Monday, February 22, 2021

14 – 20 February 2021 COVID Catches Us

Sunday, February 14th, another holiday in the mission field.  Meaning, we look past the commercialism, and quickly focus on what matters to our minds as servants of the Lord.  It is bitterly cold.  Two sets of sisters have let me know that their apartments are not sufficiently warm.  I provide some portable electric heaters to take the edge off.  I am not sure if furnaces are malfunctioning or if St Louis apartments are not built for this frigid weather.  We are setting cold records.  Pres Bell has added one last move to the transfer we thought was complete on Wednesday:  the companionship of sisters in Mahomet, Illinois is being split up with one sister going to Champaign, and one to Belleville.  Thankfully, the President will make the transfer effective on Wednesday, so we can make the housing changes, including leaving Mahomet fallow for the time being.  After our Valentine’s dinner, we head to the office to get the Frontenac trio of sisters started on the laminating of zone conference documents.  We don’t stay long, because we are not feeling our very best.

Monday, February 15th comes with a Missouri Department of Transportation “No Travel” advisory.  I joked last night that it is too cold to snow, but today has proved that idea wrong.  The snow is relatively light, in St Louis, only about 3-4 inches, but it is considerably deeper as you move south in the mission.  Reports from Poplar Bluff are of a good foot.  And the Arctic north wind is strong.  The high is 6 degrees, which is a record low high by about 12 degrees, and wind chills are minus 20.  Although I have sent out alerts and precautions to all the missionaries, I am having a hard time sleeping in fear of getting the call of frozen, bursting water pipes and apartment floods somewhere far away in the bitter cold.  Consulting with staff and President, zone conferences scheduled for tomorrow are postponed.

Tuesday, February 16th was work move day for Sis Hatfield.  I retrieved her monitor and hard drive from the mission office and set them up in our apartment office.  She is just not feeling well, but no one is doing her work for her.  So we set her up to do work from home.  I also check for COVID tests in the deliveries.  Sis Hatfield says we expect three to arrive today for missionaries being sent to their original assignments.  The arrive, but one is for Elder Brooks in Effingham, a long drive from St Louis.  Because there is no time to spare, I recruited the housing assistants to courier it up to him.  Thankfully, the other two are within 30 minutes of metro St Louis.  We made the right call postponing zone conference for today.  I’ve been fielding calls and managing service calls for furnaces not keeping up with the cold most of the day.  I’ve also distributed the few space heaters that I have around.  While the housing assistants are on their delivery trip, I run out to St Peters to help the St Charles North sisters install curtains over their bedroom window.  Later that evening, I made arrangements with the housing assistants and several companionships to leave the zone conference in Lake St Louis immediately at its conclusion to head for the Columbia zone.  There is a lot to do out there, including signing some apartment move-out papers and planning a move of the sisters to the now empty elders apartment in Bear Creek. 

Wednesday, February 17th is zone conference day, but Sis Hatfield is still feeling pretty poorly with some body aches and a low grade fever.  I have some nasal congestion.  She decides she is going to go get a COVID test.  Meanwhile, I’m off to the conference and will be the staff presentation.  In the confusion of the morning, I leave without my suit coat which Sis Hatfield finds on the bed when I am 15 minutes into a 30 minute trip to the stake center in Lake St Louis.  Even though Sis Hatfield helps me by bringing my coat part way, I’ll be late for sure now, some thing the President has been preaching hard for the missionaries not to be.  How embarrassing.  I slip in quietly and sit in the back corner.  Ordinarily the 30 minutes of zone conference presentation is divided among 3-4 of us, and this month, it’s the turn of the Jacobs and the Hatfields to present.  But, Elder Jacob is not comfortable from his gall stone operation, and so with Sis Hatfield out of the rotation, I have 30 minutes to present on behalf of all four of us.  Sis Hatfield gives me an outline of topics to cover for her, and I can ad lib a passable job for the Jacobs.  For my part, I’ve got a video clip extracted from a missionary devotional given by Elder Gong and have built my presentation around it.  It speaks to the pandemic teaching us by faith and creativity to do some things better.  Elder Gong’s example is a video self inspection of their apartment by two elders in Singapore.  I invite our missionaries to do a self inspection of their apartments, and to send me both a written worksheet and a short video.  We’ll see how this goes.

At a break, I call Sis Hatfield to see how she is.  At that moment, she is opening up her emailed COVID test results, and she reads to me that she has tested positive.  What?  Is this for real?  Getting over the initial shock, I slip back into the meeting and alert the mission nurse of the situation and immediately gather my papers and head outside.  I sat in my truck in some level of shock for a minute, and then head for the apartment.  There is nothing to do but get into quarantine and figure out next steps.  Sis Hatfield is already making some plans:  she has called young Sis Atkins, an exceedingly capable, bright service missionary (that a mission president should pray to have assigned to his mission) and arranged for her to spend more time in the secretary’s chair and managing necessary tasks at the office.  Now I need to rethink how my world will turn.  I’ll need to rely on the housing assistants more than ever, I presume.  I got a late call from a sister in Mahomet, IL that was assigned to a threesome there, but now will be reassigned to her former area in Belleville.  But she has lost her house key to Belleville, so can’t get back in tomorrow as planned.  She wonders if I can bring her a spare to the Springfield zone conference tomorrow.  I’m not sure I have one, and the office is abuzz with missionaries until very late this evening so I can’t check possibilities.

