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.