My dad’s travel journal part 5
Sunday, August 22, 2010:
Not sure how Chris & Tiff slept as they were again sharing beds with their boys. But, then again, Carol & I were sharing a twin bed too. The beds were softer than the previous night, so I think we were all better rested. We got up around 7:30 AM…showered, read the Bible, packed our stuff…and I paid Chris for the expenses he had incurred on our behalf so far on this trip. Breakfast was again in the basement at the hotel’s restaurant/bakery. This place catered to tourists, so the menu was much more European/American. Today, we had pancakes, eggs, toast, etc. At 9:30 AM, we got our car from the enclosure at the side of the hotel. This hotel had a man on security duty and he was always available to unlock the gates whenever we needed to get to our vehicle. He often waited in the front yard of the hotel for just such an event. There was also a ger in the front yard. The proprietor sold goods made of wool. On this particular morning, the hotel receptionist was being friendly with Elijah. She was teasing him, by blocking his pathway on the stairs. You might think that odd…but it was cool. They treated us like their friends. Church was going to be at Ikh Tamir, about 1/2 hour drive from our hotel. As we drove, we saw people carrying water from a supply point. It was then that Tiff told us about average water usage, per person, in Mongolia. We also found out that a ger costs about $1,000 US to purchase…not much for us, but a huge sum for them. We arrived in Ikh Tamir fairly soon and had a lot of time on our hands. That was intentional. Chris & Tiff began trying to find a large rock formation that has become a tourist attraction and one that is important to the Mongolian people. They have a tradition that it was cast to the earth by one of their heroes. It is not a small rock. It is probably 100 feet in circumference and maybe 40 feet tall (just guessing). There is a lot of graffiti on it, but also some ancient Tibetan inscriptions. It has blue cloth hanging from it in several places. One of the things that I failed to mention is the Buddhist shrines, found everywhere, and known as “ovoo”s.Alongside the road in hundreds of places, there will be a pile of stones, usually with strips of bright blue fabric attached. It is a part of their worship. People will stop their cars, walk around the stones in a clockwise fashion, leave an offering, say a prayer…and go on. They attach the practice to good luck in their lives. The reason I have told you about these monuments is that this large rock that we were looking for…has many blue cloths attached and is venerated by these people for the same reason. Okay…back to our search: We drove around, asked questions a couple of times, and then headed in the general direction of the rock. However, before long, our trip led us across pastureland and to a small river. We saw where cars had been crossing, but were unsure of the depth and whether or not it had a muddy bottom. Many of the cars in Mongolia, particularly in the countryside…are either Russian Jeeps or have 4-wheel drive. Ours was without either of those qualifications for river crossings. We searched the riverbanks for a better spot and then observed two smaller cars making the trip through the river. Deciding that we might make it, Chris got behind the wheel and took off. Thankfully, we came out on the other side without killing the engine. At the large rock, we walked around it and looked at some of the inscriptions. Some Mongolian boys came up on horseback and allowed Joel to pat their horses. We unwittingly walked around the rock counter-clockwise…probably giving the Mongolians there some reason to dislike us ignorant Americans. We did this on about 3 occasions, never meaning to offend, but just naturally going to our right…like we do in our home country. Each time, we realized our error…after the fact. When we had our fill of looking at the rock, we reboarded our micro and headed back toward town. After going back through the river, we sought for a place to have a picnic lunch. Finding a promising location, we waded back across a narrow stretch of water, carrying our food, stove, blanket, etc. In one of those rare groves of trees, we set up camp. A blanket went on the ground for Joel to nap on, after we cleared away a ton of rocks. They were everywhere! Chris helped Joel get to sleep. Tiffany set up a stove and began preparing a spaghetti lunch for us. Carol had met with Montezuma, treated him wrong, and he was now taking revenge….if you know what I mean. She headed…in desperation….for some not too distant trees…and “communed with nature” there. She was NOT a happy camper! I think maybe she even liked it so much that she made a second trip. She is not reading as I write this and won’t be amused when she does. Hey,…it’s what happened! Elijah wanted to explore, so we took him on a long walk. We picked up