Sunday, August 29th started with an interesting twist. The missionaries called and asked if we could pick up JW Miller, a person they were teaching, and give him a ride to church. The problem was that Sis Hatfield needed to coordinate with the chorister and organize her organ accompaniments for the day, and be early to play the prelude. Our solution was to go early enough that I could drop Sis Hatfield off at the chapel to do her work and then go out to find JW. As I approached the street address, I was going down an overgrown lane in north St Louis in the cemetery district. I came to a massive brick archway and drove through, and I saw a large institutional building that had the appearance of an old psychiatric hospital, at least in my imagination. Sited between two large nineteenth century cemeteries well away from any traffic, homes, or commerce, it had the ingredients for a Stephen King tale. I went around the building and found that it was well maintained. I called the number for JW, and sure enough, he was waiting for me in the circle drive. I invited him to hop in and we were off. Sure enough, the building was an old hospital repurposed into subsidized housing, handsome from the outside at least, and brimming with architectural character. I’ve found that St Louis is pretty good at revitalizing old buildings that would be a shame to tear down.
It was a fifth Sunday meeting, and Branch Pres Nehring was leading a lesson on faith crises. It was raw, honest, and timely, it seems, with more than a few members either experiencing crisis or in a close relationship with someone that is. My takeaway was that the best antidote, maybe the only antidote, is a personal relationship with God. It was disappointing that after church, JW didn’t need to go home, a place I would like to have seen again, but instead needed to go to work at the downtown Sugar Fire, a favorite St Louis barbeque spot. At least it smelled good. Sis Hatfield and I stopped in to see Annie Stewart, who while home, is surely not at full physical or mental strength. It has been hard to see her deteriorate these past two years, but I guess that is to be expected in your 10th decade of life. Marcus, a greatgrandson we haven’t seen much until recently, seems to have brought some needed clear thinking care to Annie’s situation. Sis Everton brought over some carrot cake cookies made partly from ingredients she had borrowed from us for a recipe from Sis Dellenbach, a delightful STL now in our neighborhood. It seems that the missionaries are now collecting on Google Docs some simple, healthy recipes. Now that sounds like a good idea. We ended the day with departing missionary testimonies given mission-wide over Zoom. This is one of the experiences we will miss the most when this mission is complete. The young missionaries express such powerful, righteous thoughts and feelings that we have great hope for the future.
Monday, September 30th was a difficult morning, with Sis Hatfield wrestling with Elder Holland’s shared metaphor of building the Kingdom with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other. It is hurtful to many in the LGTB community, and on the other hand, completely unintended to hurt. RaDene finds herself defending Elder Holland against his critics, and defending the tender feelings of the LGTB community. I am proud of her balance and vision. Sis Hatfield had a long talk with Pres Bell on the subject, and I think they are both constructively expanding each other’s views. Coincidently, Elder Holland had a coordinating council priesthood leadership conference on Saturday so he is fresh in everyone’s thinking, even for those of us who are just getting second hand morsels.
Sis Hatfield gazed at the new missionary cards assembled by Sis Atkins, a young part time service missionary, on the arrival board. Yes, there are the 36 pictures of young missionaries, and the 4 senior couples . . . . Wait, FOUR senior couples? We have only received notice of three. What is going on here. Sis Atkins had gone about her work of assembling pictures of arriving missionaries completely unaware that the missionary department had not notified us of another couple, the Stewarts, arriving in early October. That is a big surprise. Pres Bell tells us that maybe they can serve as member leadership support missionaries in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a small city on the edge of the Ozarks near the Arkansas border. I’m in a bit of a panic. It is too late to be securing an apartment for a short eight weeks from now in a very tight housing market. I quickly begin looking on apartment rental search engines. I am finding nothing. And I mean nothing in the required timeframe. Not at any price, nor any configuration. I moan out loud, and Sis Hatfield suggests I call our current landlord down there. I dismiss the idea, believing the complex is completely full, but decide to call because maybe he knows of something not being advertised. To my amazement, not only does he have something available in October, but it is in the same complex as the young elders, and fully furnished to boot. Can this be possible? He sends a homemade video of the place, and while Sis Hatfield and I watch it, we agree it looks perfect. I call the landlord back and struggle to avoid saying “I’ll take it,” before I have even heard the rental rate. It feels like a miracle.
