Friday, July 30, 2021

18-24 July 2021 Prayers, Both Ridiculous and Sublime

Sunday, July 18th.  Apparently, there is a lot of summer traveling and illness in the Pagedale Branch.  Late last night Sis Hatfield was asked to lead the music and play the organ for sacrament meeting.  This is on top of already having been asked to oversee the primary consisting of one child—Silas, my special charge.  We got to church early so she could find another person to help with music, which in the end, went smoothly.  You would think that a primary of one with two seasoned adults would be a piece of cake.  Not so.  Silas has lots of special needs.  In the end, we were wondering if we would be able to keep him barricaded in the primary room for the entire hour.  He cried loudly for the first 20 minutes, which we later learned was heard by all the adults in the Sunday school class in the chapel right above the primary room.  But, apparently it was not so alarming that Silas’ mom and dad felt the need to rescue us.  We almost stumbled upon what turned out to be the key.  A soft, rainbow colored blanket, large enough that Silas could sit back in it while Sis Hatfield and I held the four corners.  We gently swung him, and scooted him around the room in the blanket for half and hour, singing nursery rhymes to him.  This soothed him so that he stopped crying and seemed to enjoy himself. 

We hosted Dan Thomas and Sherrie Cullen for dinner.  Dan and Sherrie are our age, both in their second marriage, and the elders quorum and relief society presidents, respectively.  Dan has an interesting military background, which seems to blend with his no non-sense personality.  Yet he is tender and spiritual when appropriate.  He converted as a young man, but went inactive and took an interesting eastern religions detour until reactivated by the branch and the missionaries.  Sherrie is a life long Christian, but a convert to the church of only 18 months or so.  They are some of the pillars of the branch.  After dinner, we fired up Zoom and observed the farewell testimonies of the 19 missionaries departing next weekend.  It seems like every one of these is better than the one before.  Of course that isn’t true, but the Spirit is felt so strongly each time that one can’t help but feel like he is experiencing something wonderfully new.  It is especially touching to see the parents and family members observing their missionaries testify while still in the field.  It is true that the pandemic and zoom have provided some improvements to the way we operate.

Monday, July 19th would be the last preparation day for Elder Conner Nielson, one of my housing assistants, and certainly the assistant that has been on this special assignment the longest, a full six months.  After asking him what he would like to do, Sis Hatfield and I arranged to take him and Elder Dailami to the St Louis Zoo, an iconic experience that he hasn’t had.  Then we took the to Sugar Fire for St Louis ribs to further emblazon the day in his memory.  After lunch, we turned the missionaries loose, and Sis Hatfield and I got back to the office.  My job was to pay rent, utilities, and reimburse missionaries, since Elder Jacob is traveling in Utah and Idaho.  This isn’t the first time, so I am up for the job.  Later that night, we joined our Pagedale district for the night check-in video chat.  Elder Petty, one of Elder Nielson’s group headed home next week, is on one this night.  He is a very bright young man from Florida, full of life, spirit, gospel knowledge, and interesting thoughts.  I think he must have been to the aquarium recently, because he observed that St Louis aquarium sharks plus St Louis tornadoes equals a place of dangerous sharknadoes.  When he gave the district closing prayer for the night, Elder Petty’s deadpan petition included plea for protection from the sharks whenever we go near the aquarium.  I’m sure Heavenly Father must get a kick out of Elder Petty’s prayers, which in my experience are almost always peppered with some zaniness. 

Tuesday, July 20th.  The mission’s practice in past years has been to invite missionaries to attend the temple at the beginning of their missions, and at their 6, 12, 18, and just before their 24 month marks.  Because of the Pandemic and the closing or highly restricted use of temples since, a number of sister missionaries going home next week have never returned to the temple since receiving their own endowments, and have never been to the St Louis temple.  Today that was rectified.  The mission presidency, wives, and office staff accompanied all the departing missionaries to endowment sessions.  Sis Hatfield and I were privileged to be in the company led by the temple president and matron, President and Sister Thomas.  The Thomases are finishing their temple leadership assignment in two weeks, but wanted to personally lead the missionaries this day.  In the prayer circle, missionaries worldwide are almost the beneficiaries of prayers.  Today, Pres Thomas thanked Heavenly Father specifically for the consecration and dedication of the missionaries in his company.  He called down the blessings of heaven on each of them, and on Sis Hatfield and I.  It was so personal and powerful.  I have rarely felt more grateful for a blessing.  As is so often the case, I went from the sublime to the ridiculous.  I left the temple and went to an apartment in University City and patched holes in the ceiling and patched and calked doorway casings left from a missionary’s heavy punching bag thoughtlessly hung by eye hooks in various places around the apartment until they one by one pulled out, and then were screwed somewhere else.  But I think we have successfully restored the damage, and confiscated the punching bag.

