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.
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.