Sunday, April 25, 2021

11—17 April 2021 Are We Baptizing Enough?

Sunday, April 11th was our inaugural return to the second hour of in-person church.  My blessing was to lead the priesthood meeting lesson.  I chose as my topic Pres Nelson’s conference address on Faith to Move Mountains.  I particularly enjoyed thinking about the metaphor of faith as a mustard seed moving mountains not referring to moving the dirt and rock of the earth, but overcoming human challenges.  And our faith is probably not often a tool for other peoples’ challenges, but most often our own.  Just a grain of faith is all that is needed to successfully overcome our personal problems with the Lord’s strength to carry us.  That is encouraging.  The Lord wants our desire, hope, belief, our will—and His power is then available to overcome all of our obstacles—at least in the Lord’s time and manner.  Let God prevail!

On Monday, April 12th, Sis Hatfield and I were determined to participate in our planned morning routine which includes scripture study and exercise.  We wanted to “own our morning” as we say in the mission.  And the morning went well, except that we didn’t get into the shower very early, and I did not account for the fact that missionaries would be coming over early to give me birthday greetings.  As I was toweling off and Sis Hatfield was still in the water when I heard the knock at the door.  It was a pretty quiet knock, so I thought that maybe they would just leave the card on the door and I could retrieve it later.  After several minutes, the knock repeated with greater intensity.  I knew that the knockers were not thinking about going away quietly, or they would have already left.  I pulled on my slacks and buttoned a shirt without tucking it in, much less with a tie, and went to the door.  There stood Sis Miller and Sis Chambers, muffins in hand, singing Happy Birthday.  I stood there barefoot, without nametag, and with uncombed hair.  I did a great job of looking cool and collected, chatting about the wonderful looking muffins and what the day would bring, while internally feeling quite embarrassed that I did not yet look like a proper missionary.  Later at the office, I turned and saw a cowboy walking in, complete with six shooter, bullet belt, hunting knife, hat, and boots.  It was Jake Atwood, younger brother of Elder Atwood, recently departed from the MSLM for Mexico.  I had no idea Elder Atwood had a relative in the area, so it was pretty startling.  It was hard not to stare at the openly carried weapons.  Sis Everton sprang to her feet, but it didn’t take long to establish that Jake was simply after a bag that his brother had left behind rather than haul to Mexico.  Jake was charactistically southern polite with his frequent “yes, mam,” “no, sir.”  Pres Bell came out of his office and we took pictures, then Jack headed out in his truck to southwest Missouri to punch cows and make jewelry.  Pres Bell invited me to a one-on-one birthday lunch, which was a treat.  It is rare for a senior missionary to get alone time with the President.

I arrived home to our apartment just in time to carry Sis Jacob’s pans of enchiladas up our stairs.  She has outdone herself, offering beef, chicken, cheese, and spinach, and some tacos, just for good measure.  Everyone else brought some sides, and Sis Hatfield made my favorite German chocolate cake.  After soccer practice, the Bell boys, Dossan and Zander came too.  We blew out the candles with a paddle twice, once for me, and once for Sis Jacob, whose birthday was last week.

On Tuesday, April 13th Sis Hatfield met the painter at the office at 7 am to make sure he had a few of our project details, a bit of an early morning ritual during the remodel.  Elder Reader and Elder Petty extended my birthday by bringing in a chocolate bunt cake with strawberries.  It was delicious.  After lunch, Elder Nielsen and Elder Reid and I headed over to Shiloh, Illinois to start moving out of the apartment we are turning in there at the end of the month.  Turning back to landlords at least two and maybe three apartments this month, I can’t afford to wait until the end of the month to make progress.  This trip is not for cleaning, just getting stuff out of the way so we can clean on a later trip.  Missionaries have been in this unit for almost nine years now, so it really needs to be refreshed for whoever rents here next.  I told the landlord the carpet wasn’t worth their money or ours to clean.  We threw away one of the twin beds, two broken down dressers, and bags full of food and publications.  The housing assistants laid claim to one of the couches which they say is in better condition than theirs.  In an incident that blended embarrassment and humor, Elder Nielsen got chewed out from a neighbor across the cul de sac that questioned why we would spread our garbage around the several dumpsters, insisting that we throw things away only in the dumpster in front of our apartment building.  Not wanting to take too much space in a single bin, we thought that spreading the trash was a good idea.  This neighbor didn’t think so.  It was ironic that there was a pile of mattresses that someone had discarded but not bothered to actually put in the dumpster where the neighbor was touchy.  Maybe we were getting the wrath that had been building inside of him for having to look at the pile of mattresses in front of his building for who knows how long.  WE made a quick stop at the Fairview Heights apartment, also in the O’Fallon area, to get information to try to find replacements for broken refrigerator shelves.  I also fixed a TP holder and challenged them to clean out a “closet of outer darkness” where the doors would not even close.  Finally done with our work across the river, we went back to the office to find Sis Hatfield working on emails for incoming missionaries for this next transfer, giving them details they will need for a successful start in the field.  She finally got the last button pushed at 9:30 pm, after a long day in the office. 