Wednesday, July 21st.  We attended council with the Pagedale District.  Sis Hatfield fed the young missionaries twice:  first, she related the powerful experience we had yesterday witnessing the St Louis Temple Pres Thomas prayer on behalf the missionaries with power and authority; second, she brought a smorgasbord of lunch items.    That night about 9 pm she received an email that the phones received from the church to be used by selected areas as hotspots had been activated.  This was after waiting for weeks, and now without notice of when it would happen.  We hoped that the SIM card and cell carrier transfer had not dropped connection for missionaries in the middle of a lesson, or left them without phone service for reasons they would not have expected.  Realizing the need to communicate the switch to the missionaries, Sis Hatfield quickly reached out to the companionships involved.  It appeared that change was not actually occurring, so far as the missionaries could tell.  Their AT&T or T-Mobile SIM cards were still active.  But in the process, it was learned that the Hazelwood sisters did not have the special Verizon phone at all.  They had been patiently waiting, assuming it would come.  But they had all gone out.  A lost hotspot phone would seriously disable the area’s connection to anyone.  With a sense of urgency, verging on panic, Sis Hatfield contacted everyone that may have had responsibility to deliver the phone to the sisters, and made some mission wide pleas to all missionaries.  No one had any information.  At 10:30 pm we had to stop searching, and could only pray for that which was lost to be found.

Thursday, July 22nd.  After a few more hours of anxious searching for the lost Verizon phone, the mystery was solved.  The zone leaders for the Hazelwood sisters had the package on a desk at their apartment.  Apparently, they did not feel the need to hustle the delivery out, but did admit to having it in their possession.  Apparently, the phone number switch from AT&T to Verizon happened at 7:30 am, but for some reason, the sisters will able to make calls for some time afterward.  The lost Verizon phone has been found just in time to keep the sisters connected.  Meanwhile, Elders Nielson and Dailami went to Farmington, Missouri and, having thrown out the clutter last week, this week we donned the rubber gloves and dove into the grime.  I am learning the wisdom of wetting, applying scouring powder, scrubbing and soaking, and scrubbing and soaking in repeated rounds to get the deepest bathtub dirt.  I don’t think I anticipated acquiring this special knowledge on my mission.  Then we were off to Sikeston, the southern outpost of the mission, to take down extra furniture and help with needed maintenance, some tasks done ourselves, and others to be referred to the landlord.  We made it back to the office by 7:30 pm and continued transfer planning in earnest, including meeting Elder Trevor Paulson, pulled in from Missouri River West area in the Lake St Louis zone ahead of transfers for the purpose of helping with transfers after Elder Neilson enters the mission home to depart for home well ahead of the serious work the days before and including transfer Wednesday.  Sis Hatfield has observed the strain on the housing team when one of the young missionaries leaves the mission from a position of housing assistant during the apex of housing work.  So she had encouraged me to ask Pres Bell for a new assistant ahead of the regular transfer schedule.  Pres Bell has seen the wisdom of that for his assistants, and now he seems persuaded of bringing in a housing assistant early too.  Sis Hatfield looks out for me. 

Friday, July 23rd.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the chances of having all the beds set up for the 32 incoming missionaries and their trainers, as well as the rest of the missionaries moving areas on Wednesday next week are not good if I don’t get started today.  I asked the housing elders to take a trip to Columbia to set up an apartment bedroom and study.  That assured they would be occupied much of the day, and I worked to catch up with office responsibilities.  Sis Hatfield was discouraged that initial reports were that the Verizon phone hotspots were not improving the missionaries connection to reliable cell service.  Some suggest that the archaic model of phone that is the church’s standard hardware probably is a bottleneck, regardless of the speed and strength of the cellular signal.  All of that was very discouraging, because Sis Hatfield has been working hard to use the tools given her to keep the missionaries in a position to find and teach, in this case, Verizon SIM cards and ancient android phones.  It must be Friday before transfers—we worked at the office until 11:30 pm.  We won’t rest soundly for most of the next week. 

Saturday, July 24th was a continuation of our preparations for transfers.  I organized the housing assistants for a day of work in O’Fallon, Effingham, and Champaign, Illinois.  I felt bad leaving Sis Hatfield home alone on what should have been a bit of a Pioneer Day celebration.  But she did have lunch with Patti Hintze, the incoming temple matron and by now one of her closest St Louis friends.  Sis Hatfield did receive a Pioneer Day blessing from an orthodontist technician.  She had broken a fixed retainer, and with Patti’s recommendation Sis Hatfield had called the orthodontist’s office in Chesterfield.  The technician on call agreed to open the office on Saturday, meet RaDene, and fix the broken wire that was poking dangerously out of its place into her tongue’s space.  More, the technician refused Sis Hatfield’s offer to pay.  She said that it was her office’s practice to take care of visitors like their own patients, and emergency repairs were part of the service.  That was a blessing indeed.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

