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.