Friday, January 1st. Like most holidays in the mission, New Years is a non-event. We are at the office a bit early in fact, to participate in the mission leadership council, going over JustServe goals for 2021. The young missionary that came to us from home untested but exposed to COVID has now come down with symptoms. I worry that this might suggest his case is virulent enough that others he has exposed during travel and since his arrival might be infected. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope he recovers quickly. Unfortunately, Mom isn’t leaving the hospital today as she had hoped. I guess there were too many emergencies taking up too many diagnostic tools, so she will stay the night waiting her turn. It was good to talk to her though, because she sounds just ornery enough to lead me to believe she is alright. That is, her sense of hospital discomfort is alive and well, generally a good sign, in my experience.
Saturday, January 2nd seemed like a day that was devoted to dealing with COVID concerns. We had decided to make Sunday dinner for Pres Bell and for his assistants. We settled on RaDene making her famous lasagna, and me contributing bread. Lasagna is has plenty of ingredients as it is, Elder Harriman, one of the assistants, has food sensitivities. So, we substituted turkey for ground beef and sausage, zucchini strips for noodles, find dairy free shredded cheese, and as a ricotta substitute, we are blending raw cashews, vegetable broth, parsley, and some seasonings. And because it is some effort, we want to make Elder Harriman enough so that it can be more than one meal for him. It takes me three stores to find what we need. Meanwhile, I’m urging Pres Bell to let me get him a hotel room for next week. His family returns from his daughter’s civil wedding in Utah at the Raw Ute Ranch on Monday, and the last thing we want is for him to infect his wife and kids, including the newlyweds, just before the sealing on Friday. We are all very anxious about whether Pres Bell will turn out to be sick and end up not being able to attend his daughter’s sealing after all the arrangements to bring everyone here to St Louis so he can participate. Late in the day, Pres Bell passes along a request from our Area Authority, Elder Jeremiah Morgan, whom we admire a great deal, to provide mission baptism statistics by stake for the past five years. Knowing that Sunday will be full, and that Mondays never have enough time, we head into the office for the evening so Sis Hatfield can do some research and prepare a report. We are not sure where to look for this information, but before the (long) night is over, Sis Hatfield has found what is wanted and sent it off.
Sunday, January 3rd begins with some confusion. We thought today was branch council by zoom meeting. It turns out, it is next week. But before we figure that out, we are up and dressed, and ready for the day, but now a good hour and a half before church. RaDene texts Spencer and confirms that the grandkids are up for an impromptu primary class with Nana and Papa. Within 30 minutes, Sis Hatfield has a lesson on D&C section 1 ready to go. It was better than branch council would have been, I believe. After church, we continue with the lesson we have practiced on the Grands and give it to Annie Stewart. On our way home, we stopped at the Pagedale elder’s apartment and dropped off a care package. They are on quarantine this week, the new missionary there having been exposed at transfers. When we got home to our apartment, we turned our little galley kitchen into a catering center, crafting bread and lasagna for two quarantined households. We really enjoy service in simple things. That evening, we hesitated to join a last minute, mission-wide goal setting meeting. Ten minutes after the meeting began, Sis Hatfield answered a phone call from Dee Marche, one of our ministering sisters. She sounded awful. She could hardly speak, she was short of breath, and was almost delirious. We learned that she had a doctor’s appointment at 9:30 in the morning, but we recognized that in her condition, she would need help getting there. She would be a danger to herself and others on the road. Sis Hatfield and I were able to give her some comfort that one or both of us would take her to her appointment. It was strange that not feeling quite right about joining a mission-wide turned into a chance to minister to the one.
Monday, January 4th began with a bit of a flurry, because I didn’t realize Sis Marche’s doctor’s appointment was 20 minutes from her home, and I didn’t leave soon enough for a leisurely ride. While I drove a little crazy myself, Sis Hatfield called Dee and told her she better ask for a little leeway from the doctor’s office. When I arrived at Dee’s house, I apologized, and said she had adjusted the appointment to 9:45. But somehow, I couldn’t get the adrenaline down, and continued to drive like James Bond to the medical center. If Sis Marche wasn’t out of breath before, she was by the time I got her to her appointment. We arrived by 9:34. Masked, she took me by the arm and we walked slowly, and with some stops, into the doctor’s office. The doctor’s office was soon packed, so I left, partly to give my chair up to someone who needed it, and partly to exit the well used air. I felt as vulnerable to COVID in that doctor’s office as I had felt at anytime during the Pandemic. Strange. Later I learned that the phlebotomist poked Dee nine times trying to get a blood sample, without success. The nurse found me in the building foyer at one point to let me know why the examination was taking so long. Her heart was struggling, and her limbs were swollen, but after 2.5 hours of exam time, they released her to go home. I felt sorry for her, with both hands and arms bandaged from the failed IVs. At least she is now under a doctor’s care.