11-17 July 2021 Find the One

Sunday, July 11th.  Twice a month we participate in an early morning Zoom call for ward council.  Today we jumped on, gave our report, and jumped off.  With last night’s late notice, we had to get ready to lead primary, and get set up for Sis Hatfield to be the organist for sacrament meeting.  Fortunately for the primary, the mission office is nearby, and so we can download coloring pages, word strips, matching baby and mother animal pictures, and other teaching aids to put on a primary.  It turned out that the only children in primary were the two grandchildren of the Nehrings, who were visiting their grandparents while their parents were out of town.  So they got one on one attention.  Afterwards at Annie’s house, we pretty much gave the primary lesson over again:  Annie’s great-grandchildren Harmony, Gerard Jr, and Journey were visiting with their dad Gerard.  Annie made it clear that the visitors were not altogether welcome.  And she is a bit too hard on the rambunctious young Gerard Jr, in my opinion.  But their dad seems to have no where to go and wiggled his way into his grandmother’s house, with his kids.  Harmony is a delightful girl of about 12 going on 18.  She is sharp as a tack, and when asked what she would like, she says she would like to read a chapter book.  Little Journey is an adorable four year old, except for her odor.  The poor girl has not been bathed and dressed in clean clothes in who knows how long.  But Sis Hatfield opened her heart to these kids and had them on her lap teaching them lessons about Jesus.  Later that night, Sis Hatfield and I headed over to the Pagedale elders’ apartment.  Their smoke alarm has been sporadically beeping since the power went out and they need help with a ladder and to disarm it so that they can sleep.  We drove by an armada of electric utility service vehicles outside the apartment, working hard on an enormous tree that felled a block of power lines.  We could still see parts of it snaking around the front yards of neighbors.  It looks like this could have been a very dangerous situation.  Hopefully the power will be restored soon or I will need to make some arrangements to move the elders. 

Monday, July 12th.  We usually start the week with a Zoom yoga class led by one of our young sister missionaries.  But last night, Pres Bell invited me to join him and four other elders in some games of pickleball.  I’m not sure why, but Pres Bell has really taken a shine to pickleball and is playing it in different parts of the mission when he is out and about.  It was a fun diversion.  Elder Cobia is in Columbia, Missouri and needs his COVID test kit in preparation for travel to Brazil.  I had sort of hoped that the housing assistants, or the Evertons, or someone else might be heading that way, but no good carrier alternatives presented themselves.  So I drove the kit out there myself, listening to Come Follow Me discussions, swapping out some broken vacuums in Columbia Zone, and picking up post office keys in Warrenton, along the way.  It is debatable whether I saved resources driving out there, because the money I spent in time and expenses couldn’t have been much less than the $100 or so that the church would have spent in extra fees to get a rapid COVID test done for Elder Cobia the day before departure, rather than sending the test kit to Salt Lake for analysis.  Oh, well.  It seemed like the right thing to do.  Back at the office, Sis Hatfield was busy helping Elder Rust answer a criminal background questionnaire as a part of his visa application to Spain.  Technical questions are difficult in your own language, much less a foreign language in a much different legal culture.  We ended the night with family home evening at our apartment with the Evertons and Jacobs viewing and discussing Elder Holland’s talk, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You,” part of the theme for mission-wide zone conference on Thursday.  Pres Bell is much like the Prophet Joshua of old, urging his missionaries, or the children of Israel, to sanctify themselves, so that miracles can be part of the work. 

Tuesday, July 13th was a capstone of sorts in our work in the Pagedale Branch.  More than a year ago, Sis Hatfield and I had the blessing of helping Sherrie Cullen prepare to enter the temple to make covenants with the Lord.  Today, we joined Sherrie and her husband Dan Thomas to witness their family sealings.  Not baptismal covenants that missionaries everywhere seek, but still covenants in white, and a joy to be a part of.  That evening we had dinner with the Nehrings, the Temple Recorder and his wife that we have become friends with.  Sis Nehring has assembled a quilting machine in her basement, and Sis Hatfield took her a pieced top to quilt.  Bro Nehring has his own artisan skills:  he demonstrated how to spin wool into yarn, comb flax on a heckle, and some other formerly common but now widely forgotten arts.

Wednesday, July 14th was a travel day to the Champaign Zone.  We stopped in Tuscola to deliver a table, fix a faucet that sprayed a stream across the kitchen, and take pictures of a common entry storm door barely hanging on its hinges so I could show them to the absentee landlord.  We went to Rantoul to help dispose of an unwanted couch, and listen to Elder Buckley’s long list of items for fixing.  Elder Buckley is a fine missionary with some OCD that I have come to appreciate, because so many missionaries are sloven, but which needs managing back towards the middle way all the same.  We will do what we can to channel his zeal for order and cleanliness.  On the return trip, I remembered that the Effingham apartment has maybe the most uncomfortable couch in the mission, covered with some sort of cloth that cannot be permitted to touch skin.  Realizing that Elder Buckley’s castoff couch was quite comfortable by mission standards, I steered our trip to Effingham to swap the couches.  Everything seemed to be going according to Hoyle, until the housing assistants picked up the reject and realized it was a very heavy hide-a-bed couch.  And it did not fit down the stairwell and through the door without turning it sideways.  After making the heroic effort to turn it midair,  the couch springs were now in position to fling the bed open, launching the couch feet into the opposite wall, making four holes in the sheetrock.  Elder Nielsen had to crawl like a miner in a narrow shaft to heave the bed back into the mouth of the couch sufficiently to wrestle it out the door.  I will be bringing the wall repair bucket back next trip to Effingham. 

