Sunday, November 25, 2012

Birthday and Thanksgiving celebrations in Mongolia

And then began the feast
Thanksgiving in Mongolia. We are happy to be where we are, to serve in the capacity we are called, and to experience all that we experience. Through the marvels of technology, we Skype with our children and grandchildren, email with friends and family, and post and read blogs from places like Mongolia, Hungary, Honduras and the U.S. We are away but not really away.

The food was fantastic. Sister Clark searched Mongolia high and low for a turkey and found one. We felt very much at home as we met and feasted together. After dinner we watched a video documentary called "The Weeping Camel."
You'd weep too if you were being chased by a motorcycle
We had one Canadian couple, the Stewarts from Lethbridge, Alberta, who have had two Thanksgivings this year. 
The Stewarts with Sister Clark

One was on the first Monday of October (Canada’s Day of Thanksgiving) and this one was in Mongolia with us Americans. 

Poor Mongolians picking through the garbage looking for pop cans. We have a lot to be thankful for.
On the 4th Thursday of November, we taught our English class all about the origins of Thanksgiving and how and why we celebrate.  

However, we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday instead of Thursday this year because on Thursday 8 new missionaries from Mongolia checked in to serve missions in the Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar Mission. Six of the new missionaries are Sisters and 2 are Elders. They left the next morning for the Missionary Training Center in the Phillipines. They will be back in three weeks ready to serve. They also attend the temple while they are there.
Welcome to the land of Chinggis Khan
We understand that 6 new missionaries (2 Sisters, 4 Elders) from the United States have been called to serve in Mongolia. We believe (and hope) the politics have been straightened out so they will receive visas. They are scheduled to arrive in March. 

They will be the first young foreign missionaries allowed into the country in over a year. One of those called is Elder Odd from Providence, Utah. Lauren's teacher in Providence is Sister Odd.  Her son is one of the four young Elders that will becoming to Mongolia. Think of all the young men and women called to serve missions in the church and only six received this call. What a privilege and a blessing!
The Blue Sky skyscraper with blue sky and a moon above it as seen from our English classroom
Weather and pollution. The weather is cold but very little snow. Dr. Stewart interviewed a  physician from the UK about her research in Mongolia on respiratory diseases. She said that Ulaanbaatar is the 2nd most polluted city in the world. Mexico City is #1. The air pollution stems from coal burning fires coming from the Ger Districts surrounding the city.

There are around 600,000 people living in gers in UB. In winter, they rely on wood or coal to heat their homes. The geography of Ulaanbaatar is similar to Salt Lake City in that the city is surrounded by mountains and hills and air pressure keep the polluted air from rising and blowing away.

Family History, Marriage workshops and English. We have planned out some aggressive Family History goals for the coming year while waiting patiently for hearts to soften with regard to a records acquisition project for Mongolia. We will be starting a series of workshops on marriage and family communication in January. 
These students are really into it - as is the teacher
We will be ending our English class in mid-December and starting a new one. We’ve grown attached to our students and will miss them. We will start with a new group in January.  This will be the second time we will be teaching this material. We now have lesson plans in place for this next group. It should take less time to prepare.

Robbed but not really. We had one of our debit cards stolen in the mail. We noticed about 4 different charges for food and restaurant bills of $20 or less showing up in New York State and Jamaica (that might be Jamaica NY). We notified our bank and they will be sending us new cards. We felt fortunate the charges weren’t larger – what a strange world.The bank will absorb the fraudulent transactions.
At home in Mongolia
Dinner out. On Friday night, we had dinner with Byamba and his wife, Enkhbayar and their almost 5 year old daughter Nimjin. It was a traditional Mongolian meal with meat dumplings (Byyz), a delicious cold salad that had beef in it, and a hot milk and salt drink (harem). Byamba told us of his new promotion as Senior Officer in the land development office of Ulaanbaatar City. He is our son Tyler’s friend who came to St. Louis for training.
Nimjin was warming up to us
Their apartment is first class and gave us a glimpse of the accommodations of striving, middle class Mongolians. A car, a nice apartment, two solid jobs, and a delightful little daughter – they are doing well. It was fun playing and interacting with Nimjin. We need surrogate grandchildren while we are here.
Birthday girl - the company was great even if the food wasn't

The dinner out on her birthday didn’t work out as well. We tried Ulaanbaatar’s only Mexican restaurant, ”Los Bandidos.” What a disappointment! We did learn that we don’t need to go there again. Mexican food will have to wait. If Darlene can find the ingredients, she can do much better Mexican food than Los Bandidos, hands down.  Oh well, live and learn.
Any resemblance to Mexican food was strictly coincidental
The Mongolian language.  We are studying hard. Darlene always has but she is starting to make progress. Now that the political season is over, I am devoting more time and energy to Mongolian. I received a compliment for Darlene from someone who hardly knows her. The members here are noticing her constant inquisitiveness and practice of the language.  
Next week the Shropes will be looking back on their Mongolian Mission
This next week we will be integrating a little more into District and Zone conferences and meetings with the young missionaries.

Life in Mongolia is “Nam Taйvan” – very peaceful – which is a wonderful expression of pleasure for the Mongolians. Their faces light up when I answer their question, "How do you like Mongolia?" and I answer, "Nam Taйvan".   
Very Peaceful

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Election week is O’bummer but other than that...

