Saturday, March 27, 2021

14—20 March 2021 Bus Driver Angels in SLC

Sunday, March 20th gave us the opportunity to take Elder Howard and Elder Livingston, missionaries serving in the Pagedale Branch boundaries, to meet Sis Annie Stewart.  We taught her from D&C 25 and showed her a video on Emma Smith that Sis Hatfield had downloaded to her tablet.  The missionaries helped me administer the sacrament, and we sang I Am a Child of God, which Annie remarked was beautiful.  I’m sure she meant the melody, not the singing.  It was a good addition to our visit to have the young missionaries with us.  Later that evening, 12 of our missionaries gave their departing testimonies by video to the entire mission.  This is one improvement that I am sure we will not roll back.  Having everyone benefit from these powerful messages is wonderful.  We certainly enjoyed the intimacy we formerly had of the small group of departing missionaries testifying to themselves in the mission home.  But this is better.  Thanks, COVID!  This is a group of young people that we have served with for over a year now, so we have come to know and appreciate almost every one of them.  But preparing for Elder Riley Scheurman to go is especially emotional, because of our close association with him as a housing assistant during the particularly challenging times of the onset of the Pandemic.  Sis Hatfield recorded parts of Elder Scheurman’s and Elder McNeil’s testimony to share with their mothers.  They will be proud.

 Monday, March 15th started early with a panicky phone call from the assistants to the President.  They were at the airport struggling to get Elder Atwood on a flight to SLC.  The Delta agent had told them it was really a Southwest flight, and Southwest said no, it was Delta flight.  They didn’t have time to go back and forth anymore, and so called Sis Hatfield for advice.  She gave some instructions and Elder Atwood was off to his gate.  The day would be an adventure.  He was going for an interview at the Mexican consulate in support of his visa application to return to Mexico as a missionary.  As we reflected for a few moments that morning, we realized that we had not prepared Elder Atwood as carefully as we wanted.  He had very little time between the his landing in SLC and the interview time.  Would he know how to catch a taxi from the airport to downtown?  Did he have sufficient funds?  These questions and more were covered in some  paragraphs of instructions from the travel department that Sis Hatfield had sent to him, but had he read them?  And did he understand?  We wished we had gone over things.  Sis Hatfield sent him some texts with simplified instructions, and asked for him to call with questions or text an acknowledgement.  He never did.  Later that night, the APs went to the airport to retrieve Elder Atwood from his most excellent adventure.  They understood his plane would be three hours late so would go back later that night.  Taking the trust but verify approach, Sis Hatfield looked online and learned that the plane had landed on time and so told the APs they ought to get back to the airport.  The longer we do this, the more we are of the opinion that young, travel inexperienced missionaries shouldn’t be asked to take people to and from their flights.  There are too many details that are easily missed by the infrequent flyers.  The assistants suggested to Sis Hatfield that one reason why Elder Atwood had been successful was because he was able to connect to WIFI at the airport.  Well, that isn’t supposed to be possible, from a technical standpoint, with the restrictive software the church puts on missionary phones.  So she called Elder Atwood, and sure enough, he has a second phone from home that isn’t handcuffed with missionary software.  That is a violation of missionary rules on several levels, but knowing Elder Atwood, not terribly surprising.  He is a young man from a wealthy family that doesn’t take orders from others.  And Elder Atwood is a terrific tease.  I never know if he is telling me the truth or pulling my leg through his thick east Texas drawl.  He did fess up to the improper phone, which Sis Hatfield will help him straighten out.  Meanwhile, Elder Atwood told Sis Hatfield an amazing tale.  When he arrived in SLC, he walked out, and had no idea where to catch a cab, but did have the presence of mind to ask a bus driver how he could get downtown.  The bus driver said he couldn’t take him, but he offered to call his buddy.  The buddy showed up minutes later and personally escorted Elder Atwood to the consulate.  He then awaited Elder Atwood’s call when he was done and took him on a little tour and back to the airport for his return flight.  The buddy was supposed to be golfing that day, but had the feeling that he shouldn’t.  As Sis Hatfield said, apparently the Lord wants Elder Atwood back in Mexico. 

 I worked on insurance certificates for the new policy year until 10:45 pm.  Many sophisticated landlords require renters to show evidence of liability insurance as a lease obligation.  The church maintains a policy that is available for many purposes, including renter’s liability for missionary apartments.  The policy expires on March 31 of each year, and a new policy goes into force on April 1st.  The policy term is not in synch with any leases, so in general, applications for certificates must be done twice a year in order to capture the full year of the lease with two pieces of the policy year for any property where insurance is a lease requirement.  After April 1st, it isn’t so bad.  But on March 31, every outstanding certificate expires and so there is a mad rush to get new certificates issued.  It takes me days to organize the effort and then hours to put in all the online certificate applications to the church risk management.  I can’t imagine the chaos for those folks this time each year receiving and responding to what must be many thousands of certificate renewals. 

