She spends lots of time on the phone with them, often recruiting help from missionary department technology specialists in Salt Lake City.  The mission has assigned a few young companionships to travel around the mission and train the rank and file in Facebook finding and teaching.  There is a fuzzy line between what Sis Hatfield does supporting the missionaries and the duties of the Traveling Technology Trainers.  So, we organized and coordinated efforts, making sure we understood Pres Bell’s vision of what can be done to expand the mission’s successful use of technology.  Later, I went shopping for a washer and dryer set for a new mission apartment.  After doing some research, I figured out that no one had equipment in stock.  Apparently, the reduced manufacturing of durable goods extends to large home appliances.  But, Home Depot will have something for me by the end of the month.  The elders will need to use the laundry of the apartment complex in the meantime.  Helpfully, the Home Depot appliance specialist recognized I was with a church, and helped me apply for a state tax exemption.  It will save the Church almost $90 on this purchase.  Thanks, Home Depot!  That night, Sis Hatfield and I worked until 10 p.m. getting ready for zone conferences the rest of the week.

On Tuesday, October 13 we got up early and headed the 2 ½ hours to Columbia for our first zone conference of the week, where three zones would meet each day for the next three days.  The sites of the conferences were not centralized.  Instead, they were located where the local county ordinances would permit the size of the meetings of about 80-90 people.  We did research to find that these counties would be in Columbia, Missouri, Springfield, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, more or less the three outlying arms of the mission.  By the time it was over, we would drive between 700 and 800 miles to get around.  We were almost late in Columbia, because we had a tire pressure warning.  Ordinarily, I would not have paid much attention until I had some time, but I had pulled a screw out of the tire a few days before so I felt like I need to deal with the problem, which turned out to be a non-issue, except for making us slow to conference.  Besides presenting to the missionaries, we brought mail, and helped organize and serve Sis Bell’s cinnamon rolls and fruit outside.  It amazes me how food, no matter how carefully thought through, requires a good amount of time and effort to set up, take down, and clean.  After the zone conference, RaDene and I dropped off mail and a birthday present to Elder Kilembi and his companions, zone leaders who had to participate electronically because they had helped a family move a few days before, and unhappily, the father of the family tested positive for COVID-19.  The sister training leaders were on the same service project, and were also quarantined. 

Before heading back to St Louis, we wanted to stop for lunch, and chose a sandwich shop next to the University of Missouri campus.  As we rounded a street corner, Sis Hatfield looked up, and exclaimed, “that is where I had my EEG when I was five years old.”  She hadn’t been around Columbia long enough to know that she was indeed looking at an old wing of the U of Missouri hospital.  She had a recollection of a landmark, the Columns on the campus center, which we found and enjoyed taking a look at and reminiscing about her family’s stay there some 50 years ago while her Dad worked on his masters degree in economics.  RaDene called her Mom and together they laughed about all of the misadventures they experienced that year, from tramatic separation from friends and family, cockroaches, seizures, amputated finger, chicken pox, and more.  It is no wonder Sis Hatfield easily pronounces Missouri as Misery, given the childhood memories.

 On Wednesday, October 14th we traveled to Springfield, Illinois.  One of the things that zone conference week brings a disruption from exercise and healthy eating routines—we are simply on the go early and long this week.  Sis Hatfield’s presentation to the missionaries was memorable, as she shared a clip of our granddaughters saying farewell to each other at the end of Dad’s 90th birthday weekend.  Kennedy and Abbi hugged and kissed, and Kennedy said goodbye.  Abbi paused, and responded, “Never goodbye, never goodbye.  I’ll come to your house someday soon.  Never goodbye.”  It was adorable and captured the hearts of all the missionaries. 

