Mongolia: the least populated country in the world. Mongolia shares the Gobi Desert with China. The Chinese side is often referred to as Inner Mongolia. The Russians from 1927 ruled Mongolia until the revolution in 1992. Now a democracy, trying to survive on a market economy, they are having many difficulties. Add to that a devastating winter and summer drought and it is a country that needs prayers.
The people are nomadic following their herds of horses, sheep, goats, cattle, yak, camel and reindeer. You will see the young and old riding on the small Mongolian horses watching the herds. They live in a round home called a Gher., (Yert in Russian.) that is comfortable in 50 or +85 degrees. It did snow on August 27th while I was in Muren.
Hospitality is second nature and upon entering you a Gher you are offered bread and cheese while they are preparing tea. Tea is Chinese tea, Yak milk with 8% butterfat and salt. Yes, salt. And enough that it is very salty. They then add thin strips of mutton fat. It is an acquired taste that I did not acquire. I guess 7 weeks is not enough time to train the taste buds. One sour note on hospitality was when the three drunks tried an armed robbery while we were stranded in the steppes when our jeep broke down. All turned out well because God was in control.
During Russian rule their cultural heritage was discounted and much has been lost. They are a Tibetan Buddhist nation with Muslim, Animism and other expressions of worship being present. The Christian faith can be traced to a few who accepted Christ in 1992. Being that new a body, the church is very young and especially energetic. Each "fellowship" consider themselves just another Christian church. Denomination does not seem to enter into their structure.
The church is strong in Unlaan Battur the capital and 3 or 4 other towns. Small fellowships are being started other places and nurtured by the established congregations. Fellowships are young, energetic and do not have the accumulated building or supplies that exist in the US. They are happy to have a rented room and go from log sections with boards on them to benches, or benches to benches with backs. It is not unusual for 2 or 3 fellowships to use the same facility.
The services I attended utilized the overhead projector for the words to songs, (If there was electricity.) lots of praise music, prayer time, a message time, which I was able to give at four towns, and maybe an offering. The programs for children were offered on Saturday and "Home Group" meetings were encouraged and well attended to nurture the believers. In UB the "Sunday School Association" provided a weekly meeting where Sunday school teachers came for praise and prayer time and to learn new lessons, techniques etc. I was able to provide the program for two different weeks on storytelling, string ministry, using the KristaBell choir materials, as well as general support.
In one town about 4 hours from UB there has been one Christian trying to hold some Bible study times. A missionary and his family and I went up to conduct a service of support for them one Saturday. When we arrived the Christian woman said she needed to be baptized. We spread the word that we were going to be doing some singing and string games and had about 30 women and children with 5 or 6 teens in one of the small houses. After telling the Gospel story in string and having a lot of fun with the strings, the missionary went to talk to the woman while my translator and i went to work with more children in the town square. We ended up with 4 young women being baptized in the river that day and at least 50 people hearing the Gospel Story first hand.
In UB, I was asked to speak at two open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and share some of the string stories and my experiences that would be of benefit to those recovering 12 step people. One meeting was in the Catholic Church and the other was for the homeless at the soup kitchen. I also gave a program for homeless children in one of the Gher communities on the outskirts of UB. One other weekend, I went about 35 miles out of town to a camp where they were having a two-week program for about 60 homeless children. I spent two days at their camp and we had lots of fun with the string stuff. One of the Mongolian counselors really took to the string games and eventually learned a number of figures so he could use them after I left.
There were three missionaries who also took to the string games and learned everything I could teach them. One young man, Patrick frustrated his wife by standing in the dark making string figures instead of coming to bed. He was so proud that he could do them in the dark. (Patrick, the purser for JCS, and Jeremiah, an English teacher, are going to put on some programs at the childrens hospital, orphanages etc.) Another star pupil was Marta, who is working with the orphans nine and older. She was great at learning to make the figures and couldnt wait to share them with her children. The fact that Marta is blind doesnt make a difference. She can see the strings with her fingers.
The people at "Vet Net" were excited about the program I did with their staff and would like me to go out to some of their sites when I return to Mongolia. (Did I say that I would like to return to Mongolia in a year and a half or so to go to some of the places I was not able to get to on this trip? Well, I guess it is out of the bag now.) Habitat for Humanity also expressed interest in my working with some of their people. I also gave programs for one of the "home study" groups, three different Sunday Schools, and worked with two different groups for their annual conferences. Joint Christian Services was the group that organized much of my work in Mongolia and I worked with them at their Annual Conference. I also worked with the children for the Annual Conference of the Christian and Missionary Alliance group.
I had been asked to bring 15,000 strings for a project that Marcus Dubach, the Agronomist at JCS had with a childrens magazine called "Ladybug". This magazine goes to countryside families to encourage childrens creativity and learning. Last year they included a packed of seeds provided by World Concerns and this year they wanted to include a string with a series of articles on string games, which used to be a big part of the Mongolian culture but are not being taught to the current generation. I did take the strings, though customs was concerned with what they were for and charged 5% duty on them. I also gave a program for Ladybug magazine at the Childrens Palace in Ulaan Bataar and we started a string figure club for the children. By the time I left, two articles had appeared in the magazine and one included a string.
A woman working for UNESCO was also interested in the string games for countryside children and is preparing a book of free games and activities to use with children under 8 that will develop their minds and muscle coordination. The nomad children have lots of space and freedom but it can be a very boring experience for them. Riding a horse for hours watching the sheep or yaks can be very tedious. They really grasp the fun of string.
Eagle TV is the local station. It is a Christian organized Television station that has programming in Mongolian as well as CNN, some TBN and other broadcasts. They have to be very careful to not make their Christian presence too noticeable or the government will shut them down. I was able to be on two live programs showing the string figures. On one of the programs, the commentator asks me to show the Cross and the Crucifix and explained in detail each part of the story. They also made copies of all three of my videos and are going to translate them and air them at various times.
I also spent one morning while they taped each of the biblically related figures with directions and stories, that they will air as little fill in spots. The announcers are telling the audience to come to the station and they can get a free string. With each string they will be giving a Bible tract. A number of Mongolian people stopped to tell me they saw me on TV.
It was a great trip. I took 20,000 strings with me and gave 15,000 to the Ladybug magazine. Of the 5,000 remaining I gave some to each of the 40 or so teachers at the Sunday School Associations meetings for their children. Every other place that I introduced strings, I left enough to carry on the work that was started. In one town that was a 14-hour jeep ride away, I left enough for the school children to each have one for some special program. A Christian artist in the community is going to start a club at the school. There were about 1,000 strings left at the JCS office but they were going fast.
I believe that in all my work I was showing that I love the Lord with all my heart. I also believe that I was showing that I love my neighbor. Sometimes testimonies and stories were told through translators and I dont know what was said. Sometimes while I was working with a group or individuals, talk was going on by the Mongolians present or by the expatriates. Usually I did not know what messages were being sent. I do know that lots of people, young and old had a lot of fun and as we would leave a community or area I could look back and see people sharing their new found skills and stories with others.
Serving with all of you,