Thursday, October 21, 2021

10-16 October 2021 Fulfillment of Prophecy

Sunday, October 10th began with Pagedale branch council.  The branch has been invited by affiliates of the Urban League to join Grills for Glory.  Thinking that governments, schools, and other institutions are failing society, some pastors have conceived that churches, although marginalized by some, must step forward and help our neighborhoods unite and strengthen.  A group of churches are sponsoring Saturday barbeques, with donors providing grills and hotdogs.  Looking further down the road, the vision could expand to some community education and health clinic-type functions.  Both the Lindell ward and the Pagedale branch have strategic location value in St Louis city neighborhoods and have been asked to participate.  The St Louis stake will provide additional manpower if the Pagedale branch council wants to join.  Sis Hatfield is ready to buy return flights to help with the effort.  She is a community activist at heart.  In the branch council, we talked about Elder Anderson’s prophecy in conference:  “Christians who are not among our membership will welcome our role and our sure witness of Christ. Even those Christians who have viewed us with skepticism will embrace us as friends. In these coming days, we will be called by the name of Jesus Christ.”  And so we witnessed a partial fulfillment of that prophecy in Pagedale.  

Our friend Dee Marche has taken another fall, this time in her kitchen.  Still she invited us in and accepted Sis Hatfield's suggestion that she receive the sacrament, which I administered to her.  We will miss Dee’s indomitable spirit, and I suspect she will miss our constancy in friendship.  Annie Stewart’s door was closed, and no one answered.   We provided Sunday dinner for the Pagedale district elders, all 9 of them.  Our participation in our district has been all too minimal this transfer, but we don’t often miss our tradition of Sunday group dinners.  Together with the departing young missionaries, we bore our testimonies over Zoom to the mission.  We were delighted that Sis Hatfield’s Mom was able to join in for the whole meeting, and by a small miracle, my Mom joined in time to hear our testimonies and the concluding remarks of Pres and Sis Bell.  No doubt, our moms are the oldest missionary parents to join the departing missionary video testimony meeting.  

Monday, October 11th included a staff meeting out of the usual weekly sequence.  The Bells will be out of town at a mission presidents’ conference the rest of the week, so we wanted to try to go over some information with the new staff before we lose the Bells to the conference.  With transfers not until the 20th, and the staff still green, I fear that we may have provided too much too early to be of real help to them, although we don’t have lots of alternatives.  While Sis Hatfield stayed at the office providing training and doing the work of the mission, I went to Annie’s house, hoping to catch her.  She was at home, but very uncomfortable.  Her illness is non-specific so far as I can tell, but she is not well.  I sung to her, played some children’s bible videos, and listened to her longings for relief, if not in this life, in the next.  I successfully distracted her sufficiently that she was able to sing some old time gospel songs to me.  What a blessing.  

Tuesday, October 12th was unusual.  I took Pres and Sis Bell to the airport while Sis Hatfield saw their youngest son Ziggy off to school.  Presciently, the Pres said as he left that it might be an interesting week and he would lean on us while he was away.  It didn’t take long for that to come true.  We had a departing missionary temple trip planned for the afternoon.  It wasn’t until the President was at the airport that an elder called him to say he did not have a temple recommend.  The President called me and asked me to go back to his house and get in his car and find his temple recommend book.  He had given the elder a telephonic interview, and if I filled the recommend out, signed with President’s permission, and sent him a picture, he could authorize the recommend on his iPad at his layover in Chicago.  But of course, that would not be the end of it.  While preparing the first recommend, a second elder came to me and said he did not have a recommend.  I got him lined up to talk to the President at the layover, and started filling out a recommend for him.  In the 20 minutes the President had, he conducted another interview, and authorized both recommends that I had prepared for him.  Blessedly, Sis Hatfield and I accompanied the 14 departing missionaries to the temple as the witness couple.  We had felt sad that the Jacobs could not accompany a second session because the temple could not accommodate another session.  It was a tender mercy that Sis Jacob had run into Sis Hintze, the temple matron, who gave special permission for the Jacobs to exceed the limit and come with us.  After some picture taking outside the temple with these wonderful young missionaries, Sis Hatfield headed for the office, and I went to the mission home to greet the boys from school.  Zander was excited to show me his pumpkin, which he wanted to carve.  I helped him pick a scary pattern, carved it, and put in a candle and took pictures.  Sis Hatfield had sent me with her family-famous hamburger soup for dinner.  Then Ziggy and I headed for basketball tryouts at the Baptist church, followed immediately by soccer practice at the recreation center.  I remembered to bring the folding chair, and it all felt familiar, even sitting there in white shirt and tie.  Sis Hatfield stayed at the office until 10 pm working on concerns the new office secretaries are having with their duties.  It wouldn't be easy for anyone to fill RaDene’s shoes, and especially not easy for seniors with little to no office computer background.