 Thursday, October 15th took zone conference to Cape Girardeau.  The local sister missionaries hitched a ride with us.  Sis Huffaker and Sis Jarman are such good friends to us and to each other.  Sis Huffaker started her mission in South Korea, where our son Spencer served, so we feel a certain bond with her in that regard.  It was the first rainy day of the cooler fall season, so we were not sure how we were going to serve the midmorning snack socially distanced and outside like we had been doing the past two days.  And Sis Bell called Sis Hatfield in a small panic that she had forgotten the grapes for the break and left them at the mission home.  By the time of the call, we were too far to turn around, so we dropped the sisters off at the Cape Girardeau stake center to participate in the beginning of the conference, and Sis Hatfield and I headed to a local grocery store for fruit.  There was a break in the rain, so we were able to have our food break served inside in a line and send them out the door for snacking and visiting.  It worked okay.  Sis Hatfield had the idea of having the mission sing happy birthday to my Dad, since this was his birthday.  So afterwards, the young missionaries, together with Pres and Sis Bell obliged me, and out in the parking lot, Sis Hatfield led them in a spirited happy birthday song, which RaDene posted for him and the whole family to see.  I was tickled that I could offer something special that day to him. 

 We took a detour on the way home to Farmington, where the local habitat for humanity reportedly had used kitchen tables.  We are in need of those around the mission.  Our elders in Farmington have done quite a lot of service for them, so they have sold us furniture at deep discounts before.  Its funny that in a metro area of 3.5 million people, it seems impossible to get large furniture at the local second hand outlets, so we go 150 miles south where they don’t seem to mind accepting donations of and selling large furniture items.  The funny part was when we got to Farmington, it was just a little after 4 p.m.  I called the store manager, and he had already headed for home to watch his kids while his wife went to work at her evening job.  After trying unsuccessfully to keep the trip from being a waste, the manager finally said, “I’ll just give you the door code, and you can let yourself in and see what might work for you.”  So we did, which felt strange, for sure, but inside was a treasure trove of old furniture, including kitchen tables and chairs.  We picked out a couple, called the manager, and he sold them to us at half the marked price.  We left a check on the counter, packed out one set that we needed immediately, marked the other set for future pickup, and locked the door on our way out.  I guess some people trust the missionaries.  We treated ourselves and the young sisters to St Louis-style barbeque for dinner, and headed home.  We logged 291 miles for the day.  Tomorrow will be a much needed catchup day in the office.

 Saturday, October 17th was moving day, this time for us.  After a few false starts, we finally jumped on an upstairs apartment in the building we live in.  Sis Hatfield has observed recently that workers have been in and out of this apartment, and although the leasing office didn’t have it yet on their list to show, she persuaded them that we should be able to take a look before it had been through the ready checklist.  We have been holding our breath for some months now since our upstairs neighbors moved out.  The sewer pipes have done their jobs during this COVID summer with no one upstairs.  But now, it has been re-leased, and we knew that we are at risk again.  For peace of mind, we made the move, figuring that upstairs had to be safer.  Some sister missionaries helped move closet and cupboard stuff, and the housing assistants carried the big furniture.  Since I had given our couch away to a newly opened of elders, and since the President’s office couch was quite awkward in the space, we inherited the office couch.  I joke that every time I sit on it I feel like I’m in an interview.  Naturally, it will be a few days before we are settled, but we find we do enjoy the upstairs apartment.  Maybe that is because we have lived in our perch of a house in Provo for too many years to be ground dwellers.  During a family video call that evening, I got a frantic call from some elders in Decatur, IL that their oven “blew up.”  After troubleshooting for a few minutes, I recognize they won’t be getting the help they need for several days.  I send them to Walmart to get a hotplace burner to give them something to cook on through the weekend.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

