Thursday, May 27, 2021

16-22 May 2021 A Mission President and Wife’s Worst Fears

Sunday, May 16th was a day of heavy ministering, mostly with RaDene’s lasagna.  Annie Stewart has been hospitalized twice this month.  Dee Marche fell a few days ago and broke her arm in three places, requiring surgery.  Sometimes the best you can do is feed folks in need.  And so all day yesterday, Sis Hatfield shopped for, assembled, and baked her homemade lasagna.  For good measure, she made a pan for the assistants to the president, who can’t seem to get enough food lately, at least judging by their consumption of office treats, including the forbidden departing missionary snack supply, which we had to stop.  And of course, she made some for me and the housing assistants, whom we had invited for dinner.  While it warmed in the oven and before the housing assistants came for dinner, Sis Hatfield slipped over to the office to work on the mission history.  The housing assistants were quite late.  It turned out they had an emergency service project that afternoon trying to help someone be ready for their house sale pictures, listing, and open house tomorrow.  These young men will do most anything they can to meet a need.  We then hustled off to the St Louis stake center to watch a fireside for prospective senior missionaries.  The Jacobs were on the panel, and we sat next to the Hintzes.  We are becoming close to a number of friends here in St Louis.  Then we headed back to the office to get travel documents for Elder Merrill who is headed to Salt Lake City in the morning to participate in a Mexican consulate visa interview.  Sis Hatfield reminds him of his instructions, and at about 10:30 we say goodnight to him and the APs who will take him to the airport in the morning.  This has been a busy but fulfilling day.

Monday, May 17th.  This is a day to celebrate.  Sis Hatfield has finished the 2020 history of the Missouri St Louis Mission.  What a year it was.  And what a project the history has been.  It took the efforts of Sis Hatfield, Sis Atkins, Sis Bell, me, and others, to say nothing of all the missionaries that have contributed with their COVID survey responses that give real texture for the year.  Sis Hatfield is kindly preparing copies for the Bells and their staff.  We are starting to think carefully about our St Louis family reunion starting May 28th.  My job is to get Cardinals baseball tickets for Thursday, June 3rd.  It is a bit of a process because demand is high and COVID restrictions have limited how many tickets are available.  I’ve been watching the on line ticket sales daily.  RaDene has recruited Ashley Fuller, a young mother in the Pagedale Branch, to help baby sit that night so the adults can go to the game.  And there are dozens of other activities to choose from.  RaDene has started a spreadsheet of times and possible destinations.  Honestly, St Louis is very family visitor friendly.  We can’t wait to show it off. 

On Tuesday, May 18th I followed the lead I had that the Dardenne Creek apartment needed some attention.  In general, it does not pass the neat and clean test.  We found a leak coming through the kitchen ceiling originating in the upstairs bathroom by the shower.  It is obvious that the elders are not being at all careful about containing their shower water.  The bath towel rack was on the floor and I had to hunt around to find the attachment hardware.  A hole in the front room wall was too big for me to patch without some backing, which I will bring next time.  In the same zone, we visited Oak Valley YSA and talked to the manager about our broken sliding glass door pane, carpet cleaning, and renewal for the new year.  I have sent them two emails and left a voice message on the subjects.  I decided I better stop by in person.  The manager was very helpful.  The leasing agent was abrupt and unfocused.  I’m guessing he is the one that has been so unresponsive.  We will see if he gets the new lease papers to me.  And of course we stopped in the apartment to see the sisters, fill them in on discussions with maintenance, and fix their leaky kitchen faucet while we were there.  On the way back to the office we picked up some unwanted items from the Missouri River South elders.  Of all they had set aside, the charity thrift store only wanted the wooden rocker.  It is hard to give junk away.  I picked up Dossan Bell from Parkway West High School because Pres and Sis Bell are on mission tour in O’Fallon zone.  We fixed one more hole in the wall in Sandy Creek, then spent the evening laying out the new cabinets that need to be hung in the mission office. 

On Wednesday, May 19th we strapped on our carpenter belts and hung cabinets and decorative shelves.  It was a bit more challenging because the wall studs are 24 inch on center, and metal.  Then we headed back to Dardenne Creek with what we needed to address the problems we discovered yesterday:  a curved shower curtain, a new curtain, splash guards, wall board backing, and cleaning supplies.  I was miffed to find the kitchen ceiling wet again and the bathroom floor mat soaked like someone had just pulled it out of a barrel of water.  How could this be?  I had given instructions to be careful just yesterday, albeit not to everyone, because everyone was not home.  That night, Sis Hatfield and I dropped the mail off at the mission home for Pres and Sis Bell to deliver to the Lake St Louis zone tomorrow where they will be on tour.  Today, they were in the St Louis zone.  Pres Bell finished the day in a sketchy part of town tracking down a referral.  They were walking around, preaching, teaching, bantering, and singing.  Honestly, the poor folks recognized them as “church people” and gave a great deal of respect.  Outwardly, it might have seemed dangerous for these missionaries, but the truth is, these people love bearers of truth, even if they don’t know quite how to commit to it.  Given their circumstances, it is understandable, and I’m sure they will be given great deference at judgment day.  The highlight was a rendition of “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” sung by the elders and Pres Bell to a crowd of African Americans squealing with delight, captured on video.