Wednesday, October 13th was a role reversal.  Pres Bell dutifully led Wednesday workout from the side of his cramped quarters in a hotel room, while I was in the spacious mission home basement.  Sis Hatfield saw that Zander was ready for school and on the bus, while I prepared for a trip to Jefferson City to replace a lost rent check.  While there, the clouds were ominous.  And in the moments it took to turn in the rent, the heavens opened.  Elder Sapp and I ran across the parking lot to the truck, but when we got there, the young elders had walked over to see the missionary apartment, locking the truck as they should have.  But as a result, we were stranded in the rain, and realized we had to run back across the parking lot to the office, and then after the elders finally ran back and opened the truck, we had to run again.  We were soaked to the bone.  My neck band and waist band being thick, they did not dry out the rest of the day.  In the Highlands area, Elder Sapp and I paused our work long enough to have the missionaries teach us a brief, powerful lesson on the Living Christ.  In Columbia, I could not figure out why there was a couch stacked on top of two square overstuffed chairs.  The elders were not there, and their eventual text responses were vague.  Finally we talked, and they admitted that no one had told them that they couldn’t have a double decker couch, and they liked it.  I told them that they should consider themselves told that the furniture needed to be on the floor.  In Smithton Ridge, foundation shifting had pushed an exterior door frame out of plumb so it didn’t latch or lock.  We shimmed the hinges, adjusted the bolt catch plate, and the sisters felt safe once again.  We made two other stops, including in far north Macon where I confiscated a spray painted sheet hanging on the living room wall declaring “Jesus Lives.”  True, but not appropriately communicated.  Being gone on a long trip, Sis Hatfield had Zander duty, and not surprisingly, when I got to the office at 9 pm they were in the office together.  I relieved Sis Hatfield and took Ziggy home for bed.  

Thursday, October 14th began in a panic when Dossan overslept, missing seminary.  Sis Hatfield peeled him an orange and sent him off while I looked for Zander.  I couldn’t find him anywhere.  Finally, I found him in his parents’ bed under the pillows, pranking me.  At the office, I got a crazy message from some missionaries in Denver saying a payment was past due.  They had received an email to that effect.  I checked with the manager of the apartments where I suspected the problem might be, and figured out that the billing service had been sending bills to missionaries in Colorado.  Who knows how that happens.  Meanwhile, I worked with the manager to try to get copies of the five bills and get the email corrected to the MSLM housing coordinator, which was not easy.  The manager in Mt Vernon, IL also reached out to say that the September bill had not been paid.  This is frustrating.  And more, a manager in Springfield said they would no longer accept checks and would not participate in the electronic funds transfer offered by the church.  That leaves payment by credit card as the last alternative, but that requires apartment web page portal access, which doesn’t work for us at this complex.  I’ll work with the manager to try to get that fixed.  It is frustrating how difficult it can be to pay bills that we are more than willing to pay if we just get notice and have a method.  I helped the housing assistants and Elder Sapp head out to the airport to take an elder bound for Guatemala and then go to the O’Fallon zone as part of an apartment search and to do some maintenance.  They are learning to work without me.  

Meanwhile, I went home and made dinner for the Bell boys and then Dossan was off to the temple to do proxy baptisms.  About 8 pm Pres Bell called.  Dossan had been in an accident.  No one was hurt, but the car was in bad shape and Dossan was shaken up.  It had been raining hard and steadily, and he had taken a turn too fast and hydroplaned into the curb.  The police were there when I arrived and directed me to Dossan.  He was emotional.  We worked through an after hours insurance claim which was particularly difficult without his parents who were in a small group meeting with Elder Gary Stevenson.  We sat in the car for 3.5 hours waiting for one tow truck and then another.  We were glad to finally get home that night.

