Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flowers in Mongolia

When we first arrived in Ulaanbaatar in May, people were planting flowers in anticipation of summer. The flowers bloomed two months later in July. Here are pictures of the flowers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The First Decade of Mormonism in Mongolia

BYU Studies lists the Doctrine and Covenants lessons for this year's Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class. http://byustudies.byu.edu/resources/dclessons.aspx. For lesson 26 "Go Ye into All the World, and Preach My Gospel," there is a reference to the BYU Studies article, "Nothing Less Than Miraculous": The First Decade of Mormonism in Mongolia. Click on the link and download the article to read about the first decade of the history of the church in Mongolia.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Update on July 26, 2009

Last Tuesday we attended Addiction Recovery at Bayanzurkh. It was the 12th week or 12th step, and 7 people were ready to receive certificates (only 5 of them were present). Beginning next Tuesday with Elder and Sister Hitchmough gone, Wes and I will need to open and close the meetings and preside at the meetings. We have a teacher (a facilitator), a class president who takes roll, and a translator.

Wednesday and Thursday was the senior retreat for the senior couples in the mission. 10 couples plus our guide Jangar went on the outing. Elder and Sister Jackson were not able to go because of an emergency in the mission.

Tuesday we wondered about going the next day because it poured and hailed in UB. However, Wednesday morning started out beautiful. We began by going to the ruins of the Manzushir Monastery, about 60 km south of Ulaanbaatar. It is located in the southern entrance of Bogd Khaan National Park. The monastery was established in 1733 and housed 300 monks. The monastery grew to consist of 20 temples and had an artificial lake in front of what was the main temple. In 1932 all of the halls were destroyed in 5 days by the Communist purges. The pictures show the ruins of one temple. Another temple has been restored. When we entered the temple, we were told we had to go to the left in a clockwise direction. In the pictures when you see blue, blue represents the sky and is used to designate sacred places. Sacred places are usually high in the mountains.

From there we drove to Hustai National Park, about 100 km west of Ulaanbaatar. From the monastery we had to drive back to UB and then on to the park. We slept in a ger. It was like going camping and sleeping in a cabin. Shortly after arriving, there was a tremendous downpour of rain. These gers are placed on cement circles. President and Sister Andersen found their ger surrounded by water, but it quit raining and the water subsided by dinnertime. In the evening we played a group game of Guesstures.

The next day we drove through the park to see the Prezwalski horses. They are wild horses native to Mongolia, but the horses became extinct here. They have been brought back from zoos throughout the world, and now there are about 320 Prezwalski horses in 3 locations in Mongolia. 40 foals were born here this year. In appearance they are white around the mouth and have stripes on their legs. The mane has short hair, and their body has different shades of buckskin. Prezwalski horses have two more chromosomes than domestic horses.

As we drove to Hustai National Park, part of the driving is on dirt roads. There can be one or more roads. If a driver doesn't like the road, he'll drive on the grass and soon another road is formed.

As we were driving there was a covey of quail on the road in front of us. An eagle swooped down in front of us and just missed getting a baby quail.

When we returned to UB, we put back on our missionary clothes and had a pizza party at the President's apartment where we told the Hitchmoughs and Clarks what we remembered and appreciated about them and wished them goodbye. The four couples from the countryside were still with us. The Hitchmoughs fly back to Canada tonight, and the Clarks will leave a week from Wednesday after the new couple, the Lassons, come to take their place.

Saturday morning I taught the piano class again. In the afternoon Sukhbaatar Branch held a birthday party to recognize all those who had a birthday from January through June. They also honored the Hitchmoughs who were leaving. It was a very nice social and lasted from 3 to 4 hours. They began with a spiritual part of the program which included testimonies. Elder and Sister Hitchmough were asked to bear their testimonies. Then for the social part the youth performed a cute skit where they reenacted Elder and Sister Hitchmough meeting each other. For a game they had Mongolian Karaoke. One of the elders in the branch Elder Amgalan has a very good voice and won first place.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Update for July 19, 2009

Last week was busy as usual between office work, family home evening at Sukbaatar on Monday evening, the addiction recovery program on Tuesday evening, attending the National Theater again on Wednesday night with the Caldwells and Hodges (in UB from Erdenet) who were celebrating birthdays, attending a baptism at the Chingeltei building (where the Sukhbaatar branch is held) on Friday night, teaching piano classes Saturday morning, and having all the missionaries in the Sukhbaatar branch to dinner on Sunday.

