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.