Friday, January 31, 2014

Enjoying the Tsaagan Sar Sunrise, West Zone Conference

Only in Mongolia. Last year at this time, Elders Stewart and England and a group of missionaries climbed a mountain on Tsaagan Sar morning. Both Darlene and I were recovering from the pneumonia that plagued us during most of January so I didn’t go on this particular outing.
New housing development at the base of the mountain we climbed
Elder Stewart brought back some amazing pictures of the Tsaagan Sar sunrise ritual. I made a note that I wanted to experience this year’s Tsaagan Sar in the same way.   
Elder Stewart was out of the city on assignment and the other seniors either had other commitments, didn’t want to go or were sick (Elder England). Elder Odd and I collaborated on a plan for climbing a mountain.
He approached Pres. Benson for permission. He said it would be OK if the group was small and that we should show respect for the culture and customs while witnessing the event.

Elders Moore, Hayter, Standley, Erickson, Higgs, and Odd
Six Elders and I (four were dressed in deels) climbed the mountain. We met at 7:00 am, took a couple of taxis to the base of the mountain (no buses were running that early on the holiday), and climbed to the top arriving at 8:05 am. Sunrise was as 8:22 am.

Elders Odd and Moore posing with a boy who wasn't exactly thrilled with his new friends
Mongolian men (including boys and young men) have a custom of going to mountain peaks and raising their arms to the sun at sunrise. They also chant "Ooooohai" in Mongolian encouraging the sunrise to happen. I learned later that "Ooooohai" is the equivalent of "hurrah" in English or "Opaa" in Greek.

They arrive early and build small fires to keep warm while waiting for the sunrise. This happens all around the peaks surrounding UB and also at the Gandan Monastery in the heart of UB.

Two photos just above and below taken by Karl Schuler

They also throw milk, vodka and bread to the wind and walk around the stone altar three times. A few also bow and pray at the ovoo built at the peak of the mountain. 

Within 5 to ten minutes after the sunrise, the Mongolians left, leaving the mountain top to ourselves.  
The views were spectacular. We enjoyed our cultural experience together (understatement).

The valley at the upper part of the picture is UB covered in smoke

West Zone Conference
The Senior couples attending church in the West Stake were asked to attend the West Zone Conference for the missionaries also serving in that part of UB.
Assistants to the President, Elder Ocorjamaa interpreting for English speakers and Elder Munkhchudur timing the presenters
I was also interested in watching the Assistants to the President train the missionaries on conflict resolution.
Practicing talking and resolving problems in companionships
I had trained them in the concepts and helped them put together a plan for their presentation. Their training in last week with the Darkhan Zone brought rave reviews from the Mission President. I was anxious to see them in action.
The day was jammed packed with training from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Sister Benson with Mary Ann
President and Sister Benson both trained and taught as did several other missionaries with special teaching assignments. Here are a couple more pictures from the day.

Pizza for lunch - Pictured are Tommy, Pres. Benson, Elder Munkhchudur, Elder and Sister Gardner, Elders Odd and Moore

Smiling Sister missionaries at the conference
 The day ended with a group photo - I was the designated photographer in Elder Stewart's absence.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Family History weekend, Darkhan, the road to Darkhan

Herder bringing his flock home
Road to Darkhan. On Saturday we hired Zorgeo to drive us, Sister Farmer, myself and PuuJee, to Darkhan to train Family History Consultants. We arrived at 10:00 am and left a little after 4:00 pm for our four hour trip home.

The weather was cold, crisp and bright. Darkhan was probably 10 degrees colder than UB. The fresh air in Darkhan was fantastic – downright breathable.
 On the way coming and going, Zorgeo accommodated my desire to take a few countryside pictures.
A lonely grave on the steppe
This is what we saw with the morning and evening sun shining brightly on the landscape.

Nomad family's outpost
Fellow traveler giving us a wary eye.

The Darkhan miner stands sentinel at his outpost winter and summer
Family History training in Darkhan. We expected about 12 FH Consultants and three senior missionaries to attend. Instead there were 21 altogether including a senior sister serving in the Selenge Branch. We had a great training day.
The lady next to me (and her husband) are the first Mongolian senior couple serving a mission in Mongolia. They are from the Choibalsan Branch and are serving in Sukhbaatar.
Members came from Sukhbaatar, Zuunhaara, and Erdenet to Darkhan for the training. We feel the foundation is in place for the work to really move ahead in the Darkhan District. We provided a noon meal for the participants.
PuuJee is up front team teaching with Darlene
PuuJee was able to meet all of the FH Consultants and establish a communication link for problem solving and future training. She will be a tremendous resource for Family History work after our missions are completed at the end of March.

The meeting ended with one-on-one "hands on" computer work
Sunday on the Songino Ward. We alternate weeks between the Unur and Songino Wards. This Sunday we heard Ondrasaikhan give a talk in temple preparation in the Songino Ward.
Ondrasaikhan is one of our daughter Tawny's converts 14 years ago.

