Sunday, February 17, 2013

A family History Center in Choibalsan

Our chapel in Choibalsan
Our big Tsaagan Sar week (Senior couples Family Home evening, missionary talent show, Tsaagan Sar visits) ended with a frantic effort to make our long anticipated trip to install a Family History Center in Choiblasan. 
It looks like we made it
Our trip to Choibalsan. We went to one English class we prepared for – but as we anticipated - no one came. It was on Thursday, “rest day”, the day after Tsaagan Sar supposedly is over. Most Mongolians consider it a holiday as well.  Thank goodness! We needed the time to get ready for Choibalsan.
The land around Choibalsan is as flat as pancake, kind of like the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota

We caught our plane to Choibalsan on Friday afternoon. We carried a computer, a printer and a monitor in three boxes as luggage. Choibalsan is 550 km east of UB close to the Chinese border. 
Choibalsan is on the far right next to the Chinese border

When we arrived, we learned there was no taxi service from the airport (a half hour drive away from the city). After much consternation, the airport officials lined us up with a pediatrician who had arrived late with several outgoing passengers. She was returning to Choibalsan in a big SUV. 
Most of the land between Choibalsan and Ulaanbaatar is mountainous and uninhabited
The pediatrician and Darlene visited in Russian all the way to Choibalsan. She befriended us, took us straight to our hotel, helped check out the room and took our names and phone number. It was a no charge trip with all our equipment. Nice! 
One of the hazards of walking in Mongolia -especially at night. The church is in the background.
Our Friday 4:00 pm appointment with the provincial archive director was rescheduled until the next morning. The Groesbecks, a senior couple assigned to Choibalsan for six months, met us at the hotel and helped us lug the new equipment to the church which was across the street. They came with two young men to help. We had a lovely lasagna meal with them at their apartment. After dinner, we returned with them to the church to set up the computer and printer. 
Installation struggles

An unusual mission. The Groesbecks hosted us in Murun went we went there to train last August. They have been our right and left hands in Murun in getting the work started there and will be again in Choibalsan. They have an interesting mission. They are spending six months each in Murun, Choiblasan and Khovd working on leadership development. 
Sister Groesbeck with a translator and our new consultants

By the time their mission is over, we will have worked with them in all three locations. We are close to them and we have developed quite a partnership. They are dedicated to Family History. In Murun, they set up a schedule to work with the members every Saturday. They are planning on doing the same in Choibalsan.

Our training events. Friday night was frustrating. We tried everything to get the computer working but the Internet signal was too weak to do Wi-Fi. We had technical assistance on the phone with us from UB but it didn’t work. 

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise the next day as we stumbled into an ideal way to train the consultants, the Priesthood leaders and about 30 members who showed up for a meeting we didn’t know was scheduled.

A couple of more brothers joined us - the Branch President is taking notes
We were scheduled to train the Family History Consultants and Priesthood leaders sequentially from 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. All the priesthood leaders were there at 11:00 am so we trained simultaneously. 
Training the new consultant with a missionary translator
Sister Groesbeck had a lunch prepared at 1:00 pm for all for all those who were in training so they could comfortably stay for further training. She made the food stretch. 
Half of our audience
After lunch we had a overheard projector where we could provide an Internet demonstration of FamilySearch and Family Tree using the Internet. Elder Groesbeck and some savvy youth set up the process.  

Elder Groesbeck had a modem from his personal computer and he used it to establish an Internet connection.We had a young man volunteer his family data and we had an ongoing example of how to use FamilySearch. Everyone participated.

The rest of the audience

After that Darlene had a follow up training session with the Family History Consultants where she registered consultants while I was engaged meeting with individuals. All told we spent about 6 hours straight at the church working with members with a lunch Sister Groesbeck prepared thrown in. 

We both gained energy and strength during the week (it must have been the “boze”) and by our busy weekend, we had the stamina to pull it off. 
Our first visitors to the new Family History library

Darlene was pleased that I carried my weight with the training this weekend. I won’t share with you where her doubts came from but it has something to do with her ultra-thorough style of preparation and my functioning well under pressure as deadlines draw near. Somewhere in there is a disconnect that occasionally creates sparks.

The Farmers and Groesbecks were amazed how the Lord took control and made our weekend into a perfect training event that started with sputter and clunk. The same thing happened on Sunday when the Gospel Doctrine teacher didn’t show up and we were asked to teach the class about Family History.   
Watching the Internet demonstrationof FamilySearch
The Groesbecks are there to troubleshoot the problems and get the Family History Center up and running once they get the Internet connection working. 

A little fun. On Saturday evening we went out to eat together and had a delightful meal (lucky choice of restaurants) and visited for more than two hours. They get a little starved for American companionship and conversation in English. So do we, but we have all the Senior companionship in UB to draw upon for perspective and to share our experiences.  

Front row before Sacrament meeting
Speaking in church. On Sunday, Darlene gave a 20 minute talk all in Mongolian – which was clear and understood. It was fun watching the members sit on the edge of the chairs smiling in amazement at a Senior missionary talking to them in Mongolian. 
A ger in the middle of nowhere
Darlene had prepared and rehearsed well – having vetted the grammar and vocabulary with our translator back in UB. I spoke in English but told them I would speak in Mongolian the next time I return.

A ger community from the air - each square is a fence that defines property rights as long as you live there.
Archives visit. We had a great visit (with our translator) with the archive director on Saturday morning before our training began at the church. She was excited and enthused about doing a records preservation project in their province. She gave the names of three provincial officials from whom we would need to get official permission before we could begin negotiating. The Groesbecks are well situated to do the follow up.  

The Choibalsan branch.  The church in Choibalsan is special. They are over 400 miles from the nearest church but the church has flourished here. They have a new building. Well over 100 members attended Sacrament meeting. The leadership is dedicated. 
The number of missionaries that have served from the Choibalsan Branch - count them (54 altogether - 29 sisters)
The Choibalsan branch has provided a disproportionate number of missionaries for the church over the years. One look at the chart of the wall tells an amazing story.  

Elder Groberg tells an inspirational story of how the church started and grew in Darkhan in his book, Anytime, Anywhere. Even though we don’t know it yet, the story of how the church started and grew in Choibalasan has to be equally as compelling.

We have no doubt they were ready for a Family History Library and after our visit, we have no doubt the work will leap forward with great zeal and dedication. The Branch President must have hugged me about four times before we left.
The skyline of Ulaanbaatar from the western edge

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