Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No news is no news

We've been back in Australia for over a month now, and are enjoying our time here, with plenty of opportunities for time with friends and family.

There has been not much news from Mongolia. The college has not been successful in re-registering at this time, and from our perspective not much can go forward for us until things go forward for them.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Visa News...

So this morning I spoke with the principal of our school here. The school itself is having a number of problems with its registration with the government and has been unable to have itself re-registered at the moment. This is causing a number of problems for the school itself. It seems like they will be getting a lawyer involved and wrangling with these issues.

For us this means that the end of the month is approaching and it will not be possible for our permissions to be extended. Technically we overstayed our last visa and paid a fine for this, and so today it was decided that we'll leave the country for a minimum of 3 months, after which time we will need to reapply afresh to return on work visas. We've been told that, in part because of the overstay issue, that during this time we won't be able to reapply to come back on other visas.

So as of the 30th we'll be saying goodbye to Mongolia for a little while. We are obviously disappointed to be leaving in this manner at this time. Particularly it will be difficult for the students at the college - I'm leaving three classes mid-semester and it's very unclear exactly how those courses will continue. For us there is the frustration of leaving on very short notice, the disruption to building relationships and strong connections here, interruptions to language-learning, and a sense of uncertainty about the future plans.

However it is not truly that great a hardship for us - we go back to a beautiful, rich country where we have many friends and family, and are well-supported, and look forward to the opportunity to return here shortly. So don't feel too sorry for us! Instead please be especially in prayer for the college and for our brothers and sisters in this country. The college in particular needs to find ways to go forward and overcome these bureaucratic hurdles.

Monday, September 9, 2013

College Picnic - Autumn edition

Today we had the college picnic for semester. We headed out to the same location that our church held our summer camp. Checking the weather forecast, it was 2 above, -2 with wind, when I left home, with a promised top of 11 and a 40% chance of rain. Not a great forecast for a picnic.
The way these things go is that I turn up at college and wait for people to tell me what's going on. So I turned up early, and ended up in a microbus heading out to Gachort, and we were there before 10am. It was indeed chilly. Others arrived over the next two hours, and proceedings began at midday. 

We started with some singing, including songs with actions lead by students wearing onesies. So bizarre. Anyway, then we had a short sermon from 2 Tim 4, it was intelligible to me and quite on target. Then we had a time, well, I need to go back to explain the next part. Students have been assigned other students to secretly encourage and leave gifts for, over the last few weeks. So today what happened (as I can figure), is that students lined up at the front with gifts, facing towards the stage, and then students who had been their encourager came up and stood behind them, then the first line of students would turn around and see who it was and give them a gift in return. Alas, some students were not at the picnic, and just the nature of running such a line up as well, meant that some would turn around to no one.

After this we had lunch. Mongolian food is not my favourite. Nonetheless, we divided up by year group and I joined in some lunch with my students. They always worry that I do not eat enough. Partly it is because I eat so little in general, and because I have breakfast unlike many mongolians. Still, we got through lunch and enjoyed our fellowship.

In the afternoon there was some playing of basketball and football. Also some organised games. One of these involved bible charades. And then there was a race by year group, with each person's leg tied to the next person's. Also there was what I would call a bush dance. Very similar to the heel-and-toe.
There were some falls

Bush Dance time!

After this there was more free time for the playing of basketball and football again. As you can tell these are critical sports here. Finally we wrapped up around 4:30 with a group photo and the drive home (which was surprisingly quick).

I always find these types of events interesting, because I am literally the only foreigner present. It serves both to remind me of how foreign I am, but also that part of me is localised. I am accepted and brought into local ways. And our unity is not in my mongolian language skills, but in Christ.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A short visa update

Well I have today had a little more insight about exactly the situation with our visas and so I thought I would write and especially give you a clearer picture of the goings-on.

When last I wrote the information was that we could stay for the month. The question is about what happens after then. At the moment the issues seem to revolve around the registration of the college with the city council, and then permissions for foreign workers, etc.. Lately we have been hearing from many of our colleagues about increasing difficulties for foreign workers in Mongolia, and registration periods being shortened as well.

