Friday, November 27, 2020

15-21 Nov 2020 Briefly Arrested

On Sunday, November 15th I was the proudest Papa ever.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, because we hadn’t done any advance planning, but somehow Sis Hatfield pulled together a primary lesson for the grandkids.  So we began the day with a video meeting with Abbi and Ezra and the subject was the Jaredites.  To start, Sis Hatfield shared a video of the story of the Bro of Jared.  The presentation was good enough, but I thought it would be impossible for them to answer Nana ‘Dene’s question after the grandkids watched it:  “What was the Bro of Jared’s problem?” she asked.  Abbi scrunched up her nose for a second and then replied, “too dark.”  I was amazed that she picked that out that improbable problem in all that was going on in the story.  I’ll claim her as my posterity. 

 In sacrament meeting, it was announced the St Louis County health orders were imposing 25 percent occupancy limits on meetings again.  A step backwards, for sure.  After church we went to the grocery store twice to pick up some saltines, soup, V-8 juice, lemons, ginger root, and Theraflu for Annie Stewart, who continues to be very ill with COVID.  It is a strange thing to minister from the front porch steps, but it’s the best we can do.  The situation has opened her great-grandson Jordan to talk with us, who has been somewhat standoffish.  Apparently they don’t get too much support and we keep showing up.  Afterwards, we head to the mission office where Sis Hatfield is horrified to find that her Newsletter has not saved properly and she has lots to do to finish it.  That, and she needs to print 25 boarding passes for departing missionaries.  That done, we go to the mission home to say goodbye to some young missionaries that we love very much.  About 10 pm that night, a sister missionary notices that her boarding card doesn’t match her itinerary.  Inconveniently, her flight time is now 5:30 am, hours before anyone is planning to head for the airport.  Of course, that means a call to Sis Hatfield.  Sis Hatfield looks things up, and sure enough, the flight has changed without our noticing it and without a message to anyone.  Sis Hatfield in turn calls the emergency number at church travel, who confirms that everyone else traveling tomorrow is fine, it is just this one sister that was changed by the airlines without advising anyone.  Church travel cheerily found a more reasonable alternative flight and we are set, except Sis Hatfield needs to call the family and let them know that timing has changed.  Explaining the situation to the missionary’s dad, he asked drily, “can’t you just keep her a little longer?”  We all need such a sense of humor in these times.

Monday, November 16th brought a little relief for the problematic lease renewal in Decatur.  The President has assigned two different missionaries into the apartment, with two departing, including the one that hasn’t been able to satisfy the manager’s silly Social Security card requirement.  I alerted the manager of the changes and she seemed a little relieved too.  I got on the phone with the new missionaries and told them exactly what they would need when they meet the manager on Wednesday.  Hopefully, this will go better.  We have spent much too much time on a simple lease renewal trying to satisfy unhelpful residency qualification requirements.  The housing assistants and I went to Weldon Spring and to Rockwood 2nd and set up third beds for the sisters arriving on Wednesday. We got that bulky piano out of Rockwood just in time.  We did the same thing in Pagedale in the new Hawthorne School apartment.  The bedroom was wall to wall bed.  The elders were good sports, but I hope this doesn’t need to last too long.  Back at the office, Sis Hatfield and I measured the furniture that might be taken into the space across the hall if it works out that the mission office moves.

Tuesday, November 17th included the strange chore of taking boxes of white shirts to the local thrift store.  The shirts were no longer in usable condition for the St Louis temple clothing rental.  After giving away what we could to the missionaries, we had three boxes of shirts with neck size 20 or larger.  St Vincent DePaul Charities recognizes our mission truck.  We are scheduled to receive incoming missionaries today in two big waves and several other small ones, coming from as far away as Honolulu.  While waiting for the second group of new missionaries to arrive, Sis Hatfield has the brilliant idea of training the first group on phone set up, which has just changed, and dramatically, and technology use for proselyting.  The Traveling Technology Trainers, Elders Scheurman and McNeil, join her for the effort.  It took much more time than we thought, and because set up is brand new procedures, this would have been very difficult to do after they were dispersed around the mission.  When the second group of new missionaries came, we socially distanced them at tables around the cultural hall and fed them Sis Bell’s new favorite group meal:  Costco lasagna.  With some debate and concern, we had moved the Frontenac sisters out of their apartment for the night set up to house sister missionaries, and housed incoming elders there instead.  Hopefully the elders will stay in the dormitory front room and stay out of the sisters’ bedroom.  We are trying hard to keep the County rule of not having more than 10 people in a gathering.  Because we have so many elders, we have almost 10 at three different places, to the significant inconvenience of everyone.  Finally, we think we are prepared for transfers in the morning, but no, at 10:45 pm, the President calls to say that COVID quarantines have been ordered by the mission nurse at several locations, so planned movements will need to be adjusted on the fly tomorrow.  Two missionaries didn’t even come today, because they either have or are being tested for COVID.  I offer some suggestions, but we are all too tired to think clearly.  It’s pretty obvious transfers tomorrow will be difficult.

Wednesday, November 18th is set to be the second largest movement in the history of the mission, with 50+ missionaries having departed or arrived, and more than 125 missionaries from around the mission involved in the transfer.  That’s approximately one half of the mission.  I hope the masks are effective—social distancing will be nearly impossible with that number of people trying to maneuver through the transfer stations, move luggage, change companions, and organize car rides all over the mission.  As it happened, two of the incoming new missionaries have not been permitted to travel because they have or have been exposed to COVID.  And districts in both the Columbia Zone and the Springfield Zone have been quarantined, to are making adjustments on the morning of transfers in the parking lot while missionaries are on their way to the transfer location.  The office staff has about 40 minutes of training to give to the new missionaries.  Pres Bell introduces us before he turns it over and goes into another room to “train the trainers.”  He begins by assuring the new missionaries that they are in the right place, doing the right thing.  He frequently shows his name badge bearing the name of Jesus Christ.  This time, he pulled on lapel to show his badge, and to his embarrassment, it was not there.  We all had a good laugh.  For me, the transfer also was a farewell, because Elder Kyle Merrill is being transferred away from the housing assistant assignment to go to proselyte in Waterloo, Illinois.  Elder Merrill has been a delight.  He has strong physical organization skills and mechanical aptitudes that have been very helpful.  His personality is bright, cheerful, and patient.  I will miss him a lot.  President Bell has assigned Elder Adam Buck to join the housing team.  I know from past experiences that we will get along very well. 

