Thursday, December 17, 2020

6-12 Dec 2020 “A” Is For the Angel

Sunday, Dec 6th we continued a tradition that so far as I know was started by Sis Hatfield’s mother.  Sis Hatfield came to our marriage with a December Advent calendar complete with a token in each day’s pocket to pin on the colorful felt calendar’s tree.  The Christmas countdown left an impression that RaDene continued with our children, using it as an opportunity to teach about the symbols of Christmas.  This year Sis Hatfield found a children’s book that devotes a few pages to the different parts of the Nativity Scene.  We sent copies of the book to our grandchildren in Utah and Alabama.  RaDene also shipped Nativities where the parts and figurines will be opened as gifts and put in place as we go. Today we started our video calls to read the first pages of the book and examine the stable.  Every few days we plan to video call together to experience another chapter of the Nativity story.  There are other grandmothers that are doing their best to keep their families connected with technology during this time of social distancing, but few could possibly be more active and effective than Sis Hatfield.

Monday, Dec 7th Sis Hatfield worked with three elders who have recently received news that they are heading to their original assignments in Ghana and South Africa.  In ordinary times, the primary hurdles would be tracking down passports and confirming visas.  In COVID, countries are requiring special forms, pre-travel health testing, and funds for arrival testing.  Sis Everton is trying to arrange for tightly scheduled COVID testing here in the mission.  Elder Jacob is putting special funding on mission support cards.  Sis Hatfield is helping the missionaries complete forms that are inaccessible by phone—the missionaries’ sole communication device, particularly with unknown website blocking software.  Her work is almost never straightforward.  She is mostly a problem solver.  And so am I.  today I received a three day Pay or Vacate notice from an apartment complex where we have five apartments and probably 16 missionaries.  Here it is the 7th of the month and our rent check has not been received.  I’ve been doing this long enough that I am not overly concerned that we will be thrown out.  Most of the time the apartment managers actually have received our rent, and just haven’t posted it properly.  But this time, its on us.  We work on the rent on the 20th of every month to do our best to ensure that the president’s signoff, the Salt Lake check writing and mailing, and the US Postal Service delivery can occur by the 1st.  But occasionally it doesn’t work right.  And in COVID, it seems like the USPS is not as reliable as we have come to expect.  So, I’m scrambling to confirm that this missing check was actually approved, written, and mailed, and communicating with the landlord that I am on it and will deliver funds promptly.

Somewhat more mundane, I also go with the housing assistants to deliver a dryer to the Missouri River South apartment, and check their dryer vent for clogs.  This dryer has burned out twice now, and the only thing we and our repairman can figure is that it is overheating for lack of airflow.  The venting looks good, so that isn’t it.  We installed the dryer and crossed our fingers.  Back at the office, we realized that packages from USPS, UPS, and FedEx are overrunning our mail shelves.  The Christmas season gift giving is going to bury us.  We reorganize our storage room to make spaces three times the regular size to try to accommodate the packages, which will temporarily intrude on the Evertons’ usual work space, taking half of the conference table in their room.  We are also giving strict instructions to missionary leaders to collect and deliver mail frequently.  We will try to stay ahead of this and meet parent expectations to deliver the mail, come rain, snow, sleet, or hail. 

Tuesday, Dec 8th is a trip to Poplar Bluff, the southern most corner of the mission.  Like most corners of the mission, there is only so much you can do to multitask way out there.  If you stop too much along the way, the day gets used up before you make it to the corner.  Poplar Bluff has had some significant problems, but they haven’t been emergencies, so I have put them off until now.  Today, we started the patch of a large hole in the wall.  None of the elders remember how it happened or who did it.  I suppose it doesn’t matter much, my goal is to avoid a landlord charge and fix it myself.  The glass shower door does not roll and the glass is falling out of the frame.  We take the door outside to take a good look at it.  With some stainless steel screws and clear silicone from the hardware store, we are able to get the glass secured.  We lubricate the corroded wheels and reinstall, and it seems all is in order.  One motivator for finally getting here is to deliver Elder Nelson’s bike to him so he can try to ship it home or sell it.  In our mission, we mostly have cars in teaching areas, but a few unlucky ones have bikes.  The policy is inconsistent about whether the mission provides the bikes or whether the missionaries provide their own.  If the missionary buys one, now he is probably stuck as soon as he is transferred because he will likely not need his bike any longer.  What is he to do with it?  It becomes an expensive purchase with short term use.  We had lunch in Poplar Bluff, and that was a bit startling.  I’m not sure what the health department rules are down here, but no one, cooks, servers, nor patrons wore masks in the restaurant, which was open for guests, and so far as I could discern, had no social distancing.  We the missionaries looked a bit out of place, which isn’t unusual, but I did get a little lecture as we were walking across the parking lot from an old red neck about the Pandemic being a conspiracy of some sort.  Yes, Poplar Bluff is a different environment than St Louis, and as they say, the Gateway to the Ozarks.