 On Tuesday, March 16th, Sis Hatfield walked about five miles (no, really) shopping for the mission office refresh.  They looked at tables, chairs, paint, and other finishes.  They started about lunch time but didn’t finish until about 6:30 pm.  They did good work, but I must admit, I was most interested in the lemonade/ice cream freeze treat they had at Chic-Fil-A.  I’m going to need to try that.  I was taking a tour of the Columbia zone.  The housing assistants and I headed out pretty early to clean the Bear Creek North apartment that we are turning back to the landlord later in the week.  I had asked the sisters who moved out to take a run at cleaning it.  I must confess, I was holding my breath a bit, given how it looked when we moved the furniture.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  They had rolled up their sleeves and cleaned quite well.  After thanking and praising the sisters, I sent them on their way, and the elders and I cleaned the cupboards, appliances, and floors with a little more depth than the sisters had gotten to.  And we retrieved the lights from around the high ceilings, replaced some lights, and brought home a broken built in drawer for some careful repair.  Then we went to pick up all the extra stuff the sisters were wanting to give up after sorting through two sets of kitchenware, and a few other odds and ends, like a sewing machine.  We stopped in the STL’s apartment in Smithton Ridge and took measurements for a broken blind.  We headed out for Macon and delivered a kitchen table to take the place of the small plastic one they have been using for months.  We also fixed the kitchen faucet and left them a present on the side of the tub:  Comet.  On our ride home we marveled at the power of the revelations of the early Restoration and what an intellectual testimony they are.  The echoes of so many scriptural passages from the Bible with nuanced but profound clarifications worthy of deep study and research a century and a half after being penned are beyond the pale for a scholar, much less an unschooled young man.  It must be the week before transfers, because after a long day out of the office, RaDene and I continue our work in the office until 10:30 pm.

 Wednesday, March 17th is St Patrick’s Day.  Thankfully, I had a little green in my face mask.  It was accidental, because so far as I know, I don’t have any Irish roots.  Sis Hatfield, on the other hand, came to work properly dressed in a green top and skirt.  Green does look good with red hair.  The sisters in Bellevue, Illinois have complained that the slats in their bedroom blinds are broken.  I have the measurements, so we pick up a pair at Walmart and head on over.  Carefully moving desks set in front of the windows, which display some beautiful paintings the sisters are working on, we take down the old blinds and hand the new ones.  Elder Nielson commented that he felt confident he had acquired some housing skills and that he could hand blinds in his own home someday.  He mused that he wanted a power drill for his birthday.  Yep, I’m rubbing off on these young men.  On our way out, we noticed the furnace filter is beyond dirty, so we change it and leave a couple of replacements.  I’m thinking we need to call some sister housing assistants to broaden my influence in the rising generation.  On our way back to St Louis, we stop at an apartment we will be turning back to the landlord next month.  I wanted to size up the task in front of us to get it ready.  I was disappointed to find all manner of open and perishable food left in a dirty kitchen and arms full of all manner of clutter.  I need to add a second day to our turn over preparations—there is much cleaning out before we can clean up.  I told Sis Hatfield about my reaction and she is strongly urging me to make a video message to distribute around the mission to help do some teaching before missionaries can conveniently leave their messes because of transfers next week. 

 Sis Hatfield has been doing her own teaching today.  Young Sis Atkins is a whiz technology, but she has no sense of document layout for a printed page.  Sis Hatfield has edited the content for this edition of The Harvester newsletter, but it needs to be put in format.  Sis Atkins doesn’t quite see it, so Sis Hatfield is patiently showing Sis Atkins what a visually pleasing layout of headings, pictures, captions, text, borders and other elements look like.  Sis Atkins is a quick study, and is learning things never thought about by the text message generation.  Late that night, RaDene opens her finally arrived Valentine’s gift from me:  a copy of Repicturing the Restoration, by Anthony Sweat.  I wanted to get a copy when I realized how much religion is engrained in my own mind based on the limited visual art of LDS scripture and church history.  We need to expand our minds with truth, and pictures are powerful teachers.

 On Thursday, March 18th, I awoke with a shrink wrap revelation.  We small writing tables that we use in the mission as study desks.  During the Pandemic and missionary surge, we bought some extras.  Now that we are starting to contract, we have a few extra.  They will be useful in the future, because missionaries break things like this.  But they are awkward to store with their legs and take up a lot of space.  I’ve thought I would like to disassemble them and then we could easily store for use as needed.  But I’ve been loathe to take them apart because I know that the legs and hardware will be easily separated from the table top and get lost.  That will make them useless.  We don’t have the boxes any more and they are an odd size to try to box.  I’ve thought of duct taping the parts and pieces together, but I know that the tape adhesive can easily ruin the surfaces.  I’ve stewed about this for some time.  But this morning, I awoke with the answer.  I will put the bagged hardware and the legs inside the desk table and stretch wrap it all together into a nice flat package.  Inspiration comes about even the little things. 

