Friday, September 21, 2012

Our great day in Mongolia and other observations.

Feed My Sheep
David Andre Koch - 1963

I illustrated this blog with photographs of art work displayed at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.

During the mission conference, Stake President Odgerel gave a presentation on the impact of a carpenter coming to the shores of Galilea and and telling the professional fisherman how to cast their nets. They reacted with faith and humility instead of scoffing - and the results convinced them this was no ordinary man.   

Also during the mission conference, Elder Wilson asked how many missionaries from Mongolia were raised in the church. 3 hands went up out of the 50 or so Mongolian missionaries currently serving in this mission. I was surprised because I didn't expect to see any hands. 3 is only the beginning. Within another 12 years, there will be a new set of second generation LDS missionaries coming from all the young families in the church here.

Flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon
Yu Wen Chich -1976

The work has slowed down some because of the reduced numbers of missionaries. There are only 13 young (foreign) missionaries serving here when there used to be 150 -200. There are only so many young Mongolian youth in the pipeline so something has to change politically. Soon we will have 10 Senior couples in the country. They do great things here but can't proselyte. We hope we will have a break though in the next 6 months with the new democratic government in place.

Parable of the ten virgins
Paul Stephen Glass - 1978

Our meeting this week with the director of the National Archives was significant. Also there was a Committee on Religious Freedom that met this week with government officials at the very same time we met with the director of the National Archives.
Results of meeting with Ulziibaatar, Director of the National Archives. We had a successful meeting with D. Ulziibaatar, Director of the National Archives Sept. 19. We learned that the National Archives have had to compete with other budget priorities in the 5 years – with most of the money going into facilities and equipment.

In the past two years there has been an upsurge in interest by Mongolian people in tracing their family genealogies. They realized they needed to upgrade their services. They can finally devote their attention to the need to make records more accessible to the public.
He had plans to meet with another genealogical society in October to help them upgrade their services and record preservation. Once he has that meeting he will invite us to a joint planning meeting. It appears that our meeting with him was quite timely as he welcomed us to the table and no commitments had been made to the other party. He also understands that FamilySearch is a major player in archive work and liked having us involved.

He notices the sparrow
Marta Ines Johnson - 1945

The miracle of forgiveness
Al Young -1953
He discussed at length problems with Mongolian records and family genealogy. Before the Russian  intervention, Mongolians could trace their histories through nine generations. Now they can barely trace three generations. The Russians took away their patronymic and tribal names and this has reeked havoc on family history work.
He spontaneously and reverentially took down a large book, The White Book, containing 21,000 names who were victims of persecution and death at the hands of the communist leaders in 1937. He explained that the communists obtained the family records of the Chinggis Khan family – the only Mongolian family line to survive the many years of Chinese suppression.

Chinggis Kahn’s living descendants were singled out for murder by the communists to prevent any challenge to their authority in Mongolia. The descendants of Chinggis Khan are understandably reluctant to have their family records become public because of how the communists used them.

I will bring you up again out of the depths
Jonathan Arthur Clark - 1981
He asked if we were volunteers and was pleased we were. He developed a rapport with Darlene because of their ability to converse directly in Russian. Once the meeting was over, they began chattering in Russian like Magpies. He was gracious, hospitable and took careful notes during our visit. He understood English but chose to listen to both the English and our translator October’s Mongolian translation of what we were saying. He asked for the English copy of our letter to keep along with the Mongolian language translation.

 Charity Never Faileth
Julie Rogers - 1953

We couldn’t feel any better about the meeting and the prospects for moving forward. Elder Wilson will take this message to Salt Lake when he returns for General Conference to make sure there is a budget line for an Acquisition project in Mongolia if our negotiations are successful. What a divine confluence of events that brought all this together at this time.
Having this breakthrough meeting with the National Archives Director could be the beginning of having online records eventually for Church members. We need to be concerned now because when the members and stakes in Mongolia are ready, family name submission to the temple also needs to be ready.

