Thanksgiving 2007: Without a parade, football game, or the head of a sheep

Perhaps some of our readers have enough spare time on their hands to anticipate this week’s Friday Photo. Maybe that is how you spent your time digesting your Thanksgiving turkey. Those who have been following our Mongolia journey for over a year (and had nothing better to converse about over your meal) may have remembered our photos from last year and concluded that this week’s pictures might be another interesting scenario of sheep’s heads and mashed potatoes.

You would be wrong for two reasons. First of all, Bernie did not want to have to eat his meal on the balcony with the dog. After all, it was -5 degrees last night. This year Renee’ put her foot down and said, “I didn’t slave in the kitchen all day and set this lovely table for you to mess it up with a sheep’s head.� In case that sounds vain, have you ever tried eating stuffing/dressing with giblet gravy and cranberries while listening to the sound of eyeballs being slurped out of their sockets? Your appetite can go south in a hurry.

The second reason has nothing to do with culture. There were eight of us around the table: four Andersons, our house helper Undra, Jeff and Shauna Spence from language class, and Chris Thompson, one of Jonathan’s teachers at ISU. The table looked very nice. We had a lovely chicken (our dwarf turkey) on the platter.


The table was set with special dishes. We were all posed and ready to say smile when Bernie set the timer. He ran quickly to join us. But wait -- there was no blinking red light. You guessed it...the camera battery was dead.


So, we’re sorry to disappoint you. We had a lovely meal (as Cori would say) and sat around and talked and laughed. It was almost like home, but without the football games and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and you. However, we are deeply thankful for your love and prayer and support which allows us to share our Indescribable Gift with the Mongolians around us.


The Widow's Mite and the Orphan's Tugrick


Last winter, my heart was always moved when the little street boys would come into the church service. They would sing and clap and totally engage in the service, but as soon as they sat down for the message, they promptly fell asleep. No one minded, really. They found a warm comfortable place. I knew that seeds were sown and that God could bring to mind the truths they heard in the songs and prayers and that they would remember His people who allowed them to feel safe and warm for an hour each week.

I confess to feeling a little differently last week. We are renting a new building and have purchased new chairs (probably not conducive for sleeping in). I confess that when they came in and sat their grimy, dusty little bodies in the new chairs I grimaced inside. When one of them leaned his dirty sleeve against the freshly painted wall, I confess I started wondering where we packed the 409. Until…

It was during the offering and Bernie leaned over to me. “Did you see that he (the little street boy sitting in front of us) put 20 tugriks in the offering?� I didn’t see, but now I can’t forget it. In the big picture, he gave the equivalent of 2 cents. But in his reality, if he had held on to that, only four more would have bought him a steaming hot hoshur for his hungry tummy. While I was enjoying the nice new facility, God was enjoying a heart that would give sacrificially.

It’s the same story Jesus told in Luke 21. When Jesus saw the poor widow put her small copper coins into the offering box, he told his disciples, “I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she put in all she had to live on.�

David also understood this. When it was time to build the temple, he said, “How can I give to the Lord that which costs me nothing?�

I find myself wanting to give in the same kind of environment the street boys want to sleep -- the comfortable kind. Some weeks it is a struggle to offer the percentage that we have determined before the Lord to be our tithe. It’s going to make our grocery budget a bit tight. Or we might have to put off replacing our water boiler for another week.

I’m not only convicted about this on a financial level. I do the same thing with my time. I want to give to the Lord of my time, but I’m much more hesitant to give it up sacrificially. I can comfortably have a 20-30 minute quiet time. Anything longer than that, and it starts to cost me something. I might have to get up earlier, or not have time for breakfast. I want to give so much time in ministry, but not so much that it deprives me of my free time, or my family time.

It’s easy to put God on our calendar, or daytimer, or PDA or in our Outlook. It’s harder to give it all to Him and if He gives us some back, so be it. If not, perhaps He has found the same joy in our offering as He did from the widow and the street boy.


For Sale (to the highest bidder, or to the second highest?)

