Saturday, February 13, 2010


As one might expect, we suppose, senior missionaries from other areas sometimes share their experiences. We hear often from relatives serving in Thailand, for example.

Well, we recently heard from a couple serving in Haiti. They shared with the rest of us, some of the details surrounding the recent earthquakes there. We thought it was worth sharing.

- - -

Much of Haiti lies in rubble. Collapsed roofs lie at angles, smashed against the floor below them. Cinder blocks slant in heaps along the roads. Some streets in Port-au-Prince look like old pictures of bombed-out Berlin after World War II. It’s a horror, an apocalypse.

Yet, amidst the shambles of this neighborhood, stands a jewel - the Croix-des-Mission and the LDS church. And sounding through the air is a hymn, "How Firm a Foundation."

It is a particularly well-chosen song in a land whose physical foundations could not stand the earth’s tremors, but whose Latter-day Saints have proven to be remarkably resilient. They know that though all but a handful have lost their homes, their foundation is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is firm.

Attending the 3-hour church block on Sunday felt remarkably normal to us. There were the Saints well dressed, many in crisp, white shirts that looked newly ironed. The deacons wore their white shirts and ties as they reverently passed the sacrament.

How can this be?
Without any homes left, they have been living on the street in hastily-assembled, makeshift shelters raised wherever they can find a level spot. The walls may be sheets hung over ropes or pieces of cardboard. Their beds are concrete or hard earth. Everything they owned — and that already wasn’t much — has been stripped from them by an initial quake that lasted about 45 seconds and then after shocks that continued for days.

Haiti, right now and for the foreseeable future, is a land 'sleeping out'. People fill the church’s courtyards at night, but instead of woe, they laugh and talk. And remember, their homes are shanties on the median strip between two lanes of riotous traffic.

We asked member after member, how can you be so beautifully groomed on Sunday, given what you have been through? Their answer? Yes, most everyone is now living in the street, and, yes, they are indeed dirty during the week, plagued by all the ills that befall a newly-made street person. But, they added, though they had no water clean enough to drink, they did have water clean enough to wash their clothes.

So, there they were singing about what really is their 'firm foundation' and looking like any other LDS congregation across the world — except that these saints are homeless.

Maybe someone forgot to tell them how miserable they are supposed to be.

More next time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


We know this is not going to look like much to many of you folks, but remember, we haven’t seen snow in any quantity in Ulaanbaatar since we arrived almost 1.5 years ago. But we had a snow storm a couple of days ago that was more than we had yet seen. It was probably only a couple of inches -- maybe three. It's almost impossible to tell because the wind was really blowing hard during the whole thing.

Because of the wind, most flat and open surfaces with blown most clean. But wherever there was a leeward spot, we ended up with drifts as deep as three or even four feet deep!

The first two pictures are the flower beds in front of our apartment. But right now, they are 'snow beds' shoveled pretty deep with that compacted snow.

And, as many of you would know, when snow is blown like that, those nice, big, fluffy flakes break down into really small granules and pack together really tight. And a snow shovel full of that ways three or four times as much as the fluffy kind!

Well, we had a lot of drifts. And most of it was removed by shovel! But we did also see the first snow plows put to use, as well!

At least, it all has been a first for us! And we hope it will be a last. The flat surfaces didn't manage to stay completely clean. You know, like the sidewalks and other places where we have to walk. And a half inch of ice is just as slippery to walk on as 2 inches of ice!

This last picture is the road side of the busiest street in town. There are piles like this all over.

And, of course, it will remain until the spring thaw -- about another month or so away. Temperatures of minus 35 at night and maybe 5 below during the day, don't do a lot to melt much snow!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seminary in Mongolia

“I hope all of you who are eligible are attending seminary. This organization provides wonderful opportunities to learn the doctrines that will make you happy.” President Hinckley

President Odgerel (the Stake President and a full time CES/S&I employee - we have posted about him before) was quite shocked when early morning seminary was finally attempted here. The area authorities had encouraged him to do so, but he had resisted for a couple of years insisting that the kids would not be able to get up that early in the morning, fight the extreme cold in Mongolia and walk the sometimes significant distances to attend Seminary so early in the morning.

We understand! Public transportation here is not in operation much at that time of the morning and one could feel really guilty about asking our youth to go out in these extreme weather conditions to attend an early morning anything.

But he started feeling promptings and he finally decided to give it a go as school began last fall. And he couldn’t believe the response. In fact, he has been downright shocked to see numbers reach over 300 students in attendance at times!

The youth are really terrific here and want to learn about the Gospel. Our own youth in the Nalaikh Branch got up to bare testimony and talked about how they loved Seminary and how much better their school day is if they attend seminary first thing in the morning.

One story is told of the Branch in Khovd (i.e. quite isolated in the far western end of Mongolia). A couple of people are paid to always be on site and keep the boiler running in the Church building there, 24 hours a day, during the winter. It is VERY cold in Khovd!

One morning, a knock came at the church door. The boiler attendant opened the door to find two young men standing there in the dark. They asked if they could come in and he quickly invited them to do so. Then he asked what they were doing out so early. They told him they weren’t sure what time it was because they didn’t have an alarm or other clock in their ger (home). But they didn’t want to miss Seminary so they had woken up and decided to go ahead and make their way to the church building, just to be sure. They asked him what time it was.

It was 3:30 in the morning when they arrived! That's not a typo - it was 3:30 AM!

So they hung around for several hours until class actually began. We told you they wanted to learn about the Gospel and were thrilled with Seminary, but . . .