On reflection, forgetting my suit coat this morning, which seemed like such an annoyance at the time, turned out to be a tender mercy.  Not arriving until after the meeting had begun, and sitting alone in the back kept me from being anywhere near other missionaries that morning, limiting the exposure a great deal, I am sure.

Thursday, February 18th at 5 am, seven hours before anyone else will arrive, I go into the office to look for a spare Belleville apartment key, and finding one, I disinfect things, and tape the key with gloved hand on the Evertons’ apartment door for them to take to zone conference for me.  Quarantine won’t be easy for the non-virtual housing coordinator.  Later that morning, Sis Hatfield joins me for zone conference staff presentations—this time, by Zoom.  We divide the time 15 minutes apiece today.  Sis Hatfield and I spend the balance of the day fielding calls and messages, directing the housing assistants and Sis Atkins from our apartment.  Sis Hatfield and Sis Atkins work to get three elders ready for flights to Argentina and Brazil tomorrow.  We have carefully shuttled COVID tests to Salt Lake City for lab analysis as a part of immigration requirements and are now on the lookout for return reports scheduled to arrive by email no later than 10 pm.  But we have waited in vain.  The severe weather across the central US has stopped FedEx flights and the test kits never made it to Salt Lake.  After talking to church travel, we finally go to bed discouraged that none of these missionaries will be leaving tomorrow as scheduled.

On Friday, February 19th Sis Hatfield awakes at 5 am with inspiration.  Just three days ago she went through the drill of arranging a PCR (gold standard reliability) COVID test for $250 with results available in an hour.  She realizes that for the two missionaries on afternoon flights to Argentina, there is a strong chance that if we hustle, we can get the local St Louis-based lab to report test results in time to register the results and still get them on their flights.  Resourceful Sis Hatfield will ask Sis Everton to help do the shuttling to the lab, while she clears the process through Salt Lake.  Then she turns her attention to the missionary bound for Brazil whose flight was early in the morning so the local test won’t save this day.  She emailed the Brazil mission president to find out when he could pick up his new missionary, and with that information, calls church travel to reschedule the missionary’s flight for early next week, again, with a local lab test, obviating the need to FedEx a new test to Salt Lake, since results are only good for 72 hours.  Brilliant.  Elder Brooks and Elder Baggaley are off to Argentina after all, and Elder Gage will stay one weekend longer before he leaves, instead of rescheduling for days, if not weeks, as frequently happens when church travel needs to restart the process all over again.  Sis Hatfield is almost too weak by now to present at zone conference today, so I’m prepared to pinch hit for her, but somehow she pulls herself together to join after an already exhausting morning.  Late that afternoon, after early morning inspiration, followed by detailed travel reengineering, zone conference, staff meeting (which she leads as a matter of course), to say nothing of the endless calls with missionaries troubleshooting technology issues, she finally gets what she needed all day:  a long nap.  I think she is being sustained by the Spirit.  Think of this:  if Sis Hatfield hadn’t wondered if she had COVID and then done the research and had the experience of getting a rapid PCR test, she would never have been able to put the pieces together for these reassigned missionaries today.  God performs miracles borne of our sickness.  He is in the details.  Amazing.

Saturday, February 20th brought a few tender expressions coming our way.  Elder Reader, Elder Petty, and Elder Scheurman brought us chocolate chip cookies so good we actually ate them (we have been throwing away treats lately, trying to tame our mission waistlines).  Sister Jarman, Sister Miller, and Sister Chambers heart attacked our front door.  Sweet, thoughtful missionaries.  That evening was the St Louis Stake adult session of stake conference.  It was at this very meeting one year ago that visiting authority Elder Henry J Eyring of the Seventy stated about COVID, “I don’t know where this is going to go, but it could be important to be prepared.”  I hardly knew what to make of it, because I had heard such very little news about COVID.  Before the next weekend, church meetings would be cancelled for months.  An ominous anniversary.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

7 – 13 February 2021 Transfers In America's Icebox

Sunday, February 7th at Annie Stewart’s house turned into a sing along.  For whatever reason, Sis Hatfield and I decided to sing for Annie as a part of our ministering visit.  We sang a couple of primary songs, and a hymn of the restoration.  Then we asked Annie if she would like to sing.  She hesitated, but then started singing a beautiful old time, southern gospel hymn, unknown to us, but we soon caught on.  So there we were, singing a beautiful hymn in the front room of Annie’s house that she probably learned as a little girl, upwards of 90 years ago, in rural Mississippi, long before being baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a mere 25 years ago.  We left full of the Spirit and pure love of Christ.

That afternoon, we went to the mission office to check missionaries in for their flights departing tomorrow morning.  We had Elder Kolter Smith and Elder Buck over for dinner, knowing that this would be our last opportunity to host Elder Smith.  It is always a bit awkward at these dinners because we are saying goodbye, but the missionaries haven’t been told yet, so we lather on the “current” love, rather than looking back.  Then we depart for the mission home so the elders and I can stow luggage and Sis Hatfield can go over travel itineraries and other departure and “reentry” details.  It is so cold outside we can hardly wait for the missionaries to arrive and take their final pictures with companions.  No one has enough warm outerwear.  One of the tasks is to weigh luggage to avoid unpleasant and very expensive surprises at the airport.  The elders have identified a sister with luggage 20 and 25 pounds overweight, respectively.  We take it inside, and while most of the missionaries are having their farewell dinner, Sis Hatfield and the sister missionary are spread out all over the living room floor trying to figure out what to do.  Out comes pounds of candy, bags of pens and other art items, books, friend journals, winter boots, rain boots, and an assortment of clothing.  It takes a lot to reduce the suitcases a combined 50 pounds, the limit of a whole third checked bag.  And it is agonizing for the sister to decide.  She agrees to donate candy and office supplies to the mission, and I agree I’ll ship a box for her.  It will be much cheaper than paying for overweight luggage.  Later that night, I take a call from a couple of elders in the Rockwood 1st area who are spooked that their apartment is making noises, lights were unexpectedly on, and the door was unlocked when they returned home for the evening.  I’m dubious, but I try hard to respect their feelings.  I suggest that they might spend the night in a neighboring area with some elders until we can get their feelings settled down.  What to do.