4 - 10 October 2020 You Won’t Make It to Samoa


4 - 10 October 2020  You Won’t Make It to Samoa

 Sunday, October 4th was the second day of General Conference.  We enjoyed the morning session on BYUtv, figuring that we would slip over to the office between sessions to print out boarding passes for the 10 missionaries departing tomorrow.  Sis Hatfield sat at her desk and the tension began to build.  As she looked for itineraries, she found she couldn’t print boarding passes for one and then another.  Finally, in exasperation, she called the Church emergency travel service.  The agent wasn’t having any more luck.  It turned out that eight of the 10 flights for the missionaries going home had been cancelled by the airlines.  So, what had been planned as a short stay at the office between sessions turned into something very different.  Schedules were now completely upset, and missionaries and parents at home had to be called and alerted.  President Bell’s airport shuttle schedule was moved up because he now had to leave for the airport for the first flight at 4 a.m.  The previous plan to leave the mission home at 6 a.m. was a lost luxury.  And instead of taking them in two groups, the missionaries would either need to go in four groups, or be left at the airport early to bide their time.  Maybe most distressing, a sister returning to Samoa would not make it home at all.  Two days ago, flights to Samoa were cancelled for the foreseeable future.  Fortunately, Sis Fuimaono has a sister in Hawaii who will take her in.  The only other option was to stay in St Louis, which didn’t seem like a good plan.  All in all, the plans and expectations of many people were upended between conference sessions.  Sis Hatfield worked deep into the afternoon session to get things back on track.  Like we are fond of saying, everything is harder in the COVID era.

 The pleasant part of the afternoon was hosting Sis Thomas and Sis Webster for the afternoon session.  Sis Thomas, our dear friend by now, is heading home tomorrow, and coming from the Cape Girardeau zone, they would either need to drive during the afternoon session, or in the break between to be at the farewell dinner at the mission home.  Sis Hatfield invited them to come watch with us.  That was a good plan until we needed to work on travel, including my supreme contribution of putting together travel treat bags.  As it worked, I had to go home and open up our apartment for the sisters so they could watch while we worked at the office.  By 5:30, we had travel sufficiently under control so that we could go to the mission home to help collect luggage to stow in the trailer, say our goodbyes, and take last pictures.  These young people have a place in our hearts. 

 Monday, October 5th for me was hopeful.  I took an application to a Maryland Heights apartment that seemed willing to work with the Church.  The staff was friendly and helpful, which was a breath of fresh air.  We bought some beds, shopped for kitchen wares, and electronically signed the lease for the new Pagedale apartment to be ready for move in in the morning.  We also left the office in good time today because we had planned video FHE with the grandkids.  Can’t get enough interaction with our fast growing posterity. 

 On Tuesday, October 6th we started the day by moving in the recent second companionship of Pagedale elders into the Hawthorne School Apartments, my new favorite apartment in the mission.  Sure, the living space is great, with exposed high ceilings and rich dark oak woodwork, but Madeline, the middle aged live-in resident is a charmer.  She took pleasure in showing us the two vacant apartments in the school, one of which was the converted old boiler room, and the other of which was the adjacent coal storage room.  That may not sound very appealing, but they are both fascinating spaces.  If it wasn’t a bit of a drive to the office, I’d be tempted to take one of them for myself and Sis Hatfield.

 Wednesday, October 7th was transfer day.  I met the housing assistants at 9:15 at the Frontenac building for the physical set up.  Then at 10 a.m. the new missionaries’ caravan arrived and we ushered them in for orientation and trainer assignments.  We start with the President giving some thoughts to the new missionaries, but then he excuses himself to the other room to “train the trainers.”  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield conducts the staff in their orienting remarks to the new missionaries.  About an hour later, we join the trainer missionaries in the gym and watch the joyful unions.  The remove their masks and embrace as only missionary companions do—full of hope, love, and devotion, and with a full measure of anxiety at the same time.  We hustled outside to be ready to help the new missionaries and their companions with keys, luggage, pillows, phones, addresses, transportation, and other practical details.  Shortly after, the transfers of the infield missionaries begin, and we have over 100 missionaries coming and going through our transfer process.  It is a joy to interact with many. 

 This transfer, Elder Nathaniel Nelson is leaving the housing assistant assignment and is on his way to Sikeston, Missouri, and outpost of the mission.  Elder Nelson assisted with more transfers than any other young person has in the history of the mission as we swelled from 130 to over 250 missionaries.  Taking his place is Elder Smith, a young man that has been serving in the adjacent Maryland Heights area.  I look forward to making a new friend.  I start by taking him and Elder Merrill to Five Guys for a late lunch, a semi tradition for me and the housing assistants after transfers.  Afterwards, we jump back in setting up beds in Fairview Heights, Illinois, taking down a tri in Lebanon, and more set ups in San Carlos.  In all, we have missed only one companionship who is short a bed in Springfield.  I hate that, but there is nothing that can be done today.  An air mattress will have to do for this night.

