Sunday, November 18, 2012

Opposition in all things

Banner showing Chinggis Khan family tree for our cancelled cemetery records preservation project.

The banner has a quote from Chinggis Khan,
"Parents, don't forget to teach your children about their roots." 

Family Home Evening. Last Sunday we hosted a Family Home Evening for senior couples and Pres. and Sister Clark in our apartment. The subject was on our missionary calls, the impact of technology on missionary work, overcoming opposition and seeing the hand of the Lord in bringing forth His kingdom on earth.

Each couple related how they felt how their call was inspired and how that related to some of their experiences since coming on their missions. We marveled at the unique talents and gifts each couple brought and how they applied them during their missions. 

Pres. and Sister Clark told about the opposition they faced in the work in Mongolia and how the Lord has blessed their efforts. It is a great testimony about how the Lord watches over His church and is in the details of our lives.
Our living room before company arrives

Our English class is going well but attendance is falling off some as winter has set in. The students our really learning and enjoying the class.
Senior couples Family Home Evening in Ulaanbaatar - Pres. & Sis. Clark on the left

Chingeltei Cemetery Project. On Wednesday morning we went with the Richardsons to the Chingeltei cemetery to practice photography on the tombstones. We anticipated how the project could be of great benefit to gaining a secondary source of records for Family History work. It would also be a very meaningful service project for the members in UB. Everything came to a crashing halt about 4:15 pm in the afternoon just 15 minutes before our weekly staff meeting. 
Elder Neuberger and companion along with Sister missionaries

Adiyabold (1st Counselor in the Stake Presidency) told us our project was cancelled. The reason was that someone (I think it might have been him) did some serious investigating into the politics of the development project that was encroaching on cemetery ground.

Prior to this, Nasanbold had secured oral permission from the association in charge of the cemetery. Soyolmaa had checked into it and felt satisfied we were OK with the project despite not having written permission from the governmental authorities.

Adiyabold told us that there were two groups – a pro-development group and an anti-development group that are contesting about whether the cemetery ground should be used for new development. He and others (presumably President Odgerel) felt the church could be viewed and misconstrued as taking sides in the conflict by doing the records preservation project. The anti-development group in particular would be likely to start a rumor that the Japanese (the developers) and the Mormons were conspiring to desecrate Buddhist graves, disrespect Mongolian nationality and unleash evil forces by disturbing the dead.

Rather than the Church being put in an awkward position of being perceived as supporting one side or the other, the project was postponed until further notice. It is better to be safe than sorry so this may be the blessing in disguise.

Some good things have come from our endeavor. One is that the Harringtons saw the value in having a digitizing of records from cemeteries in Asia. The Harringtons are starting a project of gathering records from a run down cemetery near a race track in Hong Kong and are spreading the idea to other countries in Asia.

Danny Chin feels the Church hasn’t funded a cemetery acquisition project in 15 years but believes Mongolia would be the perfect place to have a trial project. He will be submitting a proposal to the Church Family History Department about the value of gathering data from cemeteries, especially from a country like Mongolia where written records are spotty due to political destruction of records and elimination of patronymic surnames by the Russians.

Shoe inserts and stockings for sale
 On Friday, we had a meeting with the Mongolian Funeral Association to learn how cemetery records are kept in Mongolia, how thorough the records are and the process of accessing these records. This meeting was fortuitious. It turned out the Mongolian Funeral Association is in charge of clearing the cemetery at Chingeltei.

They are building a Memory Park in one section of Chingeltei. The memory park will be surrounded a wall consisting of 108 Stupas that will house the cremated remains of the bodies they will exhume. The walls of the Stupa will have the names and dates of birth and death from the graves they will clear. There are over 200,000 graves in the 7 Hills cemetery. 

Outside of the Memory Park land, the rest of the

land will revert back to the government who is

involved in developing the 7 Hills area.
Primary children practicing inviting a friend to church

The Mongolian Funeral Association was

interested in knowing about us and meeting us.

They aren't planning on any action (clearing of 

graves) this winter. They will have a data 

preservation project in the areas they plan to clear 

in the spring. They will be participating in 

educating the public on the new Memory Park

and how the graves of the deceased will be

handled. The Government also plans a good effort 

to dispel rumors that are swirling around.

