Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's over - bittersweet moments

Sister Missionaries at the testimony meeting
We spoke in church at the Unur Ward along with two other missionaries who were being transferred to different areas, Elder Norlund and Sister Matthews. AK, the big tall Kazakh, did our translating. 
I am between the Bishop of the Unur Ward and his wife - Darlene is by her piano student, Enkhjin, and her mother

I gave him my last copy of the my marriage book I had left in Mongolia after the meeting. Darlene and I took up the lion's portion of the meeting. 

Darlene concluded her remarks with a testimony in Mongolian. Many appreciative members came up to shake her hand afterward for her efforts to learn the language. 

We were close to a few families in the ward. With more time, it would have only gotten better and better, just like in the Sukhbaatar Branch.

We enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers - our last meal in our refrigerator. We went to the church and had a final interview with President Benson. He expressed appreciation for our work and the impact it has had on the church in Mongolia.

We then had dinner along with the Gardners in the Benson apartment. 
We enjoyed interacting with their children for the last time. 
Mary Ann - a real scamp
John playing "twunkle, twunkle, little twunk, I wonder why you stunk". He liked the new title for his song.
President Benson and Sister Benson prepared a lovely roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy with fresh rolls. Yum! Yum!

Next up was the testimony meeting. We had a number of young missionaries show up who wanted to express their final goodbyes. 

We have grown close to a number of them as we served together. 
Ourselves with Puujee and Ulziika, two sisters who will help carry the banner of Family History in Mongolia
Buyan-Nemekh wasn't too happy about our leaving
The meeting went on a half hour longer than scheduled. We will miss our associations with them as well as the other senior couples. 

One young Elder said he had been told he would make lifelong friends on his mission. He had no clue it would be with "old" people.

After the meeting, we said our final goodbyes to each other and to the members who attended. We took a lot of pictures with members and missionaries. What memories we have of Mongolia. 

Pres. Benson encouraged us to talk about our missionary experience here in Mongolia when we return to The United States. I don't think we needed much encouragement. 

We have made a lot of new friends, had wonderful, rich experiences, had fulfilling work, and were immersed in a unique culture in one of the most far-flung places in the world. The gospel has taken root here and the soil is good. 

It can't get any better than this - except for going home to family and loved ones from whom we have been separated for too long. It is time to be home. It is time to spoil our own grandchildren.
Darlene with her piano student Isabel

Keep looking at this blog - at least for a couple of weeks. En route we will spend 11 days with our son and his family on Okinawa and another son will come from Seattle to join us. Part of our trip involves layovers in Beijing, Tapei, and Shanghai. The adventure continues.

We will be in St. Louis by April 13 and will be released as missionaries that day. We will be bursting to share more of what we have loved and experienced here in Mongolia.
It it over. It is time to relax.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

More goodbyes – last minute details

Our church courtyard after cleanup
We are packed and ready to go. The suitcases are weighed, the passports are in hand, and the apartment is in pristine condition. The refrigerator is practically bare. The laundry done.

Our assignments have been delegated to others who will hold the fort until replacements arrive. There were some debriefing and training meetings because of these new assignments.
Agenda. Today we speak in church, interview with President Benson, have dinner with the Benson family and will be a part of a farewell testimony meeting for ourselves and the Gardners.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. On Thursday we had dinner with Nasanbold and his family. Our camera lens malfunctioned so we were temporarily without a camera. Can you imagine the withdrawal pains? 
This picture with Nasanbold was taken later and inserted into this particular blog
 Nasanbold is the Director of the UB Family History Center. The dinner served a double function of bringing him up-to-date on Family History work in Mongolia and saying goodbye to him and his family. 
On Friday, The Linfords had ourselves and the Gardners over for dinner. We appreciated an American meat loaf dinner and wonderful side dishes. Very nice.

I gave 3 Books of Mormon out to our driver, Zorgio, our photographer, Bayarmaa, and our local grocery store proprietors with whom I practiced my Mongolian as they practiced their English.
Winter dirt and grime are everywhere
Missionaries help clean up at the Chingeltei Building
On Saturday, Darlene participated in a cleanup project at the church while I counseled with a couple.
Elder and Sister Linford
The Stewarts treated us and the Gardners to an American style lunch at Papas. Also very nice. It will be hard to say goodbye to them.
Hamburgers and club sandwiches at Papas
We met with Ulziika and Puujee and talked over Family History and the Archives project. Goodbye again.

