On Sunday, September 5th, I looked out the glass doors of the church building to see some police cars circling. Was there some trouble I was unaware of? When an officer came to the locked front door, I answered, and let him in. He was there to ask permission for the city to use our parking lot as a staging area for a community parade. I found Pres Nehring and made the introduction. Pres Nehring did not hesitate--of course, we would welcome the use of our parking lot for a community function. And hopefully the missionaries can introduce themselves to some new contacts. After church, Pres Nehring had the first missionary coordination meeting we had attended in our two years here. The stake has called sufficient members to attend and support the Pagedale Branch and one is now our branch mission leader. Hurray. Back at the office, Sis Hatfield is again trying to work on departing missionary papers without magenta printer toner. Did you know that the Delta logo is made with magenta toner? We found some workarounds and kept things moving. Later at the mission home we said our goodbyes to the young men and women who have completed their missions, including Elder Merrill and Sis Miner. We will miss our associations with these young people. Back at our apartment, we have dinner with the Jacobs and the housing assistants, afterwhich Sis Hatfield returns to the office and the balky printers to help Sis Ferney with her documentation to travel to Spain tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m fielding calls from the Elders, first from Tuscola, IL, and then from Paris, IL, both saying they have bedbugs. As the story comes out, I learn that they have been on exchanges at each other's apartments. How this started will probably not be known, but I talked them through the procedures for battling against bedbugs.
Monday, September 6th. You know that this is transfer week and we are working hard to be ready for a historic size group. I told the housing assistants that they would have no preparation day this week. It is part of the deal. We met early, ready to cover five apartments in three zones. Before we leave, we run into Elder Kimball, an AP, and he suggests we go to O’Fallon before we go to Sikeston, as we had planned. We are obedient, and head out. After we are done with our set up in O’Fallon, we turn the truck towards Arkansas, aiming to stop just short in Sikeston. After driving by the Budweiser plant, Elder Kimball calls back and says that Sikeston is now off the list. Well that is a relief. But no, they have substituted the tri in Sikeston with a tri in Paris, Illinois, a golf shot from the Indiana border. We turn the truck towards Indiana, and skip lunch to make up time. The President texted me and warned of more possible changes. It is hard to keep up with computer clicks for areas in the far corners of two states. We set up a new area in a second bedroom in San Carlos. I was disappointed to find the apartment poorly maintained. I find a piece of door casing missing, and hunt around to find the pieces, which I will try to glue together. My hunch is that it failed to support pullups, which it clearly was not built for. Back at the office that night, I took a careful look at the transfer board and saw three more changes, including a tri in San Carlos, not a second bedroom. So now we need to rearrange something we have just checked off the list. Sis Hatfield spends the evening helping an elder prepare for his trip to Mexico tomorrow for a visa interview. We are somewhat torn by the alternatives. We want the elder to return to us, but on the other hand, if he is successful in going to Mexico, Pres Bell will be relieved of the elder’s pining for a sister that went home not long ago. Such attractions are hard to completely avoid.
Tuesday, September 7th. I arrived at the office to two rent delinquency notices in my email box. This is frustrating. We work hard to keep accurate records and pay what is owed. But there are few months when something doesn’t go wrong. Lost or delayed mail, a missed adjustment, or software glitches. I called and emailed the managers to try to find out what the problems are, but they won’t respond. Double frustrating. We are off to Jefferson City to set up a new Riverview Columbia area. Sis Driver and Sis Limb received the news last night that Sis Driver is being transferred and they look numb. The HAs and I literally made the decisions for them about what furniture to put where and cleaned the spaces while they watched. One of the sisters had a blanket around her shoulders to cover her garment sleeves not close to covered by her top. Poor girl needs some TLC. I told her to call Sis Hatfield and I am sure she will. We hurried back to St Louis to be ready to pick up the 34 arriving missionaries. I was designated to meet two of those who were coming in at a separate terminal, 30 minutes apart. I found some parking and went in. It was not hard to spot the sister and then not long afterwards the elder as they walked through the arrivals gate. Neither did they have any problem spotting me. Suits, dresses, and nametags easily distinguish us from the crowds. Sis Hatfield meets the missionaries at the mission home to train on phones. That may sound simple, but with most having unfamiliar phones and downloading completely foreign internet protection software, the process is difficult, multiplied times 34. Sis Hatfield then return to the office for another late night transfer planning session.