Wednesday, April 14th seemed to revolve around paint.  Our office refresh included repainting from an off-white, verging on light yellow or beige, to a light grey.  The painters hired by the landlord were skilled.  They masked nothing, carefully brushing around edges, and rolling wall space.  It was actually kind of a throwback to the time before the invention of blue masking tape and thin plastic.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a painter that didn’t tape and mask every edge with paper and plastic and then blast away with the sprayer.  But as good as they were at the handwork, it was all too obvious to even the least observant that the one coat of paint they had put on did not adequately cover the old color.  It showed through all over the place.  When Sis Hatfield asked about it, the painters replied that they had only been hired to apply one coat.  We marveled that a craftsman would leave his work in this condition without at least reporting the problem to someone.  That evening, Pres and Sis Bell dropped in to see the office, and were so dismayed by the paint that they couldn’t see any of the other progress.  Sis Hatfield tried to text Jim Otis, our landlord, about the paint but did not get a response.  The carpet layers are scheduled to start tomorrow and this won’t go well if either we don’t get more paint or the carpet is down before we do.  Sis Hatfield can hardly slept worrying about this will resolve itself.  I’m a bit perplexed that folks are so focused on the admittedly inadequate, but very fixable paint, and not able to see the great progress being made otherwise. 

On Thursday, April 15th we hustled into the office early to try to connect with Mr Otis about the paint situation and head off the carpet layer.  Mr Otis came in late morning, answering a message Sis Hatfield left with his secretary.  Fortunately, the carpet layer didn’t come early like the tradesman usually do.  It didn’t take much beyond a quick look for Jim to agree that the new paint wasn’t covering the old.  We talked about timing, and then he put a call into the painter to try to get someone back to the job for the second coat.  Not long after he went back downstairs to his office, the carpet layer showed up, but fortunately, I had offered to sweep the floor because our cabinet makers had left a bit of a mess, to the consternation of the carpet layers.  I was there at the right time to ask the carpet layer to hold on until Mr Otis could communicate the revised work schedule.  The painter did not come in the afternoon as hoped, so we hope he brings an apprentice tomorrow so the schedule doesn’t slip further.  During the afternoon, Sis Hatfield and I decide that the partitions we are making are too tall for the storage room, so I take advantage of the lull in the office under construction and cut some panels down.  We have been on the hunt for a few filing cabinets, and Elder Jacob invites us to NextGen, the staffing business that he and Sis Jacob have built and recently sold to a nephew (thankfully, making the Jacobs available to be the perfect service missionaries we needed last year to complete our office staff).  Because the nephew is in Houston, there are some cabinets that Elder Jacob is willing to donate if we will pick them up.  The housing assistants and I are on the job.

Friday, April 16th was our weekly staff meeting.  Pres Bell came in with tender feelings.  He is trying not to be too discouraged that no matter how hard he works and urges missionaries and investigators, baptisms in the MSLM have not kept pace with our goals, prayerfully established at the first of the year.  It is of course true that we do not control the agency of others, and baptism depends on decisions of people who we often have not known long, much less control.  And baptisms aren’t the final measure of a missionary’s discipleship.  Still, it is hard to not feel let down a bit when baptisms don’t happen as we had felt inspired to strive for.  I am grateful that Pres Bell feels like the office staff has the maturity and wisdom to unburden his heart to us from time to time. 

 More than a year ago, when I learned that missions are required to submit histories each year, I have known that I would not like the 2020 MSLM history project because it would fall on the shoulders of an already heavily yoked mission secretary, Sis Hatfield.  Some months ago, a couple of things led me believe that I might be fearing needlessly.  First, Sis Atkin, one of our young service missionaries, seemed willing and able to pull the load.  Second, direction from the church was that from 2020 forward, histories were to be electronic files, not massive 3-ring binders as can be found in a long line on top of shelves in the storage room.  So my concerns have been muted for a while.  Now, as the project dashes towards and past the submission deadline, a list of hurdles have arisen.  Sis Hatfield is dealing with software files organization and incompatibility, Sis Atkin’s unfortunately scheduled time away from the office, and of course, adequacy of content, much of which she did not create.  This project conclusion is right on top of the office remodel, when we are away from our regular workstations and loaded down with a hundred remodeling decisions and acquisitions, bringing in the voices, preferences, and constraints of the church facilities agent and Sis Bell.  We love this work, honestly.

Saturday, April 17th began with a morning of figuring out the priorities and path forward on the 2020 mission history.  We don’t have time or energy to waste.  Sis Hatfield is doing a great job thinking about how to keep this moving, even if the end is not yet quite in sight.  So after early morning thought on the history, we think it is time to exercise.  Just as we have put on our workout clothes, Sis Hatfield gets a call from Sis Bell who is at furniture stores buying office furniture for the remodel and needing trucks to pick it up.  We slap on our name tags and hats to cover our unkempt hair and head out in our pickup, and while we are driving, we call the housing assistants to leave their service activity and meet us with the trailer.  We will need both trucks and trailer.  The elders need to make a detour to unload the trailer which is full of furniture from the apartment in Tuscola, Illinois that they dismantled yesterday.  The storage unit is going to be a “hot mess” as they say.  We rendezvous and get the purchased goods just in time to send the elders off to a baptism.  Then we get an internet Messenger call from the Wentzville elders telling us that both they and the Warrenton sisters are now disconnected from cell coverage.  Not wanting them to be stranded for the weekend and quite possibly into Monday, Sis Hatfield grabs some SIM cards from the office, calls the AT&T representative with whom she is by now on a first name basis, and we head the 45 minutes out to the Warrenton building.  After going through the standard questions on cell phone trouble shooting, we have them show us how their three current SIM cards are not registering in their four phones, regardless of the card or phone.  We pull out the replacement SIM cards, and strangely, now the phones will connect to the AT&T network.  How can this be?  We call Grant Monson, the AT&T rep, and he confirms just how bizarre a result this is.  Frankly, he hasn’t seen it.  Apparently, three SIM cards have gone bad for the two companionships in the area, for no apparent reason.  There is some thought that maybe one of the phones is actually shorting out the SIMs one by one as they were tried.  But that doesn’t explain why the replacement SIM cards are working.  The most that the experts can say is that the missionary practice of putting SIM cards in and out of phones on a regular basis (meaning, switching between companions every few days), is far beyond what the hardware and software is designed to accommodate.  It is a bit like swapping out hard drives on you computer every few days.  No one does that.  Well, no one but missionaries.  We push well outside the envelope of technical design trying to protect the missionaries from the world.  Interestingly, Grant Monson mentioned in passing that he had recently moved to Provo.  Talking about it further, we realize he is a resident of our home stake.  I am sure we will have lots of war stories to share when we get back home and meet him in person.  He must like Sis Hatfield, because he says when we get home he will put us on the AT&T BYU plan which he administers for a really good price.  After a long day, following a long week, during a long month, we figure we will treat ourselves to frozen custard at Andy’s when we get home.  But alas, our emergency trip to Warrenton will keep us out longer than the ice cream stand is open.  We do a quick search, and find Fritz’s frozen custard in Wentzville.  We dash to the old fashion walkup window 4 minutes before Fritz’s closes, and they are all sold out except for chocolate.  But it is delicious, and we are satisfied with yet another frozen custard stand find in St Louis.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