sticks and played war. We did sword-fighting, etc. We saw empty cases that had contained vodka bottles out in the fields. It was one more evidence of the tremendous plague that alcohol has brought to this country. It is everywhere! I saw a cow skull with a yellow flower growing up through an opening in the front of it. What a beautiful picture…was my immediate thought. Life and death, side by side….or life…existing, in spite of death. Probably lots of messages in that scene. We went back to camp and sat on the blanket for lunch. The spaghetti had stuck together, so was kind of clumpy, but tasty and nourishing. We were grateful. Along with it, we had homemade rolls. While eating, a herd of sheep, goats, and yaks came right by us, shepherded by a man on horseback. He got them to where he wanted them and then disappeared. After eating, Carol watched Joel while we broke camp. Tiff & I, and later, Chris, took the dishes to the river to rinse them off. Then Tiff soaped and rinsed them back at our picnic site. We were amused to see what Elijah was doing while all of this was going on. He was off in the distance, stick in hand, herding the flock of sheep & goats. He had them at a run. We called him off…assuming that the owner wouldn’t be real happy about the results. As it was now getting closer to church time, we loaded up in the van and headed to town. At a bank, we phoned a girl and she soon came walking up to where we were. She got into our vehicle and directed us down the road a bit. We pulled up to a board fence with two solid metal gates. When they opened, we drove into what we were to discover to be …the church compound. As is the case so often, the church building was surrounded by 2-foot tall weeds. Someone had planted flowers near the door as a symbol of caring. The girl that we had picked up was from Ulaanbaatar. She had traveled to Ikh Tamir for a week of Bible camp. She is one of the leaders at the Eternal Light church in UB. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name right now…and didn’t write it down. She was very impressive in her Christian maturity. This church was very rustic…run down…by American standards. Inside though, it was clean and well-kept. The sanctuary was small, but adequate…had comfortable chairs. We learned later that this tiny Wesleyan Church was the only one in town (of any denomination). In Tsetserleg, the provincial capitol (where the Fairfield Inn was located) there are only 4 churches. It is hard to believe how few protestant churches there are in Mongolia. Those in the countryside plead for someone to come and minister to them. Even their own people, who go to the city to train for the ministry….seldom wish to return to their home towns. In talking about some of this, we learned that Eternal Light (the Wesleyan Church in UB) was one of the first protestant churches in Mongolia. It wasn’t Wesleyan then, but it has that kind of historical background. When the Soviets, left about 15 years ago, they left behind a spiritual vacuum, a country of atheists…or sometimes Buddhists…though they were oppressed. This little church that we were visiting in Ikh Tamir, has been there since 1994. The service started around 2 PM and lasted past 3:30. The singing was beautiful; though in Mongolian (Chris quietly interpreted for us from time to time). The pastor is a woman, whose husband was away in UB. Most of the congregation was female. There were two men…one of them played the keyboard. Another Bible School graduate from UB gave the morning’s message. Her name was Mugunboler, or something like that. She was very pretty, and an amazing speaker. Though I couldn’t understand anything that Chris didn’t translate for me, I was impressed by her passion, her clarity, and the subject matter (when I understood it). She covered the subjects of salvation, sanctification, sin, etc. She held up a pencil while talking and used it as an object lesson. She talked about keeping the point sharp (spiritually). She said that an artist still loved his pencil when it was just a short nub, because he had used it up, and had many good memories of their relationship as he was using it to create beautiful images. After the sermon, it was testimony time. Three ladies gave fairly lengthy testimonies. One of them was giving thanks for the protection God had given her as she had returned home that week. An unexpected, early snowstorm had blanketed the area, but she was kept safe in her travels. When the service was dismissed, a lady brought out small bowls and a metal pitcher filled with tiny black currants (berries). We each were given a bowl, and we ate with our fingers…staining them nicely. We had taken some small toys along, with Christian quotes on them (from the Herald & Banner Bookstore),… to give to the children. Only one small girl was at church that morning, so we gave her a couple of items. (Actually, Chris had told us that we might