 Thursday, October 8th I send the housing assistants out on their own to set up the Springfield tri and make a few other needed stops around the Springfield zone.  Typically, I would want to go and see for myself the condition of apartments, which helps me plan for lease renewals, training, and see what should be done on a future return trip.  But this time, I can’t leave the office for the day—there is simply too much concern I have for three companionships in hotels, and one in particular where the manager is giving me signals that they don’t want to deal with the Church application any more.  I need to develop some alternative apartments.  But it hasn’t been easy at all.  What I can find is either too expensive, full, out of the area, or unwilling to deal with a corporate lease.  I’m on my third full application for the St Peters elders, and now it looks like it might fall through again.  I did take a brief break to go out to the apartment of the Hazelwood sisters to install a new dryer selection knob.  Their’s was broken, and Amazon had the replacement part.  I was also cautiously excited to find an in shop appliance repairman who says he will let me drop off broken washers and dryers for him to assess and repair for me.  That would be so much more convenient than trying to connect with traveling repairmen—the standard business model—to wait at an apartment to meet and then pay for in apartment repairs.  Frankly, that almost never works.  Interestingly, the shop is in Ferguson, Missouri, just out side of St Louis, arguably the first place where an African American was shot by a police officer in the recent wave of civil injustice and unrest. 

 I must admit that the most meaningful activity on Friday, October 9th was watching a documentary that RaDene had come across.  It spoke to the dangers of a society, particularly a democracy—where citizens are incapable of finding truth in the maze of computer directed advertising, news stories, and personal entertainment.  Our “truth” is fast becoming what computers discern are our “likes” and feed us over and over again.  The narrow mindedness and polarizing effects are scary indeed.  But one need only look around and see the reality of the problem.  This Presidential election season has been alarming, even from the well insulated perspective of a missionary.

 Saturday, October 10th was delightful.  We went on a long walk/jog—a “wog”—through a course RaDene has plotted out.  It was a good stress reliever.  Then went to the St Louis Botanical Garden Butterfly House, a conservatory of educational gardens, indoor and out, with lots of butterflies and other insect creatures, and their habitats.  The Butterfly House is adjacent to a large park that contains houses, cabins, barns, and other structures and artifacts from 100 to almost 200 years ago from a small settlement in the area.  We didn’t get to take a tour because we need to do our shopping, so we have reason to return.

Monday, October 5, 2020

27 September – 3 October 2020 Apartment Envy


On Sunday, September 27 we didn’t have Zoom Primary with Nana and Papa because Spencer and Elisa were driving their family to Arizona for a week with the Lymans.  Hopefully we can resume next week, because Nana and Papa sure like having Primary with the Grands.  At Church in our little Pagedale branch, we ended up giving our seats in the chapel to others and listening from the Foyer.  I had told the Elder’s Quorum President that if it ever looked like we would cross over county COVID meeting limitation rules (25% of room capacity), he could give me the sign and we’d be happy to help make room.  This week, I got the sign.  Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a trend of larger attendance!  After administering the sacrament to Annie Stewart, we joined the beginning of the mission presidency meeting back at the office.  We presented on JustServe, which is starting a community service promotional campaign for the rest of the year.  The two counselors in the mission presidency are taking the role of communicating with stake leaders about JustServe, while Sis Hatfield and I continue to train and encourage the young missionary leadership and the missionaries themselves.  We ended the day by hosting dinner with Elder Dayton and Elder Howard, the new companionship that has joined the Pagedale area, giving us four elders in the branch now, in addition to Sis Hatfield and me.