4—10 April 2021 Office Remodel Crisis

Sunday, April 4th, began with cowboy breakfast cake, a semi-annual conference tradition going back more than 50 years now.  My recollection is that it started as a relief society recipe for using whole wheat flour in our ward in Orlando, Florida, as sisters wondered what to do with the barrels of wheat they were storing.  The difference this Sunday is we only made one small batch and put some in muffin cups.  Ordinarily we make big pans full to feed the extended family.  Sis Hatfield and I had a long talk about faith and prayer.  What is prayer, really, to an omniscient God?  It certainly isn’t for His edification.  It seems to be an exercise of faith.  We mixed into our baking some blueberry and cranberry muffins, to go with our cowboy cake muffins, and delivered them to our neighbors, known and unknown.  We listened to part of the afternoon conference session with Annie Stewart.  President Nelson delivered an address on faith, as if he had wanted to talk to us about our conversation on faith and prayer.  It inspired my topic for priesthood next Sunday, our first second hour meetings back in person for more than a year now.

 On Monday, April 5th, Heidi, our physical facilities agent, told Sis Hatfield that while she had approval for our counter/desk rebuilds, Heidi had almost no budget for anything else.  We were flummoxed.  What where all the separate line items for chairs, art, and file cabinets for?  The counter/desk rebuild was only one of those lines!  We were not sure now what to do next.  Were we moving ahead with this remodel or not?  There was a lot of uncertainty, but we determined to persevere.  We would get donations if we needed to.  We had been working on this project for too long to turn back now.  Also frustrating, no one in the office seems to be able to throw anything away, even though it may have landed on a shelf 10 years ago and evidently not been touched since.  The process of sorting and packing was a bizarre memory lane of antiquated media and technology, and even some gospel principle changes.  We may not move fast, but we have come along way towards becoming a more worldwide church, open to a broader range of cultural norms that don’t detract from Christ’s teachings.  That night, just about the time we were going to call it quits after a stressful day, Pres and Sis Bell dropped into the office, apologetic that they had not been there to help all day.  They had important matters to attend to with the missionaries in the Cape Girardeau zone.  So, we stayed longer helping them contribute to the moving out of the president’s office. 

 On Tuesday, April 6th, Sis Hatfield can’t sleep past 4:30 am.  The budget fiasco, on top of all else, seems like the straw that is about to break our backs.  She is up refiguring our remodel, slicing and dicing, repricing and replanning, trying to come up with a plan b.  She is also putting together a vaccination schedule for the 200 missionaries needing to arrive in St Louis, get their shots, and get back out to the field in an organized fashion, juggling the needs of the health professionals, the mission president, and the many calls from interested (and often reluctant) parents.  She also is trying to help Elder Warner, who has been asked to apply for a visa to Guatemala, navigate the cumbersome and long process.  In a flash of brilliance, she deputized his mother, who will help us get a handle on the Guatemala application, which we will need to do for other missionaries too.  On top of that, Sis Hatfield is mediating between church travel and the mother of Sis Fuiamono.  Sis Fuiamono was released in October, but has never made it home to Samoa because of the closed border.  Church travel said back then that if she went to Hawaii, where she has a sister, the church would help her get to Samoa when a flight was available.  Sis Fui’s mom is by now at wits end, and searches for flights daily it seems.  And she has found one to get her daughter home and booked a ticket.  Church travel has said that they must initiate the ticketing.  Sis Hatfield is trying to smooth over both sides sufficiently that Sis Fui actually gets home without a war between the Fuiamonos and the travel department.  Henry Kissinger would be proud.  At my insistence, and with the help of Elders Reader and Petty, our young technology specialists, we are oh, so carefully labeling phone and computer ports and cables, with the hope of maximizing our chances of actually getting this stuff to work again.  We had hoped that the physical facilities agent and her “technicians” as she referred to them, would take this technical burden from us.  But the technicians are physical maintenance men, or in this case, movers, not technical at all.  We sorted and packed until 10:15 pm, finding ourselves exhausted, and with tempers frayed, for all we are trying to keep up with.

