Sunday, Dec 27th began with an odd greeting at the church door. A person that we had met last Sunday, thinking he was an investigator, is this week persona non grata at all church properties. The man apparently believes he has been called of God to start a new church and is looking for a congregation. He was exploring our branch last week, after being at a different ward the week before. Our branch Elders quorum president said to be on the look-out, because the man had met with one of our missionaries a lot, and there was concern for the missionary. When we alerted Pres Bell, he was already up to speed through the stake president. I guess some crazy stuff really does happen sometimes. After our sacrament meeting, Sis Hatfield and I made personal visits to our ministering sisters, including one we have lost track of during the COVID period. We had an address for Kim Maxie that the ward directory lacked. Unfortunately, Kim was not home, so we left our note and goodies with someone who answered her door. We need to get back here again.
Monday, December 28th seemed like our day to dig in on the work the Jacobs could not do while they are with their family in Hawaii. Sis Hatfield worked on baptism reports, knowing that the year end report would be due soon for a month that is our baptisms high watermark for the year. I worked on paying utility bills that have been stacking up. With 101 apartments, and often several utilities providers for each apartment, there are a lot of bills each month, separate from the rent payments. Later, we pay a visit to the mission home to coordinate with Sis Bell on the dinner tomorrow for the arriving missionaries. She is leaving for Utah to prepare for her daughter’s New Year’s Day wedding at the Rawson Ranch. Tana and RaDene have worked together to bless the Bells in that regard. With Sis Bell out of town for a week, Sis Hatfield will oversee the arrival dinner tomorrow for the 15 or so new missionaries, and she has recruited me. Three missionaries that were coming are now going directly to Chile which has apparently reopened to missionaries. One other missionary isn’t coming because his parents are worried about him traveling in a big group in the COVID environment. He will come in another 10 days or so. And one missionary won’t be coming because his brother has COVID. Arrangements are constantly being made and remade.
Tuesday, December 29th is the day before transfers. The forecast is for cold temperatures and freezing rain and snow. We conspire to ask Pres Bell to allow us to conduct some basic business of the transfer inside a tight semicircle in the building, entering in small groups at one church backdoor, going across the stage, and out the other backdoor. Pres Bell is a little reluctant to deviate from the regular process, fearing it might make the process longer and less efficient. But in the end, we are persuasive. It was aggravating that a December rent check mailed well before Thanksgiving has finally showed up at a manager’s office. We jumped through many hoops to get replacement funds to the landlord, and today I got a call to pick up the long lost check from Salt Lake. The mail is not reliable right now, as also evidenced by the mountain of packages we will be taking to transfers tomorrow, many of which are Christmas gifts, no doubt. One is curiously labeled two day rush delivery, posted December 21st. And it has just arrived, eight days later. This family paid a premium, as the post mark displays, but they clearly did not get the service they paid for. The housing assistants and I make a trip an hour and a half south to Farmington, Missouri to set up a third bed and desk for the sister that will be moving in tomorrow as a part of the transfers. The small bedroom is one large bed, but the sisters don’t seem to mind a bit.
The last large assignment for the day is to join Sis Hatfield and host the arrival dinner at the mission home. The President and his assistants will take care of the mission business with the new missionaries, Sis Hatfield and I will cook and serve dinner, and then clean up. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, because with the 10 person gathering limit, we have split the missionaries so that the arriving sister will eat with the Frontenac sisters where she will spend the night, and a few arriving elders eating with two of the assistants at the APs’ apartment, where they will spend the night. There are some surprises. One of the missionaries, who we understood would not be coming because of exposure to COVID from his brother, is actually on the plane with the other missionaries from Salt Lake. We only accidently learned this because Sis Hatfield called the family to find out when his arrival was being rescheduled to in the future. The mother said that he was coming on the advice of the MTC and his stake president. We panicked, and arranged for an elder that had already recovered from COVID to make a 2.5 hour drive into St Louis to be his emergency companion so as not to expose anyone else. It was a race to get the companion here soon enough because they had only a moment’s notice to get ready and come. It turned out to be a false alarm, because on his arrival, the new missionary advised he had taken a rapid test, and it was negative. All was well, and he stayed with his incoming group for the night. Dinner itself was a success, and we cleaned up the mission home kitchen and headed to the office to finish preparations for transfers.
Sis Hatfield had promised to keep the parents of the exposed missionary updated, so she gave them a call to say how glad we all were that he had tested negative and that our emergency isolation plans would not be necessary. Oddly, the mother who answered the phone, confirmed that she had tested negative, but said nothing to confirm her son’s test. Then the bomb went off. Ten minutes after Sis Hatfield hung up with the mother, the father called Sis Hatfield back and said, that to his knowledge, their son had not been tested at all. We were stunned. But we did get a text into the President who was at this very hour sitting around the table with his new missionaries, including the exposed elder. Pres Bell took the missionary into his office and had a thorough interview and the young man confessed to his fabrication, saying that he had assumed it would make things simpler for all of us. On learning the truth, we immediately implemented our emergency isolation plan, bringing in the elder that had come such a distance earlier that evening to pick the exposed elder up at the mission home and bring him to the mission office. There, I had arranged for a hotel room for the night, and I drove in my own car to check in the isolated companionship. Consulting with the mission nurse, we made a plan for the missionary to get a test in the morning as soon as possible. We could hardly believe what had just happened. We were up until 1 a.m. at the office preparing for the transfer tomorrow.
