Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas cheer turns into New Year’s drear

Christmas in Mongolia
Little Miss Center of Attention

A walk in the cold. Last Sunday, two days before Christmas, I volunteered to go to a couple of homes in the Ger District with a young returned missionary to give priesthood blessings. I was still recovering from a bout of fever, cough and head cold. I didn’t know what I was getting into exactly but I was there and was needed.
All bundled up

We walked for about two miles to the first home in – 25 F cold. I probably picked up a bug somewhere because each home insisted on feeding us during our visit. It was a long walk there and even a longer walk back (second home). The coal smoke and air pollution in the ger districts is so much more intense than it is in the downtown area.  

I saw a variety of people, young and old, carrying 5 gallon water containers including children under 10 pushing a cart. Some of the younger children had to brace the cart from the front to prevent it from gaining speed as it went downhill and going out of control. 
Winter deel

I had a new appreciation for people who live in gers and have to haul water all winter. The struggle in hauling water and coal is a daily one and not easy. I don’t get out into the ger districts that much so it was an eye opener for me. 

The members were friendly and appreciative of our visit. 
The salt of the earth

We made it back to the Chingeltei church in time to catch a ride to get the Bayanzurgk chapel where we had a Family History meeting with the Uaalbaatar Family History Center staff. 
Christmas Devotional broadcast
We then went into the a taped broadcast of the 1st Presidency’s 2012 Christmas Devotional with the other senior couples and other English speaking missionaries. It was a spiritual uplift.   
Let the wild rumpus begin
Monogolian Service Center Party. The church directly employs about 25 church members to run the temporal affairs of church in Mongolia. Care of church buildings, governmental affairs and public relations, financial management, translation, technical support, membership records, relationships with English sponsors, guards and security etc. etc. 
Dancing the day away
Once a year they have a Christmas party for their staff and they invite all the senior couples. They make it into a fun event with drawings, games, dancing, and food. Lots of food. The Mongolian members know how to have fun and are definitely not shy when it comes to fun and food. We Americans and Canadians are a pretty tame, lame, and reserved bunch compared to Mongolians at a party. Darlene and I did wear our deels, that Tawny had brought home from her mission 13 year ago, to the event and they were a big hit. 
A fashion statement
They had one game where each person drew a name of a Christmas song, a popular hymn, or a well- known tune. The object was to hum the melody as you walked around the room until you discovered your partner who was also humming the same tune. Another event was teaching people to dance to a popular Mongolian swing step. 
Getting ready to rumble

Finally there was a game called minefield where various obstacles (eggs, ketchup, etc.) were strewn about on black plastic bags. The participants were blindfolded and had to navigate from one end of the minefield to the other with the help of a coach. It was hilarious.
The next step could be a problem
Senior Christmas Dinner. On Christmas Day in the afternoon the Senior couples and President and Sister Clark held a potluck dinner in the Hunts apartment to commemorate the holiday. 
Christmas Day in Mongolia
We had to leave early because we had to hurry off to the Sukhbaatar Branch Christmas party. Darlene accompanied the choir which had a few numbers on the program. 
Branch Christmas party
Sukhbaatar Branch Christmas party. I took a lot of pictures and made copies to distribute on Sunday. The pictures are self-descriptive of the cute children, women in deels, a talk, a Nativity video, a manger scene, treats for the children, and families celebrating together. The members that attended gathered for a group photo.
Joseph and Mary

Skyping on Wednesday morning.  Wednesday morning was filled with Skyping with our family non-stop from 7:00 am to 11:00 am. We loved seeing everybody and enjoying the Christmas excitement with family.

Glad tidings of great joy
The sheep - Mongolia's specialty

Zone dinner on Wednesday. Half of the senior couples hosted the UB missionaries for a Christmas dinner on Tuesday. Our Zone’s dinner was on Wednesday. Three couples went in on the food. We had a great lasagna meal for them. They appreciated the extra tender loving care during the holiday season. 
Backroom treats instead of Santa's visit

Sister Schiffler's solo

Following the meal, there was a program put on by the missionaries. For the three meals, Darlene prepared a fruit salad, a potato salad, and lasagna with french garlic bread and three loaves of Swedish Christmas bread.
The Songon Zone Christmas dinner
The sickness bug finally hits. Thursday through Sunday I was pretty much out of commission with a fever, upset stomach and a cough that wouldn’t quit. We did manage to squeeze in some last minute shopping with this year’s Family History budget. 

Darlene organized all our English and family history files at the office, started preparing for English classes which start on the 2nd of January and taught piano and Family History on Saturday. She works hard and puts in long hours when she gets on a roll. Determined, obsessive, dedicated, a hard worker, you name it.  We went from having no office to having the biggest and the best! phone yet though.

I read a book “Wild Eastby Jill Lawless. She wrote of her impressions of Mongolia during 1998 to 2000, exactly when Tawny was a missionary here. There was a lot of political and economic turmoil during that time frame. It was good to get a perspective even though Tawny may have been shielded from all the drama that was going on in the country at that time. 