Friday, October 15th.  I sat at the kitchen table with Dossan making calls to the insurance company, the tow company, and repair shops concerning the car he wrecked last night.  He is being admirably responsible about the situation.  Meanwhile, he has no transportation so his fall break from school will be close to home, I am sure.  At the office, the staff had an abbreviated meeting to prepare for transfers next week, even though we didn’t have the leadership of the Bells.  There are plenty of tasks for the new senior missionaries to try to become accustomed to.  In addition, a new couple of senior missionaries drove in from Colorado.  They will be heading down to Poplar Bluff, Missouri to serve in a member leadership support capacity.  They are missionary veterans, having served in France Leon previously.  After giving them the nickel tour of the office and trying our best to make them feel welcome, we handed them their apartment keys, an address, and a smoke alarm, together with a welcome basket Sis Bell had Sis Hatfield finish and give to them.  When I mentioned the contact information to sign up for the internet, the sister became very agitated that no one had done this for them, that they had to pay for internet, and that given that it was Friday they might be all weekend without connection.  She made such a scene as to be a bit of an embarrassment to her husband and to the office staff.  Too much stress in a new situation, I suppose.  Elder Sapp and I spent time searching for apartment candidates in Fairview Heights, Illinois.  We currently have one apartment, and recently we had two, that had two companionships living there.  We have learned that multiple companions in one location is a distraction from the work and from obedience.  We had family dinner at the Bells again that evening, which was fun and strange.  There was supposed to be a soccer game for Zander that night, but we didn’t get word of rain cancellation until we were well on our way.  As an alternative, Dossan told us about a covered driving range.  It seemed a fitting tribute to my Dad to golf a little on his birthday with Sis Hatfield and the boys, complete with a closest ball to the flag contest to choose the ice cream parlor afterwards.

Saturday, October 16th.  I was at the airport early in the morning to pick up the Bells from their mission presidents’ conference.  Then Sis Hatfield and I went to Costco to get supplies for the Greenwood Cemetery appreciation lunch for the missionaries.  The young people have worked twice a week, nearly every week, for four plus years, helping reclaim this abandoned 19th century African American cemetery.  We love Rafael and Shelly Morris, the selfless volunteer leaders of the project, and they love the missionaries.  We dressed up, ate soul food, and had a bit of a talent show, with each zone singing to the Morrises in honor of their diligence and sacrifice.  Even the office staff sang a little song written by Sis Everton.  Afterward saying our farewells, we went to see Annie, who we had missed on Sunday.  Still no answer at the door.  When we tracked down her great grandson by phone, predictably, we learned that Annie was in the hospital.  We had satisfying conversation with her great grandsons indicating that our visits to their great grandma have been appreciated by her and by them.  We decided we had a bit of time so we headed to the hospital.  I noticed the “high risk” flag at the top of her door.  Not good.  When I slipped into her room, she was sound asleep.  I stepped out into the hall and called Sis Hatfield and we agreed we shouldn’t wake her.  We will miss this simple, unassuming family. 

We had dinner with Rock and Joy Erekson and Paul and Patti Hintze, some of our dearest member friends from the mission, who generously treated us.  We will forever be grateful for their kindnesses and encouragement during our COVID mission.  We sincerely hope our paths cross again with these good people.  As a former branch president in Pagedale, Rock decided he would go back to the hospital with us to try to see Annie.  We took our turns going in, consistent with protocols.  She was alert and seemed much cheered to see us.  We are particularly glad that Rock had a chance to connect with her again and might have the ability to look in on her occasionally.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

3-9 October 2021 Come Unto Christ, and Don’t Come Alone

Sunday, October 3rd.  Pres Russell M. Nelson invited the saints to go into conference with questions and that the Spirit would provide answers.  My questions were predictable:  what next?  After two years of laser sharp purpose, what should I devote my time to afterwards?  I heard some answers.  Sis Cordon spoke this to my heart:  come unto Christ, but don’t come alone.  I felt the Spirit whispering to me that my work ought to include becoming a better disciple of Christ, but that I need to help my family become strengthened and converted too.  Pres Nelson’s address on temples being the place to center on the Rock of Christ was particularly meaningful to me too.  I admit that I have been a bit pessimistic and disappointed by the structural restrictions on temple attendance as a result of the appointment process.  But I am resolved to set aside my first thoughts about this and make the temple a frequent destination for me and as many of my family as I can invite to center on Christ through temple blessings.

We had invited the housing assistants, Elder Paulson and Elder Williams, to watch conference with us in our apartment on our TV screen.  Afterwards they helped us prepare dinner for the Winsors.  These new senior missionaries have the opportunity for great collegiality, it is clear.  They are all friendly, spiritual, wonderful servants of the Lord.  We ended our gathering with Amish butter pecan angel food cake, strawberries, and cream.  After everyone went home, Sis Hatfield headed into the office to work on office staff assignment lists.  She is doing the best she can to cover all the tasks and help divide them among the new senior missionaries so that the work gets done and the staff feels fulfilled and useful, but not overwhelmed.

