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.