Friday, June 12, 2009

The Countryside

Note: It is great to see others visiting the site! We originally started it for our family and thought perhaps a few of the ward members might occasionally visit. We are really surprised to see so many others leaving comments! Glad you can all visit, though we are curious about how most of you even found us!

We went out to the countryside yesterday. No, you don't understand. I mean, we REALLY went out to the countryside yesterday!

Two of the Mongolian brethren that we work with here in Ulaanbaatar wanted to take a couple of senior couples on a little trip away from the city. These two brethren own a tour company and are quite familiar with doing things such as this. Their intention was to have us experience what we might refer to as a trip 'out in the sticks' -- that is, far away from Mongolian city life as we have come to know it. They said they just wanted to show us around and let us see the 'real' Mongolia. Oh my! Maybe we 'bit off' more than we bargained for!

But first, along our route, we came across this shrine beside the road. It is apparently felt that it can bring good fortune when one stops, walks around the shrine three times and deposits a stone nearby. When a large truck drove by and honked his horn, our guides promptly explained that some are too lazy to stop, so they just honk as they drive by! However, they had to honk three times!

The roads were . . . well . . . interesting -- again! They were paved for the first part but were not nearly as good as those on our trip to Darkhan, Erdenet, etc.

We went about 40 kilometers south and east of Ulaanbaatar to a little town whose name escapes me. There we picked up a lawyer friend of theirs who was expecting us. It seems we were on our way to visit some of his family.

During the rest of our journey, we went from paved roads (well, sort of), to unpaved roads, to where is the road! When you get out far enough, the roads really aren't roads at all but just paths across open fields where the locals have driven in order to reach their gers. And when one path becomes a bit difficult (like after a storm), they just drive somewhere else, thus the multiple routes you can see in the photo.

We did finally arrive. These are photos of our host, his family and their ger. Note the solar panel right next to the ger. When we were invited into their home, we noticed a television and one light bulb. The solar panel is used to recharge a battery which in turn powers the tv and the light when needed. The contrasts are, indeed, striking as we see different parts of Mongolia.

Our host family, had quite a bunch of livestock, as well. He told us, in fact, that he had about 250 head total. Most were out of sight but we did see a few horses, a small herd of cows (kept close by for their milk), and one goat, which we were soon to learn was there for our benefit. We'll tell you more about the goat later. You're not going to want to miss this one! It is a story all by itself. Trust us!

The family was very nice and we enjoyed their willingness to share their life with us for a few minutes. That is the lady of the house in the picture and her husband seated just behind her. Those are traditional Mongolian Dells they are wearing.

When we asked, we were told that they get needed water from a well about 6 km away. That's about 4 miles. They pack in enough to last from 4 to 7 days, each trip. That would be difficult enough in the summer. We can't imagine doing that in the winter!

Next is a picture of Elder Caldwell taking a little ride. When he saw the horses, he couldn't resist! He grew up with horses and this was just a little journey back in time for him. 'You never forget how to ride a horse!' And yes, seniors are allowed to do such things while serving! It is, of course, a different story for the younger missionaries.

We will need to break this down into two or three different segments. We had a really great experience. And trust us, the best is yet to come!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Ulaanbaatar West Stake!

We have a stake! The Ulaanbaatar District has been divided and now forms the Ulaanbaatar Mongolia West Stake and the Ulaanbaatar East District.

It’s been an event filled weekend, as you might suppose. The forming of the first stake in Mongolia is finally a reality. There are now two districts, fourteen branches, 6 wards and one stake within the boundaries of the Ulaanbaatar mission. The members here are very excited about this new milestone in their history.

Elder Hallstrom (area President who will become a member of the Seventy’s Presidency in July) and Elder Chong (an area authority seventy) came to oversee the work. Both have been wonderful to have with us. We had two meetings on Saturday (a Priesthood Leadership Meeting at 4:00 pm and an adult meeting at 7:00 pm – just like back home!). Most of their remarks centered around the keys of presidency, of sustaining and releasing individual when changes in callings happen and of the differences between a stake and a district.

The Saturday meetings were held in the Bayanzurkh building. The chapel was filled for the leadership meeting and both the Chapel and the basement meeting area (where they had closed circuit tv) were packed for the adult meeting.

In the mission field, all Church members are under the jurisdiction of the Mission President. It is the Mission President who must interview all temple candidates and sign all temple recommends, along with the appropriate Branch President. But when a stake is formed, those members living within the Stake boundaries then are under the jurisdiction of the Stake President. He will now assume the responsibility for signing recommends, etc. It actually takes some of the burden from a Mission President.

We met at a community cultural center for Sunday’s session. The Church does not have a facility here large enough to hold even a quarter of the membership. With the organization of the new stake, there is also now a stake center in the planning stages and that will be a much needed addition, as well.

The center was full to capacity, as Elder Hallstrom rose to the pulpit and announced the organization of the stake. People had come from literally around the world to be part of this. We have about 20 past missionaries who have come from the United States who could not resist coming to see the fruits of their labors as this day unfolded. As we said in our last post, we leave our mark on this area and it leaves its mark on us.

Two members of the now past District Presidency became the new Stake Presidency. The second counselor does not live within the boundaries of the new stake and had to be released. President Odgerel (the past District President and the new Stake President), then, will become the first High Priest ever to be ordained in Mongolia. Bishops and High Council members will also then be ordained High Priests. As Elder Hallstrom added parenthetically, ‘this is the end of chapter one in Mongolia and the beginning of chapter two’.

The presidency of the new district is very young. The second counselor is not even married, yet, but they are wonderful brethren and will do a great job. As they bore their testimonies, the new District President became quite emotional – something not often seen in Mongolian men.

It is not unusual, apparently, for a second stake to follow not very long after the organization of the first. Therefore, part of the council given throughout the meetings was to strengthen the branches in the Ulaanbaatar East District in preparation for that second stake. We have little doubt that these people will soon have that second stake. Who knows, we might even still be around here when it happens!

During Sunday’s session, Elder Hallstrom referred us to the 1st section of the Doctrine and Covenants verse 30, telling us that we were seeing the fulfilling of that verse in this part of the world, in what was happening today. “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness . . .”

A Patriarch was not called today. Elder Hallstrom explained that it now became incumbent upon the new Stake Presidency to deliberate, pray and recommend an appropriate name to the First Presidency. But he also counseled that once one was called and set apart, the members here needed to be patient. It would be some time before one Patriarch would be able to give all in Mongolia who desired, a Patriarchal Blessing. We will anxiously await that milestone, as well.

The stone that rolls forth without hands is getting larger.