Thursday, July 15th was a day of fasting.  Most of the mission opened our fast with a video meeting where Pres Bell gave an inspiring message about “finding the one.”  Then companionships planned how they would spend their afternoon finding, with the goal of finding one new person to teach.  Sis Hatfield drove out to the Parkway area and worked with Sisters Johnson and Drake and Sisters Bevins and Nguyen.  I went to the Pagedale area and worked with Elders Oviatt, Anderson, and Cobia.  Sis Hatfield and I both spent some time with our young missionaries at parks, talking to anyone and everyone.  After an hour of that, the elders and I went into a nearby neighborhood and looked up former contacts and anyone we could find.  Our success was in the effort more than in the fruits of our finding.  Sis Hatfield had basically the same experience.  One benefit the Parkway sisters received was Sis Hatfield seeing first hand what it was like for one of the companionships to be without a car and carrying bikes up three flights of stairs in a busy commercial area with few shoulders on the roads.  She will be a strong advocate for change for them!  At 5 pm the mission reconvened on video and shared some of the miracles experienced this afternoon finding new persons to teach.  The number was about 77 new friends taught with followup appointments, about double what is usually found in a week.  Sacrifice and consecration brings blessings, even if the blessing is the peace of knowing you did what you were asked to do.  Pres Bell closed the meeting with some instruction, including relating the story of Joshua Chamberlain, one of the heroes of the battle of Gettysburg.  Commanding a crucial flank, which the Confederates were charging, and running low on ammunition, he ordered bayonets affixed and a foot charge, repelling the Confederates and perhaps changing the course of the war.  And it doesn’t take much thought to imagine how the US and even the world would have been different if the Confederates had been able to march on Washington, DC after Gettysburg.  Our solitary efforts can have a “butterfly effect,” creating results so much bigger than could possibly be expected.  What a great lesson for the missionaries.  Later that evening, Sis Hatfield helped Elder Cobia, freshly arrived in St Louis from his teaching area in Columbia, finish his travel documents for his reassignment to Sao Paulo, Brazil.  His test kit was successfully received in Salt Lake, and all his forms are now complete.  He is ready to go.

On Friday, July 16th while Sis Hatfield worked at the office I met Elder Luke Cobia at the APs apartment and took him to the airport.   He is a bright young man, but clearly nervous. And why wouldn’t he be.  He is traveling alone, his Portuguese is weak, his dietary sensitivities are real, and his emotions are slightly unstable.  But he is dedicated.  He is obedient.  And he has testimony.  As I took a final picture and pointed the way to the TSA security line, he put out his hand, which I brushed off, insisting on a hug.  He embraced me fiercely, nearly in tears.  Off he went.  What a consecrated, brave young man.  It is an honor to serve these young missionaries.  I went back to the apartment and took off my suit and put on my “work” clothes—short sleeve white shirt, tie, sturdier pants, and worn leather shoes.  The housing assistants and I went to Farmington South to clean out.  We took out a pickup truck full of debris accumulated in closets, under beds, behind couches, and who knows where.  At least we can see the floor in most rooms so cleaning will be possible another time.  Getting back to the office, the systems were finally working (after a frustrating failure this morning) so that I could print a check to replace a lost mailed rent check.  Stepping into Elder Jacob's shoes while he is traveling in Utah, I take the time to print it and drive it to the landlord.  Fortunately, they are in the greater STL area.  We do what we can to preserve goodwill, and avoid eviction notices! 

Saturday, July 17th.  Sis Hatfield and I have been hoping for an opportunity to work at the Greenwood Cemetery for almost two years.  The mission has been supplying manpower for about 4 years there, helping clear trees, shrubs, grass, and trash that has covered an abandoned nineteenth century african-american  cemetery.  It has become the life's work of Rafael and Shelly Morris in their retirement age, a wonderful couple who are sacrificing their time and treasure for the cause.  They gave us a personal tour of the area, which is about 40 percent cleared, but even that needs constant reattention to keep from quickly being overgrown again.  Shelly is doing what she can to index the grave markers, some of which are in rough shape.  These people are saints of a rare breed.  What they need is an endowment to keep this work going.  Sis Hatfield and I strolled through historic Kirkwood, Missouri during the evening.  It has a farmers market, train station, shops, and cafes.  My personal favorite is the wood reclamation shop that specializes in repurposing old boards, doors, hardware, and other antique materials into beautifully  but gently crafted furniture, siding, and decorations.  One item is a metal skyline of St Louis mounted on a weathered board.  We thought it would be lovely to get one for Pres and Sis Bell.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

4-10 July 2021 Fireworks Under the Arch

Sunday, July 4th, Independence Day.  I suppose that it was fitting that on this day of celebrating freedom, a stranger joined our testimony meeting and denounced the LDS faith.  Perhaps Pres Fingal had an inkling of what was coming, because he rose and whispered something in the stranger’s ear before he began.  He was very articulate, and clearly smart, quoting multiple passages from the Bible.  His thesis wasn’t altogether clear, but it seemed to be that the Book of Mormon and the LDS faith in general were false because of the notion that mankind somehow contributes to its salvation by our works.  He had a few other daggers, like Mormon wives being chained to pregnancy for eternity.  I was not sure what should be done in response, because of his shotgun attack.  Sis Hatfield was.  When the stranger finally sat down, Sis Hatfield rose and bore her powerful testimony and summarized Elder Lawrence Corbridge classic talk, Standing Forever, addressing attacks on our faith, which can be analyzed as primary questions or secondary questions, the latter being endless, and insufficient to overcome testimony of the primary questions:  we are children of a Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ is His Son and our Savior, Joseph Smith was His prophet, and the Church is the Kingdom of God on earth.  Knowing this, all other questions are interesting, and often important, but not necessary to our faith.  Was it coincidence that Sis Hatfield and I had verbally reviewed that very talk while we drove to church just minutes before?  Then Bro Nehring, the temple recorder, and Bro Fuller, the ward mission leader bore their own powerful witnesses, and all was well.  No one directly said that the stranger was wrong, but the firm testimonies overcame the strange spirit left by our guest. 