Thursday, May 20th required some engineering.  In this age, a large display video screen is not optional office equipment, but Pres Bell only has a stand screen for his office.  After Sis Hatfield pointed out the need, Pres Melby quickly ordered a pull down screen which we are now to the point in the office remodel where we can hang it.  But it can’t be directly on the wall where Sis Bell wants to hang art work.  It must be suspended from the ceiling.  That required some engineering because in the office, we have drop down ceiling tiles underneath mechanical ducts, piping, and wires.  The only option was to attach some chain around the steel beams and drop the chain through holes in the ceiling tile to suspend the screen.  Sis Hatfield helpfully suggested that the suspension first be to a hanging wood beam that we install just above the tiles, and then to long hooks positioned in the hanging beam through the tiles to hold the screen itself.  This was clearly a better design, even if harder to execute.  We some very careful measuring, we got the job done.  The only casualty was breaking a fragile ceiling tile by the simple act of trying to pick it up.  But that was replaceable.  That evening, Sis Hatfield worked until 9:30 pm at the office preparing for tomorrow’s staff meeting, new missionary training, and organizing the new missionary lunch.  Yes, we would meet in person for new missionary training for the first time since the Pandemic meeting restrictions started 15 months ago.  I needed to burn the late evening oil too, because I was still reorganizing, labeling, and updating records from the transfers last week.

Friday, May 21st took us early to the Frontenac meeting house to set up for the new missionary training and luncheon.  It was an odd feeling of deja vu.  We have been to Frontenac for transfers under strict distancing and masking conditions, but not for in person training and food service in about 15 months.  It took a few minutes to get our bearings.  We were greeted there by lights, poles, treats and other preparations for “Mormon Prom” to be held there later that evening.  Part way through our own set up we were competing for space with the platoon of moms that had come to continue decorating for the big night.  So, our big social coming out turned out to be a bit of a conflict with others also coming out.  I think we are experiencing pent up Pandemic release.  Because we were having new missionary training at Frontenac, we also had our weekly staff meeting there immediately beforehand.  For a variety of reasons, the staff meeting began late and was rushed, which spilled into a late starting new missionary training that couldn’t seem to get back on schedule.  Sis Hatfield and I were the very last persons on the agenda, right before the lunch break.  By the time the meeting got to us, it was time to adjourn.  Luckily, Sis Bell’s lasagna wasn’t hot yet, so Sis Hatfield was at least able to bear sweet testimony of how these faithful young missionaries are the legacy of the brave Nineteenth Century pioneers.  After serving lunch, the Bells and the new missionaries headed to the temple for baptisms, and we headed to the office were we stayed until 7:30 pm, which seemed like leaving early.  We were moping a little, and managed to get ourselves invited to go over and visit the Ereksons.  Rock took us on an outside walking tour of the Sisters of Mercy Convent.  It was delightful to be outside and learn about something new.  Rock and the young missionaries have performed a fair amount of service here at the convent helping “sisters” move in and out.  Apparently, the missionaries are well liked by the nuns.  When Joy made it home, we sat on the Erekson’s secluded, wide deck more or less built around an enormous silver leaf maple.  We visited together, watched the night sky, and ate mango ice cream until midnight, feeling reenergized. 

Saturday, May 22nd began with a harrowing call that a sister missionary was missing in Eureka, Missouri, about 40 minutes south and west of St Louis.  Although we were wakened from a sleep, Sis Hatfield started thinking about how technology could help locate the missing sister.  First she called the Missionary Department technology help desk, hoping that there might be a GPS signal.  The last transmission was about 2 miles north of the apartment towards the main highway, but it was from 5:15 am, and now it was about 7.  We had no idea whether it was an abduction, runaway, or something else.  The missionary department was discouraging contact with the police because an adult missing for an hour or two would get no action.  While we raced to the last signal location, She called her AT&T rep and asked what he could do.  Meanwhile, Pres Bell was at the sisters’ apartment where he found red fluid in the carpet, possibly blood and vomit, empty pill bottles, and a goodbye note.  Grant Monson from AT&T called Sis Hatfield back saying that the last call made from the phone was to 911.  This new news persuaded us that a call to the authorities might indeed be productive, and Sis Hatfield called the Eureka police who confirmed they had responded to a call and had taken a young woman to an emergency room early this morning.  The officer on the phone wasn’t sure what hospital, but offered two suggestions.  With my help, Pres Bell started calling, and we received confirmation that the missing missionary was at Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur.  Pres Bell headed that direction, leaving Sis Hatfield and I responsible to secure the apartment, car, and take care of the shaken companion.  Sis Bell had been brave all morning but was now on the phone with Sis Hatfield and in tears knowing that the sick sister would survive.  The responsibility that the Bells bear for so many is almost overwhelming.  Arrangements were made for the companion sister to join the local sister training leaders.  They came to the office so the companion could borrow a phone since, thankfully, the sick sister had taken her companion’s phone, which had the SIM card, connecting it to the cellular network, which turned out to be a big blessing for her rescue by the police.  Sis Hatfield spent a good deal of quiet time with the companion helping her process, and explaining how her sick companion was now being well cared for by the health care professionals.  Later that afternoon and into the evening, Sis Hatfield and I returned to the Eureka apartment and packed missionary belongings and took a first pass at cleaning the red vomit, which on inspection, looked to be pill coating dye, not blood.  We initially had been a little hesitant to clean it up, fearing that it might be important to the investigation of a worst case scenario.  Paul and Patti Hintze had planned on dinner with us this night, but our long emergency had stopped that idea.  But by 9:30 at night, they were curious how we were doing and they invited us to have a late supper at their house while our nerves settled down.  Then we spent 30 minutes shopping for our Sunday dinner, and were home by 11:30 pm.  Although the very worst fears were averted, we were all plenty shaken by the experiences of the day. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