As we work through the transfer of missionaries, first one, then another brand new missionaries cannot find their carry on bags that they had with them last night.  They are sure they brought them to transfers, but they are no where to be found.  We search the church top to bottom, look in the vans they came in, and everywhere else we can think of, but no luck.  We tell them to be patient, the bags will show up.  We are being a bit optimistic about that, because by now I am not so sure.  Finally, the mystery is solved.  They had put their bags in the white Chevrolet Equinox they thought they were leaving in, but alas, it was the wrong car.  Since we have about 20 white Chevrolet Equinoxes in the mission, and most of them have been in the parking lot today, it is no wonder there wasn’t more confusion on whose care was whose.  Finally, we have everyone on the road, and I take Elder Smith and Elder Buck to Five Guys for a burger, a bit of a transfer tradition by now.  Then we go to the office for apartment keys, head to the storage unit for furniture, and head for Alton to set up on of the emergency TRIs made necessary by a quarantine.  Then we are off to Tuscola, a good two hours north and east, to set up another TRI for the same reason.  We are about half way there when I get a call from Pres Bell saying that we need one more emergency TRI, this time in Jacksonville, about an hour and a half west of Tuscola.  The problem is, we are a long way from the storage unit by now.  But for some reason, when we were at the storage unit I had the feeling to bring an extra bed, desk, and chair set, which I didn’t think too much about, but which I would never ordinarily do.  When we get the call from the President, I know exactly why.  After Tuscola, we steer west with exactly what we need to fill the bill.  Small miracle.  The long loop around Illinois is a severe baptism for poor Elder Buck.  We don’t get him home until 11:45 pm on his first afternoon as a housing assistant. 

Thursday, December 19th starts with a morning in the office, working on leases.  I average two new leases each week, so there is a lot of contract work to keep up with.  Church audits require paper copies of leases, so I have a triple entry data procedure—paper files, church electronic data files, and non-church electronic data that I need but that is not captured in the church programs.  It’s a lot of work.  More, the Springfield Stake realigned boundaries and changed names in two wards this last weekend.  The boundary changes are a headache for Sis Hatfield because she needs to draw them electronically and assign missionaries to the teaching areas, together with contact information, investigator information, member contacts, and new area names to match the new ward names.  I have a similar task to change apartment names, that are based on teaching area/ward names.  And of course, this needs to be done in triplicate.  It is all the more challenging because with our high missionary census, we have at least two companionships in each Springfield ward, and to increase the difficulty, missionaries are working out of their assigned areas because of COVID precautions.  During the afternoon, I take down two TRIs, one in Pagedale and one in O’Fallon, Missouri, because of a sudden leadership changes.  Back at the office, Sis Hatfield learns that five missionaries have now received assignments to go back overseas to Africa or South America during December and January.  Not many of our 100 or so transplants, but a start.

On Friday, November 20th we had a staff meeting, but hurried to be done in time to see President Nelson’s Gratitude message.  It was inspiring.  Sis Hatfield has made some wonderful social media posts and millions of others have followed his counsel and have done the same.  These are points of light in an often dark world, started by a prophet of God.

Saturday, November 21st started with a walk.  One objective was to decide who we would join for Thanksgiving.  The President has directed that we meet as Districts, groups of about 6-10 missionaries.  In the wrong district, Sis Hatfield and I could easily push the group size beyond the expected limit of 10.  We had narrowed down our options, but one unknown was where the zone leaders and assistants to the President would attend.   So while we started our walk we texted the young missionary leaders to figure out where we would fit.  It turns out we will have dinner with the Frontenac district, including the sisters and technology trainers that we love—a lot.  Our assignment is sweet potatoes and dressing, some of our specialties.  As we crossed I-270 on the Olive Street overpass, we marveled at the investment in urban landscaping.  Sis Hatfield even paused to examine some of the plants.  We also stopped a time or two waiting for “walk” signals.  Five minutes later, we started around the sidewalk off the overpass and onto the frontage road, heading towards a park.  Suddenly, a police car, then another, pulled up and police came across to stop us.  The lead officer asked if we had any idea why they were stopping us.  RaDene said no, but then offered maybe we had jumped the gun on a walk signal?  No, the officer replied.  Had we been asking for money?  We said no, but he pressed the question.  We assured him we had not been panhandling.  We had enough money of our own.  The officer acknowledged that he had not seen it himself, but was responding to “several” citizen calls of panhandlers on the Olive Street overpass, and from the description, he was sure the callers were referring to us.  We finally convinced him we were not guilty.  He told us to be careful on our walk (careful of what, we were not sure, maybe careful not to ask people for money?) and the awkward exchange was over.  As we walked away, we remarked that we were not well dressed.  Maybe we did look like homeless people that morning?  Because of a drizzle, we had put on rain jackets that had unintentionally covered our missionary name tags.  In some ways, I was glad.  I wouldn’t want to have embarrassed the name of the Church with motorists or the police.  On the other hand, with badges, maybe we wouldn’t have looked like vagabonds. 

