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.