If at the end of this month we aren't given the right permissions, then we will need to leave Mongolia, and will not be ably to reapply for at least 3 months. For us that would mean coming back to Australia for that time. Obviously that would be very disruptive for us, and it would also be disruptive for classes at UBTC, as I would be leaving just short of mid-semester and it's unclear what arrangements could be made for those subjects.

So our main prayer at this stage is that the right permissions will be granted to the college and for us, so that we don't need to go anywhere and can continue on with our work here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

No one knows what tomorrow will bring

On friday the news seemed to be that we would pay a fine and then be able to stay. This didn't make the most sense to us but we go by what we are told and just keep asking what's going on.

Today I arrived at school again with the plan to ask what was going on. The principal of the school told me that actually we now had to leave Mongolia within a few days, because of the visa issue. So we immediately began thinking through the many issues and options that needed to be considered.

In the afternoon I was inquiring about getting our passports back, because obviously they are necessary to travel. Then the news came that actually we are allowed to stay for one month. Within this month it may be possible to get permissions to stay longer. If not, then we will need to leave at the end of the month and possibly stay outside the country for a longer time.

As you can see, it is not always 100% clear to us what is going on, where we are going, what we are meant to be doing, or what will happen tomorrow. God is teaching us many things about trusting him, relying on him in prayer, so that whatever happens we are praying that God will put us where he wants us, with the good works he ha prepared in advance for us to do, and that he will be with us in all this.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Litany of minor disasters...

Oh Mongolia!

We have been back just on a week now and things have not been going well for us.

1. Rachel had her iPhone pick-pocketed from her last week. That led to changing permissions on online accounts, digging out an old phone, a fruitless and frustrating trip to the police station, a bounced email from our insurance company, and finally a helpful encounter with our phone company who just switched her phone number to a new SIM.

2. On Sunday Seumas preached at our English language church, and his Bible subsequently went missing after the service. Not a huge deal, and we hope whoever took it reads it, but just one more thing; and it's not that easy to replace English language Bibles here.

3. Then on Monday a chance encounter with one of the workers at UBTC revealed that our visas and permissions are set to expire on the first of September. That is less than a week away. He asked for our alien-cards and passports, but then didn't wasn't at work today so we couldn't give them to him. So, at the extreme, we may not be allowed to stay in the country beyond this coming Sunday. This will be neither cheap nor convenient.

4. Seumas's computer stopped working this morning. Well, it was fine this morning at home, but then he got to work and it won't boot up properly. So much for preparing lessons or studying or doing just about anything. A trip in search of a particular computer repair place turned into a wild good chase. He's hoping to get to a suitable place tomorrow with a student and see what can be done. (He does have 2.5 backups of all his data though.)

So, prayer:
1. For our visas to be sorted quickly and so that we can stay and carry on our ministry without expensive and time-costly trips to nowhere.
2. For peace and trust when things go 'wrong'.
3. For computer issues to be fixable and quickly fixed.
4. For God's will to be done on earth as in heaven.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On the first day of Naadam

Last year we were teaching English over Naadam, so I kind of feel like this is our first real Naadam. Seumas is choosing to spend the holiday period working on his thesis, and I have masters work of my own to do, but today I got to go to the opening ceremony for the Ulaanbaatar Naadam.

Getting tickets for this event is an event in itself. Friends of mine lined up from before 5am to 1pm in a huge shoving crowd, only to be told by the time the time they got to the ticket window that the ticket quota had been reached and that they should come back the next morning. I'm told that this is what buying food used to be like back in the day. Anyway, a friend of a friend managed to get hold of tickets the next day, through means that have not yet been revealed, so we were going after all!

It took about an hour to walk to the stadium this morning. I bumped into a parade on the way, so I trailed behind them, figuring they knew the way! Once inside the stadium, I got a bit lost looking for a toilet and ended up in the shiny VIP building. There were lots of guys in military uniforms covered in medals, TV crews, and women in beautiful clothes running around, and everyone else had special ID passes hanging around their necks. No-one tried to get rid of me though. Later the president of Mongolia entered from that building and sat in a special pavilion on top. Yeah, it's kind of embarassing what having white skin will get you sometimes...

