Before I tell you what happened in Hongor, let me take you back to Darkhan for a moment. After we left the remote medical site, we returned to Darkhan briefly, and received some very disturbing news. You will remember that Ray and Jay and Pastor Midor left this morning, riding camels and horses, to journey through the steppes and witness to herdsmen families along the way. Well, it seems that shortly after their departure, Ray had somehow fallen from his camel, landing on his head and hands. No one was quite sure how it happened. Pastor Midor left Jay with the animals and supplies, and had somehow gotten Ray to the road where he was able to flag down a passing car. Given the scarcity of motor vehicles in Mongolia, this was a miracle in itself. The driver agreed to take them back to Darkhan, and upon arrival at the hotel, Pastor Midor had delivered Ray into the care of the CTW staff there and returned to catch up with Jay.
When our group arrived, our Dr. Ron and Dr. Tom were immediately made aware of the situation, and went to see about Ray. What they found was both reassuring and frightening. He knew who he was, he knew the people around him, he could give his wife's name and those of his children, but he had no idea what had happened, where he was or why, or how he had gotten there. He had no memory of having been on a camel, let alone falling off of it. In fact, he had very little memory of the trip at all. He would ask the same questions every few minutes - what happened, how he got there, what he was doing on a camel.
In addition to the obvious concussion he had sustained, he had injured his wrists as well. Both were swollen and painful, and beginning to bruise. Our doctors wrapped his wrists securely to limit motion in them, and mainly focused their attention on his head injury. There was no way to determine the degree or type of injury. In the states, he would have been in the ER immediately, with CT or MRI scans being done, but remember, we are in Mongolia. Not just in Mongolia, but in a very small town there. Had we been in Ulaanbaatar, more than four hours away, things would have been a little bit better, though still nowhere near the level of care that would have been available for him at home. So, the decision was made to just watch him, make sure he remained alert, and see if he improved. Any hint of worsening of his condition and he would be put in a car and taken to Ulaanbaatar as quickly as possible. The doctors stayed with him, and the rest of us departed for Hongor and the CTW compound.
When we arrived there, we followed a path down to the river, where a crowd had gathered on the banks. There were dozens of children in the water, splashing and playing, churning up the muddy bottom and having a wonderful time. No one wore a swimsuit, they were just in their shorts and t-shirts. They were, we knew, "Jerry's kids", children from the orphanage. Incidentally, I don't like that word - "orphanage." It conjures up too many negative images, probably drawn from Oliver Twist and other novels, and from old movies. It sounds much too institutional. I think I prefer "children's home" and will use that term from now on.
After all, a home is exactly what Jerry and company have provided for the kids. Until the construction is completed at the compound, only the Mustangs live out there. The rest of the children live in small groups in apartments in Darkhan. Each group has a houseparent, and every effort is made to keep their environment as home-like as possible. Visitors are discouraged from going to their apartments, lest the children feel they're "on display." Instead, when groups such as ours are there, the children are brought to us. They enjoy the outing, and their sense of place and privacy are preserved.
Back to the riverbanks! While the children were playing a few yards downstream from where we were standing, a beautiful and dramatic event was taking place a few yards upstream. People were being baptized! Jerry and Pastor Alex were in the water, and one by one, people would walk across the shallow side of the river to where they were standing, in water that was about waist-deep. Smaller children were escorted across. There, they were given scriptural baptism, by immersion. For the benefit of anyone reading this who may not know, we Baptists do not believe that baptism saves us. Many non-Baptists think that we do, but that's simply not true. We are not saved because we've been baptized, we accept baptism because we are saved. Salvation comes through faith in Christ, and acceptance of the fact that He died for the sole purpose of paying the penalty for our sins. Baptism is a picture of his death, burial and resurrection. By being baptized, we portray our death to our old life, burial with him, and resurrection to a new life. It is a picture, a witness, nothing more. It does not save.
Still, it is a precious and emotional moment for every new Christian. Many of those being baptized were children, and how sweet it is when a little child comes, in simple faith, and accepts Jesus as their Lord. They have their whole lifetime to live for Him. Not all were children, however. Many of those being baptized were older.
Imagine my joy to see my friend from last year, Batsengel (BatBubba) as he walked across the river and presented himself for baptism. The joy radiating from Jerry's face was a picture in itself. Batsengel was one of my translators last year, and has been a mainstay for Jerry and his ministry all this time, but was not a Christian. Jerry described him as a "seeker." Well, this year he found what he had been seeking, believed it, and was baptized. I cannot describe my joy as I watched that beautiful scene. Later, I discovered to my dismay that in my emotional state I had failed to focus my camera, and the picture was a blurry loss. No matter. I have it stored in my own memory. Here's another picture, though, of the newly-baptized Batsengel, helping Jerry and Pastor Alex to baptize another of Jerry's kids.
