Everything We Need to Know, We Learned in Mongolia!

We gave our grandchildren the “go ahead” to began the count down when the last month of our mission finally started.  We began at 30 days and before we knew it, we were in the teens, and then all of a sudden, it was single digits!  Wow…it just might happen!  If you are a returned missionary, you might remember getting to the point where you wonder if you’ll be on your mission forever…it’s just become the daily routine—over and over and over–and “home” is some distant memory.  But…we’re down to day FOUR and we’re really getting excited!!!  We feel like kids counting down to Christmas!

No matter where we are–in the Bayanzurkh Building, the Bayanzurkh Zakh or walking the streets of the city–we meet up with people who have meant so much to us.  There are even those who call us by name and want to visit and I’m not sure where I’ve seen them before.  When we wish them well and mention we’re on our way back to America they are surprised that we’ve been here so long.  Guess it’s all in perspective!

We have had so many invitations to members’ homes for wonderful dinner and we’ve just had to turn some of them down–there aren’t enough nights left for everyone!  We’ve even settled on lunch appointments, two with the Ministry of Labor.  We’ve created our own dinner invitations in the mist of it all, too–we’ve just had to have several missionaries and young married couples for dinner to show them our appreciation.  We’ve taken our self-reliance team out for lunch and we’ve treated our mission district to pizza.  We are still joining with dear friends and the Benson family this coming week and by Tuesday night, we’ll be so done…on so many levels!  Now, if we can just find time to pack, clean, and organize both our apartment and office.

As we reflect on the past, we close our eighteen month blog with…

Everything We Need to Know, We Learned in Mongolia:

  1. Mongolia is the land of blue skies–the sun shines at least 260 days every year.
  2. The people of Mongolia are hard workers with sincere hearts.
  3. We have more in common with Mongolia than we thought.
  4. We have been blessed with lots of work to further the Lord’s effort.
  5. Sometimes, you don’t need a common language–hugs and smiles are more universal.
  6. Life goes on–even in 35 degrees below zero!
  7. God watches over His children no matter where they live.
  8. Our family has been with us daily–we love technology!
  9. Love of family is universal.
  10. We can survive wearing a dress or tie DAILY for eighteen months.
  11. We miss the temple.
  12. God sent us here to prepare us for a bright future.
  13. Poverty is painful–let’s all share!
  14. Both of us have survived 24/7 of 550 days TOGETHER and are still smiling!
  15. Not all dogs are pets.
  16. The Savior’s desire is that ALL of God’s children will have the opportunity to have the full blessing of the gospel.
  17. Our children are still first in our hearts and can hold everything together in our absence.
  18. Prayer is powerful and is answered.
  19. We’ve served MANY meals but it’s still more fun to do it with a daughter and daughters-in-law.
  20. God loves us and is with us no matter where we are.
  21. The world is filled with good people.
  22. Senior missionaries are the strength of a mission.
  23. God is in the details of our lives.
  24. There is no place like home.
  25. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a world-wide church.
  26. When the rest of the world is gone, the Mongolian nomad will probably still survive.

We are very blessed to have had this experience of being senior missionaries in Mongolia.  We are also blessed to have four wonderful children and sixteen grandchildren waiting for our return.  Elder Francom’s 90 year-old father has had great health in our absence and his daughter has been there for him–how we appreciate both of them!

It’s time to come home but the memories of Mongolia will always cause us to reflect on wonderful  people who are accepting the Gospel and becoming better because of it.  We pray that they will continue to understand self-reliance principles–we all need to become self-reliant so we can reach our eternal destination.

We are blessed to have many family members and friends who have patiently read this blog and we’d be less than truthful if we said we’d love to keep writing it!!!  It’s another project of our mission that is done!  Thanks for viewing it through our eyes.  The Gospel is true and our Heavenly Father is always watching over us–how grateful we are for that knowledge!

We will probably not see many of you until after Christmas so we wish you all a wonderful Christmas centered on the birth of the Savior.  Merry Christmas!!!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Giving Thanks

A week of THANKFULNESS…a time to appreciate 17.7 months of living in Mongolia.  A time to reflect and always remember wonderful people, sights, sounds, and ideas that are unique to this country and this culture.  We are grateful that time moved slowly so we could help in many little ways to make Mongolia a stronger branch of our world-wide church.  But then, we are grateful that it moved quickly so we can return home…home…oh, there’s no place like HOME!

In Mongolia, we’re thankful that it was a mere 0 degrees (F) today when we came down the hill to work.  Just two days before, it was -33 degrees so we are very grateful for anything above that.  But, we are blessed with common sense that helps us wrap-up and make it all bearable!