 Wednesday, April 7th was the big move.  We were absolutely relieved when our facilities agent reported this morning that she had gone back to the missionary department and actually received budget approval for all of our remodel plan line items.  At least that lifts the fundraising burden for the project.  We are determined to reward the approval by beating our budget.  The facilities “technicians” continued to disappoint.  They tackled the moving of the president’s desk, and I am not sure it will ever be the same with the rough handling it received.  Instead of using the trucks they brought, they unceremoniously dumped our unwanted furniture, which we were carefully instructed must be decommissioned by facilities personnel, into the office dumpster to overflowing so that no one could use the dumpster the rest of the week.  Further, the 12 foot chalk board was left in the parking lot driveway face down, with no attempt to get it in the dumpster, or even lean it up somewhere out of the path of cars.  Really?  I tracked down a circular saw and with the help of the housing assistants, cut it up and cleaned up the mess.  That was the disappointing news.  The great news was that Elder Everton resourcefully poked a hole through the wall from our office to our temporary office and threaded a Ethernet cable.  He attached hubs, and Elder Reader and Elder Petty carefully assembled our work stations—and they worked, to my surprise and delight.  Having gone through multiple office moves professionally, I know that was a miracle.  Meanwhile, Elders Nielsen and Reid and I did the heavy lifting and got the rest of the boxes and furniture moved to our temporary space. 

 That afternoon, I met the physical facilities agent at Home Depot to have her purchase the beadboard and MDF we would use to skirt the built in desks and to use as partitions and covers for our industrial shelves.  A couple days ago, I thought I’d be buying these materials myself.  I called Pres Spencer Melby, the new second counselor in the mission presidency about when we could fabricate our materials to size.  He had a light surgery day that day and invited us over at 4 pm.  We got there, and one thing led to another, and we went right to work at the table saw for the next few hours, missionaries hauling boards up and down stairs from the driveway to the basement shop, while Pres Melby and I did the cutting.  Both he and his father in law, Bro John, were a joy to work with, skilled and smart.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield got acquainted with Sis Melby and her mother, Sis John, and made dinner for several companionships of missionaries, including us, as it turned out.  The Melbys are special people.  High achievers for sure, but firm in their understanding of what is of eternal importance. 

 Thursday, April 8th.  In the morning we hauled boards into the temporary office storage freshly cut last night.  That may not sound like much, but maneuvering 8’ x 4’ MDF and beadboard sheets up three flights of a stairwell without damaging walls or boards was challenging.  That gave me the chance to actually inventory what we had.  Last night, we strangely had 4 extra sheets after all our milling.  I could not believe I had so badly estimated the materials, but I could not figure out if we had a problem after working quickly with many helpful hands and boards piled into the trailer haphazardly.  This morning I had the chance to match up the pieces and the puzzle picture revealed itself.  Fortunately, Pres Melby had sent us with his circular saw so I was able to set up shop on Sis Hatfield’s topless desk and cut the additional panels we needed, and nothing was left over.  I felt better about that. 

 Then I started another job with the housing elders, heading for the Springfield zone.  The Springfield 1st sisters are in a trio, with only sitting room for two.  I had just come across a nice love seat that I thought would be the perfect addition to their apartment.  For some reason, I also loaded a comfy but stained little overstuffed rocker.  When we arrived, we let them pick.  They took selfies on the loveseat, but chose the rocker.  That surprised me, but I said they could choose.  We also measured windows for replacement blinds and looked over their food supply sitting on the floor in the kitchen.  We went to Walmart to purchase blinds and see if we could find a shelf of some sort to get the food off of the ground.  While I installed blinds, Elder Nielsen assembled a shelf we selected, and Elder Reid bravely snaked the tub drain.  He extracted a paper towel tube-shaped wad of hair that shrinks from description.  It was unbelievable.  I think it is fair to say that we grow lots of healthy long hair in the MSLM.  We left the sisters in good spirits, loaded with a grocery sack of accumulated candy that they did not want to be tempted with any longer.  Along the road, we ate some and tossed the rest.  I have become a ruthless discarder.  We drove through town and stopped at the Springfield 2d sisters apartment to secure a window that reportedly had no locking mechanism.  I had a wooden dowel that would serve the purpose.  Ominously, the sisters said that they had used the unlockable window to gain access when they had locked themselves out in the past.  It wasn’t three days before these sisters called me to say that they had locked themselves out.  Fortunately, the landlord was nearby and helped them.  On the way home we stopped in Litchfield where a zone leader on exchanges had found the bathroom door did not shut and reported the problem to me.  Who knows why the elders who lived there had not thought to tell me directly.  I found that the finish frame had somehow come unattached from the 2”x4” frame, and the shims were missing.  Resurrected Jesus Christ DVD cases had been stuffed into the gap as an inadequate substitute.  I could get some shims to fix this, but I’ll let the landlord take this one.  On the ride back towards St Louis, the housing assistants shared their frustrations about a young woman they have been teaching for a couple of months who is struggling to progress.  I have heard conversations lessons several times while in the truck with the elders.  It is not clear to me if the young lady is really interested in a relationship with Christ or these young men, or maybe a bit of both.  We dragged ourselves into the office at 10:30 pm, having worked both our jobs.