Anyway, our seats were track-level, on the very front row, which we were excited about until it turns out that during the entire performance there is an army of people wearing deels entirely encircling the field, so we pretty much just watched their backs the whole time. Oh well! We got to see the costumes as people walked in, and I get the vibe that there was lots of dancing in unison. We did see a guy doing a handstand while riding a horse!

Once the opening ceremony was complete they began the wrestling, but it was in the middle of the field, and the field is huge, so it was a bit far away to enjoy. I stayed long enough to see one huge guy take out a skinny guy, and then went looking for khuurshuur, which is pretty much compulsory to eat during Naadam. And it was much better than normal khuurshuur, I think because they cook it to order rather than having it sit around lukewarm for hours. I even managed to find vegan khuurshuur. Best khuurshuur I've ever eaten! (I actually generally avoid khuurshuur, but come on, tradition...)

And then I decided I'd had enough of the crowds, and I didn't know where the archery field was, so I walked home. Now I'm looking forward to the deel festival on Saturday! Сайхаи наадаарай!

The finished parade. You may notice that discipline is a bit lax amongst the blue-jacketed group...
Some child dancers waiting for their turn.
These two girls were much more interested in playing a clapping game then watching the field!
These special banners made using yak or horse hair usually live in the government palace, but for the next two days they will stay under constant guard in the centre of the field.
There were several horse riders, but only one with a giant Mongolian flag!
Children wearing very cute camel costumes. Note the dreaded 'fence' of people in orange deels...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Church Camp, Mongolia Style

This weekend we headed off to our first church camp experience, Mongolian style. After some discussion we decided that Seumas would go for the whole time, and Rachel would come out for the day on Saturday with a few other foreign-people.

So the first business was making sure I (Seumas) knew where we were going from, this involved wandering around some nearby backstreets to find the right place the day before.


Having worked that out, I turned up at 8, knowing full well that running on Mongolian time meant we would not be leaving at 8. However it did mean I got to chat to some people as we stood around waiting. Eventually, maybe at 9am, our autobus turned up and we piled in and headed off to Gachoort, which is about an 1hr away in a car, a bit longer if you're in a bus. We were joined by branch/sister/daughter church from Darhan, and one person from Hovd and one from Övörkhangai.

We unloaded all our stuff and had our first session, which was pretty much like a regular church service, so about 6 or 7 songs, and a sermon. Then we had lunch (tsuivan, not my favourite at all), followed by the afternoon sessions, of which there were 3, each of about 6 songs and a talk. These talks were done by Pastor Lim, from Singapore, and translated into Mongolian by our Pastor. Actually I quite like that kind of situation because I can listen to both the English and Mongolian, so it's like I get to hear the talk doubled.

We had some short breaks between the different sessions, and then a dinner break after the 3rd session. Dinner was a mongolian soup, so again not so delicious for me personally. I sat at a table listening to some political discussion and analysis by Tsolmon, who is a great help to me because she gets the unfortunate task of writing down the chords for the 10,000 songs I get asked to play.

Then we had another evening session, again with about something like 8 songs, and another Mongolian sermon from the Pastor, this time with quite a few funny stories, but I find it hard to remember things that happen in Mongolian to relate in English, so you'll just have to trust me on this. Anyway, we finished up about 10:30pm.

Pastor Lim wanted to stay in a real Mongolian ger, like those in that picture above, which was taken from the main building at our site looking south towards the river, so my priveleged status as a teacher and foreigner meant that I also go to stay in a ger (I was quite happy with the option of sleeping packed like sardines in our boys' room, but it was mostly decided for me). Discovering that the ger next to us was having a loud karaoke party was not initially promising, but a good night's sleep was had.


We had quite a breakfast, with some porridge and bread, I was thinking we might just have bread and tea-with-milk. Not only that, but we started the morning session at 9am, which was the scheduled starting time and about 1hr earlier than I expected. We had two sessions on the Saturday morning, with talks by Pastor Lim.

Rachel, our Australian friend Naomi, and our American friend David managed to find the place and turned up in time for the first session. Here's a couple of pictures of our session-time.

I should talk a little bit about how music works. I played maybe 2/3rds of the sessions, and usually I'm okay with things, if I know what we're playing and preferably have some chords written down. Practice is considered desirable but unnecessary. Also, if the mood takes them, they will add in one or two or more songs that I (a) have to guess what we are about to play, (b) often have to guess how to play by looking at the guitarist's hands. This is less fun but I am getting quite skilled at recognising guitarist chords by sight.