Lawless is a good writer and I could relate to most of her observations. I think Mongolia is a lot more stable now that it was back then. 
Zone Christmas dinner - one table
It remains to be seen if I can recover from this flu in time to make it to the New Year’s dance on New Year’s Day. Happy Holidays from Mongolia!

I don't feel this playful - yet!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas carols in Mongolia

A festive look for the performance
The Christmas Concert was a success! The church rented the Circus auditorium for the event. Tickets were free but admission was by ticket only. We must have filled about 1,500 seats of a 2,000 seat capacity. I think it was an improvement over last year. 

There were about 70 VIP invitations extended and half of those folks showed up. Five of the people we invited came. The American Ambassador and her family were there.

The program started a half hour late – it was a cold night and there were a lot late arrivals. A lot of time was spent decorating the auditorium to give it a Christmas festive look. 
Our missionaries take a back seat to no one - except at the concert
There was a balloon drop from the ceiling at the end of the performance that didn’t go as scheduled. The choir did an encore number of the Hallelujah Chorus while they jiggled and worked the mechanism and finally triggered the balloon drop. The children all converged to get some balloons to take home.

About 40% of the concert was Christmas songs and carols in Mongolian. There were 17 numbers all told. The rest were in English including very challenging pieces like “For Unto Us a Child is Born”, “Hallelujah”, “Mary’s Lullaby” and “What Child is This?” 
Mongolian Idol

Soloists and guests included the winner of the Mongolian Idol competition, an Operatic diva, A. Buted,  a celebrated soprano, P. Unurjargal, and our very own President Clark.

A. Buted - "The Lord's Prayer

It was a surprise to me that he has a performer’s voice and did what he did. He and the guest soprano, P. Unurjargal sang a duet, “O’ Divine Redeemer”.
President Clark's duet with Unurjargal

Our guests for the evening.   Byamba, his wife, Enkhe and their almost 5 year old daughter came as our guests.  They enjoyed the evening. 
Byamba, Enkhe and Ninjin
We had invited them to Millie’s – an American restaurant - for dessert afterward but we arrived at 8:15 pm – 15 minutes after closing. We gave them a rain check on that event.

Santa makes his appearance in Mongolia

Instead we took them to the Sky Ice Town where Ninjin loved the ice sculptures and slides. It was cold but a terrific place for a family to take their children.  She and her parents were all smiles. 
Ninjin printing her name

Then we went to our apartment for ice cream, nuts, cookies, fruit syrup from Lake Hovskul, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup from the US. We show some pictures of this delightful family and Ninjin’s relationship with a new and somewhat different "oovoo" and "emee". (grandparents).  

Ninjin captivated by "emee"

We enjoyed the concert and the opportunity to provide a good event and get together for our friends. They are trying to get visas to come to the US for a vacation this summer. We will see how that works out.

Our new schedule. This week we had our three English classes and then told them the next time we would see them would be January 2. We get a Christmas vacation.

The students are advanced intermediate. We will have to come up a more challenging curriculum than our last class. Hopefully we will engage them in more conversation as time passes. 

A member of the class has keys and permission to use all of the audio-visual capabilities in our training room. Already he has put U-Tube videos from the Internet up on a large screen to supplement our lesson plans. 

We were struggling to describe a poinsettia when he flashed pictures on the overhead screen. Perfect! He can also project from our laptop. We can really get creative as we teach this time around.  

Our new class - lots of men

We like our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday teaching schedule. This gives us more flexibility for training and travel on a long weekend. I also expect my church calling to change to accommodate our visits to other church units on Sunday.

Saturday is essentially a work day for Darlene as she teaches piano in the morning and trains a Family History leader in the afternoon. Sunday is a busy day for both of us.  If we have a Preparation Day to speak of, it will have to be Monday or Friday. One of those days will be needed to get our lesson plans ready for the next week.

Would you believe it is cold in Mongolia? The weather this winter has been cold, even by Mongolian standards. This week the temps are expected to dip into the -40 F range. The saving grace apparently is there hasn’t been much snow or wind to really make the weather hazardous. We bundle up, keep warm and limit our outdoor excursions.

Our Christmas tree

Our office is taking shape. We still have storage for mission pamphlets and a generous supply of Mongolian Book of Mormons on hand. The mission will see if they can’t find another place for some of them.  In place of the Andean Books of Mormon, we now have a Christmas tree.
We have a new nativity we purchased. The nativity scene takes place in front of a ger on a cart that is being transported to a new location. A member, Battsey, with whom we work in Family History and are close to and her family made it for us. They only make two a year so we feel privileged to have it as a memory for Christmas in Mongolia but of her family as well. 

Our new Ger nativity

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Missionary transfer meetings

In the middle of the week we unexpectedly stumbled across this Sculptured Ice Town

Missionary transfer meetings. I don't know the history and tradition of the mission transfer meetings and how and when they got started. Tonight will be about our fourth one. They pretty much violate the spirit of no homecomings or departure speeches, except that all homecomings in the local units are handled just like the church specifies.