 Later, I took the housing assistants to Home Depot, bought a toilet seat, and sent them off to Mattoon, Illinois.  They have seen me do it enough by now that they can replace the seat that is allegedly leaving splinters and take down an extra bed and desk without my close supervision.  Meanwhile, we have a new missionary welcome video meeting that 2 missionaries coming on Tuesday of our group of 21 are missing because the MTC teacher will not excuse them, in spite of Sis Hatfield and Pres Bell’s polite but sincere request.  A bit of an odd power play going on there, for some odd reason.  And while we are having the welcome video meeting, there is chaos in the office because two missionaries headed for Brazil tomorrow have arrived in St Louis and the mission office to weigh luggage (my job), check in with the airlines, register negative COVID tests and finish other necessary and confusing travel paperwork (Sis Hatfield’s job).  We try to keep that activity off camera.  I finish the day working on the missionary apartment rent roll adjustments for the month for Elder Jacob to put through the church system tomorrow because I will be very busy out of the office, and if we wait until next week, the mail will almost surely deliver some rent checks late.  It is disruptive and unnerving when late rent notices start getting delivered to missionaries’ doors, so we start the process early to avoid that. 

 Saturday, March 20, 2021 comes and goes and Pres Bell still hasn’t released the new transfer board indicating where the missionaries will be come next Wednesday.  That means I will have two work days plus transfer day itself on Wednesday to get beds everywhere they need to be.  It would be easy to criticize Pres Bell for not getting this done sooner, but if he doesn’t feel settled about the assignments, there is no fault to cast at him.  My job is to make his work easier, not to cajole or complain.  Among those missionaries who have reached the end and who are leaving on Monday is Elder Riley Scheurman, my former housing companion and lately serving well as a technology specialist and a great help to Sis Hatfield.  We have seen so much growth in him and he has endeared himself to us.  So, as a prelude to his final supper at the mission home tomorrow, we take him and his companions Elder Reader and Elder Petty downtown to our favorite barbeque joint for a late lunch.  Officially, they close at 6 pm, but at 3 pm the line is winding around the building and they are out of all meat except pulled pork.  Sis Hatfield negotiates an outside picnic table for us, and we have—you guessed it—pulled pork.  And mighty fine pork it is.  Before we are done with our meal, the place has pretty much cleared out because by now, they don’t have any more pulled pork.  Someone ought to invest in more smokers here at Pappy’s and they could get a return on investment for sure. 

 After lunch, we end our preparation day and get back to the office.  Sis Hatfield needs to assemble departure packets and I need to buy 14 pillows (I already have 7) for the incoming missionaries on Tuesday.  With all the set up that will need to be wedged into a few days, we won’t have time to be looking in the stores for pillows.  While we are out, Sis Hatfield has us pick up 50 plastic bins to hold proselyting publications that are mostly just piled on the metal shelves in the office.  Since we must move out for the paint and carpet, these materials will never hold up unless we put them in something.  When we get back to the office, I see that Sis Hatfield has started sorting and packing already.  There is a lot to think about and a lot to do with respect to the office remodel.  How did this happen on our watch?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

7—13th March 2021 Subbing In When the Mission Truck is Out of Commission

Sunday, March 7th was fast Sunday.  It was gloriously warm and sunny.  The members came to church in larger numbers than we have seen in a year.  We sang the hymns for the second week, which we have been only listening to for months after meetings resumed this past fall with all manner of precautions.  I am not one to often speak spontaneously, but this day, I bore my testimony.  I wanted to contribute to the infusion of strength and spirit that our small branch was feeling.  We are planning to resume second hour meetings in April.  It feels like we are starting to turn the last page of a dark chapter.

Monday, March 8th required some improvisation.  Late last week, the housing assistants had a nearly non-moving vehicle accident.  They were helping clean up vegetation at the Greenwood Cemetery, a regular service project of several St Louis area zones of the mission.  The truck bed was loaded with debris to be moved.  As Elder Nielson was backing the truck up, a large, long tree limb fell over the side of the truck, lodged in the ground, and then pressed into the back cab window until the glass burst like only safety glass can do.  So, it needed to go to the shop for repair.  Because it is one of those fancy rear cab windows that go up and down, it is a special piece of glass that must be ordered.  We are not sure when it will be available again.  Elder Everton has pulled in a smaller truck to sell at auction, and since it has been sitting in the parking lot after having its own rear quarter panel repaired after a snow day accident, he is letting the housing assistants use it.  But sizing things up, it isn’t big enough to pull the mission trailer.  That is a big limitation on what we can do.  We had hoped repairs might be done and it would be available today, but no luck.  This is a problem, because tomorrow, we have an apartment move to make two hours down the interstate in Columbia, Missouri.

