Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Woods go home, visiting homes of missionary parents, family history swan song

Woods farewell party - Jiguur, secretary to the President, is the clown in front

The Woods leave. A lot of activity this week centered around Elder and Sister Wood leaving this week. They are the first senior couple to leave since the Hunts left last April.  We must have saved up some energy for this because it was quite the whingding.
On Sunday evening , there was a testimony meeting in which all the senior couples attended. They were the office couple so a lot of church employees came also to bid them farewell.
It was a touching tribute to their impact and contributions as missionaries. It was held in the high council room. 
Another thing we do for departing couples is prepare a letter expressing personal thoughts and memories for the Woods. We will also receive these letters from the other couples with whom we served when we leave our mission.  For example, the Woods wrote letters for all the senior couples and these will be given out as the missionaries leave the field.
Tommy Benson was first in line
We also held a potluck dinner and program for the Woods on Wednesday afternoon.
Monkhjargal on the harp
The Service Center staff also participated. After eating a lot of good food, we sang and played games.
At the end of March and the beginning of April, ourselves, the Gardners, and the Stewarts will all be leaving.
From left to right, The Gardners, Linfords, Farmers, Woods, Nays, Englands, and Sister Stewart. Elder Stewart was taking the picture. Pres. and Sister Benson were in Hong Kong.
We will be having testimony meeting and a farewell party also. That time will come sooner than we think.
We coordinated our selection of ties
Visiting the homes of Mongolian missionaries.  Pres. Benson has assigned each senior couple several families of recent Mongolian missionaries serving in Mongolia and other countries. Even though we have just a month left on our mission, we have five families to visit.

We visited our first family this past Sunday. After we leave, these families will be reassigned to another senior couple. Each family will receive two or three visits from senior couples during the course of their child’s mission.
Elder Murat's family - Galiimaa in blue is a returned missionary who served on Temple Square
Many of the missionaries that serve from Mongolia come from part member or non-member families. These visits will help the parents understand the mission better and encourage supportive communication between themselves and their missionaries. These visit are like Tsaagan Sar visits, full of good will, good food and Mongolian hospitality. 

In addition to learning Mongolian, Elder Palmer is learning sign language. His companion, Elder Oyunsukh, is scheduled to start hearing sound for the first time beginning March 20. 
Elders Palmer and Oyunsukh teaching in sign language

He recently received cochlear implant operation. Elder Palmer is having an unbelievably sweet experience in the mission field associating with the deaf. 
Nyamka's mother and Sister Sneddon
A new missionary arrives. Sister Sneddon was delayed from coming to Mongolia with her group of American missionaries.

One of her MTC companions, Nyamka, was from Mongolia and is now serving in California.  Sister Sneddon was assigned to our ward and was able meet Nyamka’s mother at church. Small world.  Sister Sneddon was called on to speak her first Sunday in church – a baptism of fire.
Alimaa and her sister Nomin
Alimaa and her sister come to visit. Alimaa's husband, Batbayar, is getting baptized this weekend. Due to our travels, we will miss it.

I am helping Alimaa with her dissertation project. She was my co-presenter on the marriage seminars we held last spring.

Our Thursday English class. This is our new English class we teach at the church on Thursday nights.  There were 37 in attendance. By the time they fall in love with us and we with them, we will be saying our goodbyes. I stayed after class with a group of about 10 to chit chat or "shoot the bull".
Family history - our last countryside trip. This weekend we will be going to Choibalsan with Puujee, Country Adviser for Mongolia at our side. Choibalsan is on the far eastern side of Mongolia near the Chinese border. Our next blog will have details of our journey and what we accomplished. We worked at getting new printers and scanners for our countryside (Darkhan, Erdenet, and Choibalsan) Family History Centers this week.

The Harringtons, Asia Area Family History Advisers based in Hong Kong, will conduct their last Skype meeting with all the Asia Area Family History missionaries tomorrow. We had a great working relationship with them - we will miss them… for about a month. They will be returning to Blackfoot, Idaho. All of us will take terrific memories home with us when the time comes.
The Woods brought sparkle and enthusiasm to everyone's lives. Soyolmaa is cheering in delight.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Spring in Mongolia, back in the saddle, Family History, UB museum

Winter Festival in Inner Mongolia - Photo courtesy of China News Service
Signs of spring. Contrary to the long, cold winter in the United States, the weather in Mongolia has been relatively mild by Mongolian standards. It has been consistently in the -15 to -20 F range with a few exceptions.
A child had some fun

There have been a few light snowfalls but no “snow days”. The last couple of days the weather has "soared" to + 20 F and it feels like spring. Off come the big winter muffin coats  - finally.
Actually Tsaagan Sar or the lunar new year marks the official beginning of spring in Mongolia. That is the way Mongolians speak of it.

It seems odd to hear people mention spring in the middle of February with temperatures well below zero. We’ve have spring for almost a month in Mongolia.

