Our First Mongolia Experience! – July/August 2013
Summer is wrapping up and it’s time for us to begin teaching again. Before we get back in the flow too much, we want to recount to you some of the great things that have happened for us this July.
(Read on for stories and pictures!!)
We made our first trip to Mongolia from July 6th to July 17th! This was a “get to know you” time for us to meet Mongolia, meet the people of the church, to inquire into arrangements for long term stay, and to discuss more about our future ministry in the country. Often as we would walk the streets of Ulaanbaatar I found myself thinking: “Am I safe here and how much does that matter?”, “Could we raise a family here?”, “What do we sinful, unqualified people think we can offer these people?”, “Will I be able to see and honor the image of God in the people we interact with?”, “What’s this all going to be like in winter when it’s -30°F and the smoke from coal burning stoves is everywhere?”, “How am I ever going to learn this language?”, “What do people think when they see us white people?”, and “Why don’t they make better sidewalks?” The answer to some of these questions I believe will come in time.
Ulaanbaatar is definitely a growing city and one that is striving to make a name for itself in the western world. Everywhere you look, towering cranes are building new high-rise apartments, in part because of the influx of foreigners coming to invest in the mining operations in the Gobi. Cars speed by and pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way. Buses are easy to catch and only cost about 25 cents. Watch your valuables, though–pickpockets are common. But with the median age of Mongolians at just 26 years, so there are families with small children. Summer is a wonderful time when people get outdoors frequently, though it would be nice if there were more public parks and green spaces. Highs in the low 70s for July were perfect, and watching the occasional raincloud roll over the mountains on either side of the valley was pleasant.
Arriving at the airport on Saturday morning, we went directly to the church grounds where we would be staying for the next 2 weeks. It was a wonderful introduction to Mongolia and a gift for us to participate that very afternoon in the baptism of a young boy into the Church. We share an important date with Ivan now: His baptism into the Kingdom marks our baptism into the life of God’s kingdom in Mongolia! Most of the people of the church, Holy Trinity, are Russian speakers, and Jen and I both were glad to brush the dust off our Russian and hold conversation and laugh with so many of the congregants, who welcomed us with warmth and made special efforts to visit with us and show us around.
An important cultural event we got to experience while in Mongolia was Naadam, which translates game/feast/celebration. The three main sporting events are wrestling, archery, and horse racing, and all kinds of tents sell food and souvenirs. If you picture a state fair and the Olympics rolled into one, you can start to picture this yearly festivity. Many don their brightly colored traditional “deel” costumes, which often stay in the closet for most of the year. One English student of OCMC missionary Kurt Bringerud was kind enough to take a group of us to the different events. Dolgo, a married business professional with young children, used to compete in wrestling and was excited to watch this event with us and name those he recognized in the arena. It was also amazing walking around Naadam with him, because almost every 5 minutes, he would stop and greet yet another acquaintance! The traditional food for Naadam is khuushuur (sounds a bit like Hoosier), and we ate it several days during the games. Ground mutton deep-fried and wrapped in dough, it goes great with ketchup! Jen was also happy to find that a local vegan restaurant chain was serving vegan-style khuushuur at Naadam as well.
Our second Sunday in Mongolia, we were blessed to attend the wedding of Kurt Bringerud and Marina. Kurt is the only OCMC missionary in Mongolia and has been there for most of the last year. Marina has dual citizenship in Russia and Mongolia and is a committed member of the church. Every Saturday night, she and another parishioner help prepare the Trapeza meal for Sunday after liturgy. We had the chance to have many meals together, and it was nice to get to know Marina and her daughter Valia more. Kurt’s daughter, Lydia, also was able to come for the wedding and the Naadam festivities. It was an added bonus for us to experience Mongolia with her. Please pray for Kurt and Marina as they begin their new life together.
A very important part of being in Mongolia was our meetings with Fr. Aleksey. These included talking through details of our move, how we can aid in the growth of the church, how we can prepare while still in the US, and keeping the health of our baby in mind. Fr. Aleksey reminded us that it is no easy task to live in a country like Mongolia with small children, but he is glad for us to come be a part of the work.
When we move, we will likely either rent an apartment or live in a room on the church grounds, where we hope to begin to build relationships with Mongolians and to start fellowship groups centered on Orthodox prayers in Mongolian and Bible study. We believe one of our most important roles will be to ensure an outlet for Mongolian Christians to experience community with each other through the Church. This, of course, emphasizes our need to learn the language. We have already been through some classes here in the States and will continue our study here. Then we plan to continue study once we arrive in Mongolia at one of the 2 language schools we toured while there in July. Language study will provide student visas, which will enable us to stay in the country long term. Of course, access to healthcare will be important with the little one, so we were also able to visit some clinics to see what kinds of services are provided.
Lastly, we had some great interaction with young leaders in and around the church and are excited to see what the Lord might do through them. Here are some highlights about them:
-Nikolai is in his late 20s and is a reader in the church. He speaks Mongolian and Russian fluently and lights up when he talks about his entrance into the church, about prayer, and about his girlfriend. He is considering the priesthood and is excited about the possibility of maybe one day having a liturgy performed all in Mongolian. He is Fr. Aleksey’s assistant and helps keep things in order at the church and was a great companion for us during our stay.
-Amina is Mongolian and an Orthodox Christian. Her mother is the director of the Anima art school that meets on the church grounds. She is pursuing a career in art criticism, likes to listen to Elvis and Ella Fitzgerald, and loves classic film.
-Od is a teacher at the art school and an assistant teacher for the aikido martial art classes that meet in the sports complex of the church. He is not a Christian but is a witness to many events in the life of the church. His warm spirit and his passion give credence to his name which means “star”.
-The choir of Holy Trinity is quite beautiful. Two of the vocalists are church members and two are professional opera singers. We wish we had more time to get to know them! (Click here to listen to the Divine Liturgy from while we were there! It’s a long recording so scroll to the part you want to hear.)
We are praying for what the Lord might do through these young folk. Please join us in prayer that the Holy Spirit would work in them and through them for the glory of the Lord.
Check out many more pictures on our Facebook page!
We continue to make plans to move to Mongolia early in 2014. Thank you for your prayers and continued financial support for us as we look to meet our goals in the Lord’s timing.
Because of Christ’s Love,
Chris & Jen