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  Complaining out loud about the situation, Sis Hatfield recalled that I had withdrawn my application at a place called Meadowridge apartments because they had at first indicated they would have a vacancy in early September, but just as I was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.

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