Monday, June 16, 2014

The day I accidentally preached in Mongolian

The train of events started about a week and a half ago, with a text from one of my students saying (ominously), "Hi teacher, can I ask you something?" Knowing this will almost always be followed by a request, not an inquiry, I replied that I could indeed be asked something. Upon which followed the request, would you please come and share the word at a small church?

Having established that (a) No, I couldn't preach in 2 days time, (b) that someone would be there to translate, and (c) there would be some arrangements for getting there, I agreed for the following Sunday.

During the week I tried to prepare something on John 4, but as Friday came around I decided that I hadn't really arrived anywhere and so instead I would preach something more familiar. In general I am not a big fan of recycling sermon material, but I will do it on occasion, and so I set about re-preparing an old sermon on John 2:12ff.

I am not a big fan of preaching with a translator, as I find it disruptive to my ability to speak freely in English, and I am obviously much better at speaking in English. So on the occasions I have preached at chapel, I have never felt that it went particularly well. Anyway, although I am no expert in preaching through translation, I prepared for this by working through the sermon into simplified English, and using simple sentences instead of complex ones. At the same time I read through the Mongolian passages I would utilise, and I would mentally compose or practice some of the material in Mongolian.

The Sunday rolled around and it was a rainy one. My student was to come and meet me and help me get to this church, but they were heading off on a short term mission trip on the Monday so I received a message about 9am that a young guy would pick me up. He promptly turned up at 9:45, an amazing 15 mins early (no-one is ever early in Mongolia), and we set off across the city.

Now, you should understand that we live a few kilometres East of the city centre. Most of our life is centered on this part of town. We don't go into the city centre that often, and we even more rarely go west of it. So an hour's drive west across the city took me into parts at first seldom visited, and then into areas where I had no real idea where we were.

We were early to church too. We entered a typical apartment building and then went through a door with no handle down into a below-ground level space. The church was the size of 2 or 3 typical apartment rooms, but one big space. Actually it was quite well kept, they were cleaning the floors when I arrived. I met the woman who pastors the church (sorry, I forget Mongolian names very easily which is why no one in this story has a name), and took a seat to wait.

Some more people arrived and we had a small prayer meeting before the service. Then my translator arrived, he introduced himself as David, which I found amusing because I am not used to Mongolians having English names. It turns out he studies at MIU, which is an English language college here.

Anyway, I chatted to him a little before the actual service started, he is a final year student in International Management or Relations or whatever that vague discipline is. His English was passable but he didn't seem that confident. I think it was about this time I realised that the more I was able to speak in Mongolian, the better it would go.

The service got underway with about 25-30 people perhaps, I am not a good estimator. We had some singing, a greeting time, a testimony time, and then it was me.

So I had never really planned to speak mostly Mongolian, but I began that way and tried my best to stick to Mongolian. At times I stopped and said some things in English, and David would translate. Occasionally he would repeat some of my Mongolian in more correct Mongolian. And occasionally I would say something in English and then begin to translate for him.

I don't know how long I talked for. Probably not as long as they expected, but given my language skills probably that was okay. I usually take my phone up to the pulpit and use it as a timer, but sometimes (as on this occasion) I forget to set it up.

Overall I think it went okay. It is hard! One just does not have the depth of expression, the ability to express precise or deep concepts, or the freedom, when operating in a second language, at least at the point where I am; I suppose several years of this would be different.

Still, it seemed like people understood both what I was saying as well as the main point(s) that I was trying to convey, and they were warm and appreciative, so it was not a disaster.

After the service I spoke with some of the young men (all 3 of them, but to be honest I was glad there were indeed some men there, Mongolian Christianity is often demographically weighted to women even more than some western contexts) for a while, and grabbed a photo, before we set off on the even-longer-than-before (traffic) drive home.

And that is the story of how I accidentally preached my first sermon in Mongolian (mostly).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mission Trip, Days 9 & 10

The last day! Let me reverse things and start with the last member of our team, Tyyla.

Tyyla is 25 and became a believer in her late teens. She ministers in a church working with teenagers. I would describe her as prone to daintiness, very expressive in her speech, and susceptible to being teased as the youngest in our team. She has a very pleasant and bright spirit.

Okay, the plan for our last day was to "leave" at 5. I clarified whether they meant "Mongolian time" or "German time", and the answer was Mongolian time. Which mean that just before 5 we awoke to a soupy breakfast, before discovering that one tire appeared to be flat. This wheel was changed. Then around 6am we drove out of town, about 30 mins, before we had two flat tires. We had to leave the car running at this time in order for us not to free. Someone managed to get a little bit of reception on their mobile, which was miraculous in itself, and so they phoned back to Ikh Yyl. Bagii came out in a taxi after some time, and Davkaa got back in the taxi and took 3 tires with him into town. We waited, a long time, and the sun came up. We even took a walk to get some photos near some camels.