2-15 May 2021 Worst Fears

Sunday, May 2nd.  This was the day I hoped in my heart would never come, and especially not now, while I am on a mission.  Terri called about 9:15 to say that Dad had died.  I was stunned.  We all were.  Except that Dad was 90 years old, this was unexpected.  No sickness, no injury, no hospitalization or third party care giving.  He woke, chatted with Mom, remarked he needed to get up, and then didn’t.  Mom realized he was gone, but called 911, and they tried to help her administer CPR, but in the process, she badly hurt her knee.  After talking to Terri, I immediately called Mom, who was shaken.  I felt so bad she was alone.  RaDene suggested she get some ice for her knee, but Mom said she could not stand, but the police and paramedics were arriving.  I told RaDene and we cried together.  I urged RaDene to go to church without me.  She was scheduled to be the organist and help in nursery.  She refused to leave, staying to comfort me.  She made a couple of calls to let others know we would not be at church, and then we called Mom again.  RaDene thought quickly, and almost called Mom’s bishop, but then remembered that Cliff and Leann Gustin were in St George.  She called them and explained, and Leann immediately said say no more.  I then briefly spoke to my sister Lori, and RaDene suggested I let Mom know the Gustins were on their way to her house.  I called Mom back, and to my surprise, Cliff answered her phone.  Cliff and Leann had rushed over and were providing some comfort and structure to the chaos.  They got Mom a bag of ice for her knee and Cliff gave Mom a priesthood blessing.  They stayed until after the morticians had come and Mom’s bishop, relief society president, and other dear neighbors arrived after church meetings.  It was a tender mercy for me and Mom that the Gustins were in town and so quickly available to come to Mom’s aid when I was completely out of position to help.  They really are like a big brother and big sister to RaDene and me. 

After taking some deep breaths, RaDene and I decided that I should fly to Utah tomorrow right after the COVID vaccination clinic that was scheduled to run from about 9 am until 1 pm for the missionaries to receive their second shots.  RaDene would stay until after transfers on Wednesday since we are such an integral part of the process.  She notified President Bell and made me a flight reservation.  Pres Bell shared some sweet scriptures, including Alma 46:41, and asked me to share my travel plans so he could run them by the Area Presidency.  I called uncles and other well loved cousins on both Dad’s and Mom’s sides of the family to let them know of the loss.  The conversations were brief, but very supportive and comforting to me.  And of course, I called Mom again several times.  Then we went to the office and went through our Sunday departing missionary routines.  We had a big group leaving in the morning.  RaDene worked on flight check-ins and other departure papers, and I collected travel snacks.  Then we headed to the mission home to greet missionaries, collect baggage, give departure instructions, and say our goodbyes.  It also helped my grief to stay busy.  At 10:30 pm, Pres Bell called and said that our plan to travel was not approved.  The Area Presidency said that RaDene needed to travel with me tomorrow.  We respectfully protested, giving our several reasons, and Pres Bell said he would call Elder Wong again, and if needed join us on the call.  A few minutes later he called back and said our original plan was approved as an exception.  We thanked Pres Bell, although we felt a bit unsettled about our plan after not accepting the original counsel on the travel.  Had we unwisely pushed our way?

Monday, May 3rd began early after a fitful night.  At 6 am Sis Hatfield was awakened first by the Lindell sister missionaries and then by the APs.  They were in a panic.  The sisters were supposed to be driving three departing sisters to the airport, but they had a flat tire.  The APs and everyone else driving that morning was full.  So, they asked, would Sis Hatfield come help?  Well of course she would.  She pulled on some clothes and headed out.  I did the same, but instead went to fix the flat.  I found two sisters and two elders standing around the car looking like they had no idea what to do.  I changed the tire, but couldn’t find a nail in it anywhere.  The sisters sheepishly admitted they had hit a curb to deflate the tire.  Most importantly, Sis Hatfield got the sisters to the airport in time for the flight. 

As soon as we got home from our morning adventure, we cleaned up and headed to the stake center for the COVID vaccination clinic.  It was a bit hectic and uncertain because we were setting up a new flow in the rooms around the gym where we had held the clinic three weeks ago because the mission leadership council would go on at the same time.  As before, my main job is to organize the lunch handouts for the missionaries as they are leaving the building.  Many people are there either helping or getting shots, but RaDene is managing the logistics quite well.  I head for the office to do some final tasks before heading to the airport.  While there, I get a frantic call from RaDene.  Pres Bell, looking pale, has come out of MLC to find her and let her know that the missionary department IFR has called and said that Sis Hatfield MUST accompany Elder Hatfield home.  What?  She hasn’t even had her shot yet.  The flight leaves in three hours.  Who knows if there is even a seat, and she certainly hasn’t packed.  She quickly confirms there is a seat on the airplane, and almost leaves without her vaccination, and relies on the comfort of Paul Hintze and Elder and Sis Jacob to dry her tears, assure her, and send her on her way.  I meet her at home to help pack (and in the process forget to move my missionary nametag from one bag to another), and Elder Jacob mercifully agrees to pick us up at the office and drive like a madman to get us to the airport just in time to board our flight to Salt Lake.  Our connection to St George in the sprawling Salt Lake airport is almost too tight, but we make it just in time.  We arrive in St George and answer the slew of missionary (and landlord) messages that have piled up while Lynn drives us to Mom’s house.  Terri has had Mom to the doctor today and we learn that her knee problem is not clear, but probably a cartilage tear or a hairline tibia fracture.  She is in a wheelchair for the first time in her life.  We reminisce on Dad’s great life until midnight, 1 am St Louis time, and then try to sleep.