Tuesday, March 9th is moving day.  I’m a little frustrated.  The missionaries have meetings that will keep them busy until 10 am, which is a late start for a big job far away.  And the mission truck is still not ready.  There is only one thing to do, and that is to put my own truck into service as the tow vehicle.  But I know that won’t work without some fussing around.  My own hitch is the wrong size, so we need to find one that will fit the trailer.  I recall that there is a spare hitch in the storage unit, so when the elders are released from their meetings, we head over to see what we can find.  We find the hitch all right, but it is the wrong size too.  I get the idea of going to the repair shop and getting the hitch off of the mission truck.  It turns out that no one has noticed—because no one has ever needed to figure it out, that the mission truck hitch is locked on.  We ask the mechanic to take the ball off of the receiver for us, and maybe we can put it on my own receiver.  This takes much longer than we expected, but we finally have the right size ball.  But we don’t have my receiver, because we had assumed we would get the whole assembly from the mission truck.  Since we don’t have the key, it is closer to take the ball to my apartment and try to put it on my receiver.  But now we can’t get the ball off of my receiver, not having the size of wrenches necessary to overcome the years of rusting in place.  We are starting to head back to the shop again when I ask Elder Buck to Google a auto parts store, figuring that it this point, it will be simpler and faster to buy a receiver and put the mission ball on it.  We switch directions, and sure enough, it doesn’t take long to buy a receiver, put the ball on it, and install it on the back of my truck.  There aren’t many material problems a little money can’t solve. 

We head back to the lot to get the trailer, and finally we are on our way, an hour and a half later than the already late start.  Oh well, we are finally moving.  We have used all available time for lunch, so we will go without today.  Daylight is burning.  We arrive at the apartment complex and jump in.  On inspection, the sisters could have used a few more hours of preparation, notwithstanding our late arrival.  They didn’t gather boxes, so we used plastic bags to empty their shelves and cupboards.  The beds, dressers, couch, desk, and chairs are the easy part.  Honestly, I can’t figure how this apartment is so filled with stuff after only being open for a year.  But after an hour and a half, including some farewells to friendly neighbors, we are off.  We will be coming back for a deep clean next week, but I’m giving the sisters a chance to clean first.  We unload at the old elders apartment where the sisters are going in pretty quickly, taking a few minutes to clear a slow drain and apply some caulk in the shower where I saw it was missing when I was cleaning it last week.  I told the sisters that just because we moved it here, doesn’t mean they need to keep it, and they ought to use the settling in as a chance to simplify things.  We make a quick stop at the Columbia apartment to drop off some mail and a newly issued temple recommend that Pres Bell asked that I deliver.  While making the handoffs in the parking lot, we see an extra Chevy Equinox, one of the vehicles that the church buys for missionaries.  The elders mention that it is here waiting for Elder Everton, our vehicle coordinator to pick it up.  Chevy mistakenly delivered a car to Kansas City, instead of to St Louis, and some KC senior missionaries had driven it this far for us.  I called Elder Everton and he was thrilled to have us bring it the rest of the way, saving him trying to figure out other arrangements. 

But first, we head to Perche Creek to fix a plug, which amounted to figuring out that it was switched.  It works just fine when the switch is turned up.  Then we head up stairs to address the real reason for coming.  Pres Bell called me yesterday and told me these elders are being kept up nights by noisy neighbors who have a bedroom straight through the wall from theirs.  I suggested we move their beds to another room which is available now that the area has downsized to a single companionship.  In addition, I have purchased a fan for background noise.  Hopefully this will alleviate the situation.  I’ll let the reader use his or her imagination as to the noise we needed to overcome.  Yes, that kind of noise.  We get a sandwich for our hungry bellies, and stop back to pick up the Chevy in transit.  We make home by 9:30 pm.  Hearing the report of our day, Pres Bell expressed his thanks for playing the role of Joseph Knight for our mission.  We have several, and I am satisfied to be counted as one of them.

Wednesday, March 10th required that we slow down our pace just a bit to sort through mattresses.  We can’t store every piece of furniture we used when we had 255 missionaries.  We are culling the worst out of storage.  That required a round robin visit to multiple dumpsters in the area.  No one minds taking one mattress into a big dumpster, but no one wants their dumpster filled by a half dozen of them either.  We stopped off at the Frontenac sisters apartment to examine their ant infestation.  It actually looks pretty tame.  To their credit, the sisters have cleaned up any obviously tempting sticky, sweet food from the kitchen counters and floor.  I purchased some liquid borax bait traps and told the sisters to replace them in two weeks.  We’ll see if this works.  Sis Hatfield has been somewhere between guiding and negotiating the office refresh planned for next month.  I can’t bring myself to call it a remodel, because we aren’t getting much more than new paint and carpet from the landlord, and some new art and a few new chairs from the church’s budget.  RaDene has been working hard to keep the local church facilities agent from downgrading the furniture we have by poorly conceived repairs to desks and replacing worn but handsome chairs with folding chairs.  The most important improvements may be of our own design—fabricating finished-looking backing for our industrial shelves so that our office looks less like a warehouse. 