Elder Stewart had an extra lens he is loaning us until we can get a new one in Japan. My withdrawal pains eased somewhat.
We then went to the Sukhbaatar Branch for an Elder’s Quorum/Relief Society function and said goodbye again to our dear friends there.
Puje with a little one
Mothers let their babies suck on fat as a pacifier
Finally we had dinner with Bayar and Alimaa.
Very good cook. A tasty meal. They gave us our name written in Mongolian script.
I’ve been working with Alimaa on her dissertation. We will continue to Skype after we leave Mongolia. They are fun couple.
Bayar gazing at his aquarium. My borrowed lens is good for close ups - not so great for distance shots.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So long, Farewell, au Weidersen, goodbye – Bayartai - Two farewells in one day

Time to say goodbye

It is about over. We feel it especially now. 

The senior couples and the Service Center combined on a joint potluck farewell party from 1:00 – 3:00 pm on Wednesday afternoon. 
That night we were invited to Sudjilmaa’s apartment where some of the Sukhbaatar Branch members had gathered for another farewell dinner.

Serving food is an art form for Mongolians

Both experiences were sweet. Wonderful sentiments were expressed both privately and in front of the group. What great memories! We were asked to express ourselves on both occasions.

Highlights of the senior event. 

Elder England surveying the food - Soyolmaa at the head of the table
Service Center staff
The walls and tables were decorated by Sister England - an artist
Wall decoration - colorful fruit was on the table also
Sisters Nay, Benson, Stewart, Gardner and Farmer. Sisters England and Linford are absent from this conversation. 

 The Program. 
Pres. Benson shared some feelings and observations about our contributions
Pres. Odgerel, President of the West Stake recited a poem in Russian
Munkhjargal and Enkhbold played a harp and guitar duet
Ulziika and the senior couples sang to each of couples who were leaving. Our was "The Farmers in Blue Deels".
We all took a turn sharing our thoughts and feelings
Highlights from the visit to Sudjilmaa’s home.  
A fun gathering of Sukhbaatar Branch members
Our hostess, Sudjilmaa, is seated at the table
Gansukh, Sudjilmaa's son, is giving Shuraii a back rub. I wanted to be next. 
Not everyone could fit around the table
Puje is sharing a scripture, Batjargal is looking on, harolsuren and her husband are at the end of the table
Darlene and I were asked to share our thoughts and feelings about Mongolia, themselves, our mission, etc.
Preview of the final few days. Left on our agenda are dinners at Nasanbold's and Alimaa's homes, another gathering at the Sukhbaatar Branch, speaking in church at the Unur Ward, interviews and dinners with the Bensons, and a final testimony meeting on Sunday evening. 
One more chance to see the Sukhbaatar Branch members on Saturday afternoon
Toss in a service project with the missionaries, a couple of counseling appointments, one last writing project and we still have a lot to do. It should make for one last blog from Mongolia - probably late Sunday night in Ulaanbaatar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winding down, final farewells, National Archives update

Going out with a bang
Winding down. The weather has turned delightful. People are on the streets. There is excitement in the air. We’ll leave Mongolia’s spring and summer for others to enjoy. We’ve had our day in the sun.
Winters in Mongolia have their own charm - Photo by Karl Shuler
We (a term loosely used – think Sister Farmer) are cleaning and packing, weighing suitcases, packing again with a new suitcase that weighs 17 pounds less than the one we are replacing, visiting homes and about to visit more.
Our office has been stripped of our personal things.  Our computer files have been consolidated and stored on back up storage and flash drives. Our plants have been given away. Each day of the week that passes will be the last one we spend in Mongolia.

We will have a few more memories to make. We have more two farewell parties to attend, three more dinners to enjoy, two more opportunities to share our deepest thoughts, more goodbyes and gifts to exchange.

This too shall pass. Life goes on. Those truisms don’t stop being true. Another cast of missionaries and seniors are moving the gospel ahead in Mongolia while we will move on to other things. We will certainly be interested. Part of our hearts will be left in Mongolia while we take our memories with us.
Not all things were rosy. On Sunday night we were aroused after mid-night by insistent pounding on our door. We had been counseled not to open our door to strangers so we weren’t too cooperative with a man speaking in loud and demanding Mongolian.