Monday, February 8th started for me with a trip to the Champaign zone to set up three apartments for 3-person companionships that will be put in place as of transfers on Wednesday.  Going anywhere in the Champaign zone is by definition a long day.  It is late in the transfer calendar to still be working on set ups so far from the St Louis metro area, but the President was still feeling the need to make changes to the plan as late as yesterday.  Of course, we will accommodate.  Our job as staff is to make things happen, not complain that our work is inconvenient.  While I was traveling, Pres Bell came to grips with the Rockwood 1st elders and their jitters.  He called to ask if I would escort them back to their apartment and inspect it with them.  I wished I could wiggle my nose and be back to St Louis to help with that, but I couldn’t.  And because the President was himself up to his neck with a sister that is being disobedient in her use of technology to the point of possibly needing to go home, he asked Elder Everton and the APs to do the escort and inspection. 

 Late that afternoon back in the office, Elder Everton reported that he did not see these elders ever returning to their apartment, and that his recommendation is that we move them and let the apartment sit empty for the transfer.  That was not good news.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was trying to recapture vital technical data about teaching areas that the APs had unwittingly deleted from the mission data base.  Painstakingly, she reconstructed the data area by area, working until 10:30 pm on the project.

Tuesday, February 9th began with Sis Hatfield feeling inspired in her morning prayers to reach out—in the modern way of a text message—to express love and support to Pres Bell.  So we heeded the impression.  Not long after, we received a grateful response, and a bit of a cry for help.  Pres Bell said that he had been up until midnight talking to the bishop and stake president of the disobedient sister.  As it happens, the sister’s stake president is also her father, and he is in denial about the activities of his daughter.  Pres Bell said he felt “interrogated and unsupported” by the priesthood leaders.  It is getting messy.  Beyond coincidence, Elder Jacob received and email report from the church indicating cell phone data usage from the last month and had forwarded same to Sis Hatfield in the wee hours of the morning.  Instead of preparing for a gall stone procedure, Elder Jacob was following a prompting to forward the report to Sis Hatfield who in turn could use it to support Pres Bell in his difficult task of documenting disobedience to unbelieving priesthood leaders.

Later, I called Pres Bell primarily to talk about the alternatives for the Rockwood elders.  I told him of Elder Everton’s assessment that they would not go back.  Taking on one more thing, Pres Bell said he wanted to talk to the elders himself.  Not long after, he called me back, saying that he had spoken to the elders and told him that with prayers, dedications, and his keys of presidency, he was confident that they could move back and find peace.  They had agreed to try.  He asked me to stop in the mission home and get some new art work Sis Bell had for the Rockwood apartment.  I called the elders and made an appointment to meet them.  I arrived a few minutes before they did, let myself in, and found all to be in order.  When the elders arrived, I showed them Sis Bell’s gospel-themed art, and spent the next hour and a half discarding old posters and pictures, rearranging furniture to give a fresh feel, and hanging the art with my trusty picture hanging kit.  I continued to be respectful of feelings, but firmly encouraging that they could do this.  I also noted a couple of small things that needed maintenance attention in their apartment, and told them I would be back to see them and help with the items in a few days.  When I left them, they seemed calm, if not fully confident.  Back in the office, I helped some sisters decipher smoke alarm beeping, and helped Sis Hatfield continue preparations for transfers in the morning.  The forecast overnight is for snow and single digit temperatures, so we are implementing our “extreme weather” transfer plan.  We are setting some records in St Louis for record low highs.  Previously, the record low high for the day was 19 degrees.  We reached 7 degrees.

Wednesday, February 10 was our most stressful transfer we have had in a while.  On reflection, it involved many factors—frigid temperatures, snow, APs that were either inexperienced or brand new on the job (hello Elder Adams, we miss you Elder Harriman!), a new housing assistant (on whom we rely on heavily at transfers), the closure of 10 teaching areas (the complexity of which is hard to overstate), the whitewashing with elders of five areas (because of the net loss of so many sisters this transfer), eight TRIs, decreasing our vehicle fleet, while retiring 8 vehicles in exchange for new purchases, and recognizing that AT&T was closing its 3G network as of February 18 so that this was our last chance to help the 80 missionaries with 3G phones be prepared in mass by sending out data deficient T-Mobile SIM cards as a backstop.  And all this while still in a Pandemic, with required social distancing, i.e., sitting in idling cars for a couple of hours to keep the crowd down, with a missionary census that is still over 225, all of whom need beds, cars, phones, and love.  It is like feeling responsible for more children than you can possibly support.  And after the frigid transfer and new missionary orientation, we head off to set up 3 more TRIs we haven’t been able to get to yet.  Happily, Elder Nielsen, from Monroe, Utah, the new housing assistant, is a great young man.  He is a cowboy, raised on a sheep ranch, can back a trailer, and knows how to work.  I will miss Elder Kolter Smith, but he will be a fine zone leader, contributing in many important ways to the continued success of the mission.  That night, Sis Hatfield and I fall into bed, exhausted.  Thankfully, this is the Lord’s work.