We are awakened on Thursday, March 11 to a powerful thunderstorm.  Another benefit of being on the second floor is being able to hear the rain, a powerful relaxer.  But there is no time to lounge because it is video zone conference this morning.  When we arrive to the office, Pres Bell is in the middle of a huge distraction.  An elder that we haven’t had in the mission very long apparently has had an inappropriate relationship with a woman and provided her a nude video of himself.  Now, she is demanding payment of $2,500 or threatening to distribute the video and ruin his reputation.  I’m afraid a mission is about to be abruptly cut short.  Pres Bell deals with the situation as best he can, having juggled the order of the conference to keep things going while he deals with what only a mission president seems to deal with.  When he finally gets back into the conference, his presentation is beautiful, and emotional.  Pres Bell is emotional.  Who wouldn’t be.  After the conference, Pres and Sis Bell hurry home to help teach a lady her first lesson together with the housing assistants.  Pres Bell says the elders have followed the conference-taught teaching techniques and the Spirit very well.  Before the lesson is over, Pres Bell has issued a challenge to baptism, which the lady has accepted, subject to gaining her own witness that the gospel is true.  What a contrast this is to how the day began for Pres Bell.  He takes it all in and shows what a man of God does in all manner of conditions.  I see echoes of Joseph Smith in his life.  By contrast, after conference I glued up a dresser drawer we retrieved some sisters that was falling apart.  Maybe echoes of Joseph Knight.  In staff meeting, I relate the Old Testament story of Caleb who when sent by Moses to spy out the promised land, urged the Israelites to immediately enter and conquer the land of milk and honey.  He was nearly stoned by his fellows for his optimism and bravery.  In contrast to Caleb, his brethren felt like grasshoppers in the face of the giants occupying the land, and shrank from the opposition.  So the Lord had the House of Israel wonder for 40 years in the desert until the faithless was all gone.  When they were, Caleb and Joshua were the sole survivors of their generation.  Caleb was still now ready to attack, like he had been 40 years before, and bravely told Joshua, “Give me this mountain,” referring to the land of Hebron, which Moses had promised him, and to the challenge it would be to obtain it.  If only I could be so faithful and courageous in the face of life’s obstacles, knowing that God’s promises are sure.

For me, Friday, March 12th begins in the office doing lease work and gluing up broken dresser drawers.  Sis Hatfield is inviting missionaries preparing to come to the MSLM in two weeks to participate in a video conference next week to get to know Pres and Sis Bell and the office staff.  Elder Buck and Elder Nielson have interviews with Pres Bell this morning, along with the rest of the Hazelwood zone.  Then elder Nielson has a dentist appointment to repair a broken tooth.  The dentist is a member and apparently does emergency dental work for the missionaries for free.  What a blessing he is the mission.  About 12:30, Sis Hatfield, the housing assistants, and I pile into the truck.  We’ll make a quick stop at the storage unit, were Sis Hatfield marvels at the accumulating mattresses, and documents the situation for Pres Bell with a picture.  Then, we are off to Sikeston, Missouri.  Sikeston is one of our southern outposts, being half way to Memphis, and the northern edge of the Missouri “bootheel” that extends down into what would otherwise be Arkansas.  Sikeston was once a swamp and forest land, and the drainage project to reclaim it in the early 1900s reputedly moved more dirt than was moved for the Panama Canal.  Unfortunately, the levees, dams, and ditches that create some of the richest farmland in the world in former flood plains also heavily contribute to the flooding of the Mississippi.  Located along the King’s Highway between St Louis and New Orleans established by the French and along one of the few railroads west of the Mississippi in the 19th Century, it was an important transportation hub.  It figured prominently during the Civil War as the Confederate Army planned attacks on St Louis.  It has some beautiful old houses and other buildings, but like many rural towns, its population is by now in decline. 

Elder Steed and Elder Pugsley’s Sikeston apartment was in need of several repairs, kitchen chairs, and extra beds and bikes retrieval.  I also created a small list for the landlord’s help.  I offered to reimburse them for toilet cleaning equipment and chemicals to encourage an improvement in bathroom hygiene.  Elder Pugsley is a nephew of our Bishop Broberg and his wife back home in Provo, so it was good to catch up with Elder Pugsley again.  He certainly has seen the ends of the mission, first being assigned in Lindell East, the heart of the City of St Louis, and now being down here in Sikeston's river made alluvial cotton and wheat farmland.  Sis Hatfield invited all four elders to go with us for supper to Lambert’s CafĂ©, home of “throw’d rolls” and outsized servings of home cooking.  We got there just in time to beat the Friday rush.  By the time we left, the line was around their large foyer and out the door.  Elders Buck and Nielson agree that Sis Hatfield should come along on our field trips more often.  We stopped in Cape Girardeau on the way home, delivering a vacuum to the sisters, delivering mail to the zone leaders, and replacing a broken bed for the Cape Girardeau South elders.  Elder Aspinall is a football player, and I guess his bed looked like a tackle dummy to him.  He is on pins and needles right now.  He has torn his ACL before, and has just had an MRI to look at a new knee injury.  If surgery is required, he will probably be headed home.  After prayers, we headed home, our Friday date with the missionaries now complete.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