He then recruited a bunch of teen-age boys who were laughing at our fear and encouraging us to open the door by chanting in English, “We are not bad guys.” They wouldn't give up and go away.  They had promised the man they wouldn’t leave until we looked at his bathroom ceiling. They were practically begging me to open the door and investigate the problem.

It turns out there was a leak from our bathroom to the ceiling of his bathroom one floor directly below us. We made some church related calls for help and a plumber came and shut off our water, the aggrieved neighbor was relieved, and we all went back to sleep –sort of.

The next morning started out at 8:00 am with a series of visitors - our landlord, a plumber, Batbold, the apartment manager for the church – all involved in making the plumbing repairs.
Last Senior couple's meeting - Sister Farmer was helping a patron with her family history when the photo was taken
This drama ended during the noon hour just shortly before our 1:00 pm monthly meeting with the Senior couples and President Benson.   
Mid-week update.  We surprised the members of the Sukhbaatar Branch by attending their meetings this past Sunday. Our friends flocked around us as we said our goodbyes. We were invited to speak in their sacrament meeting. It was a great day for closure for them and us.

We found out that one of the dinners we have been invited to this week in reality with be a farewell party for us and the Sukhbaatar Branch members who can come. So it wasn’t quite our final goodbyes after all.
I had a couple of counseling sessions sandwiched between the other events of the weekend.
Darlene had a final training session with a few of the Consultants on Saturday morning. This was followed by a planning meeting between ourselves and Puujee about our upcoming meeting with the National Archives.
The farewell visits begin. The Bishop of the Unur Ward invited us to come to their home for a Family Home evening on Monday night.
The Bishop and his daughter - a big evening finally wore her out
The sister missionaries joined us for interpretation. There isn’t anything quite like Mongolian hospitality.
Our hostess, Otgonbat, a Family History Consultant, and wife of the Bishop of the Unur Ward 
It was an evening planned around abundant courses of food and leisurely and friendly conversation.  We were asked to share some personal thoughts about our work in Mongolia.
We have a timed group photos at the end where the camera unexpectedly was programmed to take about 8 shots instead of two. It caught us by surprise and caused a lot of hilarity.
We had a final visit to Buyandelger’s home. She and her family were gracious and served a lovely meal. She too was a magnificent cook and presents her food almost as a work of art.
Gorgeous dessert - served with popcorn
Darlene taught her granddaughter Buyanzaya piano and she turned out to be a precocious musician.
We shared memories and feelings for about 20 minutes before the meal began
Buyandelger tearfully shared her fond memories of us, especially of our time together at the Hong Kong temple.  It is hard to say goodbye to such sweet people.
No visit is complete until the photo albums are shared.
A meeting with the National Archives.  We had a meeting with the two of the top officials of the National Archives. With the help of the Translation Department and Steve Nickle, the top Family History person for acquisitions for Family Search for Asia and Africa, we had prepared three great videos (Granite Mountain, Niue Island and a brand new video about Family Search’s relationship with the Guatemalan government) with Mongolian subtitles and voice over to demonstrate the professionalism and contributions of Family Search and how it could help them. The videos were perfect for what they needed to know about us.
Erdene-Badrakh, Puujee, ourselves, and Bilguun
The mood was positive and upbeat, their disclosure of their status and problems with record preservation and digitization was frank and forthcoming. They expressed a strong interest in getting help from Family Search in achieving their goals.
Together we can do this - Photo by Karl Shuler
We couldn’t have realistically hoped for anything better. (It would have been thrilling for us to have the contract signed while we were still in Mongolia but the timing wasn’t right). It looks like the process will take another couple of months to come to fruition with Danny Chin coming in from Hong Kong to complete the negotiations. The contract has to meet legal muster with the Ministry of Justice also and that will take a little time.
During the meeting, one of the directors said to his superior that he had promised us a sample from their census records and he hadn’t delivered on his promise. The Deputy Director waived a secretary to bring in some records and they took pictures with my camera of their records. Just like that! There was no hesitancy.
Sample of a Mongolian census record in classical Mongolian script - names are written across the top
We were dealing with the actual decision-makers in the National Archives  and they wanted our help.  We were happy. We did everything we could during our mission to accomplish this goal and it will be left to others to finish the task.

That is the way all of this will end – it will be left to others to finish the task of Family History in Mongolia. We feel good about our part in this process. It is the Lord’s work and it will happen according to His will and design.

More to come – stay tuned.
We will be following a new path