The Salt Lake temple
Mark Evans - 1954

Afterward we celebrated our meeting by taking October to Millie’s, the most American hangout in Ulaanbaatar where they serve, hamburgers, milk shakes, pizzas, French fries and all things American.
October with Phillie Cheesesteak Sandwiches and Fries at Millies

Later that afternoon we reported our meeting in a staff meeting with other Senior couples, the Mission Presidency and Service Center leaders. We heard a positive report from Soyolmaa, the head of the Service Center on her meeting on religious freedom. Her meeting wasn’t as definitive as ours but it was also a positive step in the right direction.  

Mongolian personalities. I had an interesting conversation with a church member about Mongolian personalities and how they are different from other Asians - more outgoing, more assertive, more outward humor, more equality between men and women, and more educated and versatile in their life skills. Mongolian missionaries in foreign countries deal with the stereotype of Mongolia being a country of illiterate nomads. The people they meet are amazed about their literacy and street smarts. There is nothing dumb or shy about these people.

As I sat pondering
Vicki Lynn Walker - 1965

Some of it has to do with their rural nomadic lifestyle (kind of like farm children who learn a lot of practical knowledge along with their book smarts) (cowboy independence and self sufficiency) and some has to do with the influence of Russia for 70 years. Not that Russia was the vanguard of western culture and ideas but enough of the Russian educational system and outspokenness shaped Mongolians to be different than the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese.

They seem to have some innate spirituality and humility that wasn't drummed out of them by communism or ritualistic Buddhism or Shamanism. Atheism or Buddhism were fairly weak traditions despite or because of Russian influence. If anything, Mongolia seems like a secular culture embracing capitalism - devoid of a lot of religious traditions but having rich family and cultural traditions that give them a strong national identity.  Despite their few numbers, they are a unique people – unique even among Asians.

The preservation of Mongolia as a country seems miraculous in a way because of it being situated between Russia and China. Either one of them would have taken over Mongolia if it weren't for the other country counterbalancing their power. The uniting of the Mongolian tribes with one common language (hard to learn) under Chinggis Khan perserved Mongolian culture despite its weak position politically and militarily. It's remoteness, vastness, cold climate and lack of resources (until recently) made it an uninviting target for conquest.   

Another discussion point that came up was that Mongolian men were lost and adrift when capitalism came into Mongolia in 1992. Women quickly adapted (for survival of their families and became the leaders in society and in the family while suddenly displaced men found solace in alcohol rather than compete in a capitalist society). Men are just now - 20 years later becoming equal with women and taking back their leadership roles in the family and society.

Through the window
Curtis Edward Bay - 1968
We see too many drunk Mongolian men drunk in broad daylight but it is a small minority compared to everyone else who seems to be going on about their business. There are a lot worse things happening in western societies but it is still sad to see the obvious destructive influence of alcohol being so public.

Some of the best conversion stories are about men who were in the throes of addiction becoming the outstanding church leaders and family men. What a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church addiction recovery programs here are a wonderful tool in helping members or part member families get healing and sobriety.

Other assignments. Darlene and I enjoy our teaching English classes. She is a dedicated teacher and this consumes a lot of her thought and energy. I am glad she is my partner when it comes to English teaching. Our night class at the church on Wednesdays is full of bright-eyed, eager students who can’t get enough English. There were 36 in the Bro. and Sis. Woods’ 6:00 pm class and 27 stayed on for our class at 7:00 pm.
This Sunday we both speak in the Chingeltei and Sukhbaatar Branches on Family History. On the 29 and 30th we will be going to Darkhan to do training and to speak in both Branches there.