just show up at some family’s ger and ask to stay overnight with them. If so, we needed gifts to give to them in return for their hospitality. When it was apparent that we were not going to do this, he suggested that we could pass the toys on to the church kids). One of the blessings of this trip was to see another part of my Christian family…people of Mongolian ethnicity…worshipping the same Heavenly Father…though 12,000 miles from my home. It was also a blessing to be able to leave some tangible help for them by way of offering. An amount that would be almost nothing to me…would be of immense blessing to them. They gave us little handmade envelopes; we inserted our offerings, and then placed them in a can on the pulpit. (To those of you who are reading this journal…keep your ears open…there may be an opportunity for you to help them too. The church in UB does not have a place of its own…they rent. They have their eyes on some property and a building, but will never be able to raise the $110,000 that it will take to purchase it. Perhaps someday, Chris will let you know that your help is needed. If you are able to pitch in at that time, it will be a huge blessing to these people, even if your gift is small). I digress! After the service,…one of the church ladies wanted us to all come to her restaurant. She would open it up for us and feed us dumplings. We crowded into the micro and headed there. They brought out a platter with 23 big meat-filled dumplings, milk tea (in a bowl), and egg salad. It tasted fine…though Carol would not necessarily agree with me on that. Around 4:30, maybe 5:00 PM, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Tsetserleg and the Fairfield Inn. Tonight, the hotel would have more availability, so Carol and I would have a private room. We moved our suitcases and then all headed out for another walk around town. We found a store that had ice cream cups and sandwiches…took them over to some benches at the government building and began to enjoy them. A very precocious boy, maybe 10-12 years of age joined us. He visited with Chris & Tiff (in Mongolian), and then checked out Chris’s wedding ring, and then admired Tiff’s diamond. He also wanted to see my camera…and asked for some money for ice cream. We weren’t sure of his motives. He was very sharp, and very personable. I would expect him to someday be very successful…unless his abilities are used in a bad way. We later ran into him at another park…and wondered if that was totally accidental. On our way back to the hotel, we walked up to a temple area that I’d expressed interest in seeing and took pictures of the local elementary school with its Soviet-style hammer and sickle emblem blazoned on the wall. Though the country is democratic, the Communist Party is still very active. Another curiosity to me is the use of the Nazi symbol throughout the country. The Mongolians helped Russia to defeat the Germans, so are not sympathizers with Naziism. I will quote from an article that I recently read: In Mongolia, the swastika symbolizes peace, firm, forever and long life. In addition the swastika-type of symbol is a traditional symbol with four arms that revolve around the pole star (altan hadaas) like the four seasons. The symbol has been used in both hinduism and buddhism for thousands of years. The Mongolian nomads are wearing buddhist symbols.It has absolutely nothing to do with Naziism or white power. With the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist swastika reached Tibet and China. The use of the swastika by the indigenous Bön faith of Tibet, as well as syncretic religions, such as Cao Dai of Vietnam and Falun Gong of China, it is thought to be borrowed from Buddhism as well. It remains widely used in Eastern religions and Dharmic Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.The swastika has been and still is an important symbol in Mongolian culture, meaning eternity. It may be found in many places including monasteries. I guess we had made another stop earlier. In yesterday’s account, I mentioned seeing a park that impressed Tiffany. Today, we explored it. There were several pieces of playground equipment, a small forest of trees, some statuary (in bad repair), and a ger that probably belonged to the caretaker. There was a circular gate at either end that was barely large enough to let a body through. We questioned why you would have such a thing. One would not expect crowd control to be an issue here. Around 8 PM, we had enough adventure under our belt…and headed for our hotel. By 9:30 we were ready to shut out our very dim lights and head for bed. Carol & I could look out our window and see the flashing lights of the nearby Neptune Club…another den of iniquity attempting to fill the void in these people’s lives. Just beyond it was a mountainside, and a tall statue of Buddha. How great the need! Well….I gotta go to bed…..what a full day! Whew!