Later that day, Pres Bell alerted us that the State of Illinois was imposing new COVID mitigation regulations because of the new wave of cases.  We went home and researched the health orders in Illinois and helped Pres Bell provide guidance to the missionaries.  Illinois’ new mandate was limiting religious gatherings to 10 people and prohibiting gatherings among people other than household members except in “essential” activities.  This effectively ends church services in Illinois for the second time this year, and will keep missionaries from finding and teaching except by audio and video means.  Just as things seemed to be getting more flexible, we are clamping down again to remain compliant with the rules.  The missionaries will need to continue to be brave.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

8-14 Nov 2020 Job Description Includes: Tossing a Piano


Sunday, November 8th.  We stopped by Annie Stewart’s house after church. She was not well.  On the phone, she said she had felt poorly since her 94th birthday on Thursday.  It sounds as if a family member may have given her a present she did not want.  We only could wave at her from the front porch.  She hardly moved her head while sitting in her chair.  Dee Marche didn’t feel that well either.  Health challenges are a big deal.  RaDene and I have been blessed since being out on our mission.  As we say, we haven’t been sick since we left our grandkids at home.  Rather humorously, a companionship in Lake St Louis was having a mysterious problem with their phones, unable to reliably pick up their voice messages.  After coaching some of her trouble shooting tricks without success, Sis Hatfield finally reached out to her AT&T technical representative assigned to the Mission (and thousands of other phones).  She and he have become pretty good professional friends, which I suppose is an indication of how often Sis Hatfield calls him.  She has even bothered him on his Hawaiian vacation.  After explaining the missionaries’ trouble with their voice mail, and clearly after a long day, the AT&T man said with exasperation, “I don’t know what the problem is, have them go to a an AT&T store.”  They joked that if there is a problem out there to experience, missionaries will discover it, when no one else will.

Monday, November 10th marks the beginning of the week before transfers.  It is the start of a busy two weeks while we prepare and execute on the movement of 50+ missionaries, including 27 incoming next week.  Its preparation day for the young missionaries, and I’ve promised some elders in Waterloo, Illinois that I will address their washer, which is no longer spinning.  Waterloo is south and across the Mississippi in a rural but growing part of the state, about 50 minutes from St Louis.  We take the mission pickup truck out there, verify the problem, unhook it, and carry it down the stairs and strap it in.  Its too late to get to the appliance repair shop before it closes, so I stopped at Lowes, Home Depot, and Menard’s on the trek back looking for a certain u-shaped florescent light bulb used in our office.  We have about four of them burned out.  I have no success finding them, and resort to ordering them on Amazon when back in the office.  Its getting harder and harder to justify shopping for things in stores.  We also stop at the sisters apartment in Webster Grove, who have complained about a window water leak and that their smoke alarm goes off every time they use the oven.  I’ve worked on this apartment alarm too many times, and this time I decide to just moving it out of the hallway into the bedroom.  Yes, it will be frightening if it ever goes off, but maybe out of the way of furnace and kitchen air, it will stop going off.  That night, we have family home evening with the Evertons, another couple in the office, and the Nehrings, a couple we know from the Pagedale Branch.  Bro Nehring is the temple recorder and a great student of the gospel.  We watched an episode of the Chosen about Nicodemus, and then discussed what we know about him and his interactions with the Lord.  It is fun to speculate about his experiences and how he might have felt.  In this fallen world, it is almost unimaginable to me what Christ’s earthly relationships would have been like.

Tuesday, November 10th RaDene began scheduling video interviews for the 27 incoming missionaries with Pres Bell and Sis Everton.  It has turned out to be a real chore.  Some are giving farewell addresses during one of the chosen blocks of time, and others have MTC teachers that refuse to excuse missionaries from class for 10 minutes to speak to their mission presidents.  That is more than a little ironic to me.  Sis Hatfield is frustrated and wants to speak with one of the recalcitrant teachers directly, but I told her to let it go, and just let Pres Bell know.  For the second day in a row, we pick up a balky appliance, this time a dryer that is not working for the Hazelwood sisters.  Mike, the proprietor at Dellwood Washer and Dryer is getting to know us pretty well.  But I am so happy I have his services to help.  Later that night, I get an email that the maintenance ticket for the window leak at the Webster Grove sister’s apartment is now closed, the work being done.  That is unbelievable.  I was there yesterday, and saw many square feet of walls and ceilings in two different rooms badly damaged by the water.  Repairs are certainly not done.  I get to work emailing pictures of the mess to the manager directly.  Meanwhile, RaDene is collecting departing missionary testimonies, missionary pictures, and other items for the mission newsletter, The Harvester.  It is a huge task every six weeks, because it is never the same and needs new formatting and content every time.  But we leave the office by 10 pm, which is pretty good for this transfer preparation week. 

On Wednesday, November 11th I get a call that another dryer is not heating, this time in Missouri River South.  We are off to check it out and ultimately pick it up, and stop at the Weldon Spring apartment on the way back because I need to make a renewal decision regarding this property.  I’ve made a couple of mistakes this past summer renewing without inspecting an apartment, a mistake I don’t want to make again and which I can’t blame on being just too busy like I legitimately could a month or two ago.  After chuckling with Mike the appliance repairman that we “will see you tomorrow,”  ha, ha, we head to the sisters apartment in Eureka, Missouri.  I’ve had it on my work list for months to remove and discard the terribly broken piano that sits against a wall in their apartment.  This is the day I procrastinate no longer.  The housing assistants and I struggle to get it out the door and down the stairs and into the truck.  Behind the piano is the cold air return which looks like it is a grey wolf pelt it is so clogged with matted dust and dirt hanging on the louvers.  After scrapping off a pile, I look around for the vacuum and it turns into a vacuum cleaning project.  I’ve seen overused vacuums so many times over the past 11 months that by now I’m pretty good at cleaning out vacuum filters and roller brushes.  Whew.  We slowly dismantle parts of the piano and leave them in dumpsters, but the heavy sound board is still strung and intact, and I decide to just leave it in the pickup, hoping someone will steal it and solve my disposal problem.  The President has a preliminary chart of missionary transfers which RaDene and I studied until late that night building the outlines of the tasks that will get the transfer successfully done next week. 