 We had Sunday dinner to welcome our new neighbor and sister training leader, Sister Hannah Dellenbach.  She is delightful, and full of positive, cheery energy.  She together with Sister Annika Peterson will be a powerful force for good in the St Louis zone.  We left home about 8:30 pm to pick up President Bell, Sister Bell, and Zander.  We were taking them downtown to the Arch in hopes of watching the fireworks there.  Our preparations helped, because we found parking without too much trouble, and worked our way with the rivers of people towards the grassy hill of the national park.  We squeezed into an opening and spread our (moving) blanket and had a wonderful view of the aerial spectacle.  There are some great places to watch Fourth of July fireworks in the United States, but beneath the Gateway Arch in St Louis must be among the best.  The brilliant display was framed by the giant structure as the booms and flashes reverberated off of the highrise buildings behind us.  It was spectacular. 

 Monday, July 5th was our first attendance at a zone p-day.  Once a transfer, each zone will get together for a larger group activity.  This day, the Hazelwood zone gathered at a park in St Charles for field games.  Sis Hatfield and I played our first games of spike ball, a sort of volleyball played off of a round bouncy net near the ground.  We watched games of volleyball and visited with missionaries in an environment we don’t usually see them in—recreation.  Then we snuck off to the store to buy water, oranges, and some other snacks while the zone played a large game of Frisbee soccer.  The weather was warm and sunny, and we finally headed back to our apartment to clean up before staffing the office for the afternoon. 

 Tuesday, July 6th began with an early morning game of pickleball at the tennis court with Elders Lambson and Aspinall, the assistants to the President.  Elder Aspinall showed himself to be a fast student of the game, athletic, and with great hand eye coordination.  Later, I headed to Edwardsville, Illinois to meet Brother and Sister Brothers, newly called stake housing inspectors to work in the O’Fallon zone.  I provided them training and some lists and forms.  They will be a great help keeping track of the 10 apartments in this southern most of our Illinois zones, which stretches the breadth of southern Illinois.  Then we stopped into the recently vacated senior missionary apartment in Fairview Heights, and made a few preparations for new senior missionaries anticipated to move in next month.  It is odd to have a empty missionary apartment that does not scream out for cleaning and decluttering.  I had to pinch myself. 

After returning from St Louis Hills to the office, Sis Hatfield showed me what was on her desk.  She had received from the missionary department a box of phones and Verizon SIM cards to be distributed to the areas with the greatest connectivity issues.  Well, the areas with the greatest issues still outstanding.  We have already breached later-made rules by getting wifi installed months ago in a few apartments that were completely disconnected during the Pandemic.  The rules required that if the standard AT&T cell coverage did not work in an area, that T-Mobile be tried.  Having tried T-Mobile without any improvement anywhere, the next offered fix was the present solution of a Verizon phone to be used as a hotspot for the companionship’s phones.  It is true that Verizon is reputedly best coverage in the nation, but it is pretty rural and hilly here.  And carrying around a third phone seems clunky.  And the church will not activate the phones until they are all distributed to the problem areas and set up with the complicated instructions provided.  We will see how this goes.  Sis Hatfield seems to have a perpetual, nearly fulltime work in trying to keep the missionaries connected so they can do their work!

Wednesday, July 7th.  Still trying to finish a few things for the sisters newly moved in Warrenton, Missouri, I headed out to the post office to show them the lease, ID, and pay a $40 fee to get keys to the apartment mail box.  This is the first time I have had to do that to get mail keys.  I also delivered a Verizon phone and SIM card on behalf of Sis Hatfield because the connectivity in Warrenton is very poor.  Then I headed south with the housing assistants to Parkway 2d out in Chesterfield to fix a couch that had a missing leg (how does that happen?), get a beeping smoke alarm settled down, and while unplanned, have a vacuum intervention.  Vacuums can only be stuffed so full until they don’t work anymore.  Then we headed further south to Rockwood 2d to take down a tri because Sis Dellenbach had moved up to Lindell to be an STL, taking Sis Miller’s place after she departed for Brazil last week.  As is becoming a pattern, we also took a Verizon phone that Sis Hatfield needed delivered to the Rockwood sisters.  Then we headed still further south to Sandy Creek, a rural community for sure, and delivered a blender, night stand, hung a towel rack, delivered mail for one of the new elders from his home.  He opened it while we were there and showed us a magic trick or two from the newly arrived bag of tricks.  We all have different talents, don’t we?  One of the elders mildly complained that water on the sink counter was pooling in a corner because it wasn’t level.  I told him not to worry about the somewhat unlevel counter.  His concern should be keeping the water in the sink, or wiping up what gets out.  I don’t think that has occurred to him. 