Anyway, we had those two sessions, then there was about 2hrs of just hanging out. Rachel talked with some of the young women and hung out with some babies, like so:

Then we had lunch. It's probably time to note that all food prep is done by the women. I'm not sure Mongolian men know how to cook, except maybe for boiling meat. What other kind of cooking is there anyway?

It's about this time that I won my first Mongolian wrestling match with the drummer. Maybe he let me win, who can tell? Still, it's a good start to my track record. I suppose that one time someone tried to wrestle me on the street last year counts as a draw.

Okay, so one should take free time very seriously, and that means a compulsory volleyball tournament with almost universal participation. We had a round robin first set of games, then semi-finals and finals. Play was interrupted twice by heavy rain, but the tournament was resumed as soon as possible. Somehow I ended up in a team that did surprisingly well, and we won. Here's a gameplay picture, and the victory ceremony from later in the evening (a couple of people are missing from our victory picture).

Volleyball was followed by soccer, of course. And then dinner. Then it started to get dark, at like 8pm so the foreigners headed back to the city. Next on the agenda was a Concert. When I say 'Concert' I mean 'Mongolia's got Talent'. We didn't start until about 10pm, of course. We had folk songs, poetry, pop songs, english songs, some amazing popping. Naturally we did not finish until 12. I was feeling a little sorry for Pastor Lim, who had to stay up this whole time. It then decided to rain heavily as we drove back down to the ger for the night. This was not the end for the youngsters, who then had a dance party until 1:30am.


Was a late start, as you might expect. Some leaks in the ger meant some of my things got a little wet. Breakfast was rice porridge, which was not too bad. Now, I had been told that I was playing Sunday morning's session, but we'd had zero practice of these songs and maybe 5 of them we're new-ish to me. Not a problem apparently. We had a regular church service at 10am, except with about 10 songs, and two infant baptisms, and communion. I hope by now you are getting the sense that Mongolians like to sing and they like to pray, and if a session goes for 2 hrs that just how long it goes for.

You might think that was time to go home. How wrong you would be. Instead we sat around for another 2 hrs and then had some lunch, and then we had *another* session, with only 6 songs, and a time of testimony and small group sharing and praying. Then it was 5pm and time to go home.

I had a good time and felt like the experience really helped me get to know some of our church members a bit more, and to feel more like a member of our church. Rachel also had a good time on the Saturday, with lots more chances for conversations which has been something we have sometimes struggled with. Even though we mainly speak Mongolian to people, we have felt like a lot of people assume we don't speak Mongolian and so are sometimes reluctant to engage with us (though admittedly sometimes talking to us in Mongolian must be painful!), and some people think we are Norwegian, so it is good to break down those ideas!

Anyway, good times all round. Hope you enjoyed our church camp report.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Summer Times!

Well, I suppose it is not a bad time at all to write a blog update. The weather in UB has turned quite warm recently, indeed we had a few days of 27-28C recently, and there is even some grass beginning to sprout up, and on Tuesday we had some rain!

The semester is winding up at the college and I am grateful that I won't have to be teaching double-classes for much longer. I have enjoyed the challenges of teaching, particularly getting into the text of Ephesians with my students, though always more could have been done. The students still have finals in a few weeks, so there will be some marking to do!

In language, things continue to slowly improve. My teacher and I have been reading Piper's "In our Joy" together, which has been quite fun. It's particularly interesting when we find things in Mongolian that sound odd, or have enough translational ambiguity that they could mean virtually the opposite of the original.

I'm taking an online course in communicative Koine over some of the summer months, I'm hoping this will improve my own communicative fluency, and help with the ongoing challenge of teaching Greek.

I'm hoping that in Autumn I might give preaching directly in Mongolian a go, we'll see though.

We have a short trip to Aus planned for early August. Catching up with people and doing some PhD related things.

And that's all the news from here at the moment.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Back and Staying Put (God willing)

Hello friends!

Well, most of you hear about our many travels over the last few months, none particularly to our personal preference. We spent a month in Thailand waiting to see if visas would come through, and then made the decision to come back to Mongolia on tourist visas, so that we could at least be here and wait out the time.