On the long drive home Elder Jacob and I conclude that our missing rent check can’t be replaced by Salt Lake—we just can’t afford the time or another mistake.  We need to figure out how to write a local mission check, or I need to cover this personally.  I won’t get home in time to figure it all out and deliver today, but Elder Jacob will see what he can do back at the office in the meantime.

Wednesday, Dec 9th begins with a weekly mission video conference exercise session we fondly call workout Wednesday.  Pres Bell is an athlete and a bit of a health nut (with a sweet tooth), and so he personally leads us through some high intensity interval training for about 30 minutes every Wednesday morning at 6:30 am.  But what is remarkable this time, is that Sis Hatfield has mustered her courage to join us.  I’ve been doing it since the beginning, but Sis Hatfield has shied away, sticking to her stationary biking and running.  Seeing that many of the sisters are joining Workout Wednesday, including Sis Bell (off camera), she has decided to join in.  So we are now sweating together on Wednesdays.  At the office, I must start with first things first.  Elder Jacob has managed to input data and get approval for a local mission rent check, and I go to the office to go through the steps to find the check stock and get it printed.  Then I’m off to deliver it.  Eviction averted.  Actually, the manager knows me pretty well and isn’t all that upset either.  We are consistent payors.  But still, the managers must do their job, and getting a three day pay or vacate notice is never desirable.  I’ve got to figure out what went wrong.

Today started a three day “Mission Tour” by Elder Valenzuela of the Seventy.  It will actually be a series of video conferences.  At Pres Bell’s urging, the missionaries have prepared well to participate in the conferences.  I’m hoping the impact of the virtual meetings will still be meaningful.  Elder Valenzuela is a native Mexican, and a gentle soul.  He brings a great spirit to his messages and the missionaries are responding to his love.  This may be the best example of the Come Follow Me principles of being taught by class members rather than a lecture from the teach that I have ever seen.  I am in awe of these young missionaries’ resilience, testimony, and spirit. 

Last night I got a text that the dryer in Missouri River South isn’t heating again.  This time, I’m not getting it fixed, I’m taking another dryer.  We happen to have a spare.  Could it just be a weak dryer?  We end the day with haircuts with our member stylist Laura Olson.  Honestly, its more of a production than I would probably like to participate in, getting down there, waiting for RaDene’s turn, as well as my own, and getting back turns out to be a bit of an excursion.  But, we have found a Japanese restaurant across the street that makes the best ramen soup ever.  Sis Hatfield gets the smoked chicken, and I get the pork belly.  Oh, so good.  We take it home after haircuts for a small feast.

Thursday, Dec 10th started off leisurely enough, but we weren’t far into our morning routine before Sis Hatfield squealed.  Last night we had completely lost track of the flights this morning to Africa of three of our elders.  And we were not ready.  We hadn’t checked them into their flights, purchased checked baggage allowances, or printed itineraries and boarding cards.  RaDene raced to the office, unshowered, to do the work.  I cleaned up and got dressed properly and raced the Assistants to the President to the airport.  At this point, we were unsure if all was in order and it didn’t seem prudent to leave it to the young missionaries to be able to fill whatever gaps there might be.  I had credit cards.  It turned out that Sis Hatfield had gotten the checkin squared away for departure so I could chat with the ticket agent about who we were, and see the missionaries through security.  Back at the office, Sis Hatfield still looked harried, so I convinced her to go home and properly get ready for the day.  I would stay and answer phones and collect mail.  Whew.

The mission tour continued this morning with a 1.5 hour general session.  Elder and Sis Valenzuela taught the Parable of the Stick.  You can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end too.  They likened this to missionary finding and teaching.  Finding is teaching, and teaching is finding.  At least it should be.  I was impressed by the simplicity and truthfulness of the message.  Bold, courageous invitations without messages that prick the heart don’t work.  And there is no better time to ask who else can benefit from the message then when the Spirit has been touching a soul. 