Thursday, February 11th was a major breakthrough for Pres Bell in his duty to find objective information, good or bad, about our disobedient sister.  She had borrowed a mission phone without disclosing she also had a personal phone, a big no-no.  President had gotten the mission phone back, and after auditing it, a lot of unfortunate information was found, including some very offensive messages against Pres and Sis Bell personally.  Sis Bell is devastated.  The President is driving from apartment to apartment to interview other missionaries that apparently played some role in the technology misuse.  Apparently all others are remorseful, which will help bring this to an end, I hope. 

Friday, February 12th included our weekly staff meeting.  Elder Jacob somehow dragged himself into the office, although he clearly was uncomfortable.  Rather spontaneously, the meeting began with a discussion of the difficult week it has been for the Bells dealing with our disobedient sister, and all that has entailed.  I think it was needed catharsis.  Staff meeting can often be the President’s opportunity to confidently and confidentially obtain feedback and support from other mature missionaries that completely support him.  Our Friday night date was at the office, working late on  zone conferences next week.  Sis Hatfield is formatting handouts and I’m working on my apartment self-inspection presentation.  Elder Garrett Gong included in a missionary devotional a charming 60 second video clip of an elder giving a self inspection tour of his apartment to his mission president in Singapore.  I’m going to replay the clip and challenge the missionaries to send self- inspection videos to me.

Saturday, February 13th began with an early text from Pres Bell.  Our disobedient sister missionary is being sent home, and will be coming into the office about noon.  After her final interview, she would prefer to be taken to the airport by us, just to minimize the awkward feelings with Pres and Sis Bell.  That is too bad, if inevitable, but we are happy to help.  In the office, I helped weigh checked bags, and for the second time this week, have identified overweight bags, and will be arranging to ship a box home for the sister.  As it happens, I have scheduled the move of two sets of missionaries, so I load the bags in Sis Hatfield’s car and she and I head in different directions.  My job is to exchange the apartments of a set of elders and a set of sisters so that we have elders in an apartment building with other elders, rather than sisters and elders together.  The planning of the move revealed the wisdom of the effort:  the elders and sisters can’t help but casually run into each other multiple times a day, which is not a good situation.  After getting a few household things fixed in the process of the move and the missionaries otherwise squared away, the housing assistants and I head out to Warrenton, Missouri to take down a now empty bedroom, and on the way back towards St Louis, use what we have retrieved to give Elder Smith and his new companion in Dardenne Creek some decent mattresses.  That is my plan for the surplus of mattresses we will accumulate over the coming months.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield has a great one on one visit with our troubled sister on the way to the airport.  They parted with tears and big hugs, in spite of social distance rules.  It was good that I was busy elsewhere so Sis Hatfield express love on behalf of Pres and Sis Bell and all of us in an intimate way.  Hopefully, this will help minimize the scarring of this hurtful end to a mission.  That evening, we hustle to find a copy store still open to handle the zone conference handouts for next week.  We make it just in time.  Whew. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

31 January – 6 February 2021 Danger of Disconnection

Sunday, January 31st was out of order.  We went to church, then descended into the primary room in the basement and set up our laptop.  We had video primary with both sets of grandkids from the Pagedale primary room.  Somehow, it felt nostalgic with the posters, and pictures, and symbols decorating the walls over the neatly organized miniature chairs and tables.  After tracking down a missing COVID test, par for the course these days, we prepared a farewell dinner for Elder Isaac Harriman and his companion APs.  Elder Harriman goes home in a week.  He has been an excellent example to all the missionaries, and a strong assistant for Pres Bell.  We were surprised to learn that this seemingly shy, straight arrow has a girlfriend back home.  I guess I must say fiancĂ©, because they have a wedding date already of April 14th. I hope they are as they remembered each other!  That evening, we had some birthday party envy as we watched by video little Ezra blow out three candles and open gifts from his home with our family surrounding him with love.  How we longed to be there to give him a hug in flesh and blood.

Monday, February 1st saw Elder Jacob back in the office, complete with stents to try to relieve gall stones that aren’t scheduled to be removed for three weeks.  He looks weak, tired, and uncomfortable.  I hope he can make it three weeks.  He isn’t going to be able to work many long days in this condition.  It is good that I’m coming up to speed on the financial secretary duties.  We have received a power shut-off notice for a nearby apartment.  It is really hard to understand how this happens.  I don’t know if the mail is not delivered, the email doesn’t get through, or we lose it when it does come.  One foot in the paper world and one in the electronic, either by choice or by circumstance, it is hard to keep track of multiple utility bills each month for 100 apartments.  On reflection, it is surprising it doesn’t happen more often.  I also spent much to much time today trying to gather evidence of payments made to an apartment complex as part of our application that they said they would refund because they simply couldn’t make a decision about the Church as a tenant.  But somehow they now aren’t sure they actually got my application money last fall.  I’ve had to get my credit union to find evidence of payment of an electronically deposited check neither I nor the CU ever got back, and for a second step application payment, evidence of payment on a cashier’s check from a bank at which I am not an account holder but managed to finagle a check out of some months ago.  It adds up to about $400, so it’s worth the effort, if aggravating. 