 Monday, September 28 started badly.  My housing coordinator email would not connect.  I spent all morning on the phone with mission technology support, and after several calls, I was finally back on line.  The tech said my computer’s Microsoft license had expired.  I was relieved to get back in the game, which primarily focused on a Pagedale apartment search for Elders Dayton and Howard.  Pagedale is a bit tricky:  the northern half of the branch is an area that most would consider somewhat to largely unsafe because of crime.  It is definitely one of the edgy parts of town.  But I have triangulated on a place called Hawthorne School Apartments, which had a manager that was very helpful and didn’t seem to be the least bothered about the Church being the renter.  I filled out the application and was cautiously optimistic. 

 Speaking of apartment searches, the family that once lived above us had abandoned the place late this spring or early summer, no doubt because of COVID related misfortunes.  Recently, it has been reoccupied.  RaDene has no desire to have a sixth sewage backup in our apartment, and now that someone has moved in upstairs from us, we are a bit nervous again.  We’ve asked a couple of times about the possibilities of alternatives, but nothing seemed to pan out.  Sis Hatfield made a new appointment with a leasing agent and he said that there was an available ground floor apartment on the other end of the building we could look at.  After looking at it, it has some deficiencies.  Recently, RaDene has noticed signs of the upstairs apartment on the other end of the building being renovated.  Obviously, an upstairs apartment offered some hope of being above any backup.  Tonight I noticed the lights were on in that upstairs apartment.  After trespassing to take a look, it seems like a very acceptable alternative.  The deck is smaller than our ground floor patio, and it isn’t obvious how we’d recreate our hanging flowers or bird feeders, but mostly, it would get us above the sewer backup zone.  The leasing agent said it wasn’t yet available.  Pressing him, RaDene learned that it should be available to take a look after a county inspection at the end of the week.  We made an appointment the first possible time to see it, the Saturday morning before General Conference.

 On Tuesday, September 29th I left the apartment early to go scout out the neighborhood of the Hawthorne School Apartments.  It is a leap of faith or stupidity to put in an application before knowing something about the neighborhood, but I had done just that yesterday.  I felt like I needed to.  But now I needed to confirm the feeling and take a look.  Like I said, Pagedale is a bit tricky, and honestly, an abandoned but repurposed school could be a cue to neighborhood problems.  On my drive out, I was getting nervous, but as I rounded the last turn, I was in the middle of a lovely middle class neighborhood with a beautiful city park and a very handsome old building, the Hawthorne School Apartments.  I saw signs of families, diversity, and people that didn’t seem afraid to be outside.  Whew.  

 By 9:30 a.m., I met the housing assistants back at the office and storage unit to load up for a trip to the Springfield zone.  We took mail, loaner phones, tools, and materials and headed out.  I received multiple calls along the way from the manager at the Hawthorne School Apartments asking pertinent questions about my application, which I was delighted to answer.  She was taking the application seriously and giving it her attention.  We stopped a couple of hours later in Jacksonville, Illinois first, to grab an extra couch from one of the elders’ apartments potentially needed in Springfield, and then at the second Jacksonville elders’ apartment to get a spare key, and install some window coverings.  I was happy to learn that all had been quiet there since the loud middle of the night commotion reported a few weeks ago, but which never could be verified by surveillance video.  Next we were off to Springfield to deliver that just acquired couch, and then to Decatur.  The stop in Decatur was made a little more tricky by the quarantine the elders were under because of a hernia operation to happen on Friday.  Too bad they didn’t mention that before today.  Delivering the desk was easy enough, but part of the task was to take a look at a door that had a hole punched in it by rough housing.  I wasn’t going to skip this task, so I invited the quarantined elders to go for a walk while I inspected the problem.  It looked repairable, so I mixed up some patch and made the first fill.  I left some sandpaper, the mix, and a putty knife for the elders to apply a second coat tomorrow.  This may go bad not doing the work myself, but the alternative couldn’t be worse than replacing the door, which is where we are if we don’t try.  Last, we gave them the mission loaner phone.  The newly arrived elder had brought a phone that turned out to be incompatible with the Missionary Department’s security software.  This happens all the time.  The Church tries to give instructions about what models of phones and operating systems will work with required security software, but the instructions are almost incomprehensible to anyone but the most tech savvy.  And constantly evolving phones are increasingly less compatible with the security software.  Sis Hatfield is spending an enormous amount of time coaching new missionaries, and often, giving them clunker loaner phones so they can send their fast, sleek phones home per mission department rules.  Ugh.  Leaving, the Decatur sisters pulled in and delivered some homemade chocolates to the elders, and we were part beneficiaries being in the right place at the right time.  And no, sisters are not supposed to bring treats to the elders.  I caught them!