Thursday, July 8th was a travel day, and we wanted to be back in time for a dinner appointment that the elders had with a member.  So we headed out fairly early for the Cape Girardeau zone.    The first destination was Farmington, where three sisters are pretty much squished into a one bedroom apartment.  To help, we were bringing a reading chair and shelves for the bathroom, as well as repairing a laundry door.  There was sticky syrup left on the counter after breakfast since the sisters had to hurry off to exchanges.  Trying to wipe things up a bit, I got squirted by the broken sink sprayer when I turned on the kitchen faucet.  Joke’s on me!  I’m going to call this one in to the landlord.  We left Farmington and drove south to Fredericktown, where a branch had formerly been meeting, but has been realigned and absorbed by Farmington and Sikeston.  I hadn’t seen it before, but the church building in Fredericktown is still maintained and with its signage prominent along the main road.  It is actually a beautiful, smallish building, clearly with an architectural style not originating in Salt Lake.  I wonder what the Church intends to do with the property? 

It is such a beautiful drive between Fredericktown and the City of Cape Girardeau.  The forested, rolling hills are lush, with some meadows carved out for some of the few cattle ranches I’ve seen in eastern Missouri.  The stretch across the edge of the Ozarks seems almost like time has passed it by.  There is one dwelling that I have noticed a few times that catches my eye.  There, I can imagine old Uncle Jeb rocking on the porch, shotgun across his lap.  I haven’t dared stop to knock and find out for sure.  In Cape Girardeau we have three apartments in one complex, and the goal here is to find HVAC filters.  None of the missionaries nor the stake housing inspector has been able to find them.  It is a bit of a challenge, which the housing elders have solved almost before I can run in out of the driving rain to have a look for myself.  We discover and work on miscellaneous other problems.  One was a washer that would not wash with warm water.  Turns out the supply hoses were installed backwards and the missionaries had not thought to see if the cold might actually be warm.  While driving home, Sis Hatfield has not been answered one too many times by Dee Marche.  So Sis Hatfield drives to Dee’s home to investigate.  She finds Dee feeling marginally well, but not in the mood to answer our phone calls lately.  Sis Hatfield makes an appointment to come back on Saturday so that she and I can look at Dee’s car AC and hopefully go out to dinner together.  The idea has been on the calendar for weeks.  We’ll see if we can actually make it a date.

Friday, July 9th ended with Sis Hatfield and I eating a little ice cream along with a mostly much younger crowd on outside benches down in Chesterfield.  As we sat there, Mother Nature was putting on a terrific lightning show to the north, the direction of our apartment.  It was awesome, at least at that vantage point, with delicious ice cream.  When our treat was gone and it was time to head for home, we recognized that the storm had not passed, but there really didn’t seem like anything else to do but make a run for it.  As we drove farther and farther north, the light rain turned into a down pour, and finally into a Midwest hail storm.  The noise on our car roof was deafening.  Cars were pulled over with hazard lights on.  But pulling over made no sense to me, because of the continued exposure to hail that the national weather service was warning would injure animals and people.  Indeed, we got a picture of a two in piece of hail from Elder Reeder, one of our neighbors.  We swerved into our carport, hoping our car had not been damaged, and dashed for our door, hoping we would not be damaged.  We settled down inside to a gale wind, lightning, and torrential rain. 

Saturday, July 10th was a bit of a wreck in the wake of the storm.  The power had gone out—for the 2nd time this month.  It is fortunate for us that the plumbing requires no electricity.  But it does upset the routines, so we felt a bit discombobulated.  With the power still out, we went to the temple to attend the Pagedale Branch’s proxy baptism appointment.  We had hesitated, not wanting to crowd out members who might want to go from our little branch.  As it turns out, it was a good thing we went.  There were only two other couples with us, the Cullen-Thomases, who organized the event as married relief society president and elders quorum president of our age and stage, and a brand new young couple who had just arrived to the area.  We were rather needed to keep the witnessing and recording going, as well as acting as proxy.  It is always a sweet, peaceful feeling to be at the temple.  Afterwards, we stopped into a local Asian noodle bar near our apartment for some excellent ramen and lo mein.  The warmth was welcome because the storm was still raging.  If only there was some way to redirect some of this moisture to the parched west.  We got some takeout to share our bounty with Dee and Charles Marche.  In addition to dropping off food, Sis Hatfield and I recharged Dee’s car’s AC, something she had indicated she was advised she needed to make her AC function, but which she could not afford.  So we invested in a $35 can of refrigerant and some YouTube training.  We successfully got the AC to drop from 85 to 54 degrees, which seemed like a victory.  I hope it holds.  Later that night, Sis Hatfield got two calls.  One, to conduct primary in the absence of all the other primary leaders and teachers being ill or traveling, and two, to play the organ for sacrament meeting.  Her talents throttle is on full here.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

27 June -3 July 2021 Spiritual Legacy of the Pioneers

Sunday, June 27th was a two loaf day.  We have invited our entire district of 11 to our home for dinner.  So I made two loaves of bread, and Sis Hatfield made three pans of her homemade macaroni and cheese.  But first I had to earn those calories.  I did so at church, because Silas came today and was not sitting still.  His mother gathered him up off of the rostrum a few times in sacrament meeting, and in primary, I chased him around rooms, down hallways, and up the stairs a few times.  Finally, we figured out how to barricade the primary room door so he couldn’t get out.  We were in the presence of the rest of the primary, but not participating.   Drawing on the chalkboard seemed to be the only activity that held his attention for more than a moment.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was working in nursery.  We hope that we are not indelibly impressing a negative association for us with the young primary members we are wrangling.  Visiting Annie Stewart, we showed her most of the proceedings at the joint CJCLDS-NAACP-UNCF event where it was announced that the church would provide scholarships and other funding to support education with these organizations that the church has partnered with in recent years.  The talks of the NAACP leadership was invigorating.  Our black brothers and sisters certainly know how to preach and sing. 