Monday, October 4th began with a yoga class taught on video by Sis Driver out in Jacksonville, Illinois.  As it turned out, it was a private lesson for Sis Hatfield and me--we were the only participants.  It is just the right physical challenge for 6:45 in the morning, and Sis Driver is a good instructor.  I’m not sure why we didn’t have more folks joining, but I was glad we did.  Sis Driver is a young woman with lots of potential, but also some difficult circumstances, and is in need of some love and support.  Aren’t we all?  At the office, we had a 15 minute introduction to the office environment and our roles in it.  It is a landmark day that the Hatfields’ replacements are fully in the office now.  Elder Sapp got a little introduction of the importance of paying rent accurately and on time.  A manager in O’Fallon, Missouri called me to let me know that we had shorted the rent payment by $5.  No she answered me, she could not carry the small balance.  So we drove the probably $10 in gas to take my check for $5 in order to avoid a $150 late fee.  The manager was pleasant, but she had no flexibility to change her company rules about rent payments.  To make it a more than one stop trip, we dropped into the apartment in St Peters where we are working on the lease renewal but struggling a bit because of the obligatory online background checks for the missionaries.  The missionaries can’t get into the apartment portal.  But I persuaded the manager to give us paper forms for the sisters to fill out.  We also were alerted to the paperless rent payment requirements starting the first of the year.  I explained that we would be happy to deposit rents into the owner’s bank account--an electronic funds transfer.  The manager said that would work just fine.  I hope so.  More than once I’ve seen the local staff be wrong when it comes to the owner’s receivables policies.  We shall see.  But, at least, they offered to clean carpets in the apartment as a part of the renewal, something I wish everyone did.  We ended the night in the office sharing the rest of our Amish angel food cake with everyone else that stayed late tonight to work at their new responsibilities.  But as is common, after everyone had finally gone home, Sis Hatfield continued to work into the night preparing for the training planned for tomorrow.  Being a trainer is a bigger effort than just doing the work, that is for sure.  

Tuesday, October 5th began with setting up a “school room” in Pres Bell’s office.  Sis Hatfield has scheduled mission software training for the new office staff three times this week, beginning this morning.  In order to use the projector, and knowing that the President is out in the zones for missionary interviews most of the week, we are setting up rows of tables and chairs in his office.  Today, Sis Hatfield is teaching about the Google Drive, where many mission documents are kept nowadays, mission email on Outlook, and Facebook, including the Messenger feature, which is the regular way we communicate with missionaries online.  This is a high hurdle for 5 of the 6 new senior missionaries working in the office.  They have little experience with office software.  They sometimes struggle to log into their laptops with their own credentials.  We had a video inspection of an apartment in Illinois this afternoon.  On the way, Elder Sapp saw for the first time the Mississippi River, barge traffic, the Arch, Busch Stadium, and other landmarks of the St Louis area.  It is a bit of a wonder at first sight.  At the O’Fallon, IL apartment, the virtual inspection was nearly a failure for lack of connectivity between me and the apartment manager who has an office offsite.  We started and stopped the Facetime session a dozen times.  But finally, on a phone call, she said she “had enough.”  I wasn’t sure if it was enough of the technology snafus or visuals of the apartment.  We made a late trip back across the Mississippi and then the Missouri to St Charles to retrieve a washer dryer donation from a member that was was moving.  It turned into much more than anticipated.  We helped move until 10 pm, well past what I wanted Sis Sapp to experience as her husband’s second day as housing coordinator.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was back at the office after everyone else had gone home, trying to catch up on crucial work after a full day of training.  We are trying to come to peace with the truth that our levels of anxiousness and work ethic are not shared by everyone.  