Looking for a signal


It was after 11 before we set out again. I estimate we made it another 20 mins down the road before we had another flat. This time the wheel was removed, and the inner was taken out and swapped, then reinflated. At least the countryside was beautiful. Again we set off.

We made it to Цахир around 3pm and had some lunch and a lie down. Then we drove continuously all the way to Цэцэрлэг, where we arrived around 10pm. This was welcomed by all. Except they couldn't find a suitable place to stay. And we got another flat tire in town. There was some discussion about staying at the guest house that our Australian friends operate, but it was decided that this was too expensive. Also we needed to get tires fixed. There was a lot of driving around. Badril is from Arkhangai and at one stage we had three different types of police escorting us around. 

Eventually, at 12:30, we drove out of Tsetserleg, and we tried to stop at a few places nearby to stay the night, but with no success. Somewhere the decision was made that we would just drive through the night. It was a long night.

On the Road

By morning we were not far from Ulaanbaatar, and we stopped to try a few places for breakfast. Eventually one was found that was open, and breakfast was ordered. I opted for some instant noodles. Even the Mongolians were not happy with the food and left a lot uneaten!

Tire repair

Then off driving again. And another flat. Maybe two, it is a bit hazy now.This time Davka hitch-hiked with 2 tires towards UB and back. Several more hours spent waiting in the wilderness. Some very serious cyclists rode past.

A lonely yellow van

Finally we got into UB, and dropped Erka off. Somehow we got one last flat tire! At least now we were stopped directly opposite a tire repair place. Eventually I got home, at 3pm, very tired and ready for sleep.

The End.

Sunrise on the steppes

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mission Trip, Day 8

This morning after devotion time some of us went to the church for a 'class' which was designed for new believers. 7 people came and learnt the basics of how to read teh Bible, how to pray, and how to do a quiet time/devotion Then they all did one right there and then. Also they decided to keep meeting together daily to do them.

Reading the Bible for the first time

We had a very Mongolian lunch and then set off on the 2hr drive to Tosontsengel. Tosontsengel is reputedly the coldest settlement in Mongolia, it gets to -50. It also holds the record for highest recorded barometric pressure on Earth. We met with some local believers in the church there, maybe 8 or 10, and had a time of praise, prayer, testimonies, and prayed specifically for some people there. It was a very warm time of fellowship.

Praying for some people in need

With the believers in Tosontsengel

After this Enkhtsetseg and Enkhtuvshin visited a family to share the good news while the rest of us had some dinner with local believers in a small eatery. It was soup and I do not really get along with Mongolian soup. Anyway, then the 2 hr drive back to Их Уул

This was our last night in town so we had an extended time of worship and prayer and I shared in Mongolian from Acts 20:17ff. Probably some of my most extended Mongolian discourse in the whole trip. Also we took an offering among our team for the local church and prayed several times, and received some gifts, and took many photos

Giving some wisdom from the Scriptures

All the team with our host family (L to R, top: Davka, Erka, Badril, Seumas, middle: Enktuvshin, Tyyla, Enkhtsetseg, Onoroo, bottom: Bagii, Naraa, Nyamka, and our driver Selenge)

I'm running out of days for "meet the team" so I better double up. Onoroo (on the left below) is middle-aged, has two small children, and I think her husband left her. This is reasonably common. She took special efforts to make sure I didn't starve. Enktuvshin (on the right below) is 49, but often acts 21, she also worked illegally in Korea, and then went to Turkey (legally) where she worked and did some kind of ministry there. She gets very enthusiastic and gesticulates like she's Italian.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mission Trip, Day 7

We started the day late, because it was Sunday. So this meant Devotion Time at 9am instead of 8am. Which meant breakfast afterwards at 10am, and over to church for the service at 11am. Except no-one was there at 11. I thought this was unsurprising, since we are in Mongolia, and in the countryside, but the team thought this was not good and we should pray. Well, it's never bad to pray. So from around 11:20 people started to arrive, and over time it filled completely. But only one man came.

Church Times

Erka shares

Erka preached/testified, and after the service there was some discussion time. Then all the women left, just as Bataar turned up with a few other men. Davka explained to the gospel to them while I went home, where Enkhtsetseg had prepared lunch. There was not really time for the others to come home for lunch, so we ate and went back to church for the children's program. It was a lot like the previous day, with games, singing, and Davka gave a talk from Luke 5 about the calling of Peter.