Thursday, November 12th.  This afternoon, the housing assistants and I finally disposed of what’s left of the piano.  We’ve pried off pieces and discarded them along the way, but today we backed up to a dumpster and gave a heave ho to the sound board box.  I hope the garbage truck can still pick up the dumpster.  Good riddance.  That project has taken altogether too much thought and effort.  Then we went to the mission’s rented storage unit and organized.  It was pretty clean after some effort this summer, but the last few weeks have been crazy with member donations.  They seem to come in waves and stuff has been piled in helter skelter.  And we have another donation to get and we need room.  We’ve picked up three used couches in recent days, and although they are not beautiful, they are in great shape compared to some of what is out there in the mission.  Sis Hatfield and I hatched a plan to get them out.  We invited the missionaries to text us a picture if they though they had the couch most in need of replacing.  My phone was “blowing up” all afternoon with entries.  We chose the worst three and took replacements out to them.  I gave a little preference to the distant areas because they are necessarily neglected a bit compared to the greater St Louis area apartments.  We also retrieved and delivered the two dryers that were in the shop.  I think I could go to work for RC Willey home delivery when I get home. 

Back in the office, I worked on a lease renewal for the Decatur, Illinois elders.  The apartment complex has become a stickler for background checks and personal documentation.  One elder has lost his social security card, which they demanded a copy of.  On explanation, in lieu of a copy, they want documentation that the elder has applied for a replacement Social Security card.  The replacement process is a red tape nightmare and difficult for anyone, but nearly impossible for a missionary out in the field 2.5 hours from the mission office.  First, the Social Security Administration requires an online account and all sorts of documentation themselves.  It is so hard to apply away from home and without access to the internet and a computer, and showing proof of application is even more difficult.  The missionaries do not have printers!  I am not sure why this manager has gotten so difficult.  We have tried to provide an FBI background report that references the SSN (obtained as part of a foreign visa application process) and a US passport instead.  They have rejected this information.  They are trying my patience.  Think about it.  What can a SS card show that is not shown better in an FBI background check referencing the SSN, a driver’s license, and a passport!  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is spending long hours on the mission newsletter.  The huge numbers of comings and goings require updated picture searches, formatting, and departing testimony collection and editing.  Whew!  She also is trying to schedule incoming missionary interviews and video introductions for Pres Bell and Sis Everton (mission nurse).  Making things unusually difficult, a number of the missionaries have told Sis Hatfield that their online MTC teachers will not excuse them for any video meetings with their mission president.  Sis Hatfield is ready to call the Executive Director of the Missionary Department on behalf of Pres Bell.  I suggest she let it go rather than put the missionaries in a difficult position.  But it sure is hard to receive lots of missionaries, meet them, give them interviews, feed them, overnight them, all while maintaining social distance, when the MTC policy, while undoubtedly grounded in principle, is inflexible to the environment we are operating in.  If the MTC only knew the stress in the field!

Friday, November 13th began with something like a nighmare for RaDene.  Well, for her it was a restless, sleepless night anyway.  She has tried to table the office move discussions that she is involved in until after transfers.  Sis Hatfield does not have time to work on office move issues in the week leading up to transfers.  But although our landlord and the Church real estate department when dormant on the idea for months, they have suddenly re-energized, days before our second largest transfer in the history of the mission.  She would love to be able to take everyone’s thoughts and develop them, and give Pres Bell some recommendations.  Naturally, the biggest question is whether we will be better off moving or not from a office efficiency perspective.  And no one knows without layouts.  The Church employees don’t seem to be able to help with some simple layouts without turning it into a temple architecture type of effort, which we cannot provide sufficient time and detail to accomplish.  She is vacillating between having her layout kit sent from home or buying a basic software.  Hopefully she can push off all of this, except for some staff discussions to calm fears and manage expectations, until a calmer day the end of next week.

In staff meeting, RaDene gave a beautiful, heartfelt spiritual thought on the big picture of the staff’s office work, and the process for making moving decisions.  We spent the next two hours planning how to transport, feed, overnight, and train 25 departing missionaries and 27 arriving missionaries over the next five days on many different flight schedules.  The logistics are overwhelming, and made nearly impossible by the new St Louis County health orders to socially distance and limit private groups to 10.  The welcome dinner, sadly to me at least, won’t be at the mission home, but spread out in the gym at a church building.  Maybe no one else will care, but it doesn’t seem to nurture the nostalgic feelings I developed in my mission home for my mission president and his wife as I started my young missionary service.  Later that afternoon, I took a break from my mission assignments and helped minister to Annie Stewart.  I bought cleaning supplies and disinfectants and dropped them off at her porch for her great-grandson to receive.  It’s as near to a scary COVID experience as we have had, and it is pretty sobering, for sure.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is trying to carry out Pres Bell’s plan to kick off the Light the World missionary campaign early next week by getting Christmas pass along cards printed.  The art work has come from Salt Lake, but there are no actual cards.  We are expected to print them ourselves.  But the printers are telling Sis Hatfield that the electronic files are fixed and show the card cut guidelines when printed in business card format.  No one in Salt Lake seems to be able to help.  How are all the other missions doing this? 

Saturday, November 14th begins with me trying to get confirmation from Pres Bell that we can go ahead and set up bedrooms to accommodate the planned transfers on Wednesday. But transfer decisions are still in limbo.  COVID has popped up in several areas across the mission and among two of the missionaries scheduled to fly in on Tuesday.  Quarantines are being imposed so that a number of the planned moves can’t happen.  We will do what we can.  But first, to improve the mood, I invited the housing assistants to join Sis Hatfield and I for breakfast.  Mking sour dough pancakes is one of my new favorite distractions.  We shop for bunkbeds, but the local seller says that inventory is out until at least January because of the broken supply chain.  We go to Alton to get dressers from a member that lives in an old house built for a Civil War commander 150 years ago.  It is beautiful.  It is fun to talk to an Illinois native who is an anchor to the Church here.  Finally, I start calling missionaries to alert them that we might be setting up bedrooms on Monday, assuming we have a stable plan by then.