Just as I thought we would go home for an on time dinner, I got a call from the elders in Edwardsville, Illinois, about 45 minutes north and east of St Louis.  They had locked themselves out of their apartment.  They were hesitant to ask, but were out of options, so they called me.  Earlier that afternoon the elders had stepped outside to pick up some food left by members without realizing that their door handle was in the locked position, so when it closed behind them, they were stuck outside without house keys, car keys, or even a cell phone.  They walked about 3.5 miles by my reckoning to a member’s home.  They didn’t have any phone numbers memorized, but fortunately the member knew that the number of the elders quorum president, who knew the number of the zone leaders, who knew my number.  I paused for just a minute about whether I should try the complex manager or a locksmith, but quickly concluded that those options would be expensive, and ultimately no faster than me hurrying out the door to Glen Carbon, IL where the member lived.  I’m glad that the collected wisdom is for the mission office to have duplicates of missionary apartment keys.

Friday, December 11th began early.  Our granddaughter Kennedy was participating in the pre-school Christmas program being performed at the beginning of the day, and it was being shared through video conference.  Like good grandparents, we sat intently in front of our TV, connected to our computer, and recorded our TV screen when Kennedy spoke her line, ‘”A” is for the angel on top of the tree,’ and stole the show with her spontaneous dancing during the Jingle Bells choral number.  This effort to share is another bright spot in the pandemic.  A year ago, no one would have even considered broadcasting a preschool program for people at home to see.  Lest we have too bright a view of the benefits of the pandemic, that afternoon we had to postpone some needed work at some sisters’ apartment because of a quarantine.

Saturday, December 12th was an opportunity for us to share with Rachel and Luke Shafer, a young couple in our Pagedale Branch.  They had recently welcomed a first baby into their family.  Sis Hatfield has made a beautiful baby quilt, an extraordinary gift of time and art, sewn into a practical bundle of warmth.  My gift was much more modest:  a loaf of homemade sour dough bread to go with a staple comfort dish in our family of chicken and broccoli over rice.  On one of my runs to the office today a dining set on the curb of the road caught my eye.  The taped on sign said one word, “free.”  I have been short of kitchen tables and chairs for missionary apartments all summer long, and so I’m always on the lookout.  I did a quick U-turn, parked, and jumped out to verify that the furniture would work.  It was probably more than 30 years old, but nice maple workmanship, with very light use.  I was definitely interested.  I went to the door and knocked several times, but no answer.  Peering in the front window, it looked dark.  I wasn’t about to stand on pretense, so I strode back out to the curb to claim the prize, loading the large table and six chairs into the back of my truck, complete with extra table leaves and one of those old fashioned felt and leather table covers that we would never use.  I’ve learned that it is much more satisfying and helpful to the donor if we take all that is offered and later discretely get rid of any part we can’t use.  I’m sure they will be blessed for supporting the Work, without ever knowing why.  After delivering the baby quilt and dinner to the Shafers, Sis Hatfield dug back into the mission newsletter, the Harvester, with me helping just a bit by editing missionary testimonies that were way over the size limit, while simultaneously catching the BYU v. Utah basketball game.  It will be a late series of nights for days to come until this big, recurring project is finished.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

29 Nov – 5 Dec 2020 One Touch

Sunday, November 29th was somewhat startling because for the second week in a row, we did not see Annie Stewart.  She was home from the hospital this week, but too ill and uncomfortable for a personal visit.  We have not gone two weeks without seeing Annie since the COVID “stay at home” orders were lifted this summer. 

Monday, the 30th included an afternoon of taking three broken dryers to Mike the repairman.  It seems that after two weeks of not seeing Mike, the appliance demons were taking vengeance.  We almost overwhelmed his little strip mall storefront shop with our deliveries.  Back at the office, we pack the carts full of packages, pick up Sis Hatfield, and head out to set up for Mission Leadership Conference tomorrow, since me and the housing assistants won’t be around in the morning to help get the physical set up prepared like we usually would.  On the way, we realize we are hungry, so stop for gyros at the local Mediterranean restaurant.  We can’t eat in under country restrictions, and knowing this will be messy, we end up at our apartment to eat.  The gyros are very tasty.  And we all conclude that the French fries should be named world fries—they are so good that everyone in the world should have them.  Then we finish the evening at the St Louis stake center in Chesterfield helping get ready for tomorrow’s MLC.