 We were now off to our last stop in Litchfield, where the sisters there had been complaining generally about the quality of their apartment and specifically about some “black stuff” in their window.  I knew the place was an older duplex, so I knew an inspection could be warranted.  I haven’t seen it closely before, except from the front porch.  It was 7 pm before we arrived, and I took a look around.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The building itself was older, but had obvious signs of ownership that pays attention.  Things were in better than average shape, except for years of “stuff” accumulated in the apartment that clearly cluttered the look and livability.  We talked about it, and then and there did a sort, and carried out boxes of junk that greatly improved the situation.  As for the “black stuff” in the window, I concluded that there was indeed some mold staining the wood window casing.  I donned my rubber gloves, got out the cleaner and hot water, dried and applied some disinfectant, and made it go away.  I cleaned the sisters’ bathtub of the beginnings of some mold while I was at it.  We had prayers and were on our way.  Mission accomplished.  I think the sisters needed some of our attention and effort, which they received, and now feel better about their apartment.  We got back to the office at 9:30 that night, a solid 12 hours after starting our circle around the Springfield zone.

 Wednesday, September 30th started with a trip to Webster Groves North to look at a malfunctioning smoke alarm.  The sisters couldn’t figure out why it was beeping intermittently.  Since they were on quarantine, I told them a couple of days ago to just put it in their car until I could get there.  I got there, and figured out how to open the casing.  Alas, it needed a size battery I did not bring, so I raced to the Seven Eleven to buy some, then put in some anchors to reinstall.  I was in a bit of a hurry because I had an appointment in Centralia, Illinois.  The elders out there (way out there, I should say, most of the way to Indiana), had done some service and come across some furniture they thought might be of benefit to the mission.  I’m a little leery about such offers, because as often as not, donated furniture is in poor condition or the wrong sort of item (who can use an old style entertainment center?).  But I really need dressers, and the elders had sent some promising pictures.  I was a bit jaded though, because the donor had asked how much I was willing to pay, and had temporarily rebuffed my admittedly low offer while someone else took a look.  But we were back on for now.  It turned out we met the elders in Centralia, but the furniture was actually in a barn several towns and dirt roads away.  But I was pleasantly surprised by what I finally saw.  I picked 10 pieces and we secured it in the trailer.  The donor turned out to be a recently widowed member who was not at the barn because she was trying to sell a trailer to someone.  I asked to meet the member to give her the check, so off we went to the trailer, which was down a few more dirt roads.  She wasn’t there either, and now was reportedly at a place difficult to navigate a truck and trailer at all.  So, I gave the check to the elders and asked them to deliver it and have her call me.  As we were driving down the highway, she did call, and what a pleasant woman she was.  In the end, I was glad I was able to provide a small sum to a widow who needed the money, and very proud of the elders for providing service to her in her time of need, and helping fill mission needs for furniture too. 

