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.