Tuesday, December 1st has a fairly early start.  This is moving day in Rantoul, Illinois, more than a three hour drive north and east of St Louis.  I’ve arranged to meet the manager to finalize the lease, and I want to get there before lunch when we might lose management’s attention for a while.  I negotiate and accept a $200 charge for the drywall damage we didn’t cause, but which undoubtedly became much worse because we failed to report water leaks, probably for years, along the east wall and upstairs ceilings of the apartment.  After finishing the lease signing, turning over a rent check, and getting keys, I offer to take the missionaries to lunch before we dive into the move.  Breakfast was a long time ago and I will need these young elders to be energetic for the next few hours.  So I follow Sis Hatfield’s counsel to feed them.  Asking where to go, the Rantoul elders suggest the local taco stand, which sounds good to me.  It is in a part of town that time has long passed by, and the taco shop occupies an old, retrofitted bank.  The drive up teller window now is a drive up taco window.  The yard sign advertises tacos for 99 cents.  I was dubious when I saw the sign, but well satisfied with 4 of these tacos.  A bargain in Rantoul.  I helped start the move, but quickly turned the moving over to the elders and jumped into the bathroom with my gloves and Comet.  Although the bathroom was in terrible shape, and a prime driver for the need to relocate, I am a little disappointed to find out that the bathroom, sans the paint and drywall issues, would have been in much more livable condition if the missionaries would just have taken some care of it.  The shower rug was adhered to the linoleum floor for not having been moved or cleaned for who knows how long.  The tub and shower was pink with blooming mold, and rust streaks flowed from everything iron.  But with cleaning powder, ammonia, and elbow grease, it looked much better.  We gave the rest of the apartment the same treatment, scrubbing the oven, fridge, baseboards, and floors.  I was reminded how inexperienced these young men are when I found one elder trying to clean a fridge shelf with Shout, a laundry stain remover.  I explained the difference between Shout and 409 and set him back to work.  At least we would have the satisfaction that we had turned back to the management a clean unit.  And hopefully, the missionaries got a better idea of what my expectations are for apartment cleanliness and maintenance.  We took a trip to the Rantoul church to fill its dumpster with unneeded clutter from the old apartment and went by Walmart for some missing necessities, like a new shower rug, and we started our journey back home.  

We stopped in Mattoon, IL for a hamburger at Burger King—no not that Burger King.  It is a single restaurant that has been around for at least 50 years, going by Burger King name all that time.  In fact, a legal dispute established that although that Burger King had registered trademark right to the Burger King moniker all over the nation, it could not, and did not have rights in Mattoon, Illinois because of the the precedent use by this old hamburger stand with recognized common law rights.  And most importantly, its burgers were fantastic—fit for the name, I’d say.  The missionaries were home by 10 pm.  It could have been (and has been) worse.

Wednesday, December 2nd.  This morning I was awakened to some hysteria.  It is a regular occurrence to hear RaDene talking to Malory and Kennedy on the ride from their home in Alabama to work and day care.  But today Malory’s voice is loud and high.  And Sis Hatfield’s is getting louder and higher too.  I finally discern that Malory thinks she is expecting a baby.  This would be a super big surprise because Ben, her 2nd, is just over a year old.  And I gather that Malory is concerned about the viability of the pregnancy because of family planning that has been going on.  It is at once exciting and a little scary—cause for a little hysteria, I suppose. 

Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have been planning and preparing for the Sisters Conference today for weeks, and it has paid off.  My role is mostly in the kitchen warming soup, cutting homemade bread, and chopping salad.  But out there, the mission presidency wives, Sister Hatfield, and others are giving beautiful talks and testimonies.  There are special musical numbers by some very talented young ladies.  And the cultural hall is living up to its name today:  it is brimming with small Christmas trees and ribbons, colorful balls, twine, and glue guns.  The sisters decorated trees for their own companionships and for every other companionship in the mission—about 120 in total.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have shopped on line and all over town to pull materials together at the very best price possible.  It has been amazingly frugal really, considering how nice the tables and decorations look.  Lunch, were my efforts were focused, was almost a distraction.  We could hardly pry the sisters out of conversations with each other to get in the serving line to eat.  We donned gloves, masks, and aprons to reduce any germ transmission.  Tables were limited to 3 companionships, and in the chapel, they sat distanced.  We were under the county ceiling of attendees in this large building, but still, we fretted before, during, and after, praying that we had not created a COVID spreading event.  While it will be a while before we know whether we have spread any illness, we know for certain that the sisters hearts have been fortified in a way they have missed for many, many months.  Most of this day I felt quite out of place, being the sole male consistently present, but I was gratified to see the strength of the sisterhood.

