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.

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