Wednesday, October 6th.  This was Elder Sapp’s first long road trip in housing.  We went to Sandy Creek in the St Louis South zone to drop off some medical supplies and in the process discovered a linen back closet wall wet and covered with mold.  It seems to be leaking from the joint in the ceiling, so the upstairs apartment is probably the source.  The landlord heard from us about this and expects to come by tomorrow to address.  I wonder why the elders didn’t think it was important to address?  We also found a bedroom floor covered in game pieces from a game called Dark Souls.  I’m not sure that the President thinks this is the best bedtime diversion activity, so I took a picture to show him.  The housing coordinator is often the snitch of the mission.  We went through Cape Girardeau to drop off bikes to the sisters who drove up in their car to greet us.  I was a bit confused about that because of the scarcity of transportation in the mission.  I concluded that the bikes were probably for therapeutic purposes, since I knew one of the sisters was struggling emotionally.  Also strange, they planned to keep them on the elders’ ground floor patio, accessible only through the elders’ apartment, in order to avoid hauling them up and down stairs.  I’m not sure this has been thought through, but I’m only the delivery man in this arena.  We were then off to Poplar Bluff, one of our southern outposts, to see and hopefully lease a furnished apartment for the Stewarts, a new MLS senior couple arriving in the next week or so.  Greg West, the landlord, was a most interesting man.  Clearly self made, successful, entrepreneurial, full of opinions ranging from healthy living to a conservative brand of politics.  But he was good to us and we struck a deal.  Finding this place at all was a blessing indeed.  And it is only the next building over from the young missionaries.  We dropped in to see them, and in the process found significant settling cracks, moldy vents, a disconnected shower drain leaking through the living room ceiling, all of which are the landlord’s problem, and boards lag bolted to the second bedroom wall, which are clearly our problem.  I made a list.  We were home by 10:30.  Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield worked a similarly long day from her post in the office, tutoring Sis Sapp until she said uncle late afternoon, and then into the evening with Sis Winsor, and then solo thereafter.  Elder and Sis Sapp are getting the picture of the time involved in this mission.  

Thursday, October 7th was a virtual mission wide zone conference for the morning, featuring Pres Spencer Melby’s message on fasting and praying with members, teaching members Short Powerful & Frequent (SPF) lessons, in order to be present in the members’ lives.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  Then we had staff meeting that required chairs around all the walls in the Presidents’ office, much like a ward council meeting, with the Hatfields, Evertons, Jacobs, Saps, Winsors, and Bells.  That was a full office staff meeting.  Afterwards, we went to Balducci’s for dinner, sans the Bells, who are always overcommitted, to celebrate the transitions going on.  I’ve been telling Elder Jacob I would take him here for lunch for a year, but we haven’t got there.  Today is the day, with lots of guests, toasted raviolis, and St Louis style pizza.  

Friday, October 8th was another school day for the staff.  Today we trained on the church’s mission operating system, and included the assistants to the president so that we could all learn about how our work was intertwined, with cascading effects from one database to another.  We’ve had our share of trouble with seemingly small changes in one area of the system causing much trouble in another, mostly by enthusiastic, creative, and enterprising young missionaries not afraid to try things, and not knowing of the downstream effects.  For my part, I feel like Elder Sapp is starting to spread his wings.  I’m going to let him take the lead on the computer more and more, so he is learning by doing, not just watching.  In the afternoon, our job was to move the St Peters elders in the second bedroom of the St Charles elders so that the former apartment could be renovated.  In the process, we ran into a few unexpected stumbling blocks--a couch that for the life of me I don’t know how it got into the apartment, had to be sawed apart to get out, and an unapproved piano with names carved into it that now I had to figure out how to dispose of.  We carted off the couch pieces and piano for disposal at the stake center dumpster, and nearly filled the local apartment dumpster with lots of other clutter.  After I cleaned the refrigerator, we considered the move complete, and dropped off the keys and turned the utilities over to the landlord.  

Saturday, October 9th was spent in service to Sis Rose of the Pagedale branch.  The storage costs for her belongings were more than she could bear, so our branch president offered that she could store them in our branch garage.  That required cleaning out the garage as a preliminary matter, and then loading and moving in the stored goods.  It turned out that inner city folks are not often well practiced at driving, much less driving trucks, so I was nominated to drive the moving truck.  I was surprised that the storage unit was in north St Louis county, so the trip was substantial.  But I felt gratified that I was able to help move a poor widow on Saturday, after moving poor missionaries on Friday.  It's what I do.  