Tuesday, February 2nd, Ezra’s birthday.  About noon, Spencer called and let us watch Ezra open his homemade Buzz Lightyear quilt.  He clearly recognized his name set out in big block letters.  It is adorable and a keepsake.  Sis Hatfield’s gift is a cupid’s arrow to the heart. 

The housing assistants and I made a trip to Alton, Illinois to address a washer problem.  It was reportedly leaking.  On arrival, I looked things over, and nothing was an obvious problem, so I started the washer.  It filled, agitated, drained, and spun without incident.  A bit sheepishly, the rest of the story came out.  The elders acknowledged that the leaking washer was “really full” and had spun out of balance.  We deduced that the water had sloshed out the top of the washer tub.  The elders agreed to watch their load size and balance, and let me know if they had any further problems.  I doubt I will hear more about this washer for a while.  Next, we went to the Hazelwood sisters apartment after they complained that the air condition wasn’t working.  AC wasn’t working?  It’s 20 degrees outside?  On inspection, the cooling coils box was a complete block of ice, with about an inch of frost building up on the outside over the internal block of ice.  I was a bit stunned.  We turned off the system and told the sisters it needed to stay off for at least a day, when we would come back.  I also explained that HVAC systems aren’t designed to cool when the outside temperature is below about 60 degrees, and the inverted inside/outside temperatures mess up the heat/cool exchange, freezing the coils and potentially damaging the system.  A cracked window is a better choice for fresh air than running the AC in the winter.  We ended our housing field trips for the day at the sisters Webster Grove apartment which was too cool.  Checking the filter, it must have been a year since changing, and it was so clogged that it is a wonder there was any air flow at all.  It is hard to be the “dad” to so many “kids” living in so many apartments.  But we love them all, and are happy to help them with sometimes the simplest things. 

Sis Hatfield’s help is anything but simple.  She is sorting a phone survey she and the young technology missionaries have circulated around the mission to learn what kind of phones are in the mission.  Long story short, it appears that about 50 percent of the missionary phones are in danger of failing when AT&T stops supporting 3G phones later this month.  The Church’s solution to slowly change out to T-Mobile, which says it will support 3G for a few more months, is agonizing.  We know that this is kicking the can down the road, and in the meantime, providing much less service and data availability.  RaDene has the ear of the missionary department’s chief communication manager.  She is clearly far ahead of the vision and aptitude of most mission communication specialists in trying to solve the problem of keeping the missionaries electronically connected—the lifeblood of their work in the new era. 

On Wednesday, February 3rd I tired of bureaucracy.  A corporate landlord changed its mind about where they wanted the Church’s rent checks to be mailed.  The Church, quite understandably, wants a change of address to be in writing from the vendor.  This time though, the landlord’s email is insufficient, which is a change.  The Church wants an elaborate form completed and signed, showing the new primary address, which is the same as the secondary address on the form submitted when we entered into the lease four months ago.  To balance my day, I returned to the Hazelwood sisters apartment to take a look at the HVAC frozen solid as of yesterday.  By this afternoon, the coils have defrosted, which I clean out, replacing the crazy dirty filter too.  Maybe the poor air flow contributed to the problem.  With everything clean, dry, and reassembled, we cross our fingers and turn it on.  Thankfully, it is working, so no permanent harm.  Whew.  I also brought a pole to put in their sliding glass door track to block it open just a few inches in the event they feel like they want some fresh air.  That seems unlikely, looking at the wintery forecast. 

On Thursday, February 4th we have our weekly mission zoom workout, led by Pres Bell.  He looks tired.  The burdens of the leadership of the mission are weighing on him.  The callings of bishop and mission president are similar in at least one respect:  anyone that thinks they want the job doesn’t really understand it!  We are praying for him and his sweet companion often, trying to do whatever we can to do allow him to spend most of his time doing what only he can do as the key holder of the mission.  Not long after the workout, I got a text from him to hold off on taking any steps to shut down two apartments we had decided we could let go as the mission slowly shrinks from its highest census.  The transfer has been tricky having received a few more notices of impeding returns by missionaries to their original assignments.  We head off to Columbia to try out some new mold treatment on some shower grout that seems particularly good at growing the stuff.  Of course I will need to clean it deeply first so that the chemical can get to the roots of the problem.  I know most people don’t use it anymore, but there is nothing quite like Comet to get a deeply soap filmed bathtub and shower really clean.  The things you learn on a mission. 

Next we drove the 30 minutes or so south to Jefferson City, stopping on the way to pick up flowers and new pots and pans for Sis Miner.  She is the young lady who had the stove fire accident a week ago, with burning oil spilling on her as she bravely took it out the door.  The flowers were to cheer her up, the pots and pans had lids so that she would have a way to smother flames.  Too little, too late!  Her arms hands, and one calf and foot look so red and blistered, and that was what I could see that wasn’t bandaged.  Poor girl.  But to her credit, she was a cheerful and happy as anyone I know.  What a great person.  We take the opportunity to go see the elders in Jefferson City, because I will have the chance to chat in Thai with Elder Scott, our Thailand Bangkok transferee.  He is doing language study when we arrive.  I’m afraid with only five months left in his mission, he isn’t going to make it back to Thailand.  That outcome is becoming a reality for a number of our missionaries.  It must be a pretty significant disappointment for them, but we are blessed to have been strengthened by them here. 