Some Young ones
Enkhtsetseg sharing from the Bible
All this finished up reasonably early, so in the afternoon it was decided to climb a mountain. Off we went, with some snacks, and after some fun in the snow, we climbed a relatively small hill. I said this was not a mountain. We took photos, ate snacks, and prayed.

Then Nyambaa (the younger son of Naraa the elder) and I set off up an actual mountain. Bagii, Onoroo and Tyyla also followed. It was a bit of a climb, but well worth it.

In the evening two women and a child turned up. Nobody introduced anybody, they just turned up and then they were eating dinner with us. It turned out they were travelling to the city but one bus had not arrived so they were waiting for some other bus. After dinner the team shared the gospel and conversed with them. Finally we started team meeting at 10pm! Which meant midnight bed-times.

On top of a hill

On top of a mountain

On top of the world

Meet the team! Let's talk about Erka (Erdenebat). Erka as a younger man accidentally hit a pedestrian who later died and Erka had to serve time in prison. This really devastated his life. At the time he visited many shamans and lamas to try and avoid this penalty. After prison he went to Korea and worked as an illegal immigrant in the countryside. After two years his wife said, "I heard that the church will help people, let's visit the church", so they went to an English-language church. They didn't understand anything but they felt very welcomed. Eventually they met a Mongolian woman at their church who said that there was a Mongolian church nearby and they should come to this. So they went and learnt about Jesus. At this time Erka was converted. Although he worked on the other side of Korea, near Busan, he would travel back every week to serve in church. Then God blessed them financially and they returned to Mongolia where he operates a medium business and is involved in church planting. He is also very nice, a good organised, and sings marvellously.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mission Trip, Day 6

The devotion this morning was from Romans 11:33 - 12:8. We had aarts for breakfast. It is kind of like sour milk curds, but then you can make a drink out of it.

After breakfast we went to the boarding home at the school I went with Davka, Tyyla, and Enkhtubshen, to see the older kids (12+), while another team with Enkhtsetseg went to work with the younger kids. In our group, Davka taught a kind of social-lesson about relationships and how children react to family problems and so on. Through the lesson he also gave his testimony, and at the end he explained the gospel.
Morning program with teens

...and with younger kids

 Then there was a youth-group style game. People were in teams of 3, two people holding hands were the "cage", while the other stood in the middle and was the "bird". Then there was an odd person out, who would call out "cage", "bird", or "earthquake", and either all the cage-people, or all the bird-people, or everybody, would have to swap places. There was some confusion at first, but once it was sorted out, much fun was had.

In the afternoon there was a second set of children's programmes. The younger kids met at a court/stadium/hall, while the older kids came to the church. It was kind of like an evangelistic youth group, and many kids came. So there was singing, some games, Tyyla did a bible talk, and there was some discussion time. I spoke a very little bit. Afterwards it was compulsory to have one billion photos with every combination of kid and leader. It finally finished about 5 and there other team came to join us.
Afternoon program, Younger Kids
Youth ministry, Mongolian style

There were many photos

Then it turned out we were going to visit another family. I don't know what the connection was. Anyway, we went to their home and ate horse-meat хууршуур. Horse meat is much better than mutton, just so you know. The young daughter in the house did a display of some Mongolian contortionism for us.

Mongolian Contrortionism

In the evening the team had found some instant coffee, Nescafe classic, which they were very excited about since they knew that I drink black coffee. Also there was a push-up and sit-up competition. I came second on push-ups, but let's be clear that I had excellent form. I won sit-ups. Also a lot of dart-playing this evening.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mission Trip, Day 5

As aforementioned, waking up early is not very helpful. Also I had some odd dreams. Anyway, for devotion time I shared from Isaiah 55. Leading a devotion in Mongolian is probably on the outer limits of my language skills, but it seemed to go well.

Today I went out with the men to visit some houses of believers. The women were doing something, I think offering massages and facials for women. Anyway, the first home we visisted the wife was a believer. The husband came in and we sat around drinking milk tea while Erka shared the gospel with great clarity, enthusiasm and urgency, while the man sat patiently and listened. Another woman who was some kind of relative also came a listened.

Visiting times

Next we visited a ger, but only the children were home, so we left some gifts and continue on. The third family was the ger of the brother who comes along to morning devotions, Baatar. Two other men were there, and the wife of one of them, and various children. Again Erka did most of the talking and sharing the gospel.