Monday, November 16, 2020

1-7 Nov 2020 Our Own Near Tragedy


Sunday, November 1st started with long-distance video Primary with Abbi and Ezra.  To our delight, their new little sister has a great chair that holds her up and steady, and she sits on the counter in the background taking it all in, watching her sibs sing, talk, and listen to their Nana and Papa.  It is a new world:  Amelia is growing up with video conference just a normal and natural part of life.  We wished Sis Annie Stewart an early birthday, because on Thursday she says she is turning 94.  She is about as spunky as can be today.  I think her biggest worry is whether she will have too many great, great grandchildren running around her house making noise on her birthday.  We went home and fed our local sister missionaries, Sis Huffaker and Sis Jarman, our family favorite hamburger soup.  A couple of summers ago we went to Alaska and as a souvenir brought home some dry sour dough starter.  For some reason, we brought it on our mission and decided to activate it.  We made biscuits with that, but they were not very good.  It was disappointing.  That evening we had a crazy family video call to celebrate our son Spencer, daughter Malory, and niece Kristen Jensen’s birthdays this week.  Sis Hatfield had set up a zoom conference and had invited everyone in the extended Hatfield Jensen family, including my Mom and Dad in St George.  To her credit, Mom bravely tried to connect, and has had success on other occasions, but this time it was just not working.  Sis Hatfield patiently trouble shot for a good 30-45 minutes trying to get a phone or desktop to connect, but with no success.  Finally, it was time to blow out candles in Provo so we FaceTimed with Mom and Dad, and held the phone up to Sis Hatfield’s monitor.  Over the multiple video relays, sometimes the display was of people, but often off the wall or floor, or maybe a shot from the waste down, or sometimes too small to see.  And of course the singing was a cacophony of voices with various electronic timing.  Afterwards, we had a good laugh that we had even tried to connect everyone.  Still, it was fun to see and hear everyone, offer birthday wishes, and have a feel for how the party went—at our own house.  We worked late into the night cooking up 15 pounds of hamburger into taco meat for Mission Leadership Conference lunch tomorrow.  It was tricky getting rid of 2 quarts of liquid fat after the frying was over.

 Monday, November 2nd began with Mission Leadership Conference.  It’s hard to say that they are the best missionaries, but they generally are the most experienced and talented leaders.  They gather monthly for a half day or so to be taught and inspired one with another and with Pres and Sis Bell.  Our job is to bring mail and serve lunch, usually as planned by Sis Bell.  Sis Hatfield had taken various ingredients to be chopped and prepared around to the other senior missionary couples last night, and today is assembly of taco salads.  Easy, right?  I’m always amazed at how much time it takes to put on a single meal for 50+ missionaries and then clean it all up.  But we love doing it.  These are young people that thank us profusely for the smallest kindness.  It is fun to watch Sis Hatfield in her element.  She is so good at organizing the seniors, making sure we are ready to serve the rush efficiently and on time.  My job is to ladle taco meat and beans.  Don’t laugh, its not that easy!  You don’t want to have lots left over, but you need everyone to get some.  Rats, I run out of beans before the last missionaries are served, but luckily, I’m a little ahead on the meat so the last through the line get extra of that.

 That afternoon, Elder Smith and Elder Merrill and I load furniture and shop at Walmart for the St Peters Elders so that I don’t need to interfere with more preparation day than necessary tomorrow.  The housing assistants are good sports, though, often giving up all or part of their preparation day for missionary needs.  Back at the office, I am confirming that two new apartments that are late into the Church account payable system have received November rents in time to not incur late fees.  Whew, the USPS did not fail us this time.  Speaking of mail, I received a $300 bill for a large hole in the sheet rock at the bottom of some stairs from a landlord caused by roughhousing missionaries.  Yikes, I am obliged to get the bill paid and ask the missionaries for reimbursement.  It certainly was a bigger bill than I expected.  To round things out, I got a request from a missionary companionship to be reimbursed for sporting equipment (sorry!) and from another to move downstairs from other missionaries so they wouldn’t disturb downstairs neighbors with their morning exercises.  Not a bad idea—I’ll investigate the possibilities. 

 Tuesday, November 3rd was a triumph  We moved two elders who had been either in a hotel or out of area since August into a great apartment—finally.  I know, I know, I’ve already said this, but five applications to get a place in the St Peters Ward, really?  St Peters is a happening place!  But it all is in the rear view mirror now.  I’m not looking for a new area apartment for the first time in many months.  As we settled the elders in a bit, I took some time to learn a little about them.  One of the elders comes from a polygamist family in central Utah.  His mother is an earnest spiritual seeker of truth and encouraged him to be the same.  He attended seminary and knew that the Gospel as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the truth.  It was not easy for him to come on a mission.  His largely estranged father is not supportive.  His mother is emotionally supportive it seems, but can’t do much else.  What a fine young man.

