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 Café, 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.