It's Sunday morning in Mongolia. We slept an hour later, or rather fought with our beds for an extra hour. How an inanimate object such as a bed can cause me to feel like the loser in a prizefight, I don't know, but trust me, it can. We get up and dress, and are in the dining room by 8, for breakfast. As always, it's good. Not a lot of variety from the other days, but it's filling and certainly better than what I would eat at home, because at home I usually don't eat breakfast at all!
At a smaller table, in one corner of the room, a group of Koreans are having their breakfast. This surprises us a bit. We so rarely see any other guests in the hotel, that we have rather a proprietary attitude, and it's always a bit disconcerting to see someone else staying there, too. A few of the Koreans smile and nod in our direction, and continue eating. We seat ourselves, laughing and talking, and enjoy our breakfast.
After we finish, we decide to run through a rehearsal of "How Great Thou Art," as we will be singing this for our Mongolian friends at church services later on. Everyone stands up, then we begin looking at each other, waiting for someone to lead off. No one moves. Several people look at me, knowing that in years past, I sang in the church choir. Little do they know that whatever meager voice I might have had back then is now long gone. There's nothing left. We shuffle our feet, and I finally realize that the only person who just might lead off is a tenor and will start it so high that the rest of us would need ladders, so I give in. So help me, if these people don't join in and take it away from me on about the second note, I'll hunt them down like varmints.
Very tentatively, I start out. "Oh, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder....." Sure enough, the group picks up immediately and sings along, mercifully drowning me out. Then a wonderful thing happens. At "consider all the worlds thy hands have made", we become aware that we are not singing alone. The Koreans have joined us. They are singing in perfect unison with us, but in their language. It is absolutely beautiful, and emotionally moving beyond description. I can feel the chills in my spine, and there are tears just ready to spring forth. What a lovely moment! Two totally different cultures, different languages, one love song to the Lord. We finish the verse, and with everyone a bit choked up, we decide that one run-through is enough. I don't think we could have held up for a second one. Several of us approach the Koreans' table, smiling, and thank them. They stand and bow, and we find ourselves bowing in return!
We load into our vans and begin the short trip out to Hongor, where we will have worship services with the Mongols in the new chapel ger that has been set up there. As more and more of the local people and the CTW children became Christians, it became obvious that a house of worship was a must. Until recently, they have met on the riverbank, sitting on benches, boards and blankets. I've heard reports of those services, and how beautiful they are, in that gorgeous natural setting. However, winter will arrive soon in Mongolia, and that will end the outdoor services. Rather than have his little flock feel displaced, Jerry envisioned a worship center, to keep everyone together as a church family. Long-range plans are for a large geodesic dome on the property, a permanent structure. However, gers have proven usable and effective for centuries, and the Mongols would see nothing wrong with using a large ger for a church until that dome becomes a reality.
While it's true that gers (or yurts, the Russian word for ger) are plentiful in Mongolia, it's also true that word of their practicality and relatively low cost has spread to the states, and there are a couple of companies making them there now. They're being purchased in significant numbers, especially in the Pacific northwest, where people are using them for vacation homes in the mountains, for hunting camps, for storage buildings, and numerous other purposes. They're very well made, using the strong points of traditional construction, and reinforcing them with a few additional refinements. Here's a picture of the one where we had church services:
This picture shows some of the refinements in the construction of a ger that the U.S. companies have incorporated. Note the sturdy vertical slats every couple of feet. They're attached in such a way that the section can still collapse like a child-gate, but they add strength when the sections are expanded. The roof poles are attached with metal plates to these uprights, instead of being tied with thongs to the V where the slats come together at the top. Also, notice the zigzag of wire that runs between the roof poles. This wire can be tightened, and certainly gives a lot of stability to the roof.
The smiling, silver-haired man in the light blue shirt is David Bass. He's Jerry's right hand, and keeps the home fires burning when Jerry and Susan are away. He was a police officer in his "other life", but is now fully committed to the mission in Mongolia. I asked him once how long he thought he'd remain there. His answer was simple. "Until God moves me." I guess you can't do better than that.
Another of the refinements over the traditional ger can be seen at the top of this one. All gers have a hole in the roof, which when left open and the sides raised or windows opened allows for a chimney effect and causes air circulation. This also allows combustion gases to escape, when stoves are in use - much like the smoke-hole in Native American tepees. In the traditional ger, when it rains the hole is covered by canvas, which results in a hot, dark interior. In the gers made in the U.S., the hole has a Plexiglas cap, which admits light even when closed, but can be opened a little or a lot by means of a cranking rod, to allow for air movement. It's pretty ingenious. Also, in the U.S. model, there are windows, which traditional gers don't usually have. The U.S. model has a plain jane door, though, unlike the colorful, beautifully decorated doors one sees in a traditional ger.
Incidentally, that's our Dr. Tom in the light blue pants, basking in the attention from some of the children. Just to the right, that's Jerry, in the long green shirt with the writing on the front. Note that he is standing with his arm around the shoulder of one of the children, a very typical pose for him. I don't think I've ever seen him without a child attached, if the children are nearby. They all run directly to him when he appears. He loves them, and they instinctively know it.
The worship service was impressive. We sang our one verse of "How Great Thou Art" in English, then using some song sheets painstakingly put together by David Bass, we tried to sing other hymns along with the Mongols. David had written the words out phonetically to the best of his ability, but there just aren't any phonetic spellings for some of the sounds in the Mongolian language, and we spent more time laughing at ourselves than we did singing. The Mongols, true to their kind nature, tried very hard to suppress their laughter at our efforts, but there were a lot of smiles to be seen. The "joy of the Lord", no doubt.
Jerry then preached a brief, simple but effective sermon. He preaches through a translator. He's working on learning Mongolian, but it's an extremely difficult language to learn. Rather than confuse or mislead someone by preaching in his version of Mongolian, he just uses a trusted translator. Very wise.
Certificates of Baptism were presented to each of the children and adults who were baptized in the river earlier in the week. No group presentation here, with one collective round of applause. No, indeed. Each individual received applause and congratulations as they accepted their certificate, and each returned to his or her seat beaming like an angel. It was just lovely.
After a couple of hymns and a benedictory prayer, we were dismissed. We stood around on the deck outside the chapel, just absorbing the beauty around us. I wish I could describe it adequately. The deck and chapel are on top of a small bluff, above a little meadow that just sweeps down to the river. A few cows were grazing down there, and the scene was one of such grace and peace that you could just literally feel the presence of God.
I'm going to break right here, and save the rest of this installment for another blog entry. You will remember that I'm taking these entries from the original email installments that went to family and friends soon after we returned home. Some were a bit long for blog entries, so I'm dividing them. More on our church service in the next entry, and more pictures of the site as well.
Nepal’s True Treasure
2 weeks ago