Sunday, October 3, 2021

26 September - 2 October 2021 Training in Earnest

 Sunday, September 26th.  After church, we realized that with general conference and stake conference in the near future, we have only two more Sundays participating in the Pagedale branch.  That is a wistful thought for sure.  We had a long, productive visit with Annie Stewart this afternoon, introducing her to Susan Bazoo, a member of the Pagedale branch and personal finance advisor.  Susan and her husband will transition into the ministering role with Annie that Sis Hatfield and I have filled this last couple of years.  Susan was able to quickly and professionally ask questions and assess Annie’s situation, taking a look at her fistful of papers.  Even more impressive than Susan’s prodigious skill was Annie’s memory and knowledge about her contacts, benefits, and financial arrangements, some of which are new, and some of which stretch back for decades.  I will be very fortunate to be so sharp and independent at 94, soon to be 95 years of age.  We next stopped into see Asfari (Dee) Marche to drop off a small gift.  We haven’t seen much of Dee for several weeks now, and have had a hard time connecting by phone.  It turns out that Dee had taken a bad fall and broken nine ribs and bumped her head in her own hallway, leaving herself with a concussion and prescription pain medicine.  She sat with us in the carport, and at some point mentioned that she should try to restart for the third time her attempt to make chili.  Picking up on that, Sis Hatfield volunteered us to go inside and help her.  I chopped onions while Sis Hatfield measured spices, browned hamburger, and added sauce and beans.  We left Dee with a simmering pot of chili on the stove.  We hosted dinner for the Sapps and the Evertons, missing the Jacobs for sure.  Wouldn’t you know it, it seems we are starting to find our social stride as the end of our mission draws near.  It has been a COVID mission indeed.  Pres Bell called and alerted us to changes in the St Louis and South St Louis stakes, where the new Union and Meramec wards have been formed.  This will be a challenging change to teaching areas, maps, names, and a host of data points.  

Monday, September 27th started with Pickleball at Schroeder Park.  It is a bit farther than where we have played recently, but the missionaries have started making some pickleball friends who pay at Schroeder.  That seems like a good reason to go to alternative courts.  Except for the missionaries, the players seem to be older folks.  But that may be a deceptive descriptor.  Age and treachery often overcome youth and vigor.  Elder Jacob has a badly hurt ankle and is staying home.  Apparently he tripped in his hallway at home and is practically immobile.  That is unfortunate, not only for Elder Jacob, but also because Elder Everton needs Elder Jacob’s tutoring as financial secretary.  By mid afternoon, Sis Sapp is struggling to stay awake, much less focus on the training.  Sis Hatfield and I are sure that the stress of new responsibilities, a strange home, and senior citizenship are all taking their toll.  We will need to adjust our pace of office work.  We had some gooey butter cake and berries left over from Sunday dinner and about dusk took them to Dee Marche.  She was asleep, but her significant other Charles thanked us for the treat.  It took him multiple keys and locks to get the door open, a bit of a reminder about what part of town Dee lives in here two blocks from the Pagedale building.  

On Tuesday, September 28th I took the Sapps with me to send off Elder Felix to Ecuador.  It will be important for the Sapps to know their way to and around the airport and the resourcefulness required to get the foreign assigned missionaries through the check-in process.  They watched as Elder Felix and I deflected several irrelevant questions from the ticket agent and steered her to what she really needed for a flight to Ecuador.  It must be frustrating to be working on procedures that are different for each nation and constantly changing for each of them.  Elder Sapp accompanied Elder Paulson and Elder Williams to the Missouri River North apartment to pick up bikes for missionaries sent last night to the Lake St Louis apartment on account of country reassignments shuffling.  First we got the bikes loaded, but then did our standard walk about the apartment.  We found several issues needing attention and repair, as well as food left on the counter and perishables in the refrigerator that won’t last until transfers when the missionaries come back.  So we spent a bit more time doing our housing work.  I had walked by the fireplace and was disappointed to see it overflowing with ashes, but thought I would ask the missionaries to clean it up.  Then Elder Williams reached down to pick up a five gallon bucket next to the hearth, and it cracked in his hand.  And cracked more in both his hands.  He couldn’t move it.  I intervened, sure that Elder Williams was handling this wrong.  But when I grabbed the bucket, I found that what was left of it was fused to the carpet.  It would not let go, so I cut it out of the carpet with a utility knife.  In the process, the carpet pulled up, and we saw that underneath the bucket, the heat had not only melted the carpet, but burned through the pad, and charred the subfloor.  I was stunned.  Clearly this could have been a catastrophe, had the apartment caught on fire, and then perhaps the entire apartment building.  I could not shake the disappointment, worry, and unsettled feelings for the rest of the day.  I’m afraid that when we caught up with the elders in Lake St Louis whose bikes we were transporting caught a stern lecture from me.  It was undeserved in the sense that they did not cause the damage, but deserved in the sense that they had failed to report what they surely must have observed in their apartment.  This event seems to be an excellent topic for Elder Sapp’s initial zone conference training next month.  