Later that night, back at the office, I took on the task of helping the elders in Highland, Missouri get WIFI installed and working in their apartment.  These days, connectivity is an absolute necessity to missionary work.  Elder Reeder, on of our favorites, and Elder Warner, who is known as Elder Hatfield, Jr, because of our similar looks, have almost no cell coverage at their apartment, and no car to get to the church building, which is the backup plan for many missionaries so that they can use WIFI.  Sis Hatfield has tried to get assistance from AT&T and mission support in Salt Lake City.  They have said they can help “increase the signal strength,” or something like that, which makes no sense to me, but she has sent several requests over that last 2-3 months with no progress.  Being quarantined for COVID was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and a bit off the reservation, on Monday I called and signed the elders up for private WIFI at their apartment. For continuity’s sake, I designated three senior missionaries as authorized users.  Today, the equipment arrived at their apartment, so I got on a call with the elders to walk through installation of the equipment and initialize the signal.  But despite my and the elders’ best efforts, we could not make it work.  Finally, I called the provider for help, which is awkward because the missionaries aren’t authorized users, and I’m not at the missionary apartment.  It feels a bit like a NASA launch, with astronauts in the rocket, launch control, and mission control all trying to have a successful liftoff.  We go through two levels of service technician and we are finally advised that our router must be faulty.  What’s the chances of that?  The technician says that the store where the router can be exchanged closes in 20 minutes, but if I or another designated user can hurry, we can make the exchange before closing.  Well, that seems altogether unlikely.  I’m in St Louis, not Columbia.  And Elder Reeder and Elder Warner are in quarantine and can’t leave their apartment.  Thinking fast, we designate the local district leader as an authorized user.  He races to the store and arrives at 6:57, and gets a replacement router just as the doors are locked.  He goes back to Highlands and hands off the equipment, and a few minutes later, Elder Reeder calls to say that we have liftoff.  Sis Hatfield and I cheer and high five.  There aren’t many hoops we won’t jump through for these young missionaries.

Later, I go pick up Elder Howard and Elder Raynor from their Pagedale apartment and go to the Garners’ apartment.  On our drive back from Rantoul yesterday, Sis Sarah Garner texted me and asked if we could give her husband Colby a blessing of comfort and counsel.  He is a first year law student at Washington University, and so we have bonded, having the legal profession, or the hopes for one, in common.  We get zucchini bread for our efforts.  It was delicious.  While I’m away, Sis Hatfield has joined her cousins’ monthly zoom call.  I must admit, it is entertaining to listen to them talk about family news, health, politics, and unavoidably, COVID.  They have some divergent opinions, but admirably navigate each call with friendship and love.

Thursday December 3rd is another long trip, this time to the Columbia zone.  I haven’t been out there for 6 or 8 weeks, and I have a pretty long list of housing needs and maintenance items to address.  I haven’t seen Elder Tua’vao, a zone leader out here, for some weeks because of COVID diagnosis and quarantine.  While in the area, I can’t resist tossing a pebble at his and Elder Nielsen’s second floor window.  When they finally open the window, we have a warm chat.  I enjoy raising spirits of the missionaries at every opportunity.  We stopped at a sisters’ apartment to exchange a vacuum that wasn’t working for one of our spares.  It didn’t take much inspection to see the problem.  First, the dirt container was completely filled.  More importantly, the beater bar was so tangled with long hair as to be immovable.  I’m going to need to do some first aid on that machine even before I take it to the repair shop for expert review.  Before the day is over, I have the opportunity to meet two of our brand new missionaries who arrived earlier this week in a mid-transfer arrival.  Since we didn’t have regular transfer orientation with them, I personally delivered their blue books, the mission policies and procedure notebook given to all new missionaries, and their sleeping pillows, a sort of arrival gift from the mission.  I couldn’t help but notice how they seemed to stand behind their trainers as if they were newborn calves unfamiliar with this stranger.  It is amazing to see the missionaries grow, strengthen, and take courage with time.