We end the day with office staff senior missionaries having FHE at the Everton apartment. We feel so gratified that they would host us and the Jacobs. More, they have thought of the activity. We will all share three things we will miss about our mission, three things we won’t miss, and three things we will do when we get home. I carried around a note card in my shirt pocket all day jotting down notes: Not missed 1) suit coat and tie tradition in the Missouri summer, 2) hot Missouri nights, and 3) dirty missionary kitchen and bathrooms. Missed 1) place to be each morning, 2) close association with young housing assistants, and 3) growth in relationship with RaDene. What I’ll do: 1) take grandkids out for ice cream; 2) celebrate Sis Hatfield’s 60th with style, and 3) help my Mom clean out Dad’s things. Good questions. Then they treated us to fresh bread and jams. Yum. Great FHE Evertons!
Wednesday, September 1st. We prepared lasagna, salad, and brownie sundaes for the 45+ mission leadership conference participants. I is a particular joy to serve them, because many have been in the mission for many months and we have watched them grow into disciples of Christ. Sis Hatfield had to hurry back to the office after the meal service because of pressing needs there. The rest of us missed her of course, and we didn’t get the cleanup done as quickly as I had planned a couple days ago when I had made a 2 pm appointment. But by 3 pm were were all done and I was back to the office. I had adjusted my appointment and asked Sis Hatfield to go across the street with me to look at the Sonesta extended stay hotel, one last alternative for putting up senior missionaries arriving before office training was finished and apartments become available. It costs about $20 a day more than our next choice, but I understand that the accommodations are easily worth the extra money. It doesn’t take long to confirm that decision, and so I make the reservations. Housing coordinator sometimes means hotel arranger. Afterwards, I ask the housing assistants to go with me to Target to buy 36 pillows for the incoming missionaries. It is still a few days away, but I have been burned by waiting too long a few times, assuming inventory would be adequate. And 36 pillows is no small purchase. In fact, we need the trailer to transport them. Target came through, having a huge supply of $4 pillows. I have thought that buying dozens of pillows is a decent missionary finding strategy. I get more questions about who we are and what we are doing when we have shopping carts stuffed and piled with pillows than just about any other time.
Thursday, September 2nd. Elder Grant Reader has been given eight leaf bags of clothing by a person who wondered if the Church could use them. Elder Reader accepted the donations, but has since recruited me to actually deal with them. It is hard to clothe missionaries from donated clothing--we have special needs. So we will take them to St Vincent dePaul, our favorite local charity. Today we have so much that I wonder if they are wincing at the bulk we are handing over. Sis Kinneman from the Parkway 1st ward down in Chesterfield has responded to Sis Bell’s request to the stake to help find furniture for senior missionaries. She has a table we went down to pick up. She is single, living in a charming neighborhood, with a fairytale backyard, with huge oak trees, a waterfall, and beautiful flower beds. She moved to St Louis to care for an ailing mother, but since her passing, she has been going it alone. We couldn’t take her offering and immediately run out, so we visited with her for a while, feeling of her spirit.