The apostle John

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Elder Wilson's visit

Elder Tugsbaatar's sketch of Christ given to me during the mission conference

English class. We met with our 11 new students. They are from the Customer Service Department of TelecomMongolia. Darlene puts a lot of effort into preparation for these classes and it shows. Our sponsor expects a lot and the extra effort makes a huge impression on him. It would happen anyway because Darlene takes the challenge of teaching English seriously.
Our new class
Our schedule turns out to fairly manageable with two hour classes from 5:00 – 7:00 pm Tuesdays and Fridays and 9:00 – 11:00 am on Saturday mornings. We had one week of this schedule and we like the back to back classes for getting more accomplished with the students. It looks like I will be teaching a conversational English class on Wednesday nights (minimal preparation) but lots of focused discussion topics on a weekly basis.
TelecoMongolia sponsor Sharadembrel

We met and interviewed a former Family History Center Director, Solongo (Rainbow), on Monday night. This is part of our effort to meet and learn everything we can from key members who have contributed to the program.
Greeting the Clarks
Mission conference. Elder Wilson is one of three general authorities assigned to manage church affairs in Asia from Hong Kong. This was his first visit to Mongolia.
More of the line-up
 We missionaries stood in a line and then each in turn met Elder and Sister Wilson prior to our meeting. It is a ritual that has been developed to organize the experience and prevent confusion. We had two solid days of training with most of it being focused on Peach my Gospel and the Doctrine of Christ.

Sister missionaries at the conference 
We had translation of the Mongolian speakers and the English speakers President and Sister Clark and Elder and Sister Wilson had translators for their talks. Sister Wilson had a significant portion of the training time.
Role playing
There were several training segments where the Elders and Sisters role played teaching in certain scenarios. The missionaries were dynamic and enthusiastic in their presentations.
Missionary choir doing sign language
We had some lovely missionary choir numbers and concluded with a testimony meeting. We had just enough time for the missionaries (and a few others) that will be leaving the mission before the next big mission transfer in November.
Work groups
Elder Wilson was impressed with the spirituality and dedication of the missionary force in Mongolia. There are about 1,000 returned missionaries in a country with only 10,000 members. He couldn’t think of another example of a country receiving the gospel so fast and having that many missionaries serve within 20 years of the gospel being introduced.

Christ in Mongolia

I had a moving experience. A Mongolian missionary noticed my doodling and he quickly sketched out a picture of Christ and handed to me as a gift. It was absolutely beautiful. We handed it back to him to sign and he did in Mongolian script. Later we showed the picture to the Clarks and Wilsons. They were moved by the beauty of what this Elder had created.

Elder Neuberger greeting Elder Wilson

It turns out that Elder Tugsbaatar is an artist and at the end of the conference, he donated two pictures of the “tree of life” to the Mission. A year ago he drew a portrait of Elder Holland preaching at the pulpit, had it framed and gave it to him at the end of his visit to Mongolia. Elder Holland has it on his mantle at home as a treasured memory of talent and generosity of this Elder. I feel the same way with my gift.
Sister Manduhai - Our daughter's convert

Post missionary conference events. We met with Elder Wilson on Thursday. He wants to help us clear the path for a budget line for Mongolian records acquisition when he goes to Salt Lake to General Conference. He understands the importance of why this work needs to go forward, especially after experiencing the great strides the members have made here.
Elder Wilson with Ganhuyag, District President
Thursday, we also have a staff meeting with the senior couples and Elder Wilson where we all reported on our assignments. We also had our weekly Skype training session with the Asian Area Family History couples in the afternoon.

The week ended with our having made an appointment with the Director of the National Archives this coming Wednesday. It will be the launch of what we hope will be a successful effort to access and put online Mongolian family history and genealogical data.
ElderWilson and Pres. Clark with young Mongolian priesthood leaders
On Saturday and Sunday we were a part of the UB East District Conference. Elder Wilson presided at the conference. The focus of the Sunday meeting was the temple and having a current temple recommend. 

Afterward he called a meeting with all the new converts during this past year and their Branch Presidents. Each Branch President introduced his members and described their church calling and current activity in the church. This ended his visit to Mongolia. This has been a busy and full week.

My birthday. I celebrated my birthday in the mission during the mission conference. They sang happy birthday in Mongolian to me and two others who were celebrating birthday within a couple of days of the conference. I wore my "birthday suit" to the Conference. I had picked it up on Monday morning and it is the best fitting suit I have ever had.
My new suit

Darlene and I will have some more tailoring done before our mission is over. We have another 18 months to figure out what we want. We will probably have a couple of deels (traditional Mongolian clothes) made also.