Friday, December 4th.  This is a bonus day, in my mind.  We have one last missionary that needs to be endowed at the temple, after having come to the field without the opportunity at home.  A couple of days ago, his mother unexpectedly had an emergency appendectomy, and so her plans to come to St Louis to attend the ordinance didn’t work anymore.  Elder McKenna would be accompanied by his father and missionary companion, Pres and Sis Bell, the four other senior missionary office staff members, and now me.  Sis Hatfield graciously held down the mission office and let me attend, she having gone to two missionary endowments this fall already.  I felt torn, knowing that my blessing was borne of Sis McKenna’s illness.  But I was very happy to experience the peace of the temple.  And I am sure it is one of the cleanest buildings in St Louis.  We were the only group in the temple, along with the officiators, a member of the temple presidency and his wife, and a very few other staff persons.  Doors and curtains were removed or propped open everywhere, except on in the bathrooms, to eliminate touch points.  Protocols were enforced with love, and Mr. Clean seemed to be right behind us.  Outside, I heard that Brother McKenna would surprise us with something at staff meeting later that afternoon.  I assumed he had a treat for us.  I was right, but entirely surprised.

The day was full.  We got back to the office from the temple just about in time for new missionary training.  This round of training would be done over the internet with a large group, somewhere near 25 new missionaries, their companions, and mission leadership.  Sis Hatfield delivered wonderful instruction for her 10 allotted minutes on technology use and safety for missionaries and their work.  Sis Hatfield is so sincere and personable that the young missionaries can’t help but be attentive to her dispensation of wisdom.  Almost immediately after, we started our office staff meeting.  Pres Bell was scheduled to give the spiritual thought for the meeting, and had arranged for Bro MeKenna to come visit with us.  He pulled a wooden box out of his backpack, which I had noticed had only been put down in his temple locker but not otherwise.  He opened the handsome box and pulled out a first edition Book of Mormon.  Of the 5,000 first edition printings, only 500 or so are known.  Sis McKenna’s family has a very interesting story on how they obtained the book after doing a good turn for a book collector in southern California.  When the non-Mormon collector asked what he could do in return, Sis McKenna’s father said, mostly in jest, I suppose, that if he ever came across a first edition Book of Mormon, that he should help them purchase it.  Eventually the collector did come across one on a trip to Ohio, and remembered the request and helped the family in California secure it.  At our staff meeting, Bro McKenna delivered an animated presentation on the book, entitled “One Touch.”  The presentation is most often given at Especially for Youth conferences where by family wishes, the young people are permitted to have one touch of the cover of the book.  Here, we passed it around the room and held it in our hands.  Now that was a treat, thinking about the sacrifices of so many to bring the book to the world.  We held Martin Harris’ farm in our hands, to say nothing of the sacrifice of the Smith family. 

After that, the meeting went to the business of the possibility of the move of our office to another section of the building.  The owner and the church are pretty much in agreement, and its up to Pres Bell and the staff to decide if we would like to move or not.  The question is not easy, loaded with pros and cons each way, with a certain amount of drama and strong feelings.  Then we started planning for Christmas zone conferences.  We are realizing that we will need to host 250+ missionaries over three days, feeding them a Christmas worthy meal, along with the instruction and merry making.  This will challenge or time, energy, budget, and health precautions, made all the more challenging by the Bell daughter’s wedding the week before. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

22-28 Nov 2020 COVID Too Close For Comfort

On Sunday, November 22, we arose a little slowly.  Illinois has imposed restrictions that effectively cancel church services across the river, and Missouri restrictions have tightened back up too, to 25 percent of building capacity.  We have hovered around that number of attendees in our small Pagedale Branch since COVID started, but a couple of months ago we felt quite comfortable as restrictions were eased.  Now, we don’t.  We even said out loud this morning that maybe we should just stay away today, because after all, the mission now has two sets of young elders in the branch, and we don’t want to infringe on the members’ opportunity to attend.  But, we had some groceries to give to Annie Stewart, who lives near the church, so we decided we would go make an appearance at the branch, judge the size of the congregation, and then be where we needed to be to see Annie.  But all of this handwringing made us a bit late getting there.  RaDene forgot her phone as we hurried out.  As we walked in Sis Hatfield looked at the organist, manned by young executive secretary, and bolted for the front of the chapel.  She had agreed to substitute at the organ for our regular organist who was away for the next two Sundays.  Sis Hatfield had completely forgotten.  Unable to persuade the executive secretary to continue, she asked what the hymns were, sat down at the organ, and started to play.  But she was not prepared.  I thought she was doing great, but she didn’t feel that way.  She stopped for the beginning of the meeting, and thinking fast, motioned me to come up on the stand.  She took my phone, since she forgot hers, and found the church hymn app, and when the opening song was announced, went to the podium and pushed the play button, holding the phone to the microphone.  So far, so good.  Now she had a few minutes to figure out how the auto play feature of the organ worked.  She couldn’t find the selected sacrament hymn, so found an alternative, and ask Pres Fingel to reannounce the hymn.  Progress.  For the closing hymn, she found the announced song, and started the auto play on que.  She did it.  The good news was that Sis Hatfield had not stressed for one second this past week worrying about church hymns, she saved it all for the meeting itself.  She is so resourceful.