28 February – 6 March 2021 The Hazards of Sugar Gum Pods

 Sunday, February 28th was one of those Sabbaths that the Brethren counseled us against a decade or so ago.  The video meetings together with the in-person sacrament meeting started at 8 am and went to 4 pm, when we had to excuse ourselves to make dinner for the missionaries.  At home, I might have been a little annoyed by the overscheduled Sunday.  But in the mission field, in COVID, I enjoy the interactions all day long.  Sis Hatfield did have a moment of stress however, when we walked into sacrament meeting, all but late.  Pres Fingal made a bee line for her, and asked if she would substitute on the organ.  (We never did find out where our organist was, but that didn’t matter much.)  And of course, it was immediately time for the opening hymn.  Fortunately, the computerized organ had the opening hymn, A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, in its repertoire.  Unfortunately, the organ was set at 129 beats per minute, and with beat adjustment knob nowhere to be found, neither the conductor nor the audience could keep up.  And with the verses of this hymn being so long, the organ finished a good 10 seconds ahead of everyone else.  And then it marched right into the next verse.  By the end, the organ was finished while we were half way through the fourth verse. Thankfully, Sis Hatfield found the time adjustment before the sacrament hymn. 

The Traveling Technology Trainers, Elders Scheurman, Reader, and Petty.  They have helped play an important role in spreading technical knowledge around the mission, and indeed, around the North America Central Area, to help finding and teaching in this new age.  I’ve written about Elders Scheurman and Reader before.  We’ve been close to them for a long time now.  Elder Petty, who we know a little less, has an amazing story.  He is a Florida mass shooting survivor.  His sister did not survive the shooting.  The experience galvanized his determination to serve a mission.  I admire his strength.  Later that night, we had a surprise drop in from Sis Bell.  She is just like that.  You never know when she is going to bring something by.  Tonight she made cookies.  Back at home, Pres Bell is in an intense Mission President/Stake Presidents/Seventy coordination meeting.  Over hearing the video meeting, Sis Bell is a little nervous, hearing Pres Bell discuss his concerns that without greater member support, neither the mission nor the stakes will achieve their goals for teaching and baptizing.  Apparently, it’s a little tense.  Sis Hatfield thinks Sis Bell had the feeling she needed to add some positive energy to the world, and what better way than baking dessert and sharing.  So happy ending, right?  About ½ hour later, Sis Hatfield got a text from Sis Bell with a picture of a swollen ankle and bloody knee.  On her way out, Sis Bell had stepped on a sweet gum tree seed pod, a brown, spiky, hard pod about the size of a golf ball, and a hazard to persons in flats, much less a person in heels.  Our front walk is in a grove of sweet gum trees, littered with the pods.  Sis Bell stepped on one, went down, twisting her ankle, hopefully not breaking it, deeply skinning her knee and palms.  Sis Hatfield offers to come watch the kids so she can go to the emergency room, but they decide to see how the night goes.  As Sis Hatfield said, no good deed goes unpunished.  Or so it sometimes seems.  The Bells don’t need another trial, but they got one. 

On Monday, March 1st, I started as a plumbing coach.  Sis Brown called from Washington, Missouri that she had dropped a small retainer down the bathroom sink drain.  She called to ask what could be done.  Because Washington is a good hour away from St Louis, I asked if they would be willing to try to disassemble the drain trap themselves.  Sis Brown was game, I think mostly because she was worried, and necessity sometimes nudges us to new territory.  I talked them through it, and sure enough, they got it.  Next, the elders in the Missouri River area called and their kitchen faucet was running and wouldn’t turn off.  They hadn’t thought of a valve under the sink.  It was a little balky, but after turning it back and forth a few times, it finally went off and I got them in touch with their apartment maintenance team for a full repair.  The Rockwood 1st elders called and said that their garbage disposal wouldn’t work.  After trying all the easy fixes, which didn’t help, we resorted to contacting the landlord.  By now I was late for getting to the office.  But I was happy that the first call was from David Hanley in the Illinois State Mental Health Hospital, in Alton.  I am sure he had wanted to talk to Sis Hatfield, but she wasn’t there.  I was able to tell David that Sis Hatfield had wrapped a copy of Saints, volume one, and I had put it in the mail to him.  He was delighted.  It is gratifying to support and encourage him in small ways.  On the other hand, we are starting the audit of our mission this week.  I knew that one of the things that the auditor looks for is any reports of untested fire alarms, so I had worked hard to get the missionaries to test their alarms and record the results over the last 10 days or so.  This morning, with the start of a new month, the system posted 11 new “unsafe houses,” meaning, the allowable period between tests had expired.  So, I was calling missionaries to test their alarms and record the results—again. 

Later in the day, Sis Hatfield harvested some interesting statistics:  since the beginning of the Pandemic, 149 missionaries came to the Missouri St Louis Mission after originally being assigned to a foreign mission (save one, who inexplicably was reassigned from Tri-Cities, Washington).  Of those, we still have 105; 24 or 16 percent have been released; and only 20 or 13 percent have transferred to their original assigned mission.  Not many yet.  What prompted the tallies was the receipt of Elder Atwood’s reassignment back to Mexico.  He has felt left out because his MTC companions have all gone back some time ago.  And Sis Hatfield has taken more phone calls from Elder Atwood’s mother looking for update information—and ideas on how to push for her son’s return to Mexico—than any other missionary mom. 