The winter ice festival at Lake Khovskul was cancelled this year because of thin ice on the lake. Last year people could drive vehicles on the lake ice until Mid-March. That is the way we remember last winter – very cold.
So you won’t feel "left out in the cold", here is another picture from a winter festival in Inner Mongolia, courtesy of the China News Service.
The main problem this winter in Ulaanbaatar has been the smoke from coal burning fires. Winter is still unpleasant and the smoke pollution in the air is irritating if not dangerous.

English teaching. We had our first Thursday night class. We had over thirty students. It was fun and energizing. We will teach on Thursday nights for the rest of our time in Mongolia. We will teach them the idiom, “Back in the saddle”. We teach three idioms at the beginning of each class.
"Chewing the fat" after class
We were so busy that we didn’t take of picture of all our class. By the time I remembered, it was after class was over and only a small group of students were left and involved in a small group discussion.
A new member enters her family history information on Family Tree. Monkhjargal is interpreting for us.
Family History. We are scheduling what we hope to be an eventful meeting with the National Archives during March. We continue to meet and train Family History Consultants on Saturdays and by appointment.
Two of our young Family History Consultants in the UB Family History Center
We are organizing our files for our eventual successors. As far as we know, no couple is currently in the pipeline to replace us. If you are a retired church member and you love Family History, and would like an adventurous mission, talk to your Bishop. Soon!

Puujee, Country Adviser for Mongolia, will "man the fort" (another idiom) until help arrives.
The early days of Ulaanbaatar - Gandan Monastery was the old city center

A little Mongolian history. I took a little side trip to the Ulaanbaatar City Museum about a block and a half from our office. I was able to get some interesting pictures of Ulaanbaatar "back in the day". 
Breshnev - a relic of Russian influence in Mongolia

Depiction of 1943 Naadam celebration and parade
Darlene and I will visit the National Art Museum before we leave.
The beautiful and the ugly - "Ugly as sin"

Sunday, February 16, 2014

English, Senior Conference, a visit to Batbayar's home, future growth

A visit to a herder's family near Baganuur
Teaching English. We had a flurry of activity this weekend starting with Thursday night. We attended the Woods last English class taught at the church for one hour on Thursday nights. 
We will inherit this class for a month or so until our own mission draws to a close. 
The last class was a birthday party for Elder Wood and an opportunity for the students to express themselves in English.

Some of our new students
Senior couple conference. On Friday we had our first senior conference while we’ve been on this mission. 
Pres. Benson will hold four of these a year. The four couples assigned to the Darkhan District came down for the event.

We had a lunch together, training on “Training the Trainer”, sample English teaching methods presented by a few couples, 
The Groesbecks teaching an English module
announcements on a couple of new programs the seniors will implement during the year, and prepared talks by a few of the seniors. 

The meeting ended with testimonies by the four couples who will be leaving the mission in the next two months – ourselves, the Gardners, the Stewarts and the Woods. 

Darlene sandwiched in piano lessons during the morning and afternoon after the conference. I taught the new Mongolian missionaries that morning before the conference got underway. 

That evening we had a desert social with Elder Wilson from the Asia Area presidency and Elder Toronto, an Area Seventy who is from Beijing.

Purev, Elder Wilson, Botsog, and President Benson. Purev and Botsog are the first Mongolian senior couple serving a full time mission.
The senior couples with be asked to train branch and auxiliary leaders in Khovd, Murun, Choibalsan and Oyu-Tolgoi. Pres. Benson wants each unit to receive 7 training visits a year, either from the Mission Presidency or from the senior couples traveling under special assignment. We will have one of these visits to Choibalsan in early March. The “Train the Trainer” helps prepare us for this assignment.

Another program will involve senior couples developing relationships with parents and families of new Mongolian missionaries. Many of these families are either non-member or part-member families. We all received assignments to make visits to these families at least two or three times while their missionaries are serving.

Family History. We expect to hear this week how the National Archives and Ministry of Justice are reacting to the contract and other materials we sent them. Close – ever so close – we’ll see.

Ourselves, Elder Harris, Sisters Dela Silva and Hansen
We trained the new American and Mongolian missionaries on Family History and how to use it in their missionary work. We developed a training module about 6 months ago and have been using it with every group of new missionaries that are called to Mongolia.

Teamwork in action
Priesthood Leadership meeting. We had a six hour priesthood leadership training on Saturday with Elders Wilson, Toronto, and our local leaders, Presidents Benson and Odgerel. 
From the left. Elder Toronto, Presidents Odgerel and Benson, and Elder Wilson
We had all the Bishoprics, Branch Presidencies and Elders Quorum Presidencies in attendance from the UB West Stake, UB East District and the Darkhan District. 
We are shooting for a goal of three stakes in Mongolia in preparation eventually for a temple to be built in Mongolia.  

Lunch was served - President Benson and Elder Wilson
There will be a special joint meeting in two weeks in which the UB West Stake and the UB East District will be realigned with the goal of creating a second stake in Ulaanbaatar. 

The future of the church in Mongolia
It is unclear whether a second Stake will be created in two weeks or whether it is to realign boundaries to enable a second stake to be created in the near future. It is an exciting development.