When we came back it then turned out that after another week and a half we had to leave again, not because of a problem with our tourist visas, but to obtain our other new visas. We decided to head to Korea for a week, for a couple of reasons.

So we spent last week in Korea. The visa process went very smoothly, and we picked up a work visa and spouse visa to return with.

One of the highlights of our time in Korea was that we had some Danish friends from our church in Australia who are now in Busan. So after collecting the new visas we caught the train to Busan and spent a few days with them. It was very refreshing for us and a great chance to spend time with them. We also attended their home group which was lovely.

We're now back in Mongolia, and Seumas is able to teach and is getting stuck in to classes. Rachel is carrying on with language study and meeting up with some women. We're grateful to be back and really looking forward to settling in again!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Updates, updates

Things keep changing rapidly in our quest to get back to Mongolia.

At first it seemed like things would work out relatively quickly, then it seemed like they would take forever, yesterday we completed going back to Australia for a while, and today...

We've applied for tourist visas to return to Mongolia. Hopefully there will be absolutely zero problems, we'll pick up those visas tomorrow and be on our way.

The next obstacle, naturally, is finding a way back to UB. There's a reason you're not meant to leave flights until the last minute. Once we hold some hot little visas in our hand we will book some tickets, and not before, but we've been scouting as best we can. So if things hold on this course, we could be back there sometime in the coming week.

Of course, everything could change again tomorrow, I suppose.

Our tourist visas will keep us in the country for a while, and then we'll need to exit and re-enter again, so this is a temporary measure, but one that at least allows us to go 'home' for awhile.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The waiting game, Bangkok

Well, we're now in Bangkok. We had a lovely time at our organisation's conference in Chiang Mai (apparently the go-to place for such conferences), and then enjoyed a very pleasant holiday in Phuket. We don't really like Phuket, to be fair, but Rachel's parents came and met us in Chiang Mai and we four went to Phuket and stayed in a fabulous hotel and there was much swimming (by Seumas), and eating pizza by the pool.

Last night we caught an overnight train up to Bangkok (Rachel's parents having departed by air), and we are here until... we leave. We have two nights in a nice hotel here (complete with rooftop pool), followed by 4 nights at a Christian run guesthouse, and then we're out of plans.

The good news is that we heard last Thursday that processes are indeed underway for us to get the right permissions to return to Mongolia on a work + spouse visa. However we're not quite sure when this will happen, certainly not before the 15th. We can stay in Thailand until the 26th our current entry, before we would have to visit some other SE Asian country.

It's tricky, because we're out of our 'holiday' mode. It might sound nice to be indefinitely in a lovely place like Thailand, but essentially we're in a kind of limbo. We aren't really on holidays, but we can't really get that much work done here, and there's no definite end-date for this hiatus.

So that's us, hanging out in Thailand and probably trying to spend less and less while we wait and see. Looking forward to getting back to Mongolia as soon as we can.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thailand Times

Well, it's been a while between posts. I'm writing this one from a hotel in Thailand where we are currently at a conference. It is beginning to be almost a year now that we've been over in Mongolia, and we have so much to be thankful for. Language has been going well, and Rachel is making good progress even though she doesn't always feel like it. The winter has not been too cold, and in fact has been quite pleasant. Relationships are slow, but there are steps forward here and there.

I'm writing this post really to give a little update about our visa situation and to ask for your prayers. Part of our timing for being in Thailand was to switch from student visas to a work visa and spouse visa. This would enable Seumas to take up teaching classes in the college on his return. The timing of this has become complicated due to our travel plans as well as the Embassy going to be shut for a few critical days.

We were hoping to return to Mongolia on the 14th of Feb, but this is almost certainly not going to happen now. We are having a few difficulties ascertaining exactly what has and hasn't been done on the Mongolian side about our visas - the processing of paperwork there is not our responsibility, so its hard to follow up. We are also having troubles changing our flight home, firstly there is a lack of availability to simply postpone at short notice, secondly the uncertainty about whether these new visas will actually be available in due time. We certainly don't want to have to change flights again.

It's becoming rather stressful, so please pray both for our peace about it, and for swift action by others, prompt communication, and God's sovereign grace to rule over it all.