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For the past few weeks, our UB team has looked at several buildings to rent or purchase. This search is becoming more urgent the longer we remain in the rented basement and smell the stench that remains after the upstairs bathroom overflowed dumping two feet of sewage into our “church.� Fortunately (I think), we are able to have our Sunday service upstairs in the theatre type room where the approximately 20 of us rattle around like marbles in a ten gallon jug.

But the sale of buildings isn’t really what is on my mind right now. It’s the sale of the soul of the people of Mongolia. Over the last few weeks we have had similar conversations with various people and this is the conclusion I’m coming to. There are many people in this country who are for sale to the highest bidder. How does that look, exactly?

The Mormons come in and build their big American looking facilities which appear very appealing with the dilapidated Soviet-style block apartments surrounding it. In a country with high unemployment and incredible poverty, curiosity is understandable. They take the bait and then are reeled in with offers of going to the States for a year to learn English.

For over a year, we have walked weekly by a large building in the center of town. It is very impressive looking. Now we are hearing that this building is going to be a Mosque. The Muslims have been coming into Western Mongolia in a similar way, offering free passage to Turkey. Now they are making their way to Ulaan Baatar.

Buddhism is also making its bid. There is an insurgence of monks coming to the city, even some whose Caucasian skin looks odd wearing the maroon and saffron colored garb. Their bait is patriotism, urging Mongolians to remember their heritage. Under Russian rule, they were not allowed to speak of their hero Chingis Khan, but now they are praying for his spirit to return to this land. They desire to be once again esteemed as a great nation.

Even among Christian organizations, there are difficulties. Many Mongolians equate foreigners with wealth. Some groups put the young believers on staff for a couple of years and then cut them off and expect them to “raise support.� Unfortunately, their churches and family don’t have the funds to do this and there aren’t enough foreigners to go around. Sometimes when the money stops, so does their commitment. Sometimes, not always.

So, what should our bid be? What do we use for “bait?� (Yes, I know I am mixing my metaphors.) It is tempting to make things easy. To talk only of the things God will do for them if they believe. But the bottom line is if we want to be His disciple, there is a cross to be taken up. Jesus required of the rich young ruler the sale of all that he had. There is a promise of tribulation and persecution. We will be hated by the world, not esteemed. (Luke 14:27, Luke 18:18-30, John 16:33)

We call them to delay their gratification. To live for a city whose founder and architect is God; to wait for our room in the Father’s house. In return we will know peace and joy. And Him.

So, the question begs to be asked, “Do we stop looking for a building?� No, not necessarily. We trust God for a building, not to draw them in with grandiose promises and a lure to live the good life here and now. We trust God for a building where we can offer a cup of cold water in Jesus name. Where we prepare them to live as sheep among wolves dressed as sheep. Where they can come for sanctuary when life is hard and waiting for heaven seems impossible. Where we can encourage one another and build each other up.

Jesus paid too high a price for these people to be sold to the second highest bidder.


To Weep and Laugh and Dance

For everything there is a season…a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4). Sometimes (now for us) these things happen simultaneously and that can be unsettling at best.

Saturday morning began for Jonathan as a time to laugh. As a matter of fact, that’s what woke us up. He had six friends here for his birthday sleepover (without the sleep, a misnomer for sure). Then I stayed home to feed the herd while Bernie represented our family at a wedding. We’re still not sure whether to laugh or cry about that one. If that leaves you confused, email us.

It was after the wedding that the tide turned. We had a farewell lunch with teammates, Jacob and Juhny Kim. They are returning to the States on medical leave and if/when they return is indefinite. We made an effort to keep it light.

In the late afternoon we caravanned to the airport where we were joined by several of the young leaders of our UB church. The time to cry could not be postponed any longer.

I once attended an Alliance Women’s Rally and heard one missionary testify “Good-byes suck.� That offended some people. If it offends you, please grant me a little grace. Because as I stood there and watched what went on around me, I frankly couldn’t come up with anything else to describe what was taking place.