Tuesday, March 2nd I got to the office a little early to get some desk work done.  I wasn’t there 30 minutes when in walked the auditor.  But Elder Jacob wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another hour.  That meant I had to help the auditor get started, a task I hadn’t planned on.  Sis Hatfield isn’t coming into the office this morning because she is heading directly to the mission leadership council to help get things set up and the lunch prepared.  Her help is particularly needed with Sis Bell hurt and in a boot to support her ankle that may be broken.  The housing elders meet me at the office and we load up the mobile kitchen equipment, mission mail, and nearly expired mission emergency food supplies for distribution at MLC.  I have the auditor set up as best I can, and hopefully Elder Jacob will arrive at the office soon.  I need to get to the St Louis Stake Center where the MLC is going on.  Sis Hatfield has set up and lunch well along.  We set out the boxes of mail and food, and head to Columbia. 

We stopped at a sandwich stop for lunch.  There we ran into a five month member of the Church, a young man named Michael.  Elder Nielson had served here before becoming a housing assistant and knew Michael well.  Michael was able to take a few minutes to visit with us.  It was inspiring to hear his story.  Michael was married on Valentine’s Day, barely two weeks ago.  His new wife is being taught by the missionaries.  Nourished, we got to work.  Our job in Columbia was to make the Bear Creek apartment habitable.  I’m the judge of that, and in the housing coordinator’s opinion, the elders have been living in filth.  I won’t move the sisters in while the apartment is in this condition.  The window frames are coated with black mold.  I set up Elder Nielson with a bucket of Pine Sol, a brush, and rags. I thought the walls needed painting, but in fact, they were covered with dirt from shoes around the desks and kitchen table and body oils around the beds.  I demonstrated how to wash walls for Elder Buck and he got started with a rag and his own bucket of Pine Sol.  I took on the bathroom, which had a tub that was as black as any I’ve ever seen, to say nothing of the mold in the seams.  I scrubbed it with Comet three times.  I scrubbed the sink and toilet between tub scrubs in order to let the bleach soak in.  The bed box springs were cracked and bent, and with the well worn mattresses, landed in the dumpster.  We took a break at the hardware store to buy a mop, rust remover, and some electric plug covers.  Back at the apartment, I washed the fridge and stove, and the elders vacuumed the bedroom carpet and swept and mopped the vinyl flooring—twice.  While elbow deep in the refrigerator cleaning, Elder Jacob called looking for a receipt from August of last year to give to the auditor.  I can’t help much from across the state with my rubber gloves on.  At least I know Elder Jacob made it to the office today to work with the auditor.  We were back at the mission office by 8 pm.  After catching a few office balls, we have a late supper of pulled pork and potato salad left over from the MLC lunch.  Thanks, Sis Hatfield, for thinking of us!

Wednesday, March 3rd was our day to head south through the western side of Cape Girardeau zone.  It’s a 2.5 hour drive down there, so we decide we will start up Saints as worthwhile entertainment.  Reviewing Saints seems appropriate while studying church history and the Doctrine and Covenants this year.  We had a bedroom to take down in Poplar Bluff and a weights set to take up the space.  We also recoat our previous patched hole in a bedroom wall and take some pictures of problems that I’m quite sure the landlord will want to address in the bathroom and kitchen.  I have learned that water is both a blessing and a source of trouble, neatly fitting into the doctrine of opposition taught in 2 Ne 2:11.  On the way back, we stop in Farmington to give the elders there replacement beds, since they have asked for new beds and those we retrieved in Poplar Bluff are relatively new.  When we arrive at the duplex house in Farmington, I’m confused, and there is no one home to talk to.  The elders have moved their beds into the front room, and put their study tables in a bedroom.  The other bedroom is occupied by all manner of clutter.  So, there are two bedrooms in the house, but the beds are in the front room.  The only thing we can conceive is that someone is sleeping on the couch, so to keep missionary rules, they had to move one bed by the couch.  And if you move one bed, you got to move the other, so that the study tables can fit in the bedroom together.  The Farmington elder’s house is also unbelievably cluttered and dirty.  One might think that six elders lived there with all the stuff lying around.  Because the Farmington elders are on exchanges with other elders, I’ll wait for the companionship to get back together, and then I will need to have a frank conversation with them.  On the last leg home, I get a phone call from an apartment complex that no rent has been paid.  That is not unusual these days, because the mail is so unreliable.  Starting the rent payment wheels turning on the 20th of the month was more than adequate once upon a time.  Now, who knows how much time is really needed.  But the odd thing here is this complex was switched to electronic payment a month ago to avoid this very problem.  I’ll need to investigate. 