Back in the office the President has made up his mind about the two apartment closings again, so I quickly give a notice to vacate to one of them where the lease will soon be up and we need to give 30 days notice of our intent not to renew.  We stayed until 10:30 again, working away to be ready for a transfer that wouldn’t happen for six more days.  The details can hardly be worked out, much less meaningfully summarized.

Friday, February 5th included Sis Hatfield composing a letter to the missionaries, copying their parents, explaining what we know about which cell phone models will be supported by AT&T later this month, and which ones won’t be.  There are many considerations, but in essence she was delicately communicating who ought to consider buying new phones.  The cheapest supported models we could find cost almost $200 (or more of course).  This could be a big ask for some families, and some have only recently bought phones that it turns out won’t work.  Adding to the stress was the hunch that there is uncertainty about it all, in spite of the best information we have.  Sis Hatfield is a good writer, and she nailed it.  I think those that are in position got the message to upgrade cell phones, and those not, won’t feel bad. 

Pres and Sis Bell made a hilarious dance video, complete with pom poms, celebrating some amazing recent finding and baptism statistics: the missionaries have reported 378 new investigator finds in the last three weeks, and 18 baptisms in the last two.  It was so gratifying to see Pres and Sis Bell rejoice, both body and soul, and share their joy with the missionaries.  Meanwhile, the housing assistants and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon organizing and cleaning out our storage.  We are down from our census high of about 255 missionaries to about 225 next week after transfers, starting some corresponding contraction of areas.  I have bought beds for everyone, and we need room to start storing the extras.  It won’t be 1 stored for every 1 missionary decrease because there are a bunch of bad old beds around the mission, and we will use this opportunity to discard them and keep the new ones in service.  Even so, we will need to store a bunch until ordinary wear and tear requires their use.  Sis Hatfield continued transfers planning for communication issues at the office until 11:30 pm, and I kept her company. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

24-30 January 2021 Traveller Angels

Sunday, January 24th included sacrament meeting at the Pagedale branch.  Sis Hatfield and the APs had conflicting Sunday schedules, and the best time for them to connect on the late developing zone conference book mark project was immediately after our sacrament meeting ended.  RaDene raced to the office to meet the APs to work on design and layouts before their afternoon church meetings.  I stayed back at the branch and asked the missionaries to take me (that was a role reversal!) to see Annie Stewart for our weekly visit.  Annie and two of her great grandchildren were determined to go to the grocery store, so after helping Annie carefully and slowly get out the door in her walker and into the car, our visit was over.  I had the missionaries drop me back at the branch building to wait for Sis Hatfield’s return.  Perhaps predictably, the work at the office stretched into a considerable effort, leaving me at the branch building for quite a while.  But it was not wasted time.  It turned out that David Fingal, the branch president, was there too.  He is a reserved man, and he isn’t inclined to open up about himself easily.  But today, to my surprise and delight, he talked to me alone for a long time about his being raised in East St Louis by a well regarded African American physician that was a pillar of health care, first, in southern Missouri and later, in western Illinois, among the African American communities.  Mr. Fingal married late in life, so young David saw his father as a somewhat stern older man.  Father came down hard on David’s big brother, a large, athletic young man who wasn’t as inclined as David to follow family rules.  Pres Fingal remembered waking up one morning to the sound of leather slapping on his brother after not being home on time the night before.  His father had told his brother that he knew where he slept, so he would get his punishment sooner or later.  It certainly impressed on David the need for obedience.  Pres Fingal also related that his father was a civil rights pioneer, starting the local chapter of the NAACP.  Dr W.A. Fingal was arrested on charges of conspiracy to incite violence while president for protesting Jim Crow laws.  Their home in East St Louis was the target of shootings and fire bombings.  Pres Fingal eventually became a railroad engineer for the Union Pacific, which took him on trips all over the country.  His mother loved good music, so one time on a layover in Salt Lake City, instead of finding the Jazz or a night club, he found the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in rehearsal.  He also wandered around the visitor’s center where some lovely young sister missionaries tried to give him a Book of Mormon.  He declined, but did not forget.  His manager learned of the episode, and introduced a co-worker as a Mormon.  David asked the co-worker about whether he could get David a copy of that Mormon Book.  A stake missionary, as it turned out, the co-worker was happy to oblige.  David read the book voraciously.  Those missionaries on Temple Square no doubt thought their introduction and offer was a failure.  Little did they know.  He was soon baptized and has been a faithful member ever since, and is now a retired railroad man with deep roots, devoted to his call as Branch President of the little flock of the Pagedale branch.  I’m not sure I ever would have heard that story had Sis Hatfield not left me alone at the church.

On Monday, January 25th I took a call from the sisters in the Oakville South area.  They had come home from their P-day shopping and noticed white powder on their deadbolt lock.  Somewhat nervous, a sister mentioned it to her father on the call home to her family.  The father googled that, and concluded someone had either been trying to break into their apartment or worse, had used surreptitious techniques to create a key for the lock.  I encouraged the sisters to call the apartment complex manager to see if they knew anything, like whether there had been other break-ins in the area.  A while later, the sisters called me back a bit sheepishly.  Yes, they had contacted the manager, who told them that maintenance had been to their unit to try to lubricate the lock with graphite, since they had reported sometime before that their lock was sticking and a little hard to open.  What can I say?  I like the story better that international bad actors had used CIA-worthy technology to break into a missionary apartment.  Boy, would they have ever been disappointed by the poverty they would have encountered inside.  My experience is there are few people more suspicious—and protective—than the families of sister missionaries.  Later that day, I received a call from some elders that their washer was slowly filling up and that if we didn’t do something to stop it, it would surely overflow and flood.  I asked them if they had tried turning off the valve behind the washer.  No, they said.  They would try.  They called me back to say they had searched in the room behind the washer and could not find a valve.  I suggested they look right behind the washer, and specified that they turn the valve clockwise.  They agreed to try again and to call me back.  They soon reported that they had located the valve behind the washer, had turned the water off, and averted the crisis.  It is a good thing the missionaries have gospel teaching skills. 

