Sunday, February 21st demonstrated one more silver lining to Zoom video meetings—we can have Primary with the grandkids even though we are sick and quarantined. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. We are infected with the pandemic virus, and still safely singing songs and telling stories to our precious little ones. Sis Bell has been out of town for a few days with her boys at a dance competition in Tennessee. We were a little surprised when Pres Bell stepped in and dropped off Sunday dinner to us. Okay, it was a selection of Costco soups and frozen rolls, but still, it was decorated and presented beautifully, and most important to me, included Fitz’s Root Beer. You can’t help but love these people. Through the afternoon and evening, Sis Hatfield rethought our reassigned missionary testing protocols. Given our rough experience with receiving, distributing, returning, and recording COVID tests for entry into foreign countries, we need some reliability or we will go crazy managing crises over the coming months for scores of missionaries. Sis Hatfield has proposed that unless a departing missionary (1) is in the St Louis metropolitan area, and (2) has a mid-afternoon or later flight time, we will not attempt to do the testing in Salt Lake City with the church’s vendor. Instead, we will arrange for a test here in St Louis at our now preferred local lab. It does cost about $100 per test more, but it saves on shipping costs, cancelations, and lots of hand wringing and disruptions. We have unofficial approval for our decision from a church travel agent. Sis Hatfield and Sis Everton probably had six separate phone calls today ironing out the procedures and division of labor.
Monday, February 22nd began with a neighborhood walk—Sis Hatfield’s first outing in more than a week. We studied and rechecked CDC guidelines and made plans for our quarantine to end on Wednesday, 10 days after symptoms appeared. We hope we can make it. But clothes don’t stop getting dirty just because the housing coordinator and his assistants are in quarantine. When the appliance repairman called that he had two dryers and a washer ready for pickup, Sis Hatfield and I concocted a convoluted plan for the housing assistants to have exchanges with the traveling technology trainers. Among the five of them, there is a combination of elders yielding a companionship (a) with experience pulling the trailer, (b) capable of reinstalling appliances, and (c) not on quarantine, on the one hand, and on the other hand, another companionship (y) immune from COVID and hence able to stay with a potentially infected elder, and (z) available for the afternoon. Don’t worry elders and sisters, help is on the way. Judging from their text messages, they are on their last sets of underwear, so none too soon. I thought of suggesting they hand wash in the sink, but we decided that might be a bit too traumatic for young Millennials that have never even thought of such an idea. Capable mothers have well sheltered these young souls.
Tuesday, February 23rd will be our last day of COVID quarantine and with a daytime high of 65 degrees, we need to get out and walk in the fresh air again. But, there is too much to do, responding to missionary needs. We did sneak in a drive at the end of the day scouting out some possible houses to rent in the central west end/Forest Park district for a family reunion in May. If we rent it, we hope they will come!
Its Wednesday, February 24th and I hit the ground running. I spend the morning in the office on desk work, then pack up with the housing assistants and head to Columbia, Missouri. I am up against a deadline to sign a landlord’s notice of intent to vacate for an apartment we will give up in the Western end of our mission. We will move the sisters out of where they are into another apartment in their same ward that has been left empty by recent transfers. The elders there have left a mess, and we need to assess the situation. It’s a little daunting, but Elders Buck, Nielson, and I roll up our sleeves and fill the back of the truck with garbage, clutter, and abandoned food. I think I counted 10 empty shampoo and conditioner bottles still tipped on their tops, and for some unimaginable reason, not thrown away. Well they are now. We got enough clutter out of the way that we’ll be able to come back next week with our jeans and rubber gloves and cleanser. The sisters can’t move here until we do. While we are all these miles out here, we stop at the Ace Hardware and pick up a toilet seat and take it to the elders in Perche Creek. Their hind parts must have blood blisters from sitting on the completely cracked through seat they have been using. And of course, we can’t just install it, we set the example by cleaning the toilet thoroughly first. To my happy surprise, Elder Nielson the sheep rancher’s son is not the least intimidated and jumps in with both hands to help with the cleaning and installation. We might make some fun of the rural missionaries, but I must say, most of them have learned some life lessons that lots of suburban youth have missed. We fix a chain pull laundry light fixture and assess a broken sliding glass door handle which I will try to convince the landlord was worn out. That one could go either way as missionary negligence or a landlord expense. We stop for some dinner and pick up departing missionary snacks for tomorrow, and head for home.