Friday, March 5th was staff meeting.  Sis Hatfield reported on the progress she and Sis Atkins are making on compiling last year’s mission history.  She did have a question for the team:  what was Sis Bell’s title?  The previous year, the mission president’s wife was denoted by a parenthetical.  I observed that Sis Bell’s role was far more than parenthetical.  So how should we denote her?  Apparently it is a question that has been out there for a while.  The Church News calls wives the “mission president’s companion.”  That says something about her relationship to the president, but not much about her contributions to the broader mission.  We settled on “Sister Mission President.”  Perhaps this is a bit unconventional, but much more descriptive.  Sabotaging our attempts at healthy eating, we had two treats at staff meeting today.  Sis Everton made whole grain Mormon Muffins.  Sis Bell made raspberry cookies with lemon frosting.  Oh my word, it was all so delicious.  At the end of the meeting, I raced off to Fed Ex to get Sis Hatfield’s quilt top and bottom sent to the quilter in Lindon.  She will have one work week to get it done.  But I think she is up to it.  When RaDene called and talked to her about the difficult timing some days ago, she kindly replied to send it if there was any time at all, and she would get it done in 24 hours, if necessary.  She asked, “is this for the little girl with the magic blue eyes?”  Indeed it is. 

That afternoon, it was my appointment with the auditor, Bro Klein.  We went through a page of questions on practices and procedures relating to leases.  I drew one “exception.”  Our mission lease deposit ledger showed $25 less than one lease says should have been deposited.  Because this is an old entry, and the landlord is not looking for any more money, to my way of reckoning, that leaves the mission $25 to the good.  I’ll take that as a satisfactory audit result.  Sis Hatfield and Sis Jacob were getting an exception for missing “Internal Record of Purchase” (IROP) shipping receipts.  Sis Hatfield detailed for him the impractical, broken, and ultimately useless IROP process where the church is poorly tracking assets going from one pocket to another.  Bro Klein was sorry he brought it up.  Meanwhile, the housing assistants and I headed out to the sisters in Oak Valley and identified that their disposal was leaking.  I called the manager who was delighted to hear that we had put a bucket under the sink to catch the leak.  We also rehung dangling towel racks and exchanged the sisters for a working vacuum.  After a quick stop at the elder’s apartment in St Peters where we hung a new smoke/CO alarm, we headed for home. 

Saturday, March 6th included a date with the Bells.  Sis Hatfield and I have been wanting to go to Ulysses Grant’s St Louis homestead, which is a National Historical Site managed by the Park Service.  It is in south St Louis, only 20 minutes from our apartment.  Although we had less than an hour of time before the site closed, it was plenty of time to get into the Grant house and take a look around.  The construction was vertical logs over which slats were nailed and plastered on the inside to make a smooth finish, and clapboards nailed over the exterior.  As was typical, there were several fireplaces in the house, with shallow boxes to reflect more heat into the room than modern fireplaces.  The house was spacious by Nineteenth Century standards, with ground floor living areas, including a parlor, dining room, and master’s office, a winter kitchen in the basement to conserve heat, and upstairs bedrooms.  It had some large porches and breezeways.  The outbuildings consisted of a summer kitchen, and ice house, and a chicken coop.  Perhaps most striking is the Paris Green paint on the exterior, which is somewhere between lime green and chartreuse, trimmed with a deep forest green.  This unexpected brilliance is the original paint color, as can be seen by a partially uncovered wall. 

Perhaps most interesting is the social history around the site.  Grant was an Ohio native but despised his father’s tannery business.  Eventually, Grant went to West Point, and on graduation, was stationed in St Louis.  After only reaching the rank of Captain, Grant retired from the army and worked to improve the large Dent farm.  Here Grant met his wife, Julia Dent.  Grant was a determined abolitionist, but the Dent family was slaveholders.  There was considerable disagreement and controversy as Grant took over the homestead and his views against slavery became known and acted on.  The strife between Grant and Dent was a microcosm of the strife between north and south across the Nation.  Later, as war was brewing, Grant was recruited by Lincoln to be an Army General in the State of Illinois.  He proved to be a very effective leader and was promoted by Lincoln to be the commanding general of the Army at a crucial time of the Civil War.  Grant rightly believed that if he took the war to the south and expanded fronts of conflict, the agrarian south could not possibly match the resources of the industrial north, a strategy that had eluded Grant’s Union predecessors.  Grant continued his command in the Mexican-American War.  He was popular, and became an important civil rights leader during his presidency.  Sadly, he died at age 63 of throat cancer, probably because he was an intrepid smoker, and his time preceded pensions, so he and Julia were in financial straits.  Fortunately, Grant had written memoirs, which Mark Twain helped Julia publish, and which eventually paid her $400,000 in royalties, a fine sum in the late 1800s.  Grant’s homestead is now managed in two pieces.  There is the house itself, which I described above, managed by the NPS.  Separately, Anheuser-Busch owns and manages the large farm and ranch lands.  They are now an animal preserve, and the home of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.  The A-B properties have been closed during COVID.  I look forward to returning to see the horses.