We are also grateful for taxis that will pick us up whenever we’re on the side of the road with an outstretched arm.  In this frigid cold, waiting at the bus stop and then being crammed inside is not nearly as pleasant.  Taxis usually charge about $.40 per kilometer and we hardly ever pay more than $2.50 to get to most place in the city.  Oh, so well worth it!

We are thankful every time we visit the Bayanzurkh Zakh because we have wonderful choices of fruits, vegetables, and meats.  Even though it was so hard to get used to 18 months ago, we love the good food that we can turn into American meals so all the young missionaries can smile and tell anyone how much they love being invited to dinner!

We are starting to realize how much the Mongolian Saints mean to us as we tell them we’re leaving soon.  There are such awesome young people who are committed to love and serve others—totally amazing!  The older Saints are amazing as they come to church in their best clothes under such simple conditions.  They always carry their scriptures, a pad of paper, and a pen and then take copious notes throughout the entire Sunday block.  What an example!  We are blessed to get so many smiles, handshakes, and hugs which can say so much more than anything verbal.

We are grateful for all the good people who are scrambling to have us to dinner–just one last time.  Our nights are filling up with places to visit and we’re also trying to invite a few more to our home.  All of a sudden, there just isn’t enough time for everyone.

President Benson and his family are definitely a highlight of the last 18 months.  On Saturday we met for our Thanksgiving feast at their apartment–the kids had school on Thursday.  What a feast it was!  We had an 18 lb Norbest turkey from Manti, Utah so it was almost like being home!  It had an expensive price tag but well worth the $100+ after sitting in a brine, and cooked to perfection.  We had all the trimmings and by the end of the day, we were satisfied that an American Thanksgiving can happen even in Mongolia.  We are so grateful to have had an extended experience with this cute young family.

Above all, we are grateful to be part of a wonderful family that has been such an amazing support while we’ve been gone.  They have watched over our home, given attention to things we couldn’t do on the internet, and most of all, loved one another as they’ve gathered and continued family traditions with us joining in on skype sometimes.  Our oldest grandson, Tanner, will be eighteen this spring and we are so grateful that he is planning on serving a mission when he graduates from high school.  We are confident that he will begin a long line of grandchildren serving when the time is right for each of them.  We are grateful that Elder Francom’s 90 year-old father and his wife are in good health and we look forward to returning to help them in any way we can.  Our siblings have been very supportive and we hope to do the same for them when it’s their turn to serve a mission.

We love the church in Mongolia and all the other Americans couples that we have been privileged to work with.  Of course, the young missionaries–from Mongolia and America–are some of the best young people with the biggest hearts ever.  They work hard, they pray sincerely, and they depend upon the Lord for everything.  They are just totally amazing!

Thankfulness from our point of view is a very humbling experience for us right now.  It has been a wonderful adventure to visit another culture and learn so much while appreciating home so much more.  So…we have ELEVEN days left!  We depart on December 9th and arrive in Salt Lake City on December 9th–thanks to traveling East, we pick up that day we lost 18 months ago.  We will be home for Christmas–what a blessing that will be!  We will be reporting in our ward on December 27th at 1:00pm.  Our church building address is 2976 W. 4270 S.  in Salt Lake City.  (However, if you’ve read a few of these blog posts, you’re excused from attending!!!)  We are grateful for all of YOU that read along and care about us.  Oh…so much to be grateful for!

Most of all, we are grateful to our Heavenly Father for this experience that has taught us so much about ourselves and our testimonies.  We know He is watching over us and will continue to bless us as we obey His commandments.  The Gospel is true.

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

English…English…and More English!!!

As we look back at this past week, all we can think is ENGLISH…ENGLISH…and more ENGLISH!  We continue to travel out to the Ministry of Labor and get results of 0-4 participants.  We’ve suggested they notify us if no one is going to attend but they’re always sure someone will be there.  So, for four more times, we can do it with a smile.  The people at the Ministry of Labor really are kind and considerate and we count many among our friends that we will always think about.  One girl went to America on a holiday and she even visited Salt Lake City.  She loved her visit and would love to live there someday.

That seems to be the common dream–living in America!  In reality, those who have made that leap really don’t do very well in America.  Of course the standard of living is so much higher, most are illegal aliens so they can’t get good jobs, and the language barrier gets in the way for many.  There are pockets in Utah, of course, and others in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and places in Virginia.  We’re sure they are sprinkled in many other places, too.

Going to BYUHawaii is the opportunity of a lifetime–the Garden of Eden, the