We measured, chopped, stirred, baked, and set the table a good part of the afternoon.  But the outcome was delicious.  Sis Hatfield’s macaroni and cheese is second to none.  The young missionaries’ dessert didn’t really materialize, so we pulled out the backup ice cream we had, adding one more layer of creamy deliciousness to the meal.  But the effort was well worth it.  The young missionaries felt our love and support for them, and them for us.  Elder Winn most of all knew he mattered to us because we had gluten and diary free analogs to everything we served.  We finished our district meal and then settled in to watch Elder and Sis Christofferson’s fireside from Salt Lake to the Missouri St Louis Mission.  Sis Christofferson is Elder Jacob’s first cousin, so I guess it was hard for them to say no.  And it was uplifting.  Their teachings and advice was full of love and spirit.  They answered questions posed by the missionaries, and even answered a few more in writing after the fireside after time ran out on our video conference.  Elder Christofferson made us all feel like extensions to the work of the Apostles to fulfill the Great Commission.  Everyone basked in the glow of the testimony of a living apostle. 

Monday, June 28th required that we dump out empty flower pots sitting on our deck for the second time in two days.  We’ve had to take the flowers out of their decorative pots to try to help them drain, recognizing that they were struggling with all the rain.  And it is a good thing we did, because the empty pots have been filling to the brim each day.  The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for the Missouri River.  We ended the day with family home evening at the Jacob home.  We shared our thoughts coming out of the Christofferson fireside.  Then we had an eclectic selection of appetizers and desserts brought together to finish off the evening.  We were fortunate to meet Annie, an Everton daughter that was in town who shared the evening with us.  She is delightful and brought a welcome freshness to our discussion. 

On Tuesday, June 29th the housing assistants and I took apart some of the ceiling in President Bell’s office, secured chains on the interstitial framing, hung a hidden beam, fastened hooks, and installed a dropdown screen under the reinstalled ceiling.  His office is now ready for projection at either end of the room.  This is one of our contributions to bringing the mission technology forward.  Then we hand delivered the rent check to the sisters’ apartment in Weldon Spring, because the rent check there has been lost in the mail for two months running.  We are trying to earn back a little goodwill and let the USPS work itself out.  While we were in the area, we added a finish coat to the large hole in the living room in the Dardenne Creek apartment and replaced the badly leaking showerhead.  This apartment is looking quite a bit better after our recent attention.  Then we headed back to the sisters’ new apartment in Warrenton to bring some shelving, kitchen chairs, and a couch.  We were too late on the couch.  One of the sisters had spent $50 on a couch she found on Facebook Marketplace in self-help.  We also failed at the post office.  For some reason, the mail keys at this apartment require a $40 deposit at the post office, which I was prepared for, but they also require a copy of the lease, which I didn’t think to bring.  I’ll need to come back again sometime.  Ugh. 

Wednesday, June 30th was lithotripsy day for Elder Dailami.  It was time to fix his kidney stone problem that he has been suffering with for about six weeks now.  Hopefully, this treatment will work for him.  It didn’t work for me.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield and I attended our first district council meeting, held around the high council table at the St Louis stake center.  It was a bit of a reprise of our district council Sunday dinner.  Elder Oviatt does a great job leading the district in a humble but purposeful way.  As a bonus, Sister Nguyen brought authentic spring rolls to finish our meeting.  We are starting to feel a connection with our adopted young missionary district.  Back at the office, Sis Hatfield dived into her work, and I headed out to O’Fallon to retrieve keys for the Vela apartment and went over to inspect it.  Now that is the way an apartment should look when someone leaves it.  Elder Vela gave me a copy of his songs written and performed for his family.  It is a collection of old timey country music, with great instrumentation.  His voice is rich and strong.  A hidden talent I never saw performed in the mission.  The drive home was in a downpour, with many vehicles pulled off the side of the road, and everyone with their hazard flashers on.  When it rains here, it doesn’t hold back.  That night back at the office we prepared for MLC, new missionary training, and Sis Miller’s departure for Brazil until 10 pm.  Another full day in the MSLM.