We made a stop in O’Fallon, MO East to repair the sisters’ vertical blinds and reattach a linen closet door with hinge screws that had stripped completely out.  Then we drove out to Warrenton to replace a microwave that had reportedly been infested by cockroaches, and while there conducted a HVAC filter demonstration, caulked some bothersome holes, and attached some weatherstipping that the sisters had bought hoping to keep pests out.  I think today Elder Sapp is getting a pretty good idea about the housing coordinator maintenance work I have tried to do.Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield has called church technical support for a computer issue.  The support workers made a problem into a complete crash of Sis Hatfield’s computer, and although escalated through multiple tiers of technicians, with promises to get it solved before the work shift ended, alas, they failed, and Sis Hatfield can’t do anything on the computer this evening.  Hopefully the technical staff will be expert in the morning.  At 9 pm we joined the Bell family Zoom call to observe Jaxson open his call to serve in the Georgia Atlanta Mission.  Pres and Sis Bell cried with equal measures of joy and longing.

Wednesday, September 29th.  Today we decided to divide and conquer.  I asked the housing assistants to head to the Springfield zone to pick up a broken washer and dryer and then to Champaign to fix blinds and deliver bikes.  Meanwhile, Elder Sapp and I drove down to Eureka to help oversee the installation of the first apartment internet arranged by the church.  It is an interesting partnership between the missionary department, physical facilities, and the internet service providers.  Sis Hatfield has been the catalyst to make this happen, and it is clear that her leadership is making installations here among the first in missionary apartments anywhere.  She is included in the email strings among all the people working on the project.  And we now have approval for 17 apartments where we have done the testing to demonstrate need.  We continue to help work out kinks.  For example, the installation in Eureka came without an order for a wifi router, the crucial last link between the internet and the missionaries’ phones.  But since we were there, we were able to persuade the technician to provide the router and Sis Hatfield will try to confirm that this is part of future orders initiated by the church to the service providers.  Back at the office, we continued training, Sis Sapp on baptism records and transferring missionaries, with the real time preparation of Elder Flake for reassignment to the Dominican Republic, and Elder Sapp on lease renewals, utility arrangements, insurance, and required record keeping.  They are exhausted and nearly overwhelmed.  Hopefully my recommendation for pizza at Dewey’s will renew and energize them.

Thursday, September 30th.  This morning we rode down to Farmington in the Cape Girardeau zone.  The purpose was to give the STLs there some relief from the extra furniture for the third missionary that went home.  Of course we helped with a variety of minor other needs while we were there.  Driving home, the heavens opened and the rain came in a torrent.  I will miss the midwestern thunder and rain.  We stopped at Dellwood Washer back in St Louis and introduced Elder Sapp to Mike, one of the key vendors for me the last 18 months.  It took me six months to find Mike, and those were difficult washer and dryer repair months.  Both Sis Hatfield and I went over responsibility lists with Elder and Sis Sapp today.  There are still a number of items that I haven’t done much to help with the knowledge transfer yet.  Sis Hatfield on the other hand is struggling to find the right set of responsibilities for Sis Sapp.  We could only guess at her skills and energy before she came.  Sis Sapp is not willing or able to continue the day’s work into the evening which we have done almost without fail for two years now.  And it is a weird feeling to know that doing the work after the Sapps have left hurts the training process a lot, so the best choice is to hold off and hope we can get to it tomorrow.

Friday, October 1st (What?  Did I just write October?) was a big day.  First up was to get the Sapps moved into their apartment.  I had planned to meet the housing assistants at 9 am to get a jump on loading furniture.  But first, I intended to print off the large check for the first month rent, deposit, and other fees in order to be ready to meet the manager at 10 am to sign the lease.   The software demons had other ideas, and although I had managed to go through the bureaucracy of getting a local check approved, this morning it would not print, regardless of how I tried.  We miss Elder Jacob now!  After 30 minutes I was exasperated, and decided to let the computer cool off and head over to storage and get the missionaries started with furniture loading.  Then I took Elder Sapp back to the office to try one more time, and finally, it worked.  I had the check, so we dashed off to the manager’s office.  We were late, but no one seemed to mind much, and we went through the lease and got all the papers signed.  The manager had failed to include a carport, but we caught that.  The good news was that manager told us the rent had been decreased by their owner from what the original offer had been.  So my first check was too big, but a credit balance for next month won’t hurt.  We met the housing assistants and started unloading things and hauling them up the stairs.  It isn’t perfect, but I think that the furniture choices we have set aside and the layout will work pretty well for the Sapps.  The HAs broke the desk loading it into the trailer, but with some glue and clamps in strategic places, no one will ever know, unless they try to move it again.  I brought along the last leather chair left over from Pres Bell’s office remodel, and I think it nicely rounds things out next to the desk.  Then we hustled to get ready for a office staff meeting, delayed by 30 minutes to finish the move in.  