 Friday, April 9th started with a 7 am visit to the mission office to meet the painter.  We need to let him in and give him a few thoughts about a few details we wanted him to address.  We need to figure out if we are comfortable with leaving the door ajar every night because it will get old to meet the contractors here every morning.  Painters, carpet layers, and cabinet makers will all need to get in and their schedule starts early.  We are in the heart of a union town and state.  I saw a bumper sticker:  “Right to Work Is Wrong for Missouri.”  Union membership is mandatory for all tradesmen here after a lopsided 2018 referendum.  That is an interesting feature of this very red state.  Labor costs are higher than we are accustomed to.  Work rules such as how long the work day will be is regulated much differently than at home.  There’s no burning the midnight oil here.  But the craftsmen seem to all be skilled at what they do.  And in the end, people are motivated more by polite requests than heavy demands, regardless.  We race home to put on missionary clothes and head for the St Louis stake center for our mission vaccination clinic.  As it turned out, Sis Hatfield was in charge of registering the 190+ missionaries as they arrived.  In addition, she saw the need of the Pagedale Branch to get some vaccinations and arranged for about 10 of our branch members to come and receive their shots.  It is a real benefit to be under Sis Hatfield’s watchcare.  We carefully arranged waiting chairs at social distance, both while waiting for shots, and while waiting to verify that there is no serious reaction.  With these young missionaries, the emotion to connect is so strong that first one, then another, would pull chairs close together into tight circles, seemingly without thought to why the chairs were carefully spaced in the first place.  We reset the chairs several times over the three hours of the clinic, and it wasn’t long before the exact same phenomenon was observed.  Talking to Paul Hintze about this, we mused at the strong genetic pull for young people to connect together.  He mused, that in the long run, it seems to work out pretty well, even if we resist it during a pandemic and during a mission.  My job was to open up the Chick Fil A store in the kitchen, organizing the box lunches we assembled and lemonade we poured and handed out.  I carefully and successfully metered out the ice and drink to near perfection.  Funny how Sis Hatfield’s work gravitated to the administrative, and mine towards the physical wellbeing, consistent with our larger mission assignments.  We then raced to reset a meeting room at the stake center for our office staff meeting, and right on its heels, our new missionary zoom training for the young missionaries that arrived two weeks ago.  Then we went back to the office to check on how the paint looked.  Another eventful and full day.

 Saturday, April 10th was not a regular P-day.  We went to the Pagedale building for service.  Ten or so members of the elders quorum gathered in the rain and went up and down Page Avenue picking up litter.  It is a project the branch has kept up for some years now, consistent with the road signs that say something like “Maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” for a half mile in either direction from the branch building.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield rearranged the chapel’s silk flowers that are pretty enough but have been neglected for a long time.  Even a flower novice could see that the vases that surround the pulpit look much better.  She also cataloged the hymns in the player organ so that conductors and organists could confidently know what is available when human playing is not available.  That evening, we met Paul and Patti Hintze and Rock and Joy Erekson for dinner, more or less a pre-birthday celebration RaDene organized.  The Ereksons came almost directly from the airport, having been in Utah this morning from where they accepted our invitation and gave a great recommendation to a French Café in Kirkwood.  It was wonderful to be out with our friends.  This was only the second time the Hintzes have eaten in a restaurant in a year.  And it seemed that the freshly loosened county regulations were chasing many out of their homes to eat.  The place was much to crowded for any sort of social distance protection.  It was as if the proprietors didn’t care that they were serving well beyond the loosened county restrictions, and the patrons, many of whom were obviously retirees and perhaps now vaccinated, didn’t care either.  Paul Hintze, a health care leader in the community and consultant for the county health department, worked very hard not to be appalled.  But bottom line, it was just too refreshing to be alarmed.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

28 March—3 April 2021 Saving Hearts

Sunday, March 28th was Palm Sunday and with the flavor of some of the religious tradition roots found here in Missouri, we received palm leaves at church as a reminder.  After church we visited with Annie and her family, where we found her granddaughters Clarissa and Angela somewhat better than they were a week ago.  They all joined together with us for family prayer at the end of our visit, which felt warm and right.  We celebrated our improving social restrictions by having Sunday dinner with the Nehrings.  Bro Nehring is the temple recorder and so had a number of insights on how the future of temple work may be as we work our way out of the Pandemic and into the future.  One expected change is that initiatory work and endowment work will be joined together in a more unified ceremony.  That seems like the right thing to do to make the endowment seem complete and whole.  He also believes that the church will build more and more smaller temples to make them more accessible to members on a regular basis.  We ended the day back in the office so that Sis Hatfield could work on a somewhat delicate letter to the missionaries and their parents explaining the vaccination opportunity that has presented itself to the mission and how it will work.  We want to strongly encourage the missionaries to take advantage of the opportunity, making restrictive consequences of declining clearly understood, while honoring agency.  There are some strong feelings out there adverse to vaccinations. 

Monday, March 29th began with me meeting the cabinet maker at the mission office door.  He is measuring our built in desks that will be relaminated, reskirted, and in one area, extended.  Our office recarpet and repaint requires, or at least strongly invites, a look at a lot of other things.  We have a hodge podge of furniture, art work, shelving, and whatever that may have worked well together at one time in the office history, but is a poor mix now.  It is challenging to try to have an office refresh with little budget support from the missionary department.  I went out to the St Charles teaching area where the sisters actually live in St Peters.  They live in one of the nicest, newest apartments in the mission, but they are struggling.  The called me to say that they had heard some noises last night that scared them.  I could not get any objective description of the noise, only that they felt anxious.  And they think that the door was inexplicably unlocked.  That didn’t give me much to go on, so I thought I would help by at least getting them some door security devices.  First I got some security bars, which worked fine on their front door, but their back patio door opens out, so that solution didn’t help.  I went back to the hardware store and got a door chain like is common in hotel rooms.  They seemed to feel a bit better about things afterwards.  I hope they did, because I didn’t.  On my way out, I found my truck tire flat in the parking lot.  It had a nasty screw in it.  Honestly, I didn’t mind the flat too much, because I knew I was pushing the life of my tires already, and now is as good a time as any to get replacement.  What I didn’t like was crawling under my truck to jack it up, retrieve my spare and and get my flat off in dress slacks, white shirt and tie, and dress shoes, none of which will be in quite as good of condition after the effort.

