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.