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.
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.