Back at the office, Sis Hatfield has been greeting young Elder Atwood who is bound for Mexico in the morning.  He has been a bit sullen, but Sis Hatfield warmed him up, helping him express his feelings about why he came on a mission, why his experience is St Louis has been worthwhile, and why he can feel good about going on to finish in Mexico, his original assignment.  He is the only sibling in his family who has chosen to serve, and he said he made that decision to have a new adventure.  Not a terrible reason, but not sufficient to be fully successful.  I hope he finds his full purpose in Mexico where he has wanted to be for months now.  Of course as is becoming our practice, we finished the day staring at shelves in our disheveled storage room, planning who things ought to go back together after we move it all back in after painting in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, March 30th is zone conference for our three western most zones, which we held in the Lake St Louis stake center.  We are offering the missionaries some things from our office that aren’t used much there, or are surplus.  We are trying to clean out the office before our temporary move, but it is hard to throw it away.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I don’t want lots of stuff to end up in the closet of outer darkness in missionary apartments.  We give some to the local charity, St Vincent DePaul, but they can’t make use of it all.  Sis Hatfield left the zone conference early to meet the cabinet maker in his shop in south St Louis.  He is expanding one of our built in desks and putting new laminate on all of them.  Sis Hatfield is busy negotiating away what we don’t need and specifying what we do need.  He warned her, they don’t have a showroom.  From the sounds of it, she had a great time bantering with the crusty craftsman on the shop floor.  Sis Hatfield does not want to see the industrial shelving any longer through the door across from her desk and in the line of sight from the front door of the office.  She has considered draping the back of them, but we have decided to put bead board panels on them.  So my task is to come up with a design that is handsome, budget friendly, and goes up quickly.  We’ll see if we can pull that off.  It would be a lot easier if I had my shop tools here, but Spencer Melby, the new counselor in the mission presidency has offered his equipment for the job. 

On Wednesday, March 31st we tried to squeeze in a staff meeting on the wrong day because of zone conference again on Friday, our regular day.  We have moved days and times several times, including an adjustment as recently as last night when we realized that Pres Bell had a teaching appointment set by the housing assistants at the very time of the staff meeting.  Teaching is the priority.  But, the appointment fell through, so now we are scrambling to get together.  That night felt a bit like the evening before Thanksgiving when we make pies and such ahead of the big day.  Tomorrow is Passover, and we have organized a celebration with the office staff and the Bells at the mission home.  So we are making charoset, grating horseradish, and roasting a lamb leg. 

Thursday, April 1st.  Wow, it is hard to believe we are now firmly into the spring season.  The bushes and trees are starting to leaf out, and the grass is greening.  The St Louis biosphere is about to reveal itself afresh.  It is a great day to visit some missionaries in Wentzville, Missouri River, and Mexico to take care of some problems.  I was amused at the creativity of the Missouri River Elders to tape 2x3 inch pass along cards all over a patio door window to overcome a broken blind, which I will now replace.  That evening, our Passover celebration was delightful.  It didn’t feel like COVID dominated our social being.  We did not have as many homemade dishes as we often do, but the spirit of the evening more than compensated for some store bought dishes, of which there are very many in the grocery stores in Creve Coeur, a hot bed of the Jewish community here.  Elder Everton even sampled the lamb.  It was fun to watch the Bell boys, and Sis Bell for that matter, see the unique stories, activities, and symbols of Passover as taught by Sis Hatfield’s Haggadah.  Her efforts continue to teach and bless many.  Afterwards, Sis Hatfield and I watched Brad Wilcox’s talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient.”  I have thought about the implications for days.  In particular, it is enlightening to dispel the idea that Christ “fills the gap” in our journey to be good enough to merit eternal life.  No, His grace is not a gap filler, nor a dispensation of money to make up the price.  His grace covers the full price, the entire demands of justice.  On reflection, I believe that is truth.

Friday, April 2nd is zone conference reprise.  The highlight was Pres Melby’s graphic analogy. He is a heart surgeon.  The week before Pres Melby had been called in to the hospital to address an emergency case.  A man’s aorta was leaking and his blood pressure was dropping rapidly.  Knowing that he would soon go into a fatal arrest if not treated immediately, Dr Melby opened his chest and fished around the heart sack now filled with blood to find the spurting aorta and pinch it closed with his fingers at the same moment they artificially arrested the heart and started the heart lung machine.  Then he knitted together the leaking vessel, saving the man’s life.  He told the missionaries that as heroic as the work in the operating room was, it was only temporal, and the spiritual hearts that the missionaries are saving is eternally more significant work.  It was an impressive message.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield sacrificed her time at zone conference to be back in the office to supervise a young service missionary who had offered to come in after being absent for weeks.  Pres Bell has encouraged us to use the service missionaries as much as possible in connection with our office remodel so that the proselyting missionaries can continue with as little interruption as possible.  That afternoon, Sis Hatfield and I went around our temporary office space figuring out who and what needed to go where to make our temporary stay effective and make our move back more organized.  The temporary space is beautiful because it is filled with windows, something we miss in our own offices.  It may be hard to move back.

Saturday, April 3rd felt like what we had once imagined a mission would be like.  The Bells invited several nearby zones to come eat and watch conference at the mission home.  We cooked and served breakfast before the first session for one group, and two rounds of lunch for two more groups before the afternoon session.  We watched conference in several places in the house and on a screen in the back yard.  Outside, we shed our masks.  The day was filled with time with beautiful, devoted young people in our sight and conversations.  And we worked shoulder to shoulder with Pres and Sis Bell grilling eggs, pancakes, and bacon for breakfast and grilling and assembling hotdog lunches.  We built comradery with them and in close association with the missionaries like we had imagined we might two years ago, failing to foresee the Pandemic.  After that sweet time, we were off to Ikea to find storage bins for our remodeled office space.  The remodel is never far from our minds right now, and Sis Hatfield is leading the effort, displaying her project management skills.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

21—27 March 2021 Missionary Vaccinations On the Horizon

At church on Sunday, March 21st Sis Lucia, a young mother in the branch gave a wonderful talk on the history of the Relief Society and the contributions of women to society.  The message was powerful and beautiful—just like a woman.  Pres Final came up to me and shared a February 1952 Time magazine article, What’s Natural in Cairo, featuring his father W.A. Fingal and other activists working to overcome segregation, but especially in schools.  I did some research to find the article for myself, and in the process found a letter in the National Institute of Health archives written by W.A. Fingal to a fellow physician and activist in 1965.  I’ll take a copy to him.  It is fascinating and a new experience for me to know someone personally and courageously involved in the infancy of the modern civil rights movement. 