After church we went to Annie’s house.  We had taken the initiative to call her on Saturday to learn what she might need in order to avoid a repeat of shopping for her this Sunday.  Yesterday, Jordan, her care giving great grandson, had cut the call short when the paramedics unexpectedly came to their door.  When we went to their house today, we learned that Annie had been hospitalized.  In a call with a neighbor yesterday, the neighbor concluded that Annie needed help, and called 911.  Jordan was emotional about it all, recalling when his grandmother had been hospitalized in May and never made it home again, succumbing to COVID.  He feared for Annie.  We encouraged him as best we could from the front porch, suggesting that he take care of himself today while Annie was in the hospital.  We helped Jordan call the hospital and then Annie’s doctor.  The doctor sounded optimistic about her condition, and although gave no promises, he said they would evaluate her continued stay on a day to day basis.  Jordan is humbled, and expressed gratitude for our interest and support.  He is now accepting of our belief that Heavenly Father knows him and his great grandmother.   

Monday, November 23rd was partly an extension of last week’s transfers.  The three sisters in Belleville, Illinois are expecting another sister to complete the two companionships tomorrow.  The delayed move was caused by a COVID quarantine.  Happily, the sisters in Highland had offered their extra bed and desk for the project, something I had forgotten was in Highland.  I’m starting to wonder how many things I have lost track of around the mission.  I’ve organized placement of approximately 100 sets of missionary furniture since June.  Back at the office, I signed the Decatur elders apartment lease renewal.  New leases are challenging.  Renewals usually are not, because the church has earned its reputation as a reliable tenant.  But this Decatur renewal lease goes into the very difficult category.  We’ve worked on the lease for two months, trying to produce the personal information the manager has demanded.  Sis Hatfield has been with Sis Bell at the mission home most of the afternoon planning for the sister missionary conference scheduled for December 2nd.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have already purchased “table top” trees and decorating supplies.  Now they are making prototypes and sorting supplies.  They expect to make about 120 trees, coming out to about a tree and a half per sister.  They also need to organize scissors, glue guns, and who knows what else.  That will be an effort.  I’m trying to make new file labels, key labels, apartment summaries, and so many other things that depend on area names now confused by ward renaming and realignments in the Springfield stake.  Ugh.  Before heading for home, I sort mail.  There is a lot of deliveries coming these days.  Going out of town tomorrow, I need to take what I can to the missionaries in the outlying areas.

Tuesday, November 24th was a trip north.  The manager of the Rantoul townhouse complex wanted to inspect our unit in connection with a possible transfer to a place not so run down.  With all the water damage, I could not afford to miss the inspection and let the manager draw the conclusion that we should be blamed for the substantial water damage to paint and wallboard.  I have some concern about it though, because the missionaries have been either so accepting of the poor conditions or oblivious to them, we haven’t reported the problems as soon as we might have.  As we walk the property, I point out the problems, carefully making the case as to why I believe the mission should not be responsible.  I think I have been effective, and in the end I am willing to accept some responsibility, but the inspector, while friendly and nonaccusatory, is non committal.  We shall see how this goes.  The manager says three units are now available, and I can see them as soon as tomorrow.  I think I will, because this project is not going to solve itself.  For now, we are off to the southwest to Decatur to pick up some medical papers that the mission nurse needs from an elder there.  The missionaries won’t be there, and we have made arrangements to let ourselves in.  While at the apartment I notice something strange.  One of the bedrooms and the bathroom have their doors removed.  After some searching, I find the doors in another part of the apartment.  I will be interested to hear the explanation. 