Next, we fulfilled Sis Bell’s request that we perform some service. A well to do member in the Frontenac ward, Sis Peterson, had a son whose Eagle project was to collect coats and shoes for Guardian Angels, an organization providing inner city first line of assistance. The son has passed away from cancer, but in his honor, Sis Peterson continues the charitable collections and donations to Guardian Angels every year. This year, the goods fill a bay in her garage. We stuff the mission trailer and truck full and head to south St Louis, wandering into some tough neighborhoods, following Sis Peterson’s Mercedes Benz convertible. The contrast in means was a bit shocking to see side by side. But we were happy for the education. Sis Hatfield has been in deep discussion with Pres Bell about LGBT+ policies and how the church’s language and position has shifted over the past 20 years. I am convinced that Sis Hatfield’s views are an important education for Pres Bell, and vice versa. Sis Hatfield and I drive downtown and pick up our brother in law Darryl Sheets, a Delta pilot who has a layover here tonight. We take him out for St Louis BBQ, and give him a driving tour of Page Avenue, which can be an eye full, and end showing him our modest Pagedale chapel. It went dark too quickly to show him much of Forest Park and its row of mansions, so I hope we haven’t damaged Darryl’s opinion of St Louis.
Friday, September 3rd was a bit awkward because Pres Bell declared that he and Sis Hatfield “are not in alignment” vis a vis their understandings of LGBT matters, including Elder Holland’s recent use of the trowel and musket metaphor that has hurt many in the LGBT community. Still, it is remarkable that Pres Bell and Sis Hatfield can not see eye to eye and maintain mutual respect. Sis Hatfield gave a beautiful spiritual thought, perhaps her last, at the beginning of staff meeting. She spoke of the qualities of each staff member and the important impact each has made on her as we have tumbled together in the river of our mission experience. She expounded on 2 Ne 25:23, testifying that this is the Lord’s work, “after all we can do.” Each of us has indeed given our all during this COVID mission, with all of its challenges. Planning for transfers next week was particularly challenging because there are so many physical and spiritual illnesses among the missionaries that it is uncertain who will be here to serve next week. After the staff meeting, Pres and Sis Bell closed themselves into the President’s office to seek inspiration to make area assignments so at least we can work our transfer preparations towards something. We took a dinner break with the three sister missionaries from Webster Grove North, Sis Miner, Sis Cummings, and Sis Hall. Sis Miner is a fountain of cheer and energy, and we are saying goodbye to her on Monday. She has completed her assignment which began 18 months ago as a church history missionary in Palmyra, giving the MSLM a virtual tour. It wasn’t our original plan, but we treated them to dinner at the local Thai restaurant, a setting that lent itself to talking about my first mission in Thailand and Sis Hatfield’s and my return visits since, following our love for that land. The sisters’ message to us was Pres Nelson’s five steps to increase faith, challenging us to lengthen our stride with respect to one of the steps. After dinner, we returned to the office for additional transfer planning until 10:30 pm. At least we haven’t been well after midnight this summer, as was required multiple times last year when we were still learning how to cope with COVID.
Saturday, September 4th was no P-day for us. I met the housing assistants early in the morning and departed with beds and desks for the Springfield and Champaign zones. We also took some bikes that would be needed by missionaries that would not have cars. The drive was in a downpour, slowing our progress. After setting up apartments in Springfield and Decatur, Pres Bell called, saying that he understood we were “out and about” in the Springfield zone, and that if it would help, he is considering another tri in Jacksonville, within the Springfield zone. Not having brought extra furniture, and with Jacksonville hours to the west, while we were now headed to the east, I thanked him for the information. My wheels started turning to figure out how we could possibly get back to Jacksonville in time for Sis Driver’s first night there, at least if the uncertain plan held. After stopping in Champaign and Urbana, we head for home. I have the feeling that the nice new bikes we dropped off for the arriving missionaries will never be theirs, because they are not here to claim them. Instead, they will be stuck with whatever the existing missionaries leave for them, I’m pretty sure. Nice things have a way of disappearing from empty areas. We don’t get home until late, but find Sis Hatfield still at the office. She is trying to finish the Harvester newsletter, but by some dumb luck, both production printers in the office have run out of magenta toner within a day of each other. Worse, our spare magenta cartridge turned out to be defective. She has had to resourcefully put the newsletter on a thumbdrive and take it to the print store. This will work for the newsletter, but whether we will be able to get all the rest of the departing papers ready for Sunday night is uncertain.