 After church we visited Annie Stewart.  This was a unique visit, for sure.  She has in her home Angela, a granddaughter who suffered a hip and shoulder injury in a car accident two weeks ago, Clarissa, another granddaughter who was shot twice last night, as well as her regular great grandchildren Jordan and Jasmine, and a teenager great-great grandson “Juice” who is also staying in the home as a caregiver.  Of course I can’t pass over the shooting of Clarissa that blithely.  Although the circumstances are not clear to me, I understand that Jordan was driving, and with him were his cousins Clarissa and Juice.  The were out for groceries.  An unrecognized car came by and started shooting, hitting Clarissa in the shoulder and hand.  Apparently, Jordan returned fire, but quickly stopped when he realized that another child was in the vicinity.  The motive is unknown to me.  The police detained Jordan, but released him.  Somehow, Clarissa was released (or at least refused to stay) and is now convalescing in Annie’s house.  The 94 year old matriarch seems to have the only stable home in the extended family so people seek refuge there.  I hope it does not become overwhelming to her.  I know the noise and chaos can get to her.  Annie doesn’t actively care for everyone, but does provide a safe place and a clean bed for her posterity in need.  We had family prayer and I gave priesthood blessings.  It is a bit of a lesson on how safe our life is, and the importance of ministering consistently.  We have seen Annie almost every week for 15 months and her family knows “Grandma’s church people.”  As a result, they welcome us into their home and confidences, seeking spiritual enrichment from us.  It is a privilege to provide testimony of Heaven’s love to these precious but burdened people. 

 We then went straight to the office to print out boarding cards, and put together departure packets and snack bags.  Sis Hatfield helped missionaries preparing to come to get on calls with Pres Bell for their initial interview, and finding out in the process that one missionary won’t be coming, needing to work on something with his bishop.  Blessings to him for having the strength to face his challenges.  Pres Bell has advised that he is still working on the last two missionary area assignment.  Apparently one of these is in Sikeston, Missouri, almost to Arkansas.  It is Sunday afternoon, and we still don’t know what needs to be put in place for transfers on Wednesday.  Given distances I can realistically only get to 1 outlying zone a day.  But there are five zones outside of the St Louis metro area.  I have 2 ½ days to make it happen.  We had dinner with Elders Adam Buck and Conner Nielson.  He doesn’t know it yet, but this is Elder Buck’s last Sunday as a housing assistant.  He is being made a zone leader in O’Fallon, Illinois.  He certainly has the humility, spirit, and work ethic to be a servant-leader.  But I will miss him a great deal.  After dinner, we head to the mission home to help gather luggage, weigh bags, and say our goodbyes.  The circle of mission life goes on. 

On Monday, March 22nd I met Elders Buck and Nielson at the office at 9 am where we gathered lists and keys after they helped drop the 11 departing missionaries’ luggage at the airport.  Then we made a fast stop at the storage unit to pick up beds, bedding, desks, chairs, and other items.  Then we headed off for Springfield to set up a sisters’ apartment for a third sister coming into the companionship on Wednesday.  We joked, following the sisters’ lead, that Sis Miner was the first brunette living there in a long time, following a long string of blondes.  After setting up the house, we went through things like we commonly do.  We got the sisters’ requests for fixes, including a complaint that their vacuum smelled like burning rubber.  On that score, I first gave them a lesson in emptying out the dirt tank and cleaning the filters.  Then I turned the vacuum over, knowing that one thing that makes a vacuum belt smell is it having trouble rotating.  The beater bar looked like a blonde racoon was caught in the vacuum.  We extricated the beater bar and started cutting blonde hair wound in handfuls (an armful maybe?) around the brushes.  I commented that it was just hair to the gagging elders.  Elder Buck said he was not a fan of hair unless it was on a head.  Then we went over the the Springfield elders apartment to set up for a threesome there too.  I noticed a blanket over the window, and on inspection, found five blankets tacked to the wall over the window and a perfectly good blind.  The elders said that they were there when they arrived, and anyway there is a light outside the window that keeps it light in the room at night.  I let them keep one blanket over the blind and took the rest down for laundering.  They were oblivious to the mold terrarium they had going in their window sill.

Then it was off to our second zone, Champaign.  We set up a second bedroom in the sisters’ apartment and then went to the nearby town of Mahomet to reassemble and reconstruct the sisters’ apartment that had been raided and let fall into disarray since it was temporarily closed last transfer.  And that is where Elder Buck got his transfer call, causing an emotional reminiscence during the hour drive down to Effingham were we dropped of chairs to the elders and watched a Zoom meeting for a few minutes where the zone leaders where playing a transfer guessing game with their missionaries.  It looked like a bad television game show from the 1960s that would surely be cancelled after the pilot.  We were home by 11 pm.  Two perimeter zones are too much for one day.