In the all’s well that ends well category, when we are about 20 minutes from arriving in Decatur, Elder Buck, the new housing assistant, and new to the mission truck, hears a bell that the truck is low on fuel.  Elder Smith and I assume we are down to 1/8th a tank, when we usually hear the bell.  No, Elder Buck says, the truck says we have 3 miles to empty.  I tell Elder Buck to slow down to improve mileage.  A quick search says we are 6 miles from the nearest gas.  Just about the time we are convinced we are in trouble, we see a blue highway sign that says this exit to gas.  There doesn’t look like much out there, but we don’t have much to lose because we aren’t going to make it to Google’s suggestion.  We take the off ramp and head down the road.  After a few minutes, and when we figure we have just made it harder for a rescue party to find us, we round a corner into a small village, and sure enough, there is a station.  We put 32 gallons into a 30 gallon tank.

For Wednesday, November 25th I have arranged to see three townhouses in Rantoul, where the mission had the greatest need for an alternative apartment.  I’ll not take the housing assistants on this trip, so it will be 7 hours of driving on my own.  Two of them have the old, foot square industrial tiles throughout.  One has old very short piled carpet.  None of them are beautiful, but all are in better shape than the dilapidated townhouse the missionaries are living in.  I get pricing on all, and conclude the carpeted unit would be my choice.  The manager will pull together an offer and email it to me later this week.  I made it clear that my interest in a new lease is conditional on whether we can come to agreement on the damage in the townhouse we will leave.  On the way home I stop in Champaign and see the zone leaders, delivering more mail.  They are cheerfully working under difficult conditions.  I admire them.  After leaving at 8:30 this morning, I make it back to the office by 6 p.m., where Sis Hatfield is still hard at work. 

Thursday, November 26th is Thanksgiving.  We got our grown kids on a video call together and talked about our plans for the day and shared cooking ideas.  Most of us participate in the call from our kitchens while we prepare our feasts in five different places.  Malory is in Alabama cooking for her in-laws, Spencer has driven his family to Mesa to see Elisabeth’s family, Mitchell and Patric are in Seattle cooking a full Thanksgiving meal for two, and Ancsi and Gareth are cooking for themselves and Gareth’s sister.  We were a bit shocked to see Ancsi in a cross-fit competition last weekend at her gym where the sponsors had taken no thought as to COVID precautions.  In my estimation, the gym event was probably illegal, involving contestants and many fans shoulder to shoulder around the gym with no attempt to socially distance or wear masks.  RaDene and I had called Ancsi later and we agreed that the exposure was too great to risk attending Thanksgiving with the Jensens as planned.  It was very disappointing to Ancsi to realize the risks to old persons and healthcare workers in the Jensen family if she and Gareth celebrated with them.  And the timing is such that testing won’t help.  COVID is hard, but we must show respect for others even if we aren’t fearful of our own health. 

To share with a nearby missionary district of 9, Sis Hatfield and I are cooking our traditional sweet potato and apple dish, which we have made since the early years of our marriage, and my Dad’s sausage and pecan stuffing.  Naturally, RaDene had some tasteful table decorations and provided the mother’s touch that makes what is usually a family celebration feel right.  The food was surprisingly good, even if mostly made by novices.  Elder Dugan cooked a turkey in a mild jalapeno basting sauce that was delicious.  I must say, it was a little freeing to send everyone home with their leftovers.  Usually we are dealing with food for hours after the meal is over.

Friday, November 27th was notable for the guests at our mission office staff meeting.  Pres Bell’s father and mother came to St Louis to visit for Thanksgiving.  Today, they we had the chance to meet them.  What a delight.  They exude the love and spirit that Pres Bell shares around the mission every day.  You feel like you are with best friends from the first minute you are with them.  They are full of uplifting stories and quick to find common ground.  The acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree. 

Saturday, November 28th is our preparation day, but there are a few things that need some attention if we are going avoid frenzy next week.  Fortunately, the housing assistants are trustworthy and by now know enough to go out and retrieve, not one, not two, but three dryers that have gone on the fritz in the past few days.  One is almost 3 hours away in Tuscola, Illinois.  The other two are in the greater St Louis area, a bit south in Fenton, and west in O’Fallon, Missouri.   Sis Hatfield and I have some special gifts to wrap and ship to family.  This is an especially difficult time to be away from home.  Christmas involves so many traditions that