Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our marriage workshops take off

There is a lot to see in Mongolia
The weather. The weather and our mood have brightened up a bit. The snow and ice on the sidewalks are gone. There are plenty of slippery spots here and there but Mongolians have been fairly compulsive on good days to chip off the remaining ice. 

Not all the snow is gone - two missionaries about to slide down a hill
 Families and business clean up the ice and snow as a part of getting ready for the new year (Tsaagan Sar).

The temperatures are now in the teens but the smoke is still prevalent in the atmosphere. Darlene made the mistake of opening our bedroom window to cool down our apartment. It wasn't long before the smoke had invaded our dwelling. Maybe this spring we'll be either too hot inside or too cold outside. 

No major melting yet.  It does feel a little like spring but it is the probably the contrast effect of what we have been through.

April may be coming! Not the month April but our April. Tyler’s wife hopes to join our three daughters on a visit to Mongolia during the 20th Anniversary celebration and reunion being planned to commemorate the founding of the Mongolian mission. The week of April 14 – 21 will be one of the highlights of our mission.  We are excited!

Tassa, Tawny (missionary in Mongolia 1998 and Mitchell),  April, Tara and Tally (not coming).
Normally this wouldn’t happen – a mini-girls’ week out in the mission field of a senior couple in the middle of their mission.  Our daughter Tawny’s being invited to come for her service here as a missionary, our being here and the lure of Mongolia has proven irresistible for most of our children.

Two families are getting the other set of grandparents to come to help care for their children, our son hopes to take the week off of work to manage his family, and the oldest daughter has a reliable babysitter and her husband, Eric, enlisted to free up her time.   

Our English class is doing well. Our sponsor asked us to put together a mid-term on short notice and we complied. We are down to a faithful 10 students who will finish out this trimester of classes. The Chairman of the company asked for private classes also but every week has been such that the demands on his time cause cancellations. We are looking forward to getting into a groove with him.

A visit to Sharavdemberel's home
Our sponsor,  Sharavdemberal, invited us over for a delayed Tsaagan Sar visit to his home without all the holiday ceremony. He and his wife provide child care assistance for a granddaughter so she was there also. Her presence was fun as we related to her during the visit. It was a pleasant visit and helps cement our positive relationship with our sponsor.

Is it the foreign language or the eensy, weensy spider that is so captivating?
Family history training. We had our monthly training meeting with the Family History Consultants in Ulaanbaatar.  The Center Director and his staff are taking more direct responsibility for budgeting and planning the meeting and we are there at their request to help with the training. 

Consultant training in UB
We have a good working relationship with Nasanbold, Orkhon and Battsey. We are a fun and effective team. Unfortunately for us, but not for Battsey, she will be going to BYU Hawaii in April to finish her education. She and Orkhon have made our Family History mission a delight and have been so helpful. We will miss her.

Our UB Family History Staff: Nasanbold, Orkhon, Battsey and ourselves
The Asian Area has featured our collective work (Tsaagan Sar fast and fireside and our Choibalsan visit ) to the other Asian Family History missionaries during our weekly Skype meeting and briefed the Asian Area Presidency on our accomplishments. All of this comes after a month of sickness so you know we had plenty of help, divine and otherwise. 
A Family History Consultant preparing a family for the temple - husband also present but not in the picture
Our marriage class meets a need. After we arrived last July, I had a conversation with Stake President Odgerel about the need of the members for advice and ideas on how to have successful marriages.  Most of the church focus in Mongolia has been on Young Single Adults and missionary work.  

The feedback he was getting from the bishops and his own interviews was that married couples needed more information on how to make their relationships work. He cleared my participation in doing work in this area with President Clark.

Some, but not enough, of the returned missionaries are marrying each other and starting young families.  The focus of the Young Single Adult Conference last summer was on dating and courtship. 
Speed dating this past summer
He reports they have had eight marriages so far come out of the conference.

We want more young families in Mongolia like this one
Darlene, myself and Alimaa, a church member and a professional trained in marriage and mental health, designed a 8 session program to strengthen marriages in Mongolia. The inaugural workshop was the first Saturday in February and the second was this past Saturday.

Alimaa. We had a much needed meeting with Alimaa and cemented our plans for the remaining 7 seminars.  She and I defined our roles and planned the second session. She will translate the handouts from here on out and they will be posted on the Internet through a commonly used Church website. She will seriously involve herself in translating my book during the coming year.

Alimaa - a television personality and mental health professional - is a gifted performer and presenter in front of an audience 
I am a part of her dissertation committee and will be mentoring her in her therapy techniques and her research project. All of this has President Clark’s approval. Part of my missionary contribution in Mongolia will be to leave my writings on marriage and relationships in Mongolian. Also my mentoring Alimaa will leave a trained professional and others to carry on the work so these seminars will have a lasting impact.  

Val with Tsege - the rest of the seats were subsequently filled in 
The class is a big hit. Attendance increased from 35 to around 60. The Stake President was raving about the feedback he received and, jokingly or otherwise, said he would be happy with 120 attending. He also said the Stake will be videotaping the rest of the workshops.

Azaa was providing sign language for a participant
We taught and demonstrated effective listening skills in our second session. The next one will focus on the role of the speaker in successful communication. I am busy trying to figure out how to minimize my lack of Mongolian language with the delicate topics we will be discussing. I am not used to having my communication mediated by a third party and the cumbersome loss of meaning and connection with the audience as a result.

Alimaa is certainly a key as she is fluent in English, Russian and Mongolian. I will have my own translator Tsege translating for me and Darlene. Her competence is crucial for our success. If our success so far is an indication, maybe this can actually work??!!!!  
Mongolia - good marriages - a key to a family oriented culture

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A family celebrates Tsaagan Sar

Father and son greet the Lunar New Year in Mongolia
 As Dr. Stewart and his group of LDS missionaries came down the mountain from viewing the Tsaagan Sar sunrise, he spotted two young girls dressed in deels standing outside a ger. 
What attracted Dr. Stewart's attention
Gradually more and more family members emerged equally clad in their national dress. It was a stunning site.
This family was dressed to the hilt

The sun was perfect shortly after dawn. Dr. Stewart took some amazing shots which he shared with me. 

Big smiles - big hearts
Two or three are National Geographic quality and the rest are darn close.
The finery of their dress was only exceeded by the generosity of their hospitality

They freely posed for the pictures and then invited their new guests inside their ger where they had a Tsaagan Sar meal prepared. 
Getting ready to celebrate Tsaagan Sar
There were even more people inside the ger in their deels gathered together for a beautiful family occasion.
Carving the sheep
A family holiday where children learn who they are and where they belong

Thanks for showing us your Mongolian heritage

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