Rain, Rain Everywhere

On Friday afternoon four of us couples decided to take an hour in the afternoon and drive to a Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar. It kept raining harder and harder. The gate to the monastery was closed so we turned around and went back. The rain was very deep everywhere.

The news reported there were 25 deaths as a result of the rain, 7 in Ulaanbaatar itself. Of the 7 deaths in UB, 4 were children with 3 children from one family. 126 families in UB had their gers destroyed by the rain and flash floods. According to the news, the government will pay 1.4 million ₮ to replace each lost ger. Now that might sound like a lot of money, but it equals $1000 each. (http://en.news.mn/news/3100)

Tithing Lesson

Relief Society on Sunday was interesting. The lesson was on tithing. The teacher put sample budget figures on the board with much class discussion. I was interested in what the figures were.

She projected an income of 280,000 ₮ a month. Our branch is in a ger district. There are 3 people in the teacher's family with 2 grown children. Sister Hitchmough sitting next to me said if the teacher earned that, for a lot of them it was a good salary.

*I've heard that a lot of Mongolians own their own land as a grant from the government, but I figure for those that don't the rent might be the cost of putting a ger on a piece of property.

Obviously their standard of living is not our standard of living. As Americans we don't live like they do, especially when we buy canned goods and American food. The sisters in the class discussed the cost of a bag of flour and other essentials for living. They knew exactly what everything should cost. A very cute Mongolian girl Sister Batchimeg, who had just returned from a mission to Australia, sat beside us and translated. She said the 112,000 ₮ would really be a very low amount to spend for food. The numbers above don't add up to the 280,000 ₮ so I guess there is leeway.

As an example of income, the translators earn 2,500 ₮ ($ 1.79) an hour). With a 40 hour week that would be about 433,333 ₮ ($ 309.52) a month, more than the above example. Our housekeeper is paid even more, 4,000 ₮ ($ 2.86) an hour. I don't know why housekeeping should bring in more money than translation, maybe because they're working for Americans.

Saturday morning I took over teaching two piano classes because Sister Anderson (Dr.) is going to teach piano out at Chingeltei. I'll have to see how the classes work out without a translator because Sister Anderson was paying the previous translator a lot, and I'm not willing to pay that much. Sister Anderson is very generous, but it is way over the going rate for translators. There were a couple of sisters in the office today who wanted to learn to play the piano. I suggested they come to the class on Saturday (I don't know if they will be allowed to use their time to do so), but that way since one of them speaks minimal English, it could help.

Saturday afternoon looking for lightbulbs we went to a furniture store for the wealthy; it was very nice. The prices are way too expensive for the average Mongolian. There is a disparity in income here.

Three branches meet in the Chingeltei building where our Sukhbaatar Branch meets. The branches are good-sized. Our branch had around 170 in attendance on Sunday, more than Ukiah II Ward has seen recently. There are 10 missionaries, who work in the branch, 8 elders and 2 sisters, plus several branch missionaries.

After church Sunday the 10 Sukhbaatar missionaries were invited to our apartment for dinner. 2 of them didn't come, but we still had a total of 12 people for dinner with Elder and Sister Hitchmough and us. (Next Sunday will be the Hitchmoughs last Sunday in UB.) In order to serve that many we had 6 sit at the table and 6 sit around the coffee table. We served spaghetti, French bread (which Wes made), canned corn (which no one ate), cake baked by Sister Hitchmough, and ice cream. It was a very pleasant get together and provided us with a chance to get to know the Sukhbaatar missionaries better. They are good missionaries. We ended with scripture reading, a spiritual thought, a hymn, and prayer.

So I'll remember their names later, the missionaries who came to dinner were Elder Purevsukh, Elder Whittle, Elder Adartseren, Elder Amgalan, Elder Fawcett, Elder Smith, Sister Unurjargal, and Sister Uugantuya. (Here are pictures, but some are a little dark.)