On Tuesday, May 4th Sis Hatfield and I participated in three conference calls to help the office staff, assistants to the president, and Sis Bell prepare for transfers.  I am not sure why it took three calls.  I think it had to do with three different groups of people worrying about the Hatfields not participating in transfers but not having Sis Hatfield to coordinate the information transfer into a single meeting.  We fit the calls in between and around visits to the mortuary and the flower store.

On Wednesday, May 5th we did our part in new missionary training by video conference.  Sis Hatfield was racing from the Gustins’ house to Mom’s place, so I did some conducting, which she usually does, until she got there.  It was strange trying to introduce ourselves without seeing the young missionaries’ in person, but we did it, and helped the staff stay on time.  For the next couple of hours, Sis Hatfield was on standby for questions that came regarding transfer needs and procedures.  Sis Bell, the APs, housing assistants, and others didn’t loop us in too much, which had us nervous as to how things were going and what balls were getting dropped. 

On Monday, May 10th we held the funeral in Provo.  The office staff and the Bells sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  Because it was in the Pandemic, the service was at the Nelson Mortuary and video streamed.  The Jacobs and the Evertons watched the proceedings from the office computers.  They commented that the talks made them feel like they knew my Dad well.  It was so sweet of them to spend time supporting me. 

Tuesday, May 11th we left for the airport early in the morning to return to our mission field assignment.  We have been getting some strange messages that we have been on “leave,” and the reasons seem to include COVID illness.  How did that happen?  We have had insurance reinstatement, offers of travel reimbursement, calls to Pres Bell asking if we were returning and if it is okay with him, etc.  There has been a good deal of confusion at the missionary department about our short trip home for Dad’s funeral. 

We did not like missing the first zone conference of the transfer which was starting today, but in the scheme of things, it was more important to stay for the full day of mourning and celebration yesterday.  We had thought of the idea of participating virtually, but our flight schedule would not allow that.  A third option was to prepare a video message and send it for display at the zone conference.  Ideally, we would have had time to prepare and produce our messages, but the family duties have been consuming and exhausting for several days now.  We just haven’t been able to get it done.  But now we are at the airport waiting to board and we have a few minutes.  Can we do it now, of the cuff, and get something transmitted in time?  It seemed improbable, but we decided to try.  So we turned on our phone and made a selfie video.  It was only a few minutes long, but we had a few key points to communicate, Sis Hatfield talking about phones and teaching materials orders, and me talking about air filters and springtime pests.  And it gave us the opportunity to explain why we were away and bear testimony of the Plan of Salvation, which the people in the Missouri St Louis Mission need the opportunity to learn from these young missionaries.  Our unscripted, unrehearsed video wasn’t perfect, but it would serve the purpose.  Now, could we get it to St Louis?  The wifi connection was okay, but we did not know if it would work.  Sis Hatfield started an upload to Google Docs, and then we waited.  After the “all passengers aboard” call from the gate agent, we literally stood in front of her explaining what we were trying to do.  She was gracious, and just as she indicated we needed to be on the plane, the transmission finished. 

For several days, Sis Jeanette Mahaffey, wife of the 1st counselor in the mission presidency, had been asking RaDene what she could do.  We thought of something:  she could give us a ride from the St Louis airport to the mission office.  It was a sweet contribution to our needs.  And then of course, we were back in the saddle with so much to do to catch up.  We were happy to re-engage.  But in some ways, returning to the field was harder than leaving the first time.  We missed our family very much after being away so long, especially the young grandchildren we hardly knew.  And I was broken hearted that I had missed seeing Dad again one last time.  And maybe hardest of all, I did not like leaving Mom to adjust and reorder things in her new place in life that I could not do, or do less well, from St Louis.  I’ll do what I can, but my saintly sister Terri will need to continue to carry most of the load.

Wednesday, May 12th could have looked to an observer like we had never been away, as we jumped right into the second day of zone conferences.  But of course my feelings continued to be tender, and I shared them with the missionaries, who are supportive and loving.  Later in the afternoon, I inspected two apartments, partly to see how they were, and partly to be in position to negotiate lease renewals.  Between the two apartments, I found eight broken refrigerator shelves, and broken couch, a broken dresser, a broken blind, an outdoor closet stacked floor to ceiling with who knows what, and two filthy, stained carpets.  I have a few things to work on.  Elder Dayton is leaving in the morning for his new assignment in Cape Verde, Africa.  Sis Hatfield has negotiated for the Evertons to pick him up at 4:30 am and take him, thankfully.  Sis Hatfield is helping him negotiate newly received immigration instructions:  he can only bring a single checked bag of 40 pounds and 65 pounds total, including his single carry-on, he must have $40 to pay an immigration fee, which we are not sure he has access to on missionary support funds card, he must pass an unusual nasal COVID test, which he hasn’t had, and he must complete a difficult Portuguese translated form.  I don’t know how church travel keeps up with all the requirements.  When he finally finishes for the night, the office looks like a bomb went off—Elder Dayton has cast off all manner of possessions trying to make weight.  We tell him we will try to ship the extra stuff home for him. 