An additional pleasure was to see Batsengel's lovely fiancee, Oyuka, as she was baptized also. What a joy to think of the two of them, as they marry and establish a Christian home there in Mongolia. What will they accomplish for the Lord in their lifetime? The opportunities and possibilities are immeasurable. I can't remember the exact number of baptisms that day, but I think it was at least 30. What a blessing that this took place, and how privileged we were to witness it. Standing on that riverbank in the sunshine, with the beautiful mountains all around us, and the almost Biblical scene unfolding before our eyes, I just felt like it doesn't get any better than this! Finally, the last child was baptized and emerged, dripping, from the river, to be hugged by the adults and congratulated by friends. I never saw so many big, broad smiles in one place in my whole life.
Soon the crowd began to drift up the slopes and down another path to an area where benches and chairs had been set up under some trees. We knew we had been invited to a true Mongolian barbecue, and we gathered there in eager anticipation of the meal. Now, most of us have eaten at restaurants that feature Mongolian barbecue, and we have a pretty good idea what to expect there. Well, let me tell you, it's not the same in Mongolia. Those Mongolians don't know the first thing about how to do Mongolian barbecue, if you ask me!
First of all, the meat to be barbecued is goat meat. It's not bought at the local supermarket, either. A goat is selected and brought to the area and killed on the spot. Anyone who knows me at all knows just about how much I liked that idea. I'm the world's biggest hypocrite when it comes to eating meat. I'll buy chicken and steak and pork chops at the store, in nice neat little packages, and never give a second thought to how that meat got in those packages. I'll eat venison, too, but I could never pull the trigger and shoot a deer. So, I was struggling with the notion of the poor goat being so freshly killed, just over a little rise, barely out of our sight. Then one of my friends, Angela, put it into words that just stopped me cold. She said she saw them leading the frolicking little goat over the rise, and "he thought he was going to the party, and then ggkkkkk" and she made a slicing motion across her throat. Well, that did it for me. No way was I going to be able to eat that little goat.
The meat is prepared in a strange fashion. It's basically just cut into chunks, placed into a metal container and more or less buried in hot coals. It cooks very quickly. In no time at all, one of Jerry's kids was standing in front of me with a plate and a big anticipatory smile. Obviously, this was a real treat in her eyes, and she was anxious for me to enjoy it, too. I took the plate, eyed the chunk of gristly meat and the rib bone sticking out, and wondered if I could actually eat it. Pulling a shred of the meat off, I put it in my mouth and managed to choke it down. It had a gamey taste, which I usually don't find objectionable. As I said, I like venison, and I've eaten wild turkey as well, and liked it. Somehow, though, this was different. I think it was mostly an emotional thing, but I just couldn't get past the mental picture of the little goat, prancing along on his way to the party, and then his untimely, totally unexpected demise. I pushed the food around on my plate for a few minutes, then managed to put it down a few feet away from where I was sitting, and hoped no one noticed. If they did, they were kind enough not to say anything.
After the barbecue, as we were walking back to the vans, I happened to be walking beside Batsengel, and congratulated him on his baptism. His friendly face broke into a huge smile, and the joy of the Lord just fairly radiated from him. He said it was just so amazing to him, that he could have gone so long, thinking he was fine and needed nothing, hearing the Word but not really listening, and then suddenly everything became so clear, and he understood. He said he cannot describe the joy in his heart now, and how it is made doubly precious by the salvation of his fiancee as well. I gave him a big hug, and told him how happy I am for him, and how certain I am that God has big plans for him. He's really a treasure!
Arriving at our hotel, we were all eager for word on Ray's condition. We were told that he was about the same, still no memory of falling off the camel, but no sign of worsening of his condition, either. His closest friends were sticking very near, and Bobby, as always, was teasing and picking at him. To everyone's joy and relief, Ray was responding with his usual sharp wit and humor, and that was encouraging.
Eloise and I went to our room, tired and about ready for bed. To our horror, we realized that we had left the door to our little balcony open, and squadrons of opportunistic flies had come in. They were everywhere. Much to our surprise, we had noticed earlier that there was a flyswatter in our room, so we employed it and went to work. We swatted flies for about half an hour, and finally got all but a couple that were on the ceiling in the bathroom and we couldn't reach them. We just closed the bathroom door and went to bed, vowing to buy a can of spray tomorrow.
Sleep always comes quickly for me in Mongolia. I don't know whether it's fatigue, the fresh air, the distance from the concerns of daily life at home, or just what the reason, but tonight was no exception. In spite of the miserable bed, I was asleep in just a few minutes, after a quick silent prayer for Ray. I'm sure there were many of those prayers hammering on Heaven's gates that night.
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