Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Christmas Time!

We have a few thoughts and observations as we approach our second Christmas in Mongolia.
Santa on Door
We did not see much Christmas in Mongolia last year with only a few late efforts to decorate at perhaps a half dozen places or so. We saw Christmas decorations for sale at the one really nice shopping center in our neighborhood and perhaps a couple of tall Christmas trees in front of the larger stores.

Aside from that, there did not seem to be much. This year is different!

It appears that they are adopting the idea of Christmas fairly quickly here. And, big treeyes, since this is a mostly non-Christian country, it is largely a commercial observance, thus far. But if Brigham Young, when told on one occasion by Mormon detractors that he and all the Mormons would go to heck(?), can respond that it was just fine because we would just

turn the devil out and make a heaven of it, then by golly we can take a commercial Christmas and make a proper observance of it!

Hey, it's better than Christmas being ignored! And the folks here need a bit more reason to be happy and do good things for each other, too!

candy canesSo far, we have seen at least half a dozen of the big Christmas trees in front of commercial businesses and quite a lot of smaller trees inside stores. Some have quite an extensive display on the inside of their stories. One chain of medium sized grocery stores has decorated all of their stores. The painting of Santa in the window is of one of those stores.
store window
And we have been wishing a 'Merry Christmas' to store clerks and many times they have actually smiled and attempted to return the greeting!

The increased Christmas presence (no pun intended!) has sort of been the talk of the mission.

One of our Nalaikh (i.e. the branch we are assigned to attend) missionaries recently told us of something he and some of his friends did for Christmas before he left on his mission. They decided they would make one of the common hot drinks here in Mongolia, go out on the street and give it to those who passed by, wishing them a Merry Christmas as they did so. Now remember, this is a non-Christian nation.

Well, they made preparations and 'set up shop', so to speak, and started handing out their hot drinks. The response they got was . . . interesting. As they tried to give people drinks, many said rather snippily something like, 'No, I don't want to buy a drink!' The youth would quickly explain that they weren't selling drinks, they were giving them away. Many could not understand. 'You want to GIVE me a drink? Why?' They would just tell them, 'Because it's Christmas!'

Some wanted to know what Church they were a part of. Most went away with a sudden smile on their face, warmed both from the drink and from the kindness that had been given them.

Maybe things like this are one of the biggest reasons Christmas is catching on here so fast!

Since Christmas is a time to remember and be grateful for things, we thought we'd mention a few that we are grateful for even though that may well prove to be a bit more difficult than it sounds. Words seem very inadequate, but we'll give it a try.

We are very deeply grateful for a loving family which has supported and taken care of us even though we are very far away. We have simply not really had to worry about 'things' back home because they have always jumped right in to make certain things like insurance, the cars, our home, taxes, etc. are all taken proper care of.

We are grateful for wonderful children and grandchildren who pray for us every day. We are grateful to be able to talk to them through the wonderful tool called the internet - and to be able to actually see them!

We are grateful for friends and neighbors who haven't forgotten us and who have also been watching things at the 'old homestead', too.

This list could get rather lengthy but we are grateful for at least one more thing. We are grateful for a child whose birthday we celebrate on the 25th of December. We are grateful for His life, His example, His trust, His guidance and His sacrifice. We are grateful that He has such wisdom that He could send us to a place where we not only can be useful in building His kingdom but to a place where we could do so much learning and growing ourselves, at the same time.

We are grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who watched His perfect Son, suffer and die for things we have done and will do. Parents tend to become upset when one of their children does something they should not have done (and likely should have known better in the first place), which then makes other members of the family struggle or suffer in some way. Perhaps we should remember that we are guilty of similar offenses but are loved anyway by a Heavenly Father and His Son - the one who had to pay such a heavy price for our mistakes.

And, as you can see from the accompanying pictures, we have gone a bit beyond last year ourselves as we have decorated our own apartment.

Part of that is due to our wonderful family who sent us a few Christmas gifts again this year. But this time they wrapped part of them and we have no idea what they are!

So we got a little tree and put them under the tree. Won't be the same as if we were back home, but Christmas manages to be special here, too -- in it's own way.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Elder and Sister Anderson

Hello Elder and Sister Anderson! Goodbye Elder and Sister Anderson!

This is Elder and Sister Anderson - another of the new couples we were so happy to welcome! They were SUPPOSED to stay here in Ulaanbaatar but President Andersen felt they were needed badly in the countryside and reassigned them to Choibalsan. How lucky can you get!

But we didn't hardly even get to know them. We were fortunate enough to have them over for dinner on Monday and they are super people! Choibalan's gain - our loss!

This is Choibalsan from the air. Everyone likes the countryside. All the young missionaries get really anxious to be assigned there and all the couples tell us how wonderful it is. Oh, there are a few challenges, like not having quite the selection of the American items available in the local stores. But we usually help with that and send out things to them whenever they request it.

Choibalsan is about an 11 hour drive almost directly east from here. And the first part is even on a road! The last two thirds you follow dirt trails -- using the Toyota Land Cruisers, of course! It is a fun drive! They could fly in, but President is going out there for a conference anyway, so they are riding with him.

But it is A LOT less hectic out there, not so much air pollution and they really get close to the people. Couples that get assigned to the countryside always tell us they wouldn't come to the 'big city' if you paid them!

This is the church building in Choibalsan.

No chance of us having that opportunity. We have the specific assignment to keep the employment center running, teach self-employment principles (a huge thing here the 'big city') and keep the online computer center running.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Quarantine is Over!

We held regular church services today for the first time in five weeks! It was really very nice to be back with the members at the Nalaikh Branch and to serve with them again. And to hold regular church meetings. It seems like it has been ages!

And Elder and Sister Powell came with us. They are one of the new couples who did, indeed, successfully arrive yesterday! They are a very nice couple and we thoroughly enjoyed having them with us for the day. We also shared our dinner with them after church.

We had a social last night (i.e. Saturday) both to celebrate their arrival (and feed them dinner after a day and a half of airline food!) and to wish a fond farewell to the Whitman's who have done such a magnificent job in filling in for us while we were waiting for the Eliason's to arrive -- which they did yesterday, too. The third couple was the Anderson's and all are much welcomed and needed additions to our group.


Did you notice the Christmas decorations for our party? We're one day closer to it than you are!


What do you think of Sister Caldwell's spiffy new hat? It's her, don't you think?! She inherited it from Sister Whitman. Thanks a lot Sister Whitman!