Mongolia's Nine White Banners "Yoson Kholt Tsagaan Tug"

I've been wondering about the nine white banners that I saw at Naadam. "Mongolia’s Nine White Banners or 'Yoson Kholt Tsagaan Tug' are the main symbols of Mongolian national unity, freedom, power, justice, brilliance, and peace. In the 13th century, Chinggis Khaan established the Great Mongolian State and initiated the nine white banners as symbols of ceremony. Mongolian people have been honoring the banners ever since.

"The nine white banners are made up of the tail hair of a thousand stallions from each of the provinces in the country. The white and tawny colours, as well as the horse hair, are symbolic of the power and strength of the state."

Source: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3263&Itemid=43

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Update of July 12th

Last Sunday evening (July 5th) was our senior missionaries Fast Sunday family home evening. It is enjoyable to have a gospel discussion in English. The topic was JS Lesson #33 on Spiritual Gifts. Each couple was assigned one of the bulleted sections at the end of the lesson to discuss. The home evening was held at the Caldwells who served us banana cream pie for dessert.

Our part of the lesson was the gift of tongues which is evident with the young missionaries here. "For it shall come to pass . . . that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter." (DC 90:11)

Besides material in the lesson manual I added the story of President Joseph F. Smith when he was a young missionary.

"I needed the gift of tongues once, and the Lord gave it to me. I was in a foreign land, sent to preach the gospel to a people whose language I could not understand. Then I sought earnestly for the gift of tongues, and by this gift and by study, in a hundred days after landing upon those islands I could talk to the people in their language as I now talk to you in my native tongue. This was a gift that was worthy of the gospel. There was a purpose in it."

Dr. Anderson spoke on his thoughts as a doctor and as a Melchizedek Priesthood bearer on the gift of healing and gave us a handout on his reflections on the subject.

There is an Elder Tsotgerel in the mission who has been very sick. His kidneys failed. If he were an American, he would be immediately sent back to the States, but being a Mongolian there is no place for him to go. He has nephrotic syndrome which occurs in 1 out of 100,000 people and has a death rate without treatment of 60%. Dr. Anderson found a Mongolian nephrologist who proved ineffectual. The doctor didn't recognize the disease and just wanted to do more tests. The treatment is a high-dosage of steroids which has its own side effects.

Dr. Anderson did start him on the steroids, and a mission fast was held for the elder. At the end of the fast, Elder Tsogtgerel was to choose someone to give him a blessing. He chose Dr. Anderson. Dr. Anderson said he hadn't broken his fast yet and prayed before giving the blessing. Elder Hadfield was the interpreter. Elder Tsotgerel was promised he'd get better. First he got worse, then he gradually got better. His retention of fluids from the nephrotic syndrome has gone down although his face is puffy from the steroids. Dr. Anderson feels this is a miracle in the mission.

What I learned is that we must show gratitude for every slight improvement even if we aren't healed right away. "And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with." (DC 46:32)

With the July 4th celebration last weekend and the Mongolian Nadaam this weekend there have been families of the president and of a few senior couples here in Ulaanbaatar. President Andersen's two sons, their wives, and two little grandchildren have been in town. The Jacksons' family has been here. The Laytons had two daughters here, and the Hodges had a son here.

Nadaam (July 11, 12, 13) is the biggest festival of the year for Mongolians. The Service Center people will have next Mon., Tues., and Wed. off work. It is the 88th anniversary of the Mongolian people’s revolution and the 803rd anniversary of the Great Mongolian State. It is a festival of the 'manly games' or the three major traditional sports in Mongolia: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. http://mongoluls.net/nadaam.shtml

To see the photos in full screen instead of seeing a small slideshow, click on the picture, choose View All, and then select Slideshow.

All the missionaries in Ulaanbaatar had tickets to the Nadaam opening ceremony on Saturday (July 11th). We also had tickets to two events on Sunday, but we gave those tickets away. On the way to church today at Sukhbaatar, Elder Hitchmough still had tickets left for the closing ceremonies today. He gave them to the taxi driver along with the money and made the driver very happy.