On Wednesday, September 8th I finish Pres Bell’s video led workout Wednesday, and then hustle out to make room for some of the new sisters to join Sis Hatfield for bathroom time. Since I have plenty I can do at the office, I head there to print off transfer lists and prepare my new missionary orientation. I focus on Mormon 1:1-5 and the verb “observe” used multiple times by Mormon. Powers of observation and patterns of obedience--both meanings of the word observe--are talents we can nurture in our physical surroundings and in our spiritual natures. Sis Hatfield unexpectedly comes in to print itineraries for two missionaries departing for medical care with flights departing in the middle of transfers. The Evertons are assigned to peel out to take them to the airport.
At transfers, I said goodbye to Elder Kamran Dailami. He is a great man who has contributed much during his four months plus of service as a housing assistant. He has had a few challenging experiences that have smoothed some rough edges, but I love his quiet, can do attitude. I welcomed Elder Josiah Williams as the new housing assistant. I am already pretty well acquainted with Elder Williams because he served in the Pagedale branch with us last winter. He is a bit dazed as to what he has gotten himself into, but after I barked a few instructions to help sisters get their luggage across the parking lot and lifted into cars, he started fitting right into his new role. Sis Hatfield hurries back to the office to help missionaries get loaner phones, tracts, Books of Mormons, and 100 other things that they have forgotten to ask for before transfers. The HAs and I saddle up and head towards Jacksonville, Illinois, one of those late breaking area assignments. We had tried to get everything done in the Springfield zone last Saturday, knowing that it is hard to get to the far out areas on transfer day, but my plan did not work, except that we have worked hard enough to get everything else done so that we can take the five plus hours round trip to get to Jacksonville, where we will set up Sis Driver’s bed. So I have been to her apartment twice in two days in opposite corners of the mission. Even after the late in the day long road trip, I head back to the office to make updates to the church data base to reflect some of the transfer changes we have been implementing. Sis Hatfield, not surprisingly, is still at the office too, making appointments for new missionary interviews tomorrow. The MTC has forbidden contact with the new missionaries before they arrive in the field, so with a group this big, we are trying set up video interviews between the President and the new missionaries from their new areas around the mission.
Thursday, September 9th started with a bizarre request. It started out innocently, with a member asking Sis Hatfield for help from the missionaries to lift a piece of furniture. The member was referred to us by the temple secretary. Then as we tried to be helpful, the story unfolded in strange ways. The member was not from here, she was in Kentucky. She actually didn’t need the furniture lifted into her trailer, but stored overnight and then put in her trailer. The furniture was a very heavy, oversized mahogany chest complete with mirror back. The chest was a valuable antique. Pres Bell finally heard what we were being asked to do and tracked down the bishop that had offered our assistance in the first place and extricated us from the project. She didn’t need missionaries, she needed a moving and storage company! Pres Bell is really trying to keep the missionary service focus on community service, and less on member service, so that we can better fulfill our missionary purpose. If that weren’t enough, I fielded a call from a member in south St Louis with nothing good to say about her upstairs missionary neighbors--noisy, up late, sister visits, falling garbage, and on and on. It was almost too much to believe. The President decided he wanted to handle this one personally, and took the number of the member and the missionaries involved to try to get to the bottom of it.
Fast on the heels of the member call, I got an eviction notice over a $15 balance, which I promptly hand carried to the apartment office, speaking politely to the office staff there who had no control over the corporate collections policies. Then I got another delinquency notice of unpaid rent. After calling the manager several times, he finally emailed me back to explain that the notice was computer glitch caused by a power surge. Another apartment said we owed $715 including late fees. Our system shows we paid September rent by electronic transfer 7 days early. The manager said the notice was computer generated and should not have been sent; the accounting software had been slow to update the accounts. Finally, another apartment sent out a deficiency notice with late fees, but when I arrived at the manager’s office for other business and to ask about the rent payment with my checkbook in hand just in case, the staff said the check had actually arrived timely and they were reversing the late fees. No doubt the holiday and hurricane had used all the float we try to build into the check mailing schedule. This has been a bad month for rent payments.
