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.