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.
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.