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.