We postponed our birthday celebration dinner until Saturday evening when we went out to eat with three other couples to an Indian restaurant in the Flower Hotel. The senior couples have a tradition of paying for the meal for the birthday celebrant. Great food! Great company! Great price!
Birthday dinner with senior couples
We Skyped with all our children except Tyler who is in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to depart for home on Sept. 25. It was wonderful and we hope to set a Skyping routine to have at least monthly contact with all of them.  It was a great birthday present.
Hunts, Farmers and Woods
Meeting the Woods. Mongolia received a new senior couple on Wednesday night. They are Elder and Sister Woods from Las Vegas. They are a delightful couple with outgoing personalities. They will be the office couple. They are well suited for their calling. They are enthusiastic about their preparation to teach English and want to share what they learned from BYU Professors Anderson and Evans. They also had a great experience with Bolorma, our Mongolian teacher at the MTC.

Sister Wood with new friends
   Another couple, the Gardners, are coming to in October. In short order we will have the Farmers, Woods and Garderners to help cultivate the work.

We hosted the Woods in our home Thursday evening. Every senior couple takes a turn with the new couple either fixing a dinner or taking them out to eat.

Darlene fixed a lasagna dinner that worked out wonderfully. We visited and enjoyed getting acquainted. They will make a huge impression here – they can’t help it. Elder Woods has a salesman personality and he is selling the Gospel, English and the sheer joy of life. Sister Woods, no shrinking violet herself, has silver hair and a winning smile. She and Sister Farmer will be an elegant pair in a dark-headed country.    

Minerva Tiechert  - Church History Museum
We now have Mongolian pioneers adding to church history  





Sunday, September 9, 2012

The work we do.

Improbable sight over Murun
Training. We had a wonderful response by the members in our trips to Erdenet and Murun. The members are motivated to do family history work though most don’t have computers or online records to assist them. We are focusing our training on the priesthood leaders and Family History Consultants or potential Consultants in each church Branch.
Training in Murun
We encounter difficulties in getting the members to get a user name, password and an email address from English language screens on new.FamilySearch. It is a struggle because of the language issue and lack of computer literacy. The more computers, translators and knowledgeable trainers we have, the better.
Mongolian cemetery - I wonder how much of this has been recorded? The dust plume in the background is a vehicle approaching.

Unfortunately there is just the two of us English speakers doing the training with the disadvantages of not knowing Mongolian and not having enough computers, translators or other trainers to go around.

We have had key translators in each city so far but the opening hour or two of the training can be tedious as we try to get everyone signed on. We are encouraging members to sign up and work out all these issues before we arrive for our training so we can be more effective in getting members to enter their personal information on new.FamilySearch. We are going to become familiar with the Mongolian vocabulary that matches the English screens so we can train directly without a translator.

Our new partners in Murun
Church talks. We both give motivational church talks about the importance of family history work and how it fits in with the gospel. We are trying to prepare members for a temple in Mongolia so the sealing ordinances of the temple will be more accessible to them and their families. Also the submission of names of family ancestors is important for the vicarious work that takes place in the temple.

We share the Asian Area goals for Mongolia to accomplish during the coming year: each member complete a 4 generation pedigree chart, a 10% increase in names submitted to the temple and personal involvement of youth in family history research and training of members.
Family pictures have a place of honor in a Mongolian home
We will be doing training in Darkhan on Sept. 30th.   We are getting more and more aware of how to train and what to do with each training event we have. We hope to use Google + to show actual computer screens in training members using the Internet.

