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 fiancé 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.