It was a late start at the office. My intent for the afternoon is to pay utility bills. They have been piling up, and with the unreliable mail, I don’t feel comfortable to wait until Elder Jacob gets back. But I haven’t done this much, so I’m not very efficient. But the Church mission software is intuitive enough, even if it is a bit clunky. Elder Everton has been suffering from kidney stones diagnosed last Friday. The doctor can’t get him on the schedule for a week to perform the procedure to get them out. He bravely came to the office and asked for a blessing, which me and some young missionaries give to him. Between Elder Everton, Elder Jacob, and me, we are three for three on senior office missionaries suffering from kidney stones within about 60 days of each other. Maybe it’s the Mississippi river water. I’ve heard from the Pres and we have agreed he will need a hotel room for a few nights to quarantine himself from his wife and family until he can be sure about his COVID status. I booked a room at the local Fairfield Inn, and went over there to check him in. Then I met him at the mission home to deliver some reports for Sis Hatfield and give him his room keys. He has been sanitizing the mission home for his family. I pick up Sis Bell’s car so I can meet her and her boys at the airport at 9 tonight and she can drive home.
We learned by about 4 pm that Sis Bell’s flight was delayed. That was okay, because Sis Hatfield and I would then be able to participate in the mission wide prayer to confirm our goal for bringing 328 souls to baptism in 2021. Interestingly, the stakes in our mission have a a goal of 470 baptisms, and we will support them with all our might, but the mission leadership has felt impressed to set our own goal. It was a beautiful meeting unitedly talking and praying together about our goal. The delay kept extending, and I was worried the flight would be cancelled. Finally, about 11:30 pm it arrived. We broke the missionary 10:30 lights out deadline tonight.
Tuesday, January 5th seemed like it would be an uneventful morning. I answered the mission phone while Sis Hatfield was away from her desk for a moment and it was David Hanley. We talked, or I should say, I listened, for the next hour and ½. David is in the Alton, Illinois mental health institution. He has had legal problems too, related to his condition, I am sure. Sis Hatfield and I have taken turns trying to lend a sympathetic ear. He sent us a Christmas card, which was touching. It sounds as if he has worn out his welcome with many, and at this point has few friends. It is hard to know what to do for him, but I can always listen. I’m holding my breath that a $1285 check mailed from Salt Lake arrives to one of our landlords today. It is getting old arranging to pay rent 10+ days in advance, and then waiting two weeks to see who has not received their check and going through a fire drill to get replacement funds. Elder Jacob is expected back tomorrow, so I organize bills, receipts, reports, and other papers so he can have some sense of up and down when he gets here.
Later, we head to O’Fallon, Missouri to pick up a donated couch from some members. We chat for a bit, and talk about common roots in Utah. Then it’s off to Lake St Louis to pick up some weight lifting equipment and pull up bars from some fastidious sisters who do not want to deal with the clutter. We will find elders who want the equipment, for sure. In exchange, we work on broken lights in their bathroom and hallway. They should get some sort of prize for neat and clean. Back in St Louis we put the member couch in the apartment of the Frontenac Traveling Technology Trainers, and dump their couch, which is more bare foam rubber than cloth, into the dumpster. Back at the office for the evening shift, I reorganize my plans for tomorrow. We will go to Decatur in the Springfield zone so we can pick up Elder Woodman who needs a ride to St Louis ahead of his return to Ghana, his original mission assignment.