Additional duties. We did more work with the Ulaanbaatar Family History Consultants and their leaders in two additional meetings this weekend. On Thursday we joined a Skype conference call for all the Family History missionaries in the Asian area. We will have a weekly conference call. We also Skyped with Danny Chin, the records acquisition manager for Asia, to go over our upcoming meetings with the Directors of the National and Central Archives here in Ulaanbaatar.
Lots of data family history data here in Mongolia - in old Mongolian script
Primary pianist. Darlene was called to be the pianist in the Primary – an organization that teaches children 3-11 on Sundays. I will describe the uniqueness of what she experienced in Primary here in Mongolia on our next blog.

Milking is done

Members with prized goats
Humanitarian Service. We appreciated traveling with Richardsons and observing with their Humanitarian Service calling. They (Deseret Charities International) have funded and helped carry out vision projects training Mongolian opthalmalogists, neonatal care specialists, provision of wheelchairs to the disabled, providing drip irrigation systems for family gardens, replacement animals to member nomad families who suffered herd losses and funding water wells for communities.
Richardsons let us tag along
Wheelchair recipient with daughter and grandsons
We accompanied the Richardsons as they did follow up visits to a wheelchair recipient and a nomad family with a goat, sheep and yak herd. We didn’t get to see their follow up with member gardens as this occurred while we were doing our training.
Generations of women cooperating in a lifestock enteprise 
Meetings that we find amazing. We saw a BYU Hawaii recruitment meeting with more than 100 young adults attending.
"This is BYU Hawaii in January" - audible gasp of of amazement from audience - deal closed
Returned missionary party at Sukhbaatar Branch
Also our somewhat small Sukhbaatar Branch held a social activity for returned missionaries. There were a total of 27 returned missionaries and their families attending out 42 who could have attended. The missionary effort by young Mongolians is remarkable. There is a higher percentage of young people going on missions here than in Utah Valley.
Sister Returned Missionaries
I was on television. I also participated in a television advice show hosted by a BYU Hawaii graduate student, Alimaa. It was an hour long live show in “English”, what else. It was on how young couples handle money. The taped version will have Mongolian subtitles. We will see where this leads.
On Alimaa's show
Alimaa is enthusiastic about future joint projects for the Church and the public. She has asked me to teach her University class on marriage and family therapy in October when she will be in Korea. The Stake President is interested in holding firesides for married members. We will be running all this by President Clark to get his permission and guidance.  
A budding partnership
A big week ahead. Elder Wilson, a member of the Asian Area Presidency, is visiting our mission this week. He is over Family History for the Asian Area. We will have a half hour interview with him on Thursday. This will be an interesting week. All the missionaries in Mongolia will be coming to UB and interviewing with Elder Wilson, having training, and sharing in a testimony meeting. The week will conclude with a East District Conference (half of the church congregations in UB) with Elder Wilson attending all conference sessions.
Hospitality rituals of a Ger family are intricate and generous


Friday, September 7, 2012

The Blue Pearl of Mongolia - Lake Hovskol

Lake Hovskol - the Blue Pearl of Mongolia

This is 2nd largest fresh water lake in the world and a cousin to Lake Baikol to the north across the border in Siberia, the largest and deepest fresh water lake in the world. Mongolia is building good roads here for future tourists. Right now, only the most adventuresome make it here. We were the last visitors of the season and had the lake to ourselves.

Our Ger Camp - The Blue Pearl

This blog will take you on a photographic journey of Hovskol Lake. The next blog will describe our work in this part of Mongolia. This long journey to Hovskol took 17 hours of driving time, half of which is over dirt roads that we don't want to see again. As you will see, the trip was well worth it.   

Our Ger Camp

Moon rise over Hovskol
Dawn at Hovskol
Hovskol during the day
The Groesbecks, Richardsons, and Farmers next to a Buddhist shrine
Checking out the shore

In more ways than one
Out on a limb
Where's my lawnchair?

Dawn at Hovskol
Serene and wondrous
Hovskol silouettes
The sun emerges over Hovskol

The rising sun

Reflections of a new day
The stillness of the morning
Shoreline of Hovskol at daybreak
Gorgeous sight

We had company at the lake - Yaks
A blue-gray-silver beast
Saying goodbye to our lovely lake