This meeting honors missionary service and the youth look forward their moments in the sun when the eyes of the whole church in Mongolia are upon them. Missionary service is expected, a rite of passage and a goal that is in front of the youth every six weeks.

The youth of Mongolia are education conscious. But they make their mission plans to fit in somehow. The young women of Mongolia have responded well to opportunities to serve and have done so in great numbers. The new change in age for missionary service will only accelerate more service by young women.

Must see fireside as new and returning missionaries give their testimonies. Another 100 attendees or so not pictured.
Mission tradition. The new missionaries arrive from their 3 week MTC experience in the Phillippines (and from the US about three times a year as it is working out. They are met at the airport and taken to Zaison Hill overlooking the city where the dedicatory prayer by Neil A. Maxwell is read. Each new missionary reads a paragraph from the prayer. The meeting starts and ends with prayer.

Then they arrive at the mission home and have a big meal with the mission president and his wife. I don't know if testimonies are shared or not.

The next day, Saturday, they get orientation while their new senior companions to be are being trained by the Mission President and his wife. 

Our new missionaries - six sisters and two Elders
The whole mission experiences 6 week transfers on this date. The new missionaries are paired up with their new companions at noon but don’t depart for their new assignments until Monday after the transfer broadcast meeting on Sunday night. The other missionaries not being released go to the next assignments with their new companion on Saturday.

All missionaries serving in the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar mission will finish their missions with this mission transfer meeting. They are invited to share their testimonies at this meeting. All Mongolian missionaries that have returned from foreign missions during the last 6 week cycle are invited to share their testimonies at this meeting.

The meeting is broadcast to all chapels in Mongolia so parents and branch and ward members can watch without making the trip. Church, friends and family members from UB can personally attend this meeting. Sometimes parents and relatives from outlying areas travel to UB to attend the meeting and personally greet their missionaries being released.

Ulzicka on left returns from Temple Square Mission - is reunited with another former Temple Square Missionary
The chapel is filled to capacity and there is excitement in the air. The youth and Young Single Adults are really into this meeting.

The meeting itself is simple. A local church leader conducts the meeting but the Mission President and his wife are on the stand, along with all the incoming and returning missionaries. The incoming and departing senior couples are on the stand also.

The incoming missionaries (local or foreign) bear their testimonies, There is a musical number by a choir of new and newly released missionaries. Part of Sunday is spent rehearsing. Then the returning missionaries (local and foreign) give their testimonies. Any incoming Senior couple missionaries or departing Senior Couple missionaries within the next transfer cycle share their testimonies. No photography is allowed during the meeting.

After the meeting there is a festive atmosphere, reunions, lots of photography and people mingle for at least a half hour greeting one another. The Mission President and his wife are in much demand for individual pictures.

Graduating class members

Last class of English. We had our last class of English this past Friday with our group of adult learners. We ended up with about 7 highly motivated students who invested a lot in the class. Darlene is a natural teacher and she feels that her calling to Mongolia is to teach. She also works very hard at it. We’ve learned a lot about teaching English with class.

They loved learning songs in English - this was our final performance
We begin a new 3 month cycle with new students next Tuesday. We have some lesson plans already in place.

Suvdaa (standing) is bringing chocolates for the teachers
Our class surprised us with a farewell party. Darlene brought Chocolate chips cookies, banana bread, and milk while the students gave us chocolates and a cake. The also presented us with a beautiful book of Mongolian photography signed by the students in traditional Mongolian script. 
Watching a Christmas video. We asked about their gifts for children on New Years.
They formally presented us the book along with camel and yak socks on a traditional silk cloth used for giving gifts.

This cake was as good as it looked

We sang Christmas carols, played games, showed pictures taken during our class, showed clips of the Tabneracle Choir’s Christmas program and gave them tickets to the church choir concert on Dec. 21st. It was a fun and touching evening.

Family History work. The week ended up with a busy, busy Saturday. 
Family History Consultant training
Darlene taught piano, trained an assistant Family History Director from Erdenet, went shopping for refreshments, trained in a two hour meeting with 25 Family History Consultants, taught piano again, trained with a Family History Director from Darkhan and capped off the evening with a Chinese dinner out with our guest from Darkhan.   

Dinner with Onjie
I made a presentation to the new missionaries on Family History work, tagged along for shopping, and helped with the training. 

I stepped into a BYU management training workshop for business people or aspiring business people. It was well attended from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Ambitious people hungry for knowledge

It was one whirlwind day and one whirlwind week. 

About how we are feeling at the moment - hanging on

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unexpected treat!

We came across an unexpected display of ice sculpture outside of the Sky Department Store. This is a winter wonderland and playground for children. 

There is the daylight version and the night version. Take a look.

Ice House, Santa and Christmas Tree at the Sky

Ice House at night

Dolphins playing

Ice slide side view

Father watching a young boy coming down the slide. After six children before him came zooming down, he was holding on to the side for dear life. 


Santa and the ATM machine - a match for Mongolia

Reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh

Santa at night

Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?

Golden Fish slide

Yellow ger and hazy sky

Even angels came to visit.
Oh, the enchantments of Mongolia waiting to be discovered!