Thursday, July 1st.  Today we broke some new ground by holding the mission leadership council meeting and the new missionary training meeting simultaneously.  Pres Bell has always preferred to have MLC on the first day of the month, where possible, to generate enthusiasm and momentum early each month.  It just so happens that the first of the month is also about the same time as we would typically have new missionary training, coming about two weeks after the new missionaries have arrived.  To save on mileage, which is becoming an increasingly big deal for the missionaries post-pandemic, since they find themselves wanting to go more places and do more things than they could a few short months ago, it was decided that MLC and NMT would be held at the same time and at the same place.  So while the Bells and the assistants carried on with the leadership council, Sis Hatfield and the staff conducted the first half of new missionary training.  The idea was to end MLC and NMT at the same time and feed them all lunch, which Sis Bell had planned and the staff would help carry out.  But as it happened, NMT stayed on schedule, and MLC went overtime by about 40 minutes, and so the lunch timing was awkward.  Oh, well.  The training was excellent in both meetings.  The staff members each had informative, personable presentations, delivered right on the time schedule.  Sis Hatfield had a particularly good message around the theme that these young missionaries are the spiritual legacy of the pioneers.  It is true:  whatever the genetic posterity of the pioneers, these young people are unmistakably the spiritual legacy of this dispensation’s early members.  And MLC, while not on schedule, had lots of involvement and presentations by the young missionaries themselves, which is a great way to emphasize learning.  By the time we had everything cleaned up and put away after lunch, the day was mostly spent.  I always overestimate the time that will be available after a lunch gathering.  What seems like should be wrapped up by 1 or 2 pm latest, almost always stretches to more like 3 pm or later, so there isn’t much left of the work day outside a evening at the office.  We also said goodbye today to Sister Linsay Miller, our young neighbor who finally has been able to go to her original assignment in Brazil.  We will miss her very much, but happy to share her spirit with the people of Brazil.  It was distressing however, that Elder Dailami, two days past his kidney stone procedure, admitted to being at an 8 on a pain scale of 10.  Hopefully, we will find a way to keep him comfortable for the next few days. 

Friday, July 2nd was a little wistful for me.  Spencer and his family moved into their new house today.  This is the first move he has had that I have not been there to play a role.  He has had the support of others, but it still is hard to not be there.  We must have faith that our family “[is] well; they are in [the Lord’s] hands, and [He] will do with them as seemeth [Him] good” (DC 100:1), as he promised to the early missionaries who left their immediate families for missions to spread the gospel.  I hung a beautiful, but slightly odd picture of Joseph, a very pregnant Mary, and a young shepherd and flock in Pres Bell’s office.  The art is not odd, but the selection for hanging in the office of the mission president is seemingly odd.  Pres Bell explained the deep meaning he takes from the everlasting companionship of a husband and wife toiling to give birth to a new generation, while the young shepherd does his work, oblivious to Mary and Joseph.  There is much for a missionary to think about in all of these threads of this beautiful art.  I took Elder Nielson and Elder Dailami with me to the apartment of San Carlos 2.  We went to reconnect a dryer vent hose, or so we thought.  It turned out we walked into a buzz saw.  Not only was the dryer vent hose unconnected, the hose did not vent to the outside, but into a plastic bucket.  That is to say, lint was sticking all over the ceiling and walls around the dryer.  More, we discovered a backed up kitchen sink, a missing blind, and door knobs missing on two doors, including the front door.  More, the elders had hung a heavy punching bag on the kitchen door way casing, warping and cracking the casing, and pulling the wood away from its calking.  These projects will take a few visits and some help from the landlord to solve. 

After working on all this, Elder Dailami was looking pale.  I had Elder Nielson stop at the convenience store for drinks, since we were out of water.  We had one more task to replace mattresses across town in the St Peters sister’s apartment, but I tried to keep Elder Dailami quiet while we finished our work.  We quit early and I sent the elders home with instructions to Elder Nielson to feed Elder Dailami and make him rest.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield discovered a beautiful park, Longview Farm.  It was acquired by the Town and Country township about 20 years ago when it was an operating horse farm with pastures, fences, barn, lake, and homestead.  The city has turned it into a peaceful, pastoral recreation site with walking paths, gardens, conference rooms, swings, therapeutic horse riding, and other amenities.  It is a popular setting for wedding pictures, and understandably so.  We finished the night with our latest new ice cream find:  Oberweis Dairy.  Elder Nielson has mentioned it to me before.  We liked it enough that we added yogurt and chocolate milk to our purchase after our ice cream cones. 

Saturday, July 3rd took us to the south St Louis neighborhood known as “the Hill.”  It is the Italian district, with red, white, and green strips popping up all over.  It is a wonderful combination of residences interspersed with small eateries, shops, and businesses.  We feasted on pasta at Mama’s, and walked to the local bocce club, the Imos piazza, a beautiful neighborhood park complete with gardens, fountains, and chess tables, all decorated with marble, from Italy, I assume.  It’s the epicenter of the Hill on Marconi Street with St. Ambrose Catholic Church on one corner, an Italian gelato shop which we tried with delight on another, and the slightly formal, but family friendly neighborhood piazza.   Naturally, the Hill is home to the St Louis-famous Imos pizza chain, and later I learned that baseball stars Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up there.  We finished our outing walking by other restaurants we dreamed of visiting sometime, and exploring some townhomes under construction, signaling the slow but sure gentrification of this gem of a neighborhood in St Louis.  On our way home we drove around the streets west of the St Louis Arch, reconnoitering how we might come and where we might park to trek to the Arch for fireworks tomorrow night, in what promises to be a crowded venue.