  • I watched Jacob and Juhny say goodbye to their spiritual children.
  • I watched our team say goodbye to valued and needed co-laborers.
  • Bernie and I said goodbye to precious friends who have been here for us as we struggled to adjust to a new way of life.
  • I watched Jonathan say goodbye to the third friend since we arrived a year ago. He and Enoch were inseparable over the summer.
  • I watched the Mongolian young men and women say goodbye to the man who for many was the closest thing to a father they had known.
  • I watched Sauggy say goodbye to his mentor and friend and saw the weight of responsibility heavy on his young shoulders. I watched the uncertainty in their eyes as to what will happen next for their church.

So, this missionary family has learned the goodbyes of exactly one year ago were only a beginning, and have been told by many that one of the hardest things about missionary life is always having to say goodbye.

After two hours we were back at the airport. This time we were welcoming new workers, Brent and Lisa Liberda and their four children. Then again, this morning we were there to welcome our new MK school teacher, Kirsten. So for this we rejoice, we dance. Tonight Jonathan will go to yet another "sleepover".

There is a sense of déjà vu’ as I write this. My first blog a little over a year ago ended with Revelation 21, and it seems right to encourage myself with words from this chapter again. This time, verse 4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.�

What this means is that while on this side of eternity, our time may be divided between sorrow and joy. But when it’s all said and done, we’ll leave behind the weeping and we’ll leave behind the mourning. Then we’ll laugh and then we’ll dance. Until then….


Tradition, Good News and Verbs Again

When Jonathan was one year old, Bernie and I started a Christmas tradition that has been a part of every Christmas Eve, no matter where we were or with whom we were celebrating. Every year we pull out the book “A Tale of Three Trees� and Bernie reads it to the children. If you have been with us on Christmas Eve, you have heard the story. It is a favorite because it is a beautiful link between the manger and the cross, reminding us always that Jesus was “Born to Die.�

This past November as Cori and I were shopping for a birthday present for Bernie, we heard about a little “Bible store.� We went off in search of it – search being the very literal word as is often the case when you are trying to find something new. They don’t use addresses here in Mongolia. This time we were successful relatively quickly. Almost as soon as we walked in, Cori found the perfect gift. It was our Christmas story translated in Mongolian. It was even the same version with the identical pictures that we had always used. This was a small miracle in and of itself. The number of Christian books that have been published in Mongolian would fit in any pastor’s library with room left on the shelves. We were able to share it with our teachers at our Christmas Open House for our classmates and teachers.

You may be wondering what that has to do with verbs. I’m getting there. Our language study is divided into cycles and at the end of each cycle we are tested on what we have learned. One part of that testing is we have to speak on 2-3 topics with the school principal for about 5-10 minutes each. This previous cycle we studied a verb tense that is used in story telling. Interestingly enough, it is also a special past tense form used to indicate “I just found out� or “I just heard.� Key words to indicate this tense should be used are media words: television, radio and newspaper. I’m not sure why a story that begins with “Once upon a time…� needs the same tense as “Breaking news from Western Mongolia� but it does.

When I was choosing from a list of topics, I immediately knew that I was supposed to choose the topic that required us to tell “a short story.� And the story of the “Three Trees� met every criteria, so there wasn’t any real doubt in my mind I was supposed to do that. It wasn’t easy, but with Undraa’s help I was able to pronounce most of the words. There were several difficult new vocabulary words, some of which my teachers didn’t even agree on which word should be used. However, I knew this was the right choice when I pulled out the book to show it to my teacher, Tuul, because as soon as she saw it her face lit up. “I’m so glad you are doing that. I love that story.� My other teacher, Oyuna, was pleased as well.

This story has always been something God has used to allow us to share the gospel in a non-threatening way. The day before the test I realized I would be sharing the gospel for the first time in Mongolian, and doing it in a way that is culturally relevant. They love a good folk tale, especially those involving nature. I often think of the tower of Babel when I’m studying Mongolian and think what a good job God did of total confusion among languages. He didn’t just change a few words. He rearranged everything. But from that incident there came a language where I would one day share the Best News ever with three Mongolian women because the verb tense about news and the verb tense for story telling are one and the same. To quote the story “She knew in that moment that God’s love changes everything.�
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