Later the housing assistants and I drag out all the senior missionary mattresses we have been storing for two years now in hopes that seniors would sometime return. I am not sure whether the mattresses are in decent shape and we need to know. We fill up the storage alleyway setting up two kings and three queens, putting one queen in the discard pile for mildew stains. We give Sis Hatfield a look on a video chat, and she calls one of the arriving senior couples and I call another to let them know what we have available. I think we have what we need. We learn that we have been put on Facebook ad probation because of so called “uncontacted” referrals in the church system. They are deemed uncontacted no matter how many times a missionary has tried to contact, and no matter whether the referral lacks a name, phone number, or other contact information. We need to delete them to avoid the penalty. Here it is the day after transfers, and Sis Hatfield is working until 10 pm preparing for staff meeting tomorrow. The late nights are supposed to be before transfers.
Friday, September 10th was memorable because Elder Chris Jacob shared his last spiritual thought in a staff meeting. I will so miss his calm, cheerful influence, punctuated by faith steady as a rock. He always has a story, and can name drop general authorities with the best. Actually, his does more than drop names. He was responsible for getting Elder Christofferson, his cousin by marriage, to give a devotional just to our mission earlier this summer. I had persuaded Sis Hatfield to come with me to Washington, Missouri, to shop for the new sisters out there who had a list of household needs. I thought we would finish with dinner, and then come home. As it turned out, we (meaning, she) had to work a full day in the office first, so when we finally departed the office and drove the hour out there, we had to change the order of things. I showed off the Washington Walmart to Sis Hatfield while we picked out a shower curtain, bathmats, cookie pans, and other gifts for the sisters. Then we found a charming restaurant on the Missouri River waterfront in the historic part of town. We had a table with a view of the river. By now the sisters were done with their member visits, and so we met them at their apartment, gave them their goods, and took them out for ice cream. The place we wanted to go was closed, so we went to someplace that seemed sketchy, Moe’s Restaurant. There were Harleys parked outside, but having no options, we went in anyway. The motorbike riders turned out to be harmless septuagenarians that were buddies of Moe, chatting around a table. The server was interested in who we were so we had a good chat while we picked and ate our ice cream. By then, Moe had wandered over and introduced himself too. Maybe the ice cream wasn’t Washington’s best, but the new friends were keepers. The sisters had asked Sis Hatfield what she might recommend they do for service in this area new to them, and she was impressed to tell them that they should go see Moe and get his ideas for community service. I think we made a good connection tonight.
Saturday, September 11th. We had been preparing for a 911 day of service for months at the Greenwood Cemetery, planning to reclaim a section of the abandoned burial grounds. It was the first African-American cemetery in St Louis, started just after the Civil War, and the final resting place of such luminaries as Harriet Scott, wife of Dred Scott. It was abandoned 50 years ago and not tended for a long time. It was a complete jungle until Rafael Morris and his wife made it their personal mission to try to reclaim, in part because they suspected they had ancestors buried there. The missionaries have been providing labor on and off once or twice a week for about 4-5 years. Today, we had invited members and the community to join with the missionaries to make a major push. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, including a strong showing of missionaries from four zones in two shifts, we filled an entire box car sized dumpster and a dump truck with chips, plus another cuttings pile to fill the next dumpster or two. Gratefully, Elder Everton had successfully asked a member to donate his landscaping crew to operate the chipping equipment, tractor, and dump truck. Another member had brought his chain saw, and I rented one. Sis Hatfield kept the workforce organized and moving. Together, we made a serious dent in the jungle, and cleaned up a good section of the park that had been cleared but needed some serious trimming and pruning. Ironically, the young missionaries worked half day shifts, while the senior missionaries worked all day. We were exhausted, dehydrated, and filthy, but satisfied. It was a fit conclusion to our JustServe responsibilities in the mission.
On the way home, we invited Sherry Cullen, Dan Thomas, Marilyn Greene, and David Fingal to our apartment to dinner. Dan had said that David had never accepted an invitation for dinner with a branch member, to his knowledge, so not to be disappointed if David declined. He did not decline my invitation, to our delight. But the night would not end early. The Washington sisters, which we had just visited the day before, had locked themselves out of their apartment. Fortunately, I was able to track down the manager, and the maintenance man was in town. So I wasn’t obliged to drive out there again. The sisters however, were obliged to tip the maintenance man, at my suggestion. Then, the Highland, IL sisters had a carbon monoxide alarm going off. We worked through the process of getting the fire fighters out there to test, and to disable the alarm, which I will replace next week.