Ourselves, the Woods, Batbayar and his wife in deels, Batbayar's cousin (left) friend (far right) on the front row
A visit to Batbayar’s home in Baganuur. Our weekend ended with the Woods and ourselves going to Baganuur on Sunday to attend church. It was the Woods last Sunday there before they finish their mission. 

They drove 125 km to church and back every Sunday (80 trips) as a part of their mission assignment. Needless to say, they have developed great relationships with the members there. Puujee accompanied us as an interpreter.

Puujee receiving the traditional hot milk drink (Kharum)
We then visited with Batbayar, his wife, and company at their herder (ranch/farm) 7 km outside of Baganuur. We had a wonderful visit full of Tsaagan Sar rituals and pleasant conversation. 
Elder Farmer passing the snuff bottle back to Batbayar
Darlene demonstrating the art of sniffing snuff
We are close to this couple as they have collected extensive family genealogy records and we have helped them enter these records on Family Tree.
Batbayar will bring his records to Ulaanbaatar one more time for us to work with him before our mission ends. 
Batbayar's wife getting ready to serve buuz
He will be a great leader in Baganuur – he has already made contributions in his short 5 months as a member. It is is relationships like these that make our mission special. 
Getting close to home

...or sprint to the finish (Photo by Karl Schuler)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Stewarts return, Book of Mormon devotional, missionaries come and go, Tsaagan Sar, Archives

No this is not Mongolia, try Thailand instead

This is Mongolia
Back from Thailand, Laos and Myam Mar. Last November, Elder Stewart was asked to fill in as the Asia Area doctor until he finishes his own mission in mid-April, 2014. 
Elder Stewart at a Tiger Park in Thailand - by the way, Dr. Stewart teaches safety to the missionaries
Part of his duties currently include taking medical calls from the Mission Presidents in 14 countries in the Asia Area. This includes the mission in Thailand which also takes in the countries of Laos and Myam Mar. 
He is about to cause an international incident
He was asked to investigate the quality of medical care and facilities in Laos and Myam Mar. Deseret International Charities has church members volunteering in both those countries.

Dr. and Sister Stewart went on a two week trip to visit those countries.

When they returned, they put on a fireside for the Senior couples in Ulaanbatar showing pictures from their trip.

Here is a small sample of the pictures Elder Stewart took while traveling in these three countries.

Young monks in Laos
Restaurant along the Mekong River
Newlyweds visiting a temple site

Laos has a budding NBA star
                       Myam Mar (Burma)

A young man showing off
A saleslady with "normal" makeup
Buddhist nuns in Myam Mar
A young Thai greeter
Book of Mormon devotional.   
Last November all the members and missionaries in Mongolia were asked to read the Book of Mormon in 90 days. The Mission held a devotional at the conclusion of the 90 day reading program that was broadcast to all church facilities in Mongolia.
Pres. Benson greeting the congregation
Several members were asked to speak and share their experiences. It was a powerful meeting. Both Sister Farmer and I were able to complete the project. 

It was a wonderful experience for us. The Book of Mormon is the word of God and brings deep spiritual insights about Jesus Christ and his mission on earth.
Some of the speakers, Darlene is on the organ
The missionaries in Mongolia have been asked to repeat another 90 day reading project as a part of their personal study.

New missionaries arrive, others leave.  Three missionaries arrived from the United States and a fourth is expected shortly.
Elder Harris, Sisters De La Silva and Hansen
Khongorzul orients the new missionaries
Five Mongolian missionaries arrived from the Philippine Missionary Training Center. 
We said goodbye to Elders Flint, Robbins, and Munkhsaikan and Sister Darimaa.
Elders Flint and Robbins

Sister Darimaa and her companion, Sister Einur
There was a farewell testimony meeting in which a few of their former companions and others spoke, the missionaries then bore their testimonies followed by Sister and Pres. Benson.
A former companion is talking about Elder Munkhsaikan (thumb on his cheek). Pres. Benson is at the head of the table. Parents, relatives, senior missionaries, missionaries, and friends could come to the testimony meeting.
It was a sweet experience. This was the first meeting like this we were able to attend as our evening English teaching assignments have interfered in the past.

With Elders Flint and Robbins departure, we are now the longest serving American missionaries in Mongolia, a title we will hold for another seven weeks.

A couple on the bus on their way to a Tsaagan Sar visit agreed to pose for us

Last of theTsaagan Sar visits. Elders Faber and Tugulduur accompanied us to the home of Batjargal, Puje and their two daughters. We enjoyed a beautiful visit with this family. 

A tender mother-daughter moment
Batjargal and Puje have been stalwarts in the church for 13 years.

"Another" breakthrough with the National Archives. Sister Farmer, myself and Puujee met and put together a power point presentation on Family Search for the National Archives. They will be meeting this week on the proposed project and then turn the contract over to the Ministry of Justice for their review.

We had several false starts already on what we felt would be a successful conclusion to developing a joint records preservation contract with the National Archives. We are holding our breath and saying our prayers for this to happen.

We will have some news on this in the next couple of blogs – hopefully.  
Sunset in Thailand presages our waning mission in Mongolia