Thursday, May 13th is the final day of zone conferences, this time in O’Fallon, Illinois at the stake center.  We drove together, but Sis Hatfield is feeling pressed to leave early to get back to the office.  I stay, take the zone picture, and coordinate distribution of mail and materials, which the housing assistants bring in the nick of time.  They had underestimated how long it would take to get here from St Louis.  Because of all the car pooling, it wasn’t so easy to find a ride back for myself, but the Evertons had a seat for me.  They shared sweet condolences as we drove, which I really appreciated.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

25 Apr—1 May 2021 April Fools in Litchfield

On Sunday, April 25th we stopped in to see Annie Stewart and found her home in chaos.  Her granddaughter Clarissa who was recuperating from bullet wounds had moved out two days before, but was still working around the house.  Her granddaughter Angela who was healing from a broken hip and shoulder from a car accident was in process of moving.  Angela’s grandson “Juice” seemed to be the only one trying to attend to Annie who was suffering from high blood pressure symptoms.  We tried to minister to them all as best we could, but it didn’t take long before we decided the best we could do was feed them.  We went to the grocery store deli and got fresh sandwich makings, salad, and fruit, and drinks.  We try to help Annie by not getting too much added sodium or sugar.  She sweetly offered us money for the groceries.  Juice quickly made a sandwich for Annie.  It didn’t take the other household members long to make their own plates.  We felt better, and so did they.

Monday, April 26th was the first full day of work in the remodeled mission office.  Sis Hatfield is feeling anxious about some things:  First, in a week we will be holding the Mission Leadership Council at the very same time as the mission vaccination clinic.  There are synergies, like missionaries not needing to drive to St Louis twice, but there are conflicts too, like scheduling shots on a rotating basis that will surely be disruptive, and relearning the flow of the clinic because the MLC will take up the gym where shots were administered the first round.  Second, the craziness of it all has yielded absolutely no time this past week for Sis Hatfield to work on the mission history.  She has been working late nights as it is.  And it seems that most of the rest of what needs to be done on the history is nondelegable.  Third, Sis Bell is shopping for office art and accessories and there are a crazy number of move-in details that keep Sis Hatfield looking at the office remodel project when she needs to move on to other things.  Last, because of all of the above, and more, our preparations are behind where they need to be for the fast approaching transfer.  Sis Hatfield needs to set some things aside and get departure and arrival communications in the pipeline or the missionaries, their parents, and the Bells will not know how to be ready.  We left the office at 10 pm feeling like we haven’t got to the most of what should have been accomplished. 

Tuesday, April 27th was devoted to cleaning out and cleaning up the temporary office space.  We are determined not to move stuff back in that is superfluous.  The housing assistants and I snuck away for part of the afternoon to clean a Shiloh area apartment to turn back into the landlord.  The layer of grease behind the fridge and stove was almost impenetrable.  Fortunately, Sis Peterson and Sis Strand from the remaining Shiloh area came to help us and their efforts made it so I could focus on the tub, toilet, and kitchen floor behind the appliances, some things I could not ask anyone else to take on.  Elder Reid got himself in trouble with a neighbor who is very protective of the dumpster and told him to smile for the camera as he took pictures of him and the dumpster, apparently feeling like we had discarded more than our share.  He said he would call the manager and the police.  Okay, we did throw away a fair amount today, but we haven’t use the dumpster at all in weeks, and even when occupied, I doubt the missionaries were large contributors to the trash—they simply can’t buy much.  And we are paying tenants after all.  It makes you wonder what bad experience the neighbor has had to threaten Elder Reid like this.  Elder Reid handled it with grace, showing maturity beyond his years.  

Back at the office, Sis Bell has been offended that Sis Hatfield has rearranged a few accessories Sis Bell purchased.    I thought Sis Bell had said that any of the stuff could be returned, so naturally, it didn’t seem to me such a bold idea to try a few things in different locations in the office.  The conflict is hurtful to both of them.  Too bad.  That evening Sis Hatfield went with me to the Melbys’ house to return tools we had used for the remodel project.  They are interesting people.  For example, Sis Melby has bought a half dozen 150 year old solid oak doors from a salvage business that specializes in collecting vintage materials from old St Louis as decrepit buildings are being torn down.  They have filled their home with such treasures.  Even in the short time and limited interactions, we have become friends.  We would have loved to get to know them even better.  The mission will miss their energy and enthusiasm for the work when they move to Montana next month to pursue the dream of remodeling a ski lodge to be their home.  Sis Hatfield and the technology specialists, Elder Reader and Elder Petty worked until 9:30 pm on taking bugs out of the reinstalled computer systems as well as trying to reinitialize mission phones so that we could try to respond to pressing missionary communication needs.