 Back in the office, Jim Otis, a partner in the real estate business that owns our building, came into the office.  I have spoken to him briefly a couple of times now, enough to confirm that he is indeed the son of Jim Otis a first team All-American running back at Ohio State Pro Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs and St Louis Cardinals back in the 70s.  Jim the son was himself was a letterman football player at Ohio State, and here he is, managing the building and our office lease.  I knew that Mr. Otis and Pres Bell, himself a football All-American, would enjoy meeting each other, so I introduced them.  The bigger story is that our landlord would like us to move office space across the atrium in order to be able to join our space with an adjoining office, making the integrated space larger and more attractive to a potential tenant.  Jim had quite casually floated the idea to the MSLM office staff six weeks ago.  Sis Hatfield, the expert space designer and remodeler, started sketching out how we could configure the new space, if we moved.  The Church facilities representatives both here in the area and in Salt Lake seemed pretty apathetic, but RaDene finally got them scheduled on a conference call to move things along.  Our staff motivation is that our office, although a decent size, is poorly configured and sorely in need of paint, carpet, and updated furnishings.  Our new lease says that we are entitled to paint and carpet, but I have cautioned that moving once, much less twice to allow for painting and carpeting, would be a nightmare.  I’ve moved offices enough times to know that systems take months to get back on line and work right after moving.  More, the HVAC balancing is not right in our space.  Many of the senior missionaries are cold most of the time, and there doesn’t seem to be a fix.  So moving once across the atrium into a finished space might improve things.

 Otherwise, the day seemed to be about mice.  I think they are moving indoors for the winter season.  I bet I have coached six companionships on what to do.  They all react differently.  Some seem overwhelmed by the pests.  One set of elders treat it like a safari.  I get regular pictures of their trophy captures.  I hope the mice move on from their apartment soon.  Late that day, Sis Hatfield received a flight itinerary for a missionary traveling by himself, and arriving after transfers are complete.  That won’t work.  She’s busy reworking the travel schedule to make it fit our transfer process, which doesn’t tolerate people arriving haphazardly through the week.  We were able to wish our son Spencer happy birthday, but we missed not hugging him!

 Wednesday, November 4th.  Today I went to Alton, Illinois.  The elders there had a smoke alarm go off in the night, and following the instructions, called 911.  The firemen said that the alarm was defective.  I think that is a sound conclusion because it was the CO alarm that went off, and the apartment is all electric.  So we took them a new one.  These devices are supposed to last 10 years, but I don’t believe it!  While we were there we helped change some lights in hard-to-open ceiling fixtures and a few other odd things that take a tool they don’t have. 

 Alton is a beautiful and intriguing town.  It is located along the Mississippi River just below where the Illinois River joins the Mississippi, and just above the confluence with the Missouri River.  It has a waterfront area that looks like time forgot it for the last 50 years or more, complete with docks, silos, and railroad tracks built years ago to move the area’s grain and produce.  Above the waterfront are high limestone bluffs with rich architecture in the shops and houses and churches.  Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated in Alton in 1858 as part of their presidential campaigns.  During the Civil War, Alton was the penitentiary for up to 12,000 Confederate prisoners.  Alton also was a key Union outpost, with multiple skirmishes into the “neutral” state of Missouri, including the so called Camp Jackson Massacre of 1861 where Union forces foiled a Missouri state militia plan to raid the Union arsenal in St Louis, and killed at least 28 civilians in the process.  St Louis rioted for days afterwards, but the arsenal was successfully moved by Union forces to Alton.  US Senator Lyman Trumbull, from Alton, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment permanently abolishing slavery in Alton with other Congressional representatives. 

 Thursday, November 5th continued our effort to catch up on housing needs before the big transfer push that comes next week, the week before transfers.  We distributed refurbished vacuums where needed, took a washer to the repair shop and installed blinds in Crystal City and in Sandy Creek, two wards/teaching areas south of St Louis where enthusiastic living has left windows bare.  Most important, Sis Hatfield and I wished our daughter Malory happy birthday.  We miss her!  One of my favorite parts of this mission is Malory helping her daughter Kennedy call Nana on the way to school a couple of times each week.  They sing nursery rhymes, discuss what letter is being taught this week, and identify what color clothes she and her little brother are wearing that day.  Precious.  It is on such calls that we learn things like, “Nana Sharon gives me clothes and toys, Nana ‘Dene gives me books.”  Its true.

 Friday, November 6th starts with a video zone conference for a few hours, part two of the in-person zone conferences earlier in the month.  It was my “off” session, so I didn’t need to worry about presenting this time so I could just soak up the teaching of the Spirit.  Pres Bell had conducted the meeting with an unusually high amount of missionary participation, so it was heart-felt.  Afterwards, we had a staff meeting.  I gave a spiritual thought based on what I learned in Mormon 6-9 about just how trying the lives were of Mormon and his son Moroni.  Yet no less an important work than the creation of the Book of Mormon came out of all that adversity and uncertainty.  We can be assured that our modern adversity and uncertainty bound up in Pandemic, political, economic, and racial unrest, and so many other adverse forces, can still yield good works if we have faith in God’s Plan.

 We had a near tragedy this day.  While working late in the office (surprise!), my sister Terri called on Face Time, something unusual.  It only took seconds to realize why.  She was standing outside her house and showing us a fire racing up the hillside across the street from her straight towards the our and our neighbors houses.  The fire exploded every time it reached a clump of scrub oak or another tree, and it seemed for a moment that destruction was inevitable.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  Firetrucks were racing in from who knows how many firestations, it must have been most of Provo and Orem.  The storm front winds were fanning the flames and pushing the fire hard.  But somehow, the brave firefighters got into place and stopped the fire mere feet from the Roney’s house, our immediate next door neighbor.  When it was over, we could hardly sleep, staring at the ceiling from bed.  It seemed our mission had come within minutes of ending.  Had the call to the firemen come just 5 minutes later, the outcome would have been very different.  COVID hasn’t ended our mission prematurely, and wildfire hasn’t either.  Angels are helping us stay in our assignment in St Louis.