The seniors were in the covered seating, and the younger missionaries were in the uncovered bleachers. Again there was a slight amount of rain. Mongolia is supposed to be dry, but this year there has been a lot of rain.

The opening ceremony would have been great, but I couldn't see much. We were on the lowest row, but people get coming in and standing in front of us and wouldn't move. Dad was able to see to get good photographs. I believe the organizers oversold the tickets. After the opening ceremony, some people began to leave. We watched the wrestling for a while, but then we went home and turned on the TV. That was a much better view of the wrestling. We didn't see the archery or horse racing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Update on July 5, 2009

This past week we finished teaching English at both Bayanzurkh and Hospital 2; there will be a summer break. Here is a picture of the last Bayanzurkh class. It was small because it was the beginning of July, but normally there are 40 to 55 students in the class.

Professor Otgon, who was in charge of organizing the English class at Hospital 2, invited us out to lunch on Wed. July 1st to Modern Mongol (Modern Nomads?). He wanted to treat us to Mongolian food. He indicated he'd ordered ahead. When we got to the restaurant, we went directly to our table and the food was already on the table waiting for us. There was a great selection of food. I wish we'd had a camera with us to take a picture. The food was very good.

We enjoyed visiting with the professor. He is a medical doctor who has a Ph.D. from England so he is called a professor. His wife is also a doctor, but she now teaches meditation. He has two sons; one is living in the U.S. When we left the restaurant I thought there'd be a large bill, but we just stood up and left. Either he prepaid or he is well known and has an account there.

A group of American missionaries left late Wed. (actually 12:20 am Thur. morning). One of the returning elders was Elder Stevens. When he came into the office prior to his going home, his first words were "oh, you're the people who stole my name." Wes' response was that since he was older than the young elder, maybe the elder stole his name. Upon inquiry Wes discovered that this elder is the grandson of Wes' cousin Larry Stevens and this elder's great grandfather was Wes' Uncle Elmer, Wes' Dad's brother. The world keeps getting smaller all the time.

On the same evening that the 6 American elders flew home, 4 more missionaries (3 elders and 1 sister) arrived from the States. It is the custom here when a new group of missionaries arrives to take them to Zaisan so on Friday morning President and Sister Andersen, the assistants, the four new missionaries (17 new Mongolian missionaries came later in the day, but they arrived too late to go to Zaisan), and Wes and I drove to Zaisan at 6:30 in the morning.

Zaisan is the location where Elder Maxwell dedicated Mongolia for the preaching of the gospel on April 15, 1993. It is on the top of a hill. It is also the location of a Soviet Memorial commemorating those who were killed in World War II and the resulting peace established between Russia and Germany and Mongolia and Japan. http://www.welcome2mongolia.com/ulaanbaatar-capital/museum/zaisan-memorial

While we were up at Zaisan, we read together the dedicatory prayer and discussed parts of the prayer which impressed us. It helps us as new missionaries realize the promises made to the people of Mongolia. They were promised they would be a beacon light to other nations and they would have freedom and they would have the gospel message.

Elder Maxwell's Dedicatory Prayer

As we were leaving Zaisan we encountered a Mongolian shepherd and his sheep.

Saturday was our big 4th of July celebration at the Star Apartment complex. To attend you had to be a U.S. citizen or a guest of a U.S. citizen. There could be no more than one Mongolian per American. Two senior couples, the Clarks and the Caldwells, were on the committee to plan the event. It was a great celebration. All of the missionaries in Ulaanbaatar attended; the Mongolian missionaries were paired up with the American missionaries. The committee said when they needed help with something, they'd grab a couple of missionaries to help them.

The food was traditional hamburgers and hot dogs (flown in from the U.S.), sausages, and roasted pork. There was an enormous quantity of potato salad made by the 7 senior couples in UB including Sister Andersen. I think we each cooked about 25 pounds of potatoes.

We had a slight sprinkling of rain, but it didn't dim the celebration. I helped Sister Caldwell with the children's parade and with children's games. There was a program, relay games for the adults, and a tug of war (where a few ropes were broken). The missionaries were a valiant part of the tug of war, but the winner was the U.S. Marines.

Vendors came to sell souvenirs. We purchased a horse head fiddle, a cut-paper picture, and a jacket for me.