Blessedly, on Wednesday, April 28th Sis Hatfield seems to be successfully working through the decorating misunderstandings of Sis Bell.  Meanwhile I am addressing the mundane needs:  buying pillows for incoming missionaries, installing coat hooks, creating power sources for the minifridge through a cabinet and for the President’s desk by a floor channel.  We celebrated Sis Chamber’s fast approaching departure by treating her and Sis Miller to dinner out at the Quesada Factory. We had hoped to eat in, but the dining room was closed, so we head for a nearby park where we enjoyed a picnic, finishing just in time before a storm closed in.  But the springtime trees were worth being outside for.  Sis Hatfield used the day from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm, with only the picnic celebration reprieve, to do transfer work and schedule 200 or so missionaries and others for the vaccination clinic. 

Thursday, April 29th was a cleaning clothes day.  Not as in washing clothes, but as in wearing clothes to clean in.  I do a lot of work inappropriate for a white shirt and tie, but generally wear them anyway, because I want to be a good example to the young missionaries.  Today is one of those days when I made the exception and dressed the part.  We were headed for Tuscola, Illinois to finish moving out of an apartment and to deep clean it to turn back into the landlord.  Having ruined several pair of slacks, when I think I will be using bleach, that is where I draw the line on regular missionary attire.  We had put a second set of missionaries in Tuscola during the height of the COVID transfers, but as we settle down a bit, Pres Bell decided this was one of the places to scale back.  It made it easier for me to give notice that the kind, elderly man I had rented from had sold to a real estate firm a couple months before, so I didn’t feel like I was slighting any expectations.  I had the opportunity to make some introductions to an older lady at the Tuscola apartments that was fretting about rent increases.  I hope I was able to soothe her concerns just a bit and make it easier for her to welcome the next missionaries that ask to talk to her.  Then we were off to Decatur to drop off a phone to a missionary who had broken his, and to check on the list of items for fixing I had sent to the landlord a week or so ago.  Satisfied that progress was being made, we headed to Litchfield, Illinois via a small town named Boody.  Elder Reid and Elder Nielson could not stop laughing.

In Litchfield, we were making another phone drop-off and pickup.  While we were there, and since I was dressed for it, I demonstrated for the elder residents how to scrub the tub, and wash the shower curtain.  For good measure, we tightened the toilet seat, an all too common need around the mission.  Then I went into the kitchen to gather the candy treat of the elders, offered in thanks for our help.  I stopped at the kitchen sink to wash my hands (which needed it after the bathroom work).  I flipped on the water faucet and was soaked by the sprayer, which my housing assistants had rigged on with a rubber band.  The gag was meant for the missionaries we had been serving in Litchfield, but I got to the sink first.  We all had a good laugh.  We were back to the office by 8 pm.  While were on our tour of southern Illinois, Sis Hatfield had been back in the office, naturally, and accomplished some important tasks.  She had finished the Harvester, our mission newsletter for this transfer, and helped Elder Frewin with travel preparations, heading for Peru, his original assignment.  Most importantly, Sis Hatfield had connected with Sis Bell and they had spent the afternoon together planning decorations and accessories for the office.  They are a formidable team when they are yoked together. 

Friday, April 30th.  What, is this month really over?  Sis Hatfield is directing me in hanging mail baskets, white boards, and other items around the office as a result of her work with Sis Bell.  At staff meeting, Sis Hatfield explained the updated missionary protection software and how that will impact phone set up and use.  Communications are a never ending challenge.  After a 20 minute break following the staff meeting, we dive right into the zoom meeting with the missionaries coming next week.  Four of them are called to the Missouri St Louis Mission, and one to Finland, although her arrival will be delayed because she is in the middle of her vaccinations, recently a missionary department requirement to complete before a foreign assignment will be fulfilled.  For several weeks, we had another sister coming to the MSLM after a Finland assignment too, but somehow at the last minute the missionary department was able to get her directly to Finland, bypassing us.  This makes the smallest arriving group we have seen in our 18 months of service.  I speculate that young people are delaying mission applications.  Or maybe this is just part of the natural ebb cause by the school calendar.  At 4 pm Sis Hatfield and Pres Bell received notice that three other sisters headed for Finland will come here first to go through the vaccination process.  That is a big, expensive detour.  At 6 pm two of the mothers of two of the Finland-bound sisters called to say that they are planning to get the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination over the weekend, so can they please avoid the plan to come to St Louis?  I told them that was a call to make to their respective stake presidents, who would consult with the missionary department.  I stared at the draft transfer board until 10 pm trying to decide what living arrangements are necessary for transfer day next week.  There are not a lot of incoming missionaries, although that plan seems very fluid, but for some reason, the President is feeling inspired to move around many of the missionaries already serving with us. 