 Saturday, November 7th was a fantastic change of pace.  We had homemade sour dough pancakes.  We haven’t had pancakes since Malory and her family were here for the Fourth of July.  Afterwards, we borrowed some currently unused mission bikes and rode around Creve Coeur Lake and across the Missouri River bridge.  The weather was delightful, so delightful in fact, that we rode too far.  Our un-calloused posteriors were sore for days.  Afterwards, we shopped for mission Christmas craft materials for the planned Sisters’ Conference and bought our own groceries.  I took some of that sour dough starter we have been feeding like a baby all week and mixed my very first batch of sour bread dough to rise for the night.  All the while, RaDene and I continued to muse on the close call of last night’s fire.  It’s hard to put that thought out of your mind quickly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

25-31 October 2020 Bells' Mended Hearts

Sunday, October 25th smelled oh, so good.  Sis Hatfield got up early enough to make pumpkin muffins for our ministering sisters, and I snared a few for breakfast before we left for church.  I was the sacrament meeting speaker, which felt a bit odd, both because of the camera for those participating remotely, and because I was the only speaker.  I am not sure I’ve ever been the sole speaker before.  So I spoke like a high councilman, taking probably longer than people had planned.  But my topic was Christ’s Atonement, so I had a lot to say.  After dropping of muffins to Annie and Dee, we headed home to make dinner.  Sis Hatfield had felt a nudge to invite the Bell’s to our apartment for Sunday dinner.  That upped the ante on what we would make, after eating many delicious meals at the mission home prepared by Sis Bell.  But mostly, Sis Hatfield felt that in their time of great angst about Pres Bell not being able to attend their daughter Addison’s wedding, Sis Bell needed some love from someone, and other than those in the middle of the hurt, we are about all they have.  That’s an overstatement, for sure, but we felt like we could at least offer some moral support.  RaDene cooked a delicious meal, enjoyed by Pres and Sis Bell and their two boys.  I was wondering if it might be an unwelcome topic, but it wasn’t long before Sis Bell was expressing her grief and dissatisfaction with the decision that Pres Bell did not meet any exception to attend his daughter’s wedding in Utah.  I’m afraid I had to agree with her, that with all the capable priesthood in the mission, a direct flight that could get him there and back in 24 hours, the ancient policy that prohibited a mission president from attending a daughter’s single most important life event did not make sense.  We commiserated over dinner, and the discussion evoked tender and strong feelings in equal measure between Pres and Sis Bell.  I’m impressed by their open and honest and respectful communication at such a difficult time.

It wasn’t too long after the Bell’s left that they began a video fireside for the whole mission in order to share some of the messages they had been taught in the North America Central Area mission presidents conference the past three days.  I learned later that Pres Bell had invited Sis Bell to participate, but she seemed to him as if she wouldn’t, feeling too much heartache.  But at the last minute, she joined him.  He asked if she had anything to share, and she sure did.  She let her mission “children” know of their disappointment and predicament with their daughter.  I learned later that Pres Bell was dying inside, anxious that her feelings might be too raw to be shared appropriately.  But Sis Bell was amazing, sharing her hurt, and asking for prayers of strength and comfort for her family, and understanding on the part of their daughter Addi.  She had clearly been touched by the Spirit since dinner time.  At the very end of the fireside, Sis Hatfield went to take a call from her sister Tana, and the two of them worked out details for the wedding Tana would host for the Bells at the Rawson family ranch-turned event center.  Tana was so generous and supportive, offering the Bells the family event rate.  Tana had met Addi that afternoon and bonded with her while showing the ranch.  Addison was thrilled.  Which was a blessing to Sis Bell.  Later that night, Pres Bell talked to his daughter and told her that he would not be able to come.  She cried, but understood that no one felt worse than her father, and they put on brave faces as they said goodbye. 

On Monday, October 26th we answered voice messages at the office and learned that our storage unit had been left unlocked, so I went over to fix that.  My responsibilities are mundane most of the time, but I enjoy my work.  On Monday’s, Pres Bell often comes into the office to read missionary letters.  We pulled up into the parking lot of the mission office at the same time and aw we walked in, Pres Bell related that his daughter had accepted the decision that Pres Bell would not attend his daughter’s wedding.  That was great news.  Better, Addison and her fiancĂ© had decided that, under the circumstances, they would have a civil ceremony and reception in Utah, and the next week, a small group of parents would travel to St Louis for the sealing so Pres Bell could attend.  That was fabulous news, and a relief to all.  To hear Pres Bell describe it, the experience felt like an Abrahamic sacrificial trial.  I listened to the relating four times before the morning was over, because Pres Bell was so relieved, he could not help but share the good news with all the staff as the couples came in one by one.  And we each listened carefully each time he related the story, because we felt so much better after hearing him.

Tuesday, October 27.  Pres Bell had told me that the local Church real estate representative, Heidi Weber, had put the mission home on track for a new barbeque grill this year.  Sis Bell helped find a screaming deal on an “event sized” grill, meaning it sported eight burner racks.  It arrived in a big box, and Pres Bell asked if I could work it into me schedule to assemble it.  Today was the day.  It took a while, and when done, I had to work pretty hard to find a wall with enough space to put it.  The grill really needs its own vehicle stall.  But, it will be fun to fire it up one of these days and feed some missionaries.  Continuing with the appliance theme, I asked the housing assistants to load up the broken dryer we have had in our storage unit for a while and help me take it to our new-found repairman in Ferguson.  It would be a bit of a test run to see if the service and convenience I was hoping for would actually be available.  Sure enough, before the day was over Mike called me back and said that the dryer was fixed and available for pickup, charging me a modest amount for replacing the thermostat and cleaning out all the lint.  For lunch we stopped at Cane’s Chicken, which is so good.  We need to get that chain moving West.  Next we replaced a bedroom blind for the St Charles North sisters. 

That night I described for Sis Hatfield what I had been doing that day.  We shared a bit of disappointment that we are not able to help Spencer with our Utah rental houses that need attention, nor able to help Darryl and LaDawn with the sometimes vacation house, sometimes rental we are building together in Bear Lake.  Yet on reflection, we are very happy to share our time and talents with the Missouri St Louis Mission, and specifically, our dear young missionaries and take some of Pres Bell’s burden of looking after the needs of the missionaries.