 Thursday, October 1st.  Wait, did I just write that its October?  Yep, its official, we have been through our first Missouri summer season.  I joked with RaDene while she was in her exercise shorts that her legs are whiter than I have ever seen them at the end of a summer—ever.  She could say the same thing about me.  No danger of advancing skin cancer on a mission.  But there is no time to reflect on legs.  We are out the door to help with a Mission Leadership Council being held in the St Louis stake center.  Sis Bell has planned and prepared a lunch, but has forgot some ingredients at the mission home.  And can we bring crockpots, and what gluten free desert do we have?  Sis Hatfield caucuses with Sis Bell and pulls together the loose ends and we are off.  Our main responsibility will be to execute Sis Bell’s lunch plans.  RaDene is an excellent kitchen field marshall, organizing the staff to make it happen.  I am chief dishwasher, because there is no barbeque today.  But we also give JustServe training to the zone leaders and sister training leaders, including the Real Lives. Real Change. campaign.  I think of an MLC as a ½ day event, but I’m always optimistic about that.  Once we have the leftovers put away and the pots clean and the floor mopped, we are deep into the afternoon.  We head back to the office to find some large deliveries having shown up while we were gone.  I dash back to the stake center while Sis Hatfield calls some missionaries to wait.  It is too good an opportunity to get some of these things out to missionaries driving long distances back to their teaching areas.  That evening in the office, Sis Hatfield spends more hours with the phone contractor and finally says she cannot afford any more time on this project until after transfers next week.  We will line up the new phones like soldiers on the counter.  No one seems to be able to make even these new phones work.  We turn our attention to the mission news letter and the draft of the transfer board.  There is much to do before the 19 new missionaries arrive next week. 

 Friday, October 2nd shows more progress on the transfer board, with two new teaching areas and 9 missionary trios.  I head over to University City, part of the Pagedale Branch, and get to see the inside of the Hawthorne School Apartments.  They exceed my expectations.  The early 20th Century four story stone building must have been an impressive school when it opened, but its bones outlived current school standards.  But the setting is beautiful, surrounded by lawns and a city park, stately oaks, and a old circle drive.  The neighborhood seems diverse and friendly.  Inside, the developer turned the architect loose and he divided the school into 41 unique apartments, preserving the hallways, stonework, thick hardwood paneling and high arched windows.  The apartment I’m trying to rent looks like part of a former classroom, with handsome windows that must be 15 feet tall, bathing the space in light.  The walls are covered in part with old painted chalk boards.  And to go with the charm, the bathroom and kitchen is 100 percent new construction within the old classroom space.  I’m taken with the place.  I wish I could live here myself. 

 After lunch, I meet up with the housing assistants who have had zone council all morning.  We head out to the apartment of the Hazelwood sisters, who tell me that their can opener no longer works to start their dryer.  Hmm.  When we examine things, we see that the timer switch has fallen back into the control panel and the knob that turns the switch is cracked.  We take the panel apart and reattach the timer, but the knob is not fixable.  I leave some pliers so they can turn the dryer control without a can opener.  I will check to see if I can order a replacement knob.  Of course, they get a complimentary cleaning under their clothes dryer.  That’s just the way we roll.  As we leave, we see an oversized dumpster in the apartment complex.  It is just the perfect spot to discard a couch that even missionaries can’t use any longer.  Back at the office, its late, but Sis Hatfield is still plugging away at the mission newsletter, trying to fit pictures of arriving missionaries, and looking for updated pictures of departing missionaries (they change a lot in two years at this age!) and edit and fit their written testimonies.  It is a labor of love that these young people will enjoy, but I don’t think they’ll ever fully appreciate the work that went into the project.  Isn’t that typical of service in the Kingdom? 

 Saturday, October 3rd is General Conference.  We’ve looked forward to this day for a long time.  We are so uplifted by the testimonies and instruction of our leaders.  The Prophet is unbelievably spry and sharp.  After the morning session, which we watch on BYUtv in our apartment, we head to the office.  I’m looking for hotels and Sis Hatfield is working on departing missionary paperwork.  It isn’t our plan, but we work through the afternoon session, listening to the talks as best we can while doing our mission work that has clear deadlines.  Blessedly, RaDene has made a plan to get together with the Jacobs and the Evertons for dinner out between the afternoon session and the Women’s session.  We are an unlikely trio of couples, by worldly measures.  We don’t match up in many ways.  But in the most important way, we are exactly aligned:  we love the Lord and His missionaries, and are honored to be serving them.  RaDene and I then go to the Jacobs for pie and to watch the evening session at their house.  As a bonus, Sis Hatfield gets to watch from the full body massage chair.