When we came back for lunch I decided it was safe to share that it was my birthday. Safe in the sense that no crazy Mongolian celebrations were likely to ensue.

We had planned a worship time at church for 2pm. Of course this really meant 3pm. The women in our team had been doing these massages since about 10am. About 15 people in all came to the worship time. We sang some songs, and then Badril preached the gospel with great passion. He is very passionate in general. Later in the trip we made fun of the intonations he uses when praying.

Worship times

After the worship time we sat around and had some snacks and question time, and Davka shared his testimony. I probably ended up hearing Davka and Erka's testimonies 4 or 5 times, which really helped me get a grip on the details.

Davka teaching another hermeneutics lesson

In the late afternoon I spend time with Enkhtuvshin and Badril as they prepared fresh хууршуур for dinner. Badril used to work as a European-food cook. Also I sat down and taught Enkhtsetseg some English.
Badril cooking up some хууршуур

Then it was dinner! Birthday dinner! They had made a kind of cake, and had a candle, and sang Happy Birthday in English, and there was even a gift. Also fresh хууршуур is the best хууршуур.  It was so nice, one of the best birthdays.

Birthday times!

It took a little bit to decipher the card

And then review time and then bed, the end.

 Today let's meet Badril, or Oyunbadral as his full name is. His second child was born a few days before leaving on mission! He was a cook for 7 or 8 years, and now is thinking about taking over as the pastor in his local church. He loves to sing and play the guitar, and prays very loudly. Also he wears this hat that makes him look like the captain of the ship. I think it goes well with his facial hair.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mission Trip, Day 4

There is a problem with waking up at 5am when everyone is sleeping in the same room. It's difficult and pointless to actually get up. Unless, I suppose, you are making milk-tea for everyone, but that was not my lot.

So it was get-up time at 7:30 and then devotion time from Psalm 23, followed by Mongolian breakfast. The plan for today involved in going out in groups of 2 or 3 to invite people to our programs. But first stop was to visit the student dorm; I suppose it is more like a boarding house for children from families who live not in town. We were supposed to meet some teachers in charge there, but they weren't there, so then we did go out into the streets.

I went with Enkhtsetseg, and we would stop and say hello to people and explain who we were and invite them to various things that were on at the church pertaining to their demographic category. We ran into a few people hauling water, so it was decided to head to the water-station. This was a good strategy, as we could just stand there while people came to get water and people would come to us. Enkhtsetseg has a good friendly manner about her which is perfect for talking to strangers. Though countryside Mongolians are very approachable, and the Mongolian language means that everyone is your brother/sister/little sibling/grandma/grandpa.

An Emee carries her water

Getting the water

It might have been -20 or so outside, I don't know. I didn't feel too cold, I think this is a function of superior quality clothing. Anyway, after an hour we walked to the house, but there was no one there, then to the church. Davka was at church preparing some lesson materials. Davka taught Narantuya (the church elder) and her son Baggii a series of lessons on Bible Interpretation over 3 or 4 days. Anyway, we then walked back towards the school, and met with some of the team, and there was discussion about meeting the aforementioned teacher(s), but then it was back to the house for lunch. A lot of walking around in the end.

Lunch ran late, finishing up at 2, which was when we were meant to be at the church (it was a 5 min walk away). So anyway we hurried over. I wasn't sure why we needed to hurry, since it's Mongolia, but surprisingly some people were turning up. We had separate men's and women's meetings this afternoon. The older brother who was coming to morning devotions came, with 2 other men; there were many women there also, maybe 15 or more. The men's meeting was hard-going, they were not super responsive or talktaive. Meanwhile the women's group went well, and later some of us came in to join them and we prayed for six women to receive Jesus that day.

The Men's meeting, a little subdued

Praying times!

In the late afternoon/evening it was rest time. The students had decided to specially cater for me a little, and prepared a meal with rice, beef (instead of mutton), a fried egg(!), and vegetables. Then of course there was team-meeting time.

Today let me introduce you to Enkhtsetseg a little more. Here's a nice picture of her.

My friend Enkhtsetseg
We spent quite a bit of time talking. She became a believer at 16, after reading a children's Bible, which she then read about 5 times. She worked as a journalist, knows some Russian, and before coming to Bible College spent 3 years ministering in countryside towns. Her main ministry passion is for children's ministry. She knows a little English and likes to practice it. Also she likes to ask "why?" a lot, and tease her teacher. After college she plans to return to ministering in the Mongolian countryside. Lastly, she takes a lot of pictures.