Saturday, May 1st started with Sis Hatfield and I trying our hand at pickleball, Christmas and birthday gifts that needed to be opened up.  It was good to jog our old joints and bones around the court.  Not wanting to be a hypocrite, we cleaned the apartment after our morning exercise, and then headed off to O’Fallon, Illinois to turn in the keys to the landlord for the Shilo West apartment.  We got all the way out there only to find the office closed and no one answering the phone.  Having driven too far over here, and seeing no regular way to transfer the keys, I cleverly hid them in the lip of the awning over the porch and left two messages at the numbers I had as to where they were.  That reduced my frustration a little.  On the way back, we wanted to stop for food.  Two of the regular restaurants we stopped to try were packed, Illinois regulations having been recently relaxed to allow in-restaurant dining causing a Saturday evening stampede of sorts.  Bravely, we walked into a small storefront Chinese buffet, where (ahem) large people were walking out, often a risky sign as to food quality.  But we pressed on, and to our delight, were greeted by a cheerful, polite staff, and even better, rows of freshly made Chinese food of all sorts, including stir fry and sushi chefs on call.  Okay, the sushi chef was technically out of place, but it was really tasty, and we will not complain about a little oriental fusion.  Back in St Louis, we stopped at Home Depot to pick up new cabinets for the office remodel.  Obviously, the work is not yet done on that project.  Lastly, we met the housing assistants at the storage unit so I could pick out our best mattress for them to take to a suffering elder in Alton.  He was sent home once for back pain, received some sort of shots therapy, and now it is almost unbearable again.  I’m not sure our best mattress will save him.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

18—24 April 2021 Don’t Forget the Missionaries

Sunday, April 18th ended with a startling reminder that we are not ready for Monday.  We had Elder Nielsen and Elder Reid for dinner, and Elder Nielsen casually asked us if we were taking Sis Martin to the airport tomorrow.  Sis Hatfield and I looked at each other.  We had not done any of the departing missionary tasks she needed to depart in the morning.  We finished dessert abruptly and headed for the office.  We hadn’t printed out her itinerary, check her in, and prepared her other departing missionary items.  (For my part, I had not prepared her departing missionary snack bag, a job I take very seriously.)  We finished our work and rushed to the mission home, arriving about 9:30, certainly later than we would have wanted, but as it turned out, things were still lively there, and so we dropped off our things for Pres and Sis Bell to successfully take Sis Martin to the airport in the morning, without anyone knowing that we almost forgot entirely.  That would have been a stressful call at 6 a.m.   Thank goodness we had the elders for dinner.

Monday, April 19th held a lot of worries about the 2020 mission history.  Last year, Sis Hatfield received reminders about the 2019 history from the Church, helping her know what it was to contain, how it was to be formatted, and importantly, when it was due.  To her knowledge she did not get any of those prompts this year.  But Pres Bell has just alerted her that it was due March 31st.  So we are late.  Not the end of the world, but a bit embarrassing.  Sis Atkins sent a short survey to the missionaries asking them some simple, but pertinent questions about their experiences with the mission during the Pandemic.  The format of the survey data is cumbersome, with the questions repeated over and over again.  More, the answers are not easily editable, and in raw form, the data runs on for some 80 pages.  It really looks like the responses, to be of value, will need to be retyped.  I’m frustrated, RaDene is overwhelmed.  Sis Atkins is on family vacation this week and naturally, unavailable to help.  I spent the evening reading the survey responses, highlighting for Sis Hatfield what seem to me to be the gems, representatives of the highs and the lows of the missionaries’ experiences during COVID-19.

On Tuesday, April 20th Sis Hatfield worked on visa applications and COVID test reports.  She helped Elder McCann, going to Columbia, and Sis Jensen, headed to Korea.  It would be nice if any of these processes were standardized, but none are, and if you work on just a couple for one country you are starting to feel some familiarity and efficiency, then it is on to a different set of requirements for a different country.  For my part, I’m digging in on building office partitions.  We had thought we would be moving in today, but the carpet installers have at least one more day of work.  The schedule has been extended because of paint delays, and I’m trying to figure out how to assemble them and make them moveable.  That’s not so easy when they are heavy by themselves, mounted to even heavier industrial shelving, and don’t fit through doorways.  I need to try to get the paint on the finished partitions so that we can move them right into place because now I will have no time once we are finally able to move in.  It’s funny how my mind keeps coming up with different ideas and solutions as the challenges emerge.  I think my finished product will look pretty much how I designed, but the execution process keeps changing.  The Bells have come taken a look to see the progress, and they really want the florescent lighting to be fixed—we have a hodge podge of tubes of different hues and intensities, and several are missing altogether.  I agree that this needs to be fixed.  I hadn’t planned on making it part of what I need to get done right now, but I can see that the Bells want this to be a priority.  So be it.  Sis Hatfield is trying to get to the mission history, but Sis Bell is shopping for on line for cabinets and shelves and is asking for Sis Hatfield’s participation and help to put an order together.  The facilities representative is swamped with an arson fire that destroyed a stake center in Cape Girardeau, so for her to place the order, which is what must be done for budget and purchase control reasons, the order must be ready for her to receive and hit “submit” without much more, or this won’t happen on any sort of reasonable schedule.  We will break our 10 pm curfew again, and no work during these 15 or so hours on the history.