Back at the office, Sis Hatfield is supremely frustrated because zone conferences start tomorrow and the office printer has completely choked on the card stock, stopping the two day old book mark project in its tracks.  As a last resort, she downloads the file onto a thumb drive and I take it to Kinkos and we pay for the professionals to bail us out with a production copy machine.  On the way home, I stop at the office supply store to pick up laminating supplies so Sis Hatfield can direct the young sisters in cutting and laminating the bookmarks to get us over the goal line.  Pres Bell then asked if Sis Hatfield could produce copies of laminated Restoration Proclamations on the back of our mission values statement.  Not by tomorrow, Pres Bell.

Tuesday, January 26th started with some bad news.  Sis Jacob called Sis Hatfield early in the morning to say that Elder Jacob has been suffering from unknown pain since the wee hours of the morning and is now in the hospital.  He's had some troubles with kidney stones recently, but this seems a bit different.  We are praying for him.  Meanwhile, we are off to zone conference in Lake St Louis for our western zones.  Sis Hatfield with pinch hit for Sis Jacob and I'll speak on behalf of Elder Jacob.  In addition, Sis Hatfield is doing her first mass training on the 4G cell network phone problem.  It will be a very big deal if lots of missionaries lose connectivity on February 18th as we fear might happen.  Later we learn that Elder Jacob is having some sort of gall bladder surgery.  We hope the procedure is completely successful and the recovery is speedy.  At a conference break, Sis Hatfield and I carefully consider where to take Sis Rowe's COVID sample.  Church travel has arranged for a Fed Ex shipment to a lab in Salt Lake, and we need to make sure it gets there by tomorrow.  There is almost no float in the schedule, because Sis Rowe is leaving for Chile on Thursday, assuming we thread the test and visa needles.  After zone conference, Elder Smith and Elder Buck and I head to the AP's apartment.  we rehang three towel bars and change a broken overhead light.  They also complain that their couch's skin is delaminating and would appreciate a new one.  Within the last two days I have turned down a member's offer of a couch donation, not thinking I had a good place for one, and no extra storage.  I call back, and to our blessing, it is still available.  We also set up temporary sleeping arrangements at the housing assistant's apartment to accomodate an emergency transfer where two elders are at each other.  The housing assistants help with many needs in the mission.  This is the second time in a month that they have been turned into an emergency threesome for a time.  The day ended with a call from Sisters Webster and Walker who have become unsettled by an investigator that knows their address and is mentally unstable.  There have been no threats, but nagging feelings of discomfort.  They will stay with some other sisters in the zone for the night.  I talked to Pres Bell about the situation and we will try to figure out what to do.

Wednesday, January 27th was the first measurable snow of the season.  We are way behind last year, when I was impressed by the amount of snow we had in December and January.  Not this year.  We have had some cold snaps, but on the whole, it has been quite temperate.  And wouldn't you know it, our first snow day is the same day that zone conference is scheduled to be held in Springfield, Illinois for our Illinois zones.  We pray earnestly that the missionaries will travel safely this day.  And they did.  After the long ride home, we head to the office for the evening shift.  It's clear that Elder Jacob won't be back for at least a few days after his procedure and I'm worried about getting behind on bills.  I've had too much experience with checks being delivered oh so slowly by the USPS these days, and month end utility bills are piling up.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is working with the Traveling Technology Trainers to revise a phone survey to gather additional information.  She has been communicating with the AT&T service agent and has more insights into what may and may not work next month.  It seems like it gets more complex by the day.  The worst news is that Sis Rowe's COVID test kit has not been delivered to the SLC lab.  Doing some tracking, we find out it did not make it out of the Memphis sorting center last night for the flight to Salt Lake.  Fed Ex has promised it will be delivered by 8 am tomorrow.  We have our fingers crossed.  Church travel advises that Fed Ex messed up multiple test deliveries yesterday.  But since Sis Rowe's plane is an afternoon flight, if the lab prioritizes her test, it is still a possibility to receive and process it in time.  But we are worried. 