At the staff meeting, I asked Elder Sapp to report on the burned floor next to the fireplace we had found in the Missouri River North apartment.  We all paused at the close call that was, the shortsightedness of the missionaries, and speculated who might be responsible.  We will do more investigation on that score, although it would seem the likely culprits are long home, leaving yet another puzzle as to why no one has thought to bring the obvious problem to my attention since then.  After the meeting, I encouraged Elder Sapp to let Sis Sapp driver herself home.  I knew she was anxious to do more work in her new apartment.  He obliged and stayed to do some office work with me for a while since we hadn’t had the chance to do that all day.  Finally, it was time for Sis Hatfield and I to head to the airport to pick up the Winsors, arriving in the MSLM from their MTC training.  The airport was a madhouse, but we finally connected and greeted each other warmly.  Sis Winsor will take the heart of Sis Hatfield’s mission secretary duties, and although I won’t get to work with Elder Winsor directly in housing as originally thought, he brings a jovial personality and some information technology skills that will welcomed by all.  After some dinner with the Winsors, we meet the HAs at the storage unit to retrieve a pickup load of boxes the Winsors have set aside for use during the three weeks they will be in the extended stay hotel and help them get all in.  This was an important day in the office transition.

Saturday, October 2nd.  Sis Bell and Sis Hatfield have been planning for breakfast for the missionaries within about a 40 minute drive of the mission home before the morning session of general conference.  The forecasted rain has been pushing back, so the decision is to set up tables and chairs in the backyard of the mission home.  After set up, the office staff and the Bells cook eggs, bacon, and pancakes like crazy.  And just as breakfast is winding down, the rain starts.  We clear out the garage, set up rows of chairs, and move all over the mission home for the broadcast.  At the beginning, Sis Bell announces that she has arranged for memory books and blankets as farewell gifts for the Hatfields, Evertons, and Jacobs.  We are all touched by the words of the young missionaries.  While cleaning up, I get a phone call from the sisters in Mattoon, Illinois.  They have locked themselves out of their apartment when on a walk between sessions.  We try to get ahold of the landlord without success.  After some deliberation on what to do, Sis Hatfield says she will accompany me to Mattoon to help poor Sis Rader and Sis Williams.  We listen to the afternoon session of conference on the drive, and conveniently, arrive just as conference concludes.  Sis Rader is embarrassed, but has drawn a beautiful picture of Christ and a child which she gives to us as a token of her appreciation for our effort.  

Yoder’s Kitchen is a Amish family buffet and restaurant famous among the missionaries that have served in the Champaign zone.  I’ve almost made it out there a few times, but I always seem to have something more to do so a stop to Yoder’s hasn’t happened.  A few weeks ago, Sis Hatfield heard about the restaurant but assumed she would never make it.  This was our chance, so we took it.  Yoder’s isn’t exactly next to Mattoon, but it is about as close as we would get.  So we drove through the corn fields a bit farther to Arthur, IL.  We knew we were getting near when the black, horse drawn carriages started appearing on the road.  Yoder’s had a 35 minute wait, but we were by now hungry and at least that far from lesser alternatives.  And they had a great Amish gift shop and bakery where we browsed and spent more than we should, getting Sunday morning cinnamon rolls, a butter pecan cake, apple butter, and other goodies.  The bakery was dangerous place to be while hungry.  When we were seated, a sweet, matronly server helped us pick a chicken and a pork chop dinner, along with homemade pie for dessert.  The food was good, maybe not great, but the atmosphere was fascinating, with all the farmers and other rural folks mixing about together with the Amish.  It was an experience that made up for the many lost hours of the day driving.  We did stop for groceries in Effingham, Illinois as we realized that the grocery stores in our neighborhood would be closed before we got home, and we had invited folks for Sunday dinner.  And the travel interfered with our monthly family call which I could barely follow.  But we were in the service of the missionaries, which is our purpose.