Wednesday, January 6th starts with a Zoom workout with President Bell. That isn’t so unusual. What is unusual is RaDene joining me. It can be pretty intense, and potentially a bit public, stretching and straining in front of a large audience of 20 year olds. Then the housing assistants and I are off to Illinois. We are going to Decatur, proudly known as the original home of the Chicago Bears. We first drop off some things for the sisters there, and then head to a restaurant to pick up Elder Woodman, whose companions have brought him down from Rantoul so that we can take him the rest of the way to St Louis. Elder Woodman is headed back to Ghana, and he could not be more excited. But first we act like housing elders, going to the Decatur elders’ apartment. We patch holes, hang doors, examine the kitchen faucet and leak undersink, and maybe most important, take out bags of garbage. Honestly, with four missionaries in an apartment, I don’t know why reporting a broken sink faucet and drain, and even more simply, taking out the garbage, can elude them all. Then we drive the 30 minutes to Springfield to patch another wall hole bravely reported by an elder some weeks ago that I have kept on my list for the opportunity to fix when in the area. We hurry back to St Louis so that Sis Hatfield can help Elder Woodman take the restrictive software of his phone, so that in an emergency, he could connect with someone while traveling over oceans and continents all by himself. With the similar goal of travel preparation, Sis Everton helps with COVID test reporting for entry into Ghana, and Elder Jacob helps with travel funds.
But the big news of the day is that President Bell had determined to proactively take a COVID test, and today he learned that he is negative for the virus. He will be able to return home to his family and best of all, attend his daughter’s temple sealing without reservation. We are all relieved. This good news tempers the notice of non-payment of rent from a landlord in the Parkway area. I investigate, and determine that there are two electronic deposits made by the Church to the landlord’s account that do not show on the landlord’s ledger. I report my findings to the landlord, trying to be completely polite, but feeling more than a little aggravated.
Thursday, January 7th begins with a trip to the airport to check Elder Woodman in for his flights to Ghana. Things don’t go smoothly. The ticket agent did not find things with respect to his COVID test to be sufficiently documented. We reviewed the laboratory website and online reports. We call Sis Hatfield for support from Church travel. But with some youthful technical skill, Elder Woodman is able to find another report that proves satisfactory. Then its back to the office where an online zone conference is already in progress. Sis Hatfield and I are on the agenda for staff presentations. She delivers a very effective demonstration on smart phone troubleshooting, narrating as some sisters step through screen displays for all to see. Pres Melby, the new second counselor in the mission presidency and a thoracic surgeon, has his own presentation where surgery instruments were displayed, discussed, and likened to our being instruments in the Hands of the Lord. His freshness and enthusiasm are impressive.
That afternoon, my emails showed that the pay or vacate notice of yesterday was withdrawn, sorry for any inconvenience it may have caused. The satisfaction was brief. I was quickly on to another proof, this time of our valid renter’s liability insurance, demanded by another landlord who had somehow missed what I had previously provided. Almost unbelievably, I received the third notice in two days of nonpayment of rent. Fortunately, I was able again to quickly show evidence of payment. This string of aggravations made it almost a pleasure to leave the office with Sis Hatfield and shop for quilting supplies.
Friday, January 8th yielded not a single pay or vacate notice. I therefore retreated to the more mundane, helping my own housing assistants with a dishwasher fix. That afternoon, RaDene and I were almost lost trying to find St Luke’s Hospital, but after being talked through some turns by the receptionist, we finally arrived. It was another world class medical facility among scores of others around here. After a little health care, we picked up the Jacobs at their home and had dinner out at Charra’s, their favorite local Mexican restaurant. Yes, I wrote that correctly—dinner out at a restaurant with friends. It has been months since we have done that, and we so enjoyed it. And we thought about how much we missed it. We mused that this is not a senior mission, it is a COVID mission. We’ll need to serve again sometime to have a more expected, traditional senior mission. Meanwhile, we will never forget our mission “for such a time as this.” After dinner, we drove together to the mission home where the Bells had a drive by reception set up in the front yard. That morning, Addison and her new husband were sealed in the St Louis Temple, surrounded by their parents. COVID restrictions did not permit anyone else. Honestly, I don’t think I have seen the Bells so joyful. And to think that just two months ago, they were brokenhearted, almost bitter, hearing that Pres Bell would not be able to attend his daughter’s wedding in Utah. We have witnessed a miracle of healed hearts. Sis Hatfield in the front seat, and Elder Jacob in the back seat, held a congratulations sign out the window as we drove by. I still marvel at the assistance RaDene and her sister Tana were able to offer at just the time it was sorely needed. My only regret was burning my tongue on the hot chocolate handed to us through the car windows.