They are interested in our offer to volunteer to 

help them. They also have a budget for recording

the data from the tombstones. They indicated that

all photography should be done by Mongolians. 

The Buddhists would be alarmed if foreigners 

were involved onsite.They suggested that any 

foreigners assist by providing food or other

services offsite. 

Our going ahead with the project as we planned it

would have had several foreigners onsite and

would have greatly upset the Buddhist

community. Also when we volunteer in the

spring, we will be in coordination with their 

system of recording data from the tombstones.
Returned missionary Tugsbaatar holding up my doodle from the Mission conference

They seemed especially interested in our ability to

help them index the data from the tombstones and

have it recorded online. I am sure the church will

be able to secure a copy on all indexed


There are 6 other cemeteries in Ulaanbaatar, some

of which will have the same renovation project as

the 7 Hills cemetery. They will need our help in

the future as future projects unfold. Our project

was a good one but, in the long run, we put our

project and ideas on a much more solid footing by

meeting with people we did.  

Returned missionary Bayarjargal posing for me
"There must needs be an opposition is all things." Danny Chin arrived from Hong Kong just in time for our Wednesday staff meeting. He is in charge of records acquisition for the Asia area. The next day, Danny Chin, our translator Batsengel and ourselves meet with Ulziibaatar, the Director of the National Archives, Erdenbat, the Director of the Civil Archives and Buyan, the leading genealogist who compiled the Chinggis Khan family tree.  

Buyan represents a private, not-or-profit organization that has started a digitizing project with the National Archives. The goal of the meeting was to see if the three organizations would work together in a mutually beneficial way to achieve common objectives.

They stated their goals of having records available so that all Mongolians can trace their lineage through five generations. Accessing data in the National Archives is the main way Mongolian citizens have for tracing their family history. We stated our long term goals of long term records preservation for the world’s genealogical records in the temperature controlled vaults in Salt Lake City. 

A second goal would to be prepare Mongolian names in digitized form to be available online on the Internet so that Mongolians everywhere could trace their personal family history. They will also be responding on a point-by-point basis to a letter of inquiry that we gave to them in September.

The meeting had a promising beginning. We learned that there was a major census in 1918 and a series of four more census data collections during the 1920s and early 1930s. After that the census records were collected every 10 years. 

Mongolian privacy laws extend back to 1932 so that data from the 1932 census and prior census records are in the public domain. Birth, marriage and death records, and military records are available in the National Archives up until 1957. After that year, the civil records are housed in the Central Archives – a separate archival unit that functions under the direction of the National Archives.

Ulziibaatar explained that there has been an upsurge in Mongolians wanting to know their family lineage during the past five years. The National Archives haven’t been able to respond to that need. They are in the process of getting a new building in 2014 where they can consolidate their services and records from 3 buildings into one building. They haven’t been research oriented and deferred that expertise to Buyan and his efforts to compile the Chinggis Khan genealogy.

He stated that Buyan and his organization have started a digitizing project and are awaiting new equipment that will come with the new building that will push the work forward.

We explained all the ways the Church could be helpful in furthering our mutual goals – talking about the equipment, manpower and expertise we could provide in accelerating the digitizing process.
Shopping at the Sunday store

We communicated our respect for the work they are doing and our willingness to fit in to whatever role they wanted us to play. Our only requirement was that the Church receive a copy of the final product. It seemed like an offer they wouldn’t refuse.

I won't go into the details on a public document, but we received an unexpected setback in that they weren't ready to ask our our help or involvement. 

We are making this a matter of prayer and being patient. They need to contemplate what they are turning down. Maybe the discussion will cause some reflection on how mutual cooperation might work out to their benefit.

Danny Chin believes that much was accomplished by this meeting. We could see the dynamics of the people involved and got the real issues on the table. Negotiations like these sometimes take years. This meeting cut through a lot of preliminaries to get to the heart of the issue and also had all the significant players at the table.

Baby boots for winter
Danny Chin has a professional relationship with Ulziibaatar that is strong and will improve with time. He emerged from the meeting more hopeful than any of us because of his experience in long term negotiations.  

Finding a birthday present

Shopping. After such a week, we tried to distract ourselves from our setback by shopping for a sweater for layering up for me and a birthday present, a stone necklace, for Darlene. We include of pictures of our shopping trip and also the Primary and church members from the Sukhbaatar Branch.

BBQ on a cold winter day

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