On Wednesday, December 30th we woke up pinching ourselves and holding our breath. Surely the missionary would test negative—his mother had been negative, so why wouldn’t he? Sis Hatfield was inspired to take action. The missionary and the nurse were not making progress on a test, but Sis Hatfield pointed to the urgent need for action to take a test. And helped make it happen. We had to know the level of exposure before we sent missionaries out everywhere across the mission at transfers at noon today. Satisfied we would soon know, we went to transfers in the bitter cold and rain turning to sleet. We set things up with our modified process, fingers crossed that it would work well enough to justify sticking our necks out to ask President to permit the change. I counseled the housing assistants and the APs to keep the missionaries distant, but moving so as not to prolong the process. First, we had new missionary orientation, then the rest of the missionaries came from around the mission to pick up the new missionaries and to move around the mission as the President had assigned. It continued very cold, but the precipitation turned light. And the exposed missionary and his companion had checked out of their hotel and needed a place to wait, so I took them to a downstairs room in the Frontenac family history center—while of course maintaining social distance. Otherwise, transfers went well. Personally, I had a change. Pres Bell assigned John Raynor, an missionary with just one transfer left before his release, to join the housing assistant companionship, making a trio. Elder Raynor has significant food sensitivities, so we had to modify our usual post-transfer lunch from Five-Guys to Chipotles, which could accommodate our needs. We changed out of our suits, stowed Elder Raynor’s bags at his new apartment, and headed for the office to unload from transfers and start our post-transfer housing work.
Then, the unimaginable news. The exposed elder had got his test results, and he was positive for COVID. We immediately sent them to the Highlands, Columbia area where they will be under quarantine. The rest of the day was spent by every mission leader developing further isolation plans or implementing them, including plans for everyone that spent the requisite time with the infected elder. Sis Hatfield and I barely escaped being designated for quarantine, but 27 elders did not, including the assistants to the President and President Bell himself. The housing assistants and I quickly moved beds around a complex where we had five apartments separating the exposed and unexposed so as to minimized the risk of additional spread. Elders were called and told to stay away from their apartments until we were done. We worked on the process until 8 pm. It was inconvenient for many, and perhaps a bit risky to carry out because after all we had to go into apartments to move things, but it was deemed best to limit further exposure and spread of the virus. Some unexposed elders barricaded themselves into their bedrooms until separations could be made. I must confess I felt self-interestedness from those elders, but I could hardly blame them—we all have seen or experienced the personal cost of quarantine.
Thursday, December 31st was a continuation of the rearranging we do after a transfer. We went across the river to Illinois to take down a tri in O’Fallon. There is an elder over there that for the life of me, I can never tell whether he is telling being serious or pulling my leg. He has a thick east Texas accent, and is almost always in a cowboy hat. His family owns Atwood Hat Co., so it isn’t a surprise that he is a hat wearer. We visited several other apartments, dropping off and picking up phones, mail, and a mis-sent COVID test kit. Sis Hatfield has a responsibility with phones that is unbelievably difficult. Missionaries bring phones from home that don’t work with the church’s software. The missionary department sends phones, including brand new ones, that don’t work. She recently received a box of 20, and after exasperating trying and trying again, she and the young missionary technology specialists have succeeded in getting 25 percent of them to work. Why would the church send phones that don’t work? And if they do “work” by someone’s definition, and our team of experienced users can’t get them to function, then they don’t really work. While driving in Illinois this afternoon, I got a call from my sister Terri saying that our Mom appears to have had a small stroke. This morning, she showed symptoms for a brief period, and between Terri and her doctor, they convinced her to go to the ER. Thankfully, my niece Lilly and brother in law Lynne were in St George and able to facilitate Mom getting to the hospital and helping Dad get there and home. It looks like Mom will be there for a day or two while doctors try to figure out a cause. I was a bit worried, but talking to her tonight, I can tell she will be alright. During the evening, Sis Hatfield and I video chatted with Spencer’s children and helped them review and conclude the Nativity story, a fitting end to the Christmas season. We don’t know what has sunk in, but because of Sis Hatfield’s efforts, the grandkids have had reinforcement of precious truths from their grandparents. We worked at the office for a couple more hours to reorganize teaching areas in the mission information systems as a consequence of transfers, prepared for mission leadership conference, and then weakly celebrated the beginning of the New Year.
Most people say good riddance to 2020. For us, it has been a most amazing experience for us in the Missouri St Louis Mission.