Family History Devotional. Darlene spoke in the devotional for 15 minutes. She spoke completely in Mongolian.

Darlene at the pulpit with Nasanbold in the background
She developed the talk, had it translated by Ulziika, and then practiced it for more than two weeks in preparation for the meeting. She finished the last three minutes with a spontaneous testimony given without notes.
Baska, one of the speakers, is waiting for his visa to serve a mission to Adeliade, Australia. He is translating for Darlene.
She had at least three people listen to her rehearse the talk and offer suggestions including Bradley Warner, her Skyping teacher from the Missionary Training Center in Provo. This week will end the six month program she has had with BYU language training department.
Ulziika was one of the main presenters
Darlene did real well! It culminated all her efforts to learn and speak Mongolian on our mission. I overheard the compliments she received after the meeting – including a joke the counselor in the Stake Presidency made about listening to Mongolian spoken with a Russian accent.
From let to right - Baska, Enkhbat, Nasanbold, Darlene, Ulziika, Puujee on the organ, and the chorister.
We have a few more goals left but this talk was definitely a highlight and brought closure for Darlene on her efforts to speak the language.
The majority of our audience
One special treat from the devotional program was watching a videotape of Battsey from BYU- Hawaii, our dear friend and associate who left us in April. Her heart is with us and the family history work here in Mongolia.
Member looking at the Chinggis Khan genealogy
Next week we will show our Tsaagan Sar visits, the Lunar New Year greeting of the sun, and Zone Conference training.  
Our Mongolian travels are drawing to a close

Monday, January 20, 2014

Our schedule, winter in UB, entertaining guests

Winter at Terelj
Still on vacation. We are enjoying our vacation from teaching. We are learning in retrospect how much work, stress and time are connected with teaching English. We enjoy the challenge when we are involved. We start up again sometime after Tsaagan Sar, either the first or second week of February. 

16 of our 26 grandchildren enjoying "Mongolia night" in St. Louis - practicing their serious look. Our daughter explained being "trunky" helps get you ready to leave a country and people you've grown to love. We also have a big draw back to our home as seen above. 
Family History events. We still have plenty to do. We are a part of a Family History devotional (fireside – the term loses something in translation however in Mongolia) this coming Sunday. Darlene is preparing a 15 minute talk in Mongolian. She has a good translation and is rehearsing it all week. We are also doing Family History training in Darkhan on Saturday.

I will go up to Darkhan a day early to help do some training in Zone Conference on communication and conflict resolution skills for missionary companionships. The two Assistants to the President and I are combining to present this training.
Concerned Mongolians always ask, "Is your apartment warm enough?"
Winter scenes. Some winter scenes in Mongolia are striking for their beauty and novelty. Mostly winter in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is bland and monotonous.
Looking at the Blue Sky building from the Central Tower
Our temps lately range from  – 20 degrees F or so below zero at night and creep up to above zero during the day. There is hardly any snowfall except for a dusting once a week. Unlike the Dakotas, there isn't much wind to speak of - thank goodness!
Looking down on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building on a clear winter day
What makes UB different is the smoke – we can’t call it smog because there is hardly any moisture in the air. Every night the smoke pours in from the Ger Districts and it takes most of the morning to burn off.

Here are some pictures we took from our apartment window to illustrate how polluted the air becomes.
See the specks of sunlight being reflected off an apartment building in the background - this picture was taken at 9:00 am.  
Same view at 5:00 pm - notice there are buildings in this picture.  
We wear masks when we are out in air, especially in the morning and again in the evening.
Sisters Magelby, Farmer, Oyuntuya, Fifield and Ackley
Entertaining Sister missionaries. We planned a special Lasagna meal for the two sets of Sister missionaries who currently serve in the Bayanzurgkh Branch – two blocks from our apartment. We had fun making a fancy meal with a comedic menu.
Sisters Fifield and Ackley came early and were drafted into an instant Mongolian lesson

We ended the evening by showing, at their insistence, photos of our two month honeymoon to Mexico and Central America. A couple of the Sisters must be romantics at heart because they loved the idea of being so foolish and stupid despite the ordeals and hardships we shared.
Sisters Ackley, Fifield, Farmer, Oyuntuya, and Magleby
My marriage book and other advice. I’ve written a marriage book, “To Have and to Hold”, so I have instant credibility despite the fact that Darlene too readily (in my opinion) shares embarrassing details indicating that marriage is still a challenge no matter who you are. 

Alimaa and I are meeting regularly about her

dissertation and her quest to get my book

translated and published in Mongolian. We're up

against some tight deadlines. She feels it won't

published by the time I leave. The fact that she is

putting time and energy into it is a wonderful gift

to me.

To see some of my advice I dispensed over the

years, go to Leaving a

behind a Mongolian translation of my book is

something I didn't even dream about when

we started our mission here.

The light of the gospel rising above the haze in Mongolia