Tuesday, March 23rd was a necessarily short day by comparison.  We had to be back to St Louis to pick up the 21 arriving missionaries by 6 pm.  So we hustled out to Moberly, Missouri, where we set up beds and replaced blinds, and I was shown the hunting knife collection of the missionaries.  I try to discourage this, but a lot of missionaries are card carrying members of the NRA.  Knives seem like play-things to them.  It was preparation day, so I treated the six of them, including the visiting elders from Macon, to lunch at a local restaurant that was actually a bar and grill that they were excited to go back to.  I let the hostess know we would sit in the restaurant, not the bar, and thankfully, she put a loose shirt on over her braless, string sleeved tee shirt.  It was awkward, to say the least, but walking out, shaming the hostess, and making a scene did not seem like a wise thing to do in this small town where everyone knows everything that happens there.  After another stop to help missionaries in Columbia proper, we headed for home so the elders could get to St Louis and I could get to the mission home.  Sis Hatfield had agreed to help Sis Bell get dinner on while the Bells greeted missionaries at the airport.  That meant that I was the chicken grill master and after dinner, the chief dishwasher.  We ate some of the food we made in the formal dining room, the overflow for the three tables set up for the 21 missionaries in the kitchen-family room.  It was fun to spend a little time with them and eat there.  It is amazing that we have been here 15 months and can count on two hands I think the number of meals we have helped prepare and eat in the mission home, whereas it was a very frequent occurrence for the office couples in St Louis pre-COVID. 

Wednesday, March 24th is transfers.  We have been getting ready for this for about 10 days now, and the time has come.  We leave the house early to set up everything and guide our young missionary leaders in the parts they will play this day.  The missionaries that have been through the drill before are always in short supply so training and delegating are a big part of what we do.  The sad part of it all is that I will lose my association with my new found cousin, Elder Buck, another dear friend by now.  I look forward to getting to know Elder Thayne Reid, his replacement.  Elder Reid is a more confident personality than most, perhaps because he is so experienced, with only six weeks left in the field.  He also has been a zone leader and an AP, so he knows the ropes.  He is from St George and is mechanically inclined, which always helps.  The President worries that he may feel like this assignment is a demotion, but I think we can cure him of any regrets.  This job is too rewarding.  Our new missionary orientation went smoothly and the reassignments and movement of the rest of the missionaries went pretty well, even though it was a large transfer.  We set up the parking for cars using the extra parking tier, and we were full.  But it was a sunny day, with special spring combination of warmth and chill.  It has been quite a few months since it was relatively warm and dry on transfer day.  We identified a few improvements for next time, and Sis Hatfield headed for the office to receive missionary questions and requests. 

I headed out with Elder Nielson and Elder Reid to get a washing machine to the repair shop, and to set up two late breaking trios, including one in the newly designated O’Fallon zone leader apartment where Elder Buck is going to learn and lead as a brand new zone leader.  We found two vacuums there.  It appears that rather than empty the vacuum and clean the filters, the strategy is to keep getting another one until it doesn’t work any longer.  I took the opportunity to give Elder Reid a lesson in vacuum maintenance.  With the day’s work done, back at the office we worked on updating the mission transfer board that displays all the missionaries’ pictures into carefully labeled areas.  Each transfer is a big puzzle of reorganization and new labels, where needed.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield is working on the electronic transfer board, reassigning people, addresses, phone numbers, and area names.  This process gets repeated multiple times in multiple media.  Our new APs need some training to help the transfers be as simple as necessary:  change area names only when needed, and create new areas only when necessary!

Thursday, March 25 required us to go to Sikeston, Missouri, a far away place that we just could not get to before transfers.  We had to send the elder with an air mattress yesterday, and today we are replacing that with a real bed, as well as a desk and chair.  While there, we took care of a few other things I had noted last time I visited but couldn’t address at the time.  We fulfilled an item on Elder Reid’s bucket list by taking him to Lambert’s Café for lunch.  On the way home we picked up a broken washer in Farmington that looks to me to have a broken switch, maybe in the lid.  I sent the missionaries home at 9:30 and Sis Hatfield and I worked until 10:30 pm planning upcoming mission projects. 

Friday, March 26th in staff meeting, we talked about an amazing offer.  Dr Funk, the stake young men’s president in our southern zone, is a pharmacist.  He is putting on vaccination clinics.  Recently, he vaccinated the St Louis temple staff.  He has offered to hold a clinic for the missionaries.  We are working on logistics, such as dates and place.  It needs to be organized so that the first and second course is completed before the next transfers, or it will be a nightmare to make sure the right missionaries have their shots before they go home, move apartments, or whatever.  We have direction from mission medical that all missionaries should be encouraged to be immunized, but it won’t be a requirement.  There is likely to be practical consequences though for missionaries that decline, like continued mask use and other protocols that will need to remain in place, and maybe disqualification for foreign reassignment.  We are a bit worried that in an 3-person companionship where we needed to get a traveling missionary immunized, the other 2 missionaries said that they would decline.  That is not a good acceptance rate, and I hope it is just a poor sample.  After the staff meeting, Sis Hatfield helped Elder Schneider get his testing and travel documents in order for his reassignment to Armenia.  When his regular companion dropped him off and returned to their teaching area, he was paired with the APs.  They had lessons and administrative things to do, so Elder Schneider stayed with me and Sis Hatfield in the mission office, and Elder Schneider helped me reorganize the big, colorful magnetic transfer board.  He seemed relieved to be doing something productive. 

Saturday, March 27th started with Sis Hatfield and I escorting Elder Schneider to the airport.  It was a good thing we were there.  Not that he couldn’t have got through it, but every country’s requirements are different, so the ticket agent asks questions and demands documents, some of which are proper requests, others were proper for a different destination.  Elder Schneider looked like a deer in headlights.  He had to be coached to even dig his passport out of his over packed carryon.  Sis Hatfield knows enough to help deflect and redirect the misdirected questions and guide towards the proper information requirements.  It would be tedious to give examples, but suffice it to say that asking these young missionaries to navigate the travel complexities with such limited information and experience is a brave move, requiring a fair amount of faith that things will work out with the help of ministering angels.