I make it in the door at 9:30, just 10 minutes after Sis Hatfield has left the office. She has been overseeing last minute COVID testing for a sister headed to Peru. We learned this morning that the COVID test that was scheduled to have been in Utah yesterday morning for analysis, never made it out of St Louis. FedEx is still battling winter storm delays. Sis Arnold, another no drama, can do favorite of ours, and not coincidently, from Wyoming, won’t be going anywhere without a COVID test. But, we have left ourselves just enough time to go to our favorite, dependable local lab. St Louis is brimming with health care, for those that can pay. Yep, it’s been a full first day back for the COVID survivors.
Thursday, February 25th starts the out migration of five missionaries leaving throughout the day. The Evertons take the early shift, taking Sis Jarman to her 6:30 am flight to Korea and Sis Madsen to her soon after flight to Sweden. Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is chauffeuring Sis Arnold to the rapid testing lab. Midday, the Jacobs will take Sis Arnold to her Peru flight. Sis Hatfield and I take Sis Stratton and Elder Bailey to a farewell lunch at Sugar Fire barbeque before their late afternoon flight to Chile. (At Sugar Fire, I had the memorable Muddy River brisket and jalapeno cheese sausage sandwich, which is a story of its own for another day.) Throughout, Sis Hatfield has been checking and double checking travel documents, and I have been weighing suitcases for the 50 pound limit and my most important job—creating travel treat bags. Stop laughing! Sis Stratton and Elder Bailey’s flight out of St Louis is late, and they just barely make their connection in Houston, but otherwise, our efforts have been rewarded with missionaries successfully off to original assignments to Asia, Europe, and South America. But we are reminded by some of the work we do checking these folks in that this foreign travel is not for the unprepared and inexperienced. We can’t leave all this to the young missionaries, as savvy and able as they are. Afterwards, I head to Lindell South to take down Sis Arnold’s bed, where I know the sisters have been sleeping cheek to jowl for the last several weeks, three beds shoehorned into a modest 19th Century-sized bedroom. I take the exhausted Sis Hatfield home to try to get a little more rest.
Friday, February 26th is a meeting day, and a bit of a breather for us. We have new missionary training, but we have done enough of these by now that it’s mostly about what testimony we want to share at the conclusion of our well rehearsed training. Actually, hearing everyone on the staff’s testimony each time we train in our disciplines is a highlight to my service. We have our quirks, but there are some spiritual giants in this small group of saints. In the break before staff meeting, Elder Jacob makes a lunch run to Fuzzy Tacos to our delight, a welcome change from my usual provision of Subway sandwiches. Sis Hatfield shares the stunning news that AT&T has agreed to extend its support of 3G telephones for the church’s service plan for another year. Could this really be true? It will be an amazing turn of events if it really happens, because we have seen the struggles and burdens of missionary connectivity already in the short two weeks since the day of ended 3G support on February 18th notwithstanding Sis Hatfield’s near-heroic preparations to avoid phone disconnections. I sincerely hopes this agreement for a technical reprieve for 3G works out. And hopefully, the Missionary Department and its missionaries will be ready for next time.
My laugh/cry for the day came out of McKinney, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. I receive apartment manager emails from across the country because of an ability of management systems to have multiple emails for a single nation-wide renter, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because I am pretty aggressive in keeping my email in my landlord electronic communications systems, I get messages meant for other missions on a daily—nay, hourly basis. So almost have no choice but to keep up on what is going on out there. I am well aware of the trouble in Texas caused by the polar vortex, bringing frigid temperatures to building and power systems unprepared for them. Frozen natural gas lines have stopped power plants from being able to reliably generate power for heating systems. Scantily insulated pipes have burst all over, wreaking havoc with water supplies, flooding first, before being shut off altogether. The ReNew McKinney apartments has been competing for 10 days for contractors, plumbers, and supplies to restore water to its tenants, and begin tearing out water soaked carpets, carpet pads, sheetrock, and insulation. Now that some power had been restored, the manager has been giving 2-3 times daily email updates on the situation, and when water might be available again. The mayor’s office dropped off a few cases of water to the manager’s office, and the manager had announced that they would share a few bottles if people stopped in. They are urging tenants to file renter’s insurance claims, hoping some of them might have coverages offering emergency hotel stays. Lately, the manager has been offering that residents are welcome to take pails of water from the apartment pool to flush toilets. Okay, things are not so bad in the Missouri St Louis Mission.