Thursday, January 28th will be our third conference for the week, this time in the St Louis and southern zones.  By now, I could drive to the St Louis stake center in my sleep.  But before we leave, we load up Sis Hatfield's car with Sis Rowe's luggage.  Things didn't look good, but we are praying for a miracle that her test results get delivered in time for her to fly to Chile.  Perhaps my highlight was after the conference.  Pres Bell asked me to join him to give blessings to missionaries.  It is such a privilege to exercise priesthood on behalf of the Lord's full time, dedicated, set apart representatives.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield and Sis Rowe left the conference early in order to make a few final preparations before flight time.  One was at my urging:  I've hefted enough missionary suitcases to strongly suspect that Sis Rowe's bags are over the weight limit.  There are few things more awkward than trying to figure out what to do with overweight missionary bags while standing at the ticket counter.  We try to deal with that in advance, but are not always successful.  By 1:30 pm, there is still no COVID test result for Sis Rowe, but Sis Hatfield takes her to the airport anyway, exercising faith.  RaDene has continued to communicate with the testing lab and knows that Fed Ex has just delivered the test sample, to everyone's dismay.  So much for delivery first thing today.  Sis Hatfield is the boots on the ground, managing the efforts and guidance of church travel representatives, the lab manager, and now the United Airlines ticket agent.  Biding their time, Sis Hatfield and Sis Rowe go to the empty scales of another airlines and confirm that both bags to be checked are overweight, and move things around until finally, Sis Rowe's carry-on takes the load and the suitcases can be checked.  Most young people these days eschew books and papers, favoring electronic formats.  Not Sis Rowe.  She has a paper copy of every missionary reference in English and Spanish, and she is paying the price.  Sis Rowe probably weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, and now she has a carry-on of about 50 pounds.  Sis Hatfield is sure she will never be able to lift it into the overhead bin.  To further be ready, Sis Hatfield has Sis Rowe practice the Chilean medical form, which is long, detailed, and poorly translated.  They don't have the COVID test results to input, but she is otherwise now familiar with the form.  The UAL ticket agent advises that the drop dead for receiving the test results is 3:20 in advance of a 4 pm departure.  Three-twenty pm arrives, and still no test results.  Sis Rowe is trying to be brave, but her eyes are filled with tears knowing that if she misses this flight, her departure will be rescheduled to be weeks from now.  The ticket agent is as nervous as we are.  At about 3:30 Sis Hatfield calls the lab in one last ditch effort to coax a test result.  He answers and exclaims the results have just been sent, and at that moment, Sis Rowe's phone bings the arrival of the lab's email.  Sis Hatfield holds the phone up to the ticket agent who nods and puts the checked bags on the conveyor.  But Sis Rowe is now so nervous she can't fill out the form again, which has refreshed and deleted all the information she has inputted.  Sis Hatfield successfully calms her, and the report is done.  Now the report won't print, but the agent says it will be sufficient on her phone.  Sis Hatfield and Sis Rowe run to security, where Sis Hatfield ignores the "passengers only beyond this point" sign and helps Sis Rowe get her ID and boarding pass reviewed and on her way.  Sis Rowe texts Sis Hatfield from her flight transfer in DFW, and so we know she is on her way.  Meanwhile, I spent the afternoon working on a furnace, lights, and blinds in Washington, Missouri.  So pedestrian.  

Friday, January 29th found me working two desks in the mission office this morning, both housing and finance.  Many monthly bills will be due on Monday, and Elder Jacob is in no shape to be in the office yet.  I am missing him in many ways.  Meanwhile, Elder Smith and Elder Buck were called on to help a sister move.  A Catholic nun.  Rock Erekson, the Coordinating Council JustServe director, knew of the need, and was himself providing a truck, and asked for some missionary assistance.  So we sent our best movers.  They laughed at how easy it was for them to address the nun and her sisters “Sister,” while the sisters struggled to call the elders “elder.”  And no, they weren’t wearing habits while moving.  They looked like regular ladies.  On the other hand, the elders had their white shirts and ties!

Sis Hatfield got word that Sis Rowe had safely arrived in Chile and was in the company of her new mission president.  Sis Hatfield had also received a kind email response from the United Airlines ticket agent that had bravely assisted Sis Rowe yesterday.  The agent had watched the Christian video Sis Hatfield had shared with her and expressed warm feelings about the video and Sis Rowe’s missionary service in Chile.  Sis Hatfield was able to reply that Sis Rowe had arrived safely in no small thanks to the agent’s effort, and that the agent was an answer to Sis Rowe’s family’s prayers that the people that could help her successfully get to Chile would be put in her path.  Indeed they had been.  The lab manager, the UAL ticket agent, and not least, Sis Hatfield.  Many had worked together, without planning to, to answer humble prayers and produce a miracle, each doing their critical part in the complex but largely unrecognized network of angels that caught and carried Sis Rowe. 

That afternoon, I took a break from desk work and helped Elder Everton shuttle five brand new Chevys from the dealership in St Peters back to the mission office.  I stopped into the drug store to get some ibuprofen, ice and heat packs, and a sling for Elder Lambson.  He had slipped on the ice in exactly the same place that senior Elder Lisonbee had fallen on Christmas a year ago.  Eighty year old Elder Lisonbee escaped with a skinned shin and palm (and a completely shattered dish), while young and athletic Elder Lambson suffered a severe blow to his elbow that was badly swollen.  As bad as it looks, the elbow absorbed the energy that kept Elder Lambson from severely banging his head.  What a terrible entryway!  We have told the manager, and they better do something about it before there is a tragedy. 

Saturday, January 30th was marked by the news that Sis Miner, working in Jefferson City, had her own severe accident.  She and her companion had started heating a pan of cooking oil and went into the other room, forgetting that what was happening on the stove.  Before they knew it, the oil had caught fire, and the column of orange flame caught their attention.  Sis Miner moved in, grabbed the pan handle, and headed for the back door.  In the panic of the moment, she bumped the door frame, spilling oil on her hands, arms, legs, and feet.  Somehow, she still got the pan out the door and threw it onto the edge of the concrete patio and grass.  The fire extinguished, but Sis Miner was badly burned, with blisters and swelling, loss of some feeling, excruciating pain, missing eye lashes and bangs down to one inch long.  Miraculously, none of the spilled, boiling oil splashed on Sis Miner’s beautiful face.  There is so much to be worried about, and so much to be thankful for.