View of the National Parliament Building after a first snowfall from our classroom window

Chingeltei Cemetery comes alive. The highlight of the week was how quickly the photography project at the Chingeltei Cemetery took on a life on its own. The planning committee was exceptional in their thoughtfulness and thoroughness. 
The beginning

We visited with Soyolmaa, the Service Center Manager, about our amazement about how such a large project could take shape on short notice.

She said that Mongolians are great procrastinators. Most anything they plan, they accomplish at the last moment. So whether or not there is a large or a small time window to do things, it all works out about the same. 

And more

She also said that most everything works out well. We agree completely. We’ve seen some really first class events since coming here 4 months ago.
Our project stops where the top wall ends

Our Chingeltei project will involve from 200 to 360 adult members, depending on how many show up. The graveyard itself is immense. We are only doing a fraction of the actual area that is scheduled for destruction.
Add a little flour and the inscriptions become visible

There will be training on digital cameras photography, grave preparation, and downloading on to laptops for later uploading on to the Billion Graves website. We have two buses rented and food catered to the church afterward for everyone that participates.
Some are easy to read

We will organize the members into 6 teams that are responsible for a certain area of the cemetery. Each team will have mini-teams of 3 or 4 members that will consist of groups of a photographer and the others will prepare the tombstones for maximum visibility using flour to bring out the inscriptions.

Mongolians have a fear of graveyards because of Buddhist traditions of evil spirits. I researched Buddhist death and burial rituals and feel I understand somewhat why this is a challenging activity for the members. The planning committee made the decision not to involve youth under 18 in this project because of potential vulnerability to superstitions and fears. Sometime I will share more about what I learned but there is so much more to share about this past week.  
Welcome home

Missionary transfer meeting. A number of Mongolian missionaries completed their missions including 3 that returned to Mongolia after serving in the United States. They all bore their testimonies and sang a hymn together. The meeting was broadcast throughout Mongolia. One senior couple, the Shropes, will be leaving us in a month.

Choir rehearsal prior to Missionary Transfer meeting.

A group of 26 members have been at the Hong Kong Temple this week. The Richardsons were able to accompany this group. 
The Richardsons

These temple trips are marvelous experience. The members go for their own endowments and then spend a week in the temple doing work for their own family names. They are assisted by the temple patron fund.

There are several goals the members have to accomplish to go on this trip besides having current temple recommends. One thing they have to do is save their own money and contribute a portion toward the cost of the trip.  

O’Bummer, er, I mean Obama. Sister Farmer and I were in mourning about the election results. We both wore black the next couple of days after the election.  Romney came so close and we actually believed (hoped) he would win. What a disappointment! 

All the senior couples from the United States were down in the dumps. The Lord’s plan and church will continue to grow and flourish despite the travails we think our country will experience. Our children in the United States were similarly affected and we spent some good Skype time commiserating with each other.  

A Family History Center for Choibalsan. We Skyped with the Branch President from Choibalsan and gave him four final tasks to do before the Family History Center in Choibalsan will be formally approved. We will be going there with President and Sister Clark on the first weekend of January to do some training with the Priesthood leaders and the new Family History Center Director.
Now this is the Mongolia we imagined - our apartment is on the left.
Snowstorm and weather. It’s cold and it feels like winter. We had our first snowfall where snow stayed on the ground. I wear a hat or cap and scarf every time I go out – let’s say most of the time. Darlene lost her voice and I had to teach English while she sat and watched. 

The Mongolians think the expression “lost your voice” is hilarious and offer to go help look for it. They say something like “your voice is gone or not here” which actually makes more sense.
Beginning keyboard students - group lesson

Keyboard in our office - nice view of UB - Hong Kong Temple - Peruvian Book of Mormons.
Saturday piano lessons and Sunday Primary music. Darlene teaches piano on Saturday morning. She gives 20 minute individual lessons to the more advanced students. We have a keyboard in our office. Oyun, our daughter Tawny’s first missionary companion in Mongolia, is taking lessons.

Primary music practice

We have a big week ahead of us. 1. We host the senior couple fireside on Sunday evening. 2. Ulziibaater, the Director of the National Archives, is going to meet with us on Thursday to discuss a records preservation project for Mongolia. 3. Danny Chin, the Asia Area Acquisition specialist, is coming to Mongolia to be a part of the meeting with Ulziibaatar. He also wants to see the Chingeltei Cemetery while he is here. 4. On Saturday, the Cemetery Project will take place from late morning through the afternoon. Throw in our usual English classes and music lessons and it will be a memorable week.
Big Mission - Big Goals
Marriage seminars. Alimaa and I continue to plan marriage seminars that will take place at the church for the next year and a half while Sister Farmer and I are in Mongolia. It will be a series of 10 Saturday evening firesides on different marriage and communication topics. The classes are scheduled to begin in January and will be repeated again in April, September and January of 2014. Beginning in April, these classes will be broadcast to all church buildings in Mongolia.

The work with helping Mongolian members with their marriages is like a mission within our Family History/English Teaching mission. Alimaa has a television crew that will do live filming and prepare visual graphics to augment the presentations. I will be helping her with the PhD research on defining distinctive Mongolian mental health issues.

We are marveling at all the things that are happening for us since we arrived. The Lord truly had a mission waiting for us to perform here in Mongolia.

A Day in the Life of Mongolia