On Wednesday, April 21st we saw Elder Aspinall join the ranks of Assistant to the President.  The current assistants may not be around much longer, and Pres Bell needs to get someone in training, just in case.  Elder Adams goes home in one more transfer, and Elder Lambson may be reassigned to the Dominican Republic now that it is reopening.  Elder Aspinall is a kind and gentle young man, and you would never know that he was a standout running back at Timpview High School.  He has been suffering from some sort of knee injury that I don’t understand well, but he has been cheerful and patient.  Now he needs a bed and a desk in the APs’ apartment.  We spent some time sorting through the furnishings that the housing assistants brought back from Tuscola, one of the apartments we are closing this month.  Honestly, it is just about as much work to figure out what can and should be saved, and what needs to be disposed of, as it was to collect it up in the first place last summer and fall during the wave of incoming transfers.  You would think that the thrift store would be the easy answer, but they don’t want furniture.  I suppose it takes up too much room for most of them.  Afterwards we head out to Oak Valley YSA, where the sister training leaders live, to take them an air mattress for exchanges, fish out a shower drain bolt Elder Reid dropped down the sink with a glued-fitting p-trap, patch a couple of holes, and install a blind that it took about four stores to find.  Back at the office, we move one more storage self into our remodeled office, assemble the partition and add its shaker-style trim.  We are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel on this carpentry project.  Sis Hatfield has been wrestling with more SIM cards not working for missionaries, for no apparent reason.  Our AT&T rep thinks it may be related to using SIM cards from cell carriers in phones not provided by the same carriers.  In other words, AT&T programs its SIM cards to work in the phones that it selects to sell to its customers.  Theoretically, a SIM card should work in any unlocked phone, but there may be underlying incompatibility issues.  Grant keeps saying, it sure would be easier if the church would just buy its phones from AT&T, the majority cell service provider for the missionaries.  That may seem self serving, but its probably true that things would work better if we didn’t treat SIMs and phones like interchangeable widgets.  We stayed at the office until 10:30 pm, with Sis Hatfield working away on the mission history.  There is still much to do on that project. 

Early on Thursday, April 22nd Sis Hatfield and I got out the truck and picked up Elder McCann, bound for Columbia, and Sis Jensen, headed for Korea, and took them to the airport.  It is always bitter sweet saying goodbye to these young people, but they have a lot of light to offer in other places.  At 9:30 am I went to the storage unit to get cleaning supplies and then met the Lindell South sisters to clean glass, carpets, counters, and other newly redone surfaces so we could begin to move into the remodeled office.  It is so much more bright and clean than before.  Now Sis Hatfield’s genius of space usage will really start to show.  Our facilities agent has ordered some decorative shelving for us, and I’m not sure why, but the pickup was at the Alton, Illinois Home Depot, so I made a trip out there to get them.  Elder Reid and Elder Nielsen helped move big items back in all day, including the shelving with built-on beadboard partitions attached, except for the largest one, which was too big to get through the doorways and had to be assembled in place.  I worked on that, including finish calking and painting until 8:30 pm and was exhausted.  About that time, Elder Stanford, who did not need anything else from a mental health perspective, called to say his kitchen ceiling was collapsing and water was running down the walls.  The microwave was filled with water.  I sent the housing assistants with towels and buckets to the rescue.  I called the after hours emergency number for the apartment complex.  It turned out that the newly installed dishwasher in the apartment above had a faulty water fill attachment, and it worked its way loose and streamed water until it found its way into the Elders’ apartment below.  Strangely, the upstairs neighbors are members, so it was actually some members that invaded the missionary apartment.  With the water source finally shut off, and the mopping done, the elders could go to bed, and so could we.

Friday, April 23rd started at the table saw at Pres Melby’s house.  The cabinet makers had left built-in desk ends with exposed brown laminate strips next to the new beadboard skirts.  Sis Bell didn’t like it, and everyone agreed it needed to be fixed.  Simply painting wouldn’t work on the laminate surface, so Pres Melby agreed to let me come one more time to cut some beadboard strips that I could attach to the brown laminate.  While we were down on the south side of town, we went to the furniture store to pick up the new reception area chairs Sis Bell had purchased for a very good price.  The chairs very nicely pick up the cream, grey, and brass colors of the new built-in desk countertops.  Rather than heading straight back to the office, the housing assistants and I went out to the Oak Valley YSA sisters apartment.  After looking in at least three stores over the last week, we had finally found a blind size they needed, so we took that and the extraction tool to try to retrieve the tub drain bolt Elder Reid had dropped down the bathroom sink with a permanently glued p-trap.  Elder Reid successfully got the bolt, which had gone nowhere in the week or so since it had dropped there, and had the tub drain reassembled before I had the blind installed, and I’m pretty fast at that by now, I must say. 

Then we returned to the office to unpack the reception area chairs and help Sis Hatfield get a few other things in place before our first staff meeting in the remodeled office.  It was a great beginning to our new office.  And Pres Bell shared some powerful teachings on faith he received in the North America Central Area mission president’s training the last three mornings, building on Pres Nelson’s conference talk.  Do we have faith to baptize?  Do we have faith not to baptize?  Can we feel the Lord’s love without distracting ourselves by baptism comparisons to others?  Afterwards, we continued the move-in process until 8:30 pm when we finally decided it was time for a little dinner.  So Sis Hatfield and I took the housing assistants on a Friday night outing for food.  It took us three tries before we finally found a restaurant that was still serving.  We almost missed our Friday dinner, but eventually were filled by pizza, salad, and our service this day.  

Saturday, April 24th was technically a p-day, but with the office move still not complete, and a soft moving deadline of Monday, we did a few necessaries in the morning and spent the afternoon moving desks, files, supplies, and reinstalling computers and key board trays until 9 pm.  We hurried to the grocery store to get some Sunday dinner groceries.  We’ve invited the four Pagedale elders to eat with us tomorrow.