By Thursday, October 29th, I’ve persuaded Sis Hatfield to accompany me and the housing assistants to Rantoul, one of the outposts of the mission.  It’s a three hour plus drive from St Louis, about 20-30 minutes north of Champaign, Illinois.  It is one of those places that ended up on the chopping block when the defense department was closing scores of military bases years ago.  The empty offices, parking lots, barracks, and hangers are still there to see.  The local economy doesn’t look like it has ever recovered.  Which means that the housing stock is not expanding and what’s there is old.  That includes our elders’ apartment in Rantoul.  After describing it to Pres Bell last week, I promised him I would stay on the situation, and today was a day we could have a housing “intervention” in Rantoul.  The elders agreed that a mother’s eye would be helpful, so Sis Hatfield came along.  We still marvel at our lunch stop on the way.  The lot next to the fast food restaurant in Effingham had a billboard with a beautiful copy of a Greg Olson painting of Jesus Christ holding a lamb.  It seemed so unlikely.  Sis Hatfield and I just hope it wasn’t a bootlegged copy.  She took a picture and sent it to Kiley Olson, Greg’s daughter and business manager, a dear friend of our son, who by extension, is a friend of ours.

When we finally got there, to my surprise, the elders had worked hard since last week cleaning up things in their control.  All sorts of clutter was picked up, the floors were swept, the dishes were done, and maybe most dramatically, all the flattened cereal boxes covering two walls in the dining room were pulled down.  In some ways, it was a little disappointing to not see it again.  The shock factor last week was pretty thrilling.  But, there was plenty the elders could not do anything about, like the enormous paint and wallboard flakes on the ceiling in the bathroom, the rusty door frame and furnace register, the hole in the pantry leaking from pipes somewhere, and lots of water damaged walls on the east side of the apartment.  As it was, we cleaned out two “closets of outer darkness,” meaning they were filled with unidentified, unusable objects, and by the time we were done, had three large leaf bags full of trash, two bags of clothes for the thrift store, and a used tire and broken down grill.  The grill lid blew out of the back of the truck on our way to dispose of this stuff and we made a bit of a scene retrieving it.  Fortunately, no harm done, except to the already broken grill.  I apologize to the Rantoul Branch, whose building dumpster was filled with missionary debris today.  We did make it to Walmart to buy the elders a new shower curtain, make some needed spare keys, and a few other things, and Sis Hatfield got them (and us) some early Halloween treats.  I was happy that Sis Hatfield had helped the missionaries end the day with a better taste in their mouths.

I also had a frank, productive talk with the apartment manager, telling her about the immediate problems that needed immediate attention, and also discussing what alternatives might be possible in the best case to relocate the elders.  We’ll see how this goes.  Meanwhile, we have assessed the feelings of the elders, and they don’t seem much bothered.  Their outlook might be as some young men feel on a camping adventure, with not much expectation for facilities or cleanliness.  Bless their resilience and veiled vision.  On our way back south, Sis Hatfield persuaded us to stop by the sisters apartment in Champaign.  She couldn’t get this close without saying hello.  I don’t know how to describe it.  Sometimes you feel like the pony express bringing a small piece of mail from the civilized world to the corners of the mission on these trips.  The sisters seemed delighted, and we traded more treats.  No one really needs them, but they are symbols of our affection for fellow servants of the Lord.  Of course helped with a small thing, locating the furnace filter that had eluded them, had a meaningful prayer together, and left.  It seemed liked the old, enormous Champaign cemetery we drove by was just right for spreading the Halloween atmosphere.  Sis Hatfield wanted a picture of a creepy tree half dead and leaning over a crypt.  It was a cold, windy day, and after starting at 9:30 in the morning, we pulled in at 9 p.m. that night.  Nearly 7 hours of driving, a few of hours of apartment work, an unplanned detour, plus a couple of meal and gas breaks and you get to a 12 hour day pretty easily.

 Saturday, October 31st.  Sis Hatfield had agreed to accompany Sis Bell for what turned out to be a full day’s shopping for missionaries.  The first objective was to find craft supplies for small Christmas trees they had ordered for a sisters conference they are planning.  Part of the conference activity is to decorate the trees, both for themselves, and for the elder companionships in the mission.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield sat knee to knee for a couple of hours earlier this week making plans, and having already ordered desk top trees for a fantastic price, step two was to find decorations at the craft store today.  Sis Bell said the creative thinking, focusing on frugal beauty and fun, was exhausting.  Sis Hatfield said that she calculates the decorated trees will be beautiful, and come in for about $2.50 apiece.  Now that’s an achievement.  The second objective was to shop for the lunch for mission leadership conference on Monday, which will be about 50 people.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield settled on taco salads, and after getting what they could at Costco, they went to Walmart to finish the shopping list.  They found checkout lines heading around the store and out the door.  It took them over an hour to get out.  Visiting with someone in line, the women believed that everyone was stocking up to be ready for the riots she feared would come on Election Tuesday next week.  Sis Hatfield helped her understand that if elected, Joe Biden wouldn’t be able to raise her property taxes, and she might want to take some interest in local elections.  Sis Hatfield gave her a pass along card, and offered to help if she could.  I can tell that the biggest success of the day was Sis Hatfield’s friendship and support of Sis Bell.  The past week has been a roller coaster for her and her family, and as a result, emotionally draining.  RaDene has been a valuable person for Sis Bell to process with several times this week, and most all day today. 

 Later that evening, Sis Hatfield and I went back to the craft store because of its 50 percent off sale and because she had spied a Christmas tree that would be perfect for the mission office.  We got full value, because Sis Hatfield also framed some art Christmas presents.  Sis Hatfield and I parceled out ingredients for Monday’s lunch to the several office couples, giving us the opportunity to stop at the Jacob’s house and talk and laugh for a while.  Notwithstanding they are almost a generation older than us, what a good friends they have become.  Finally back at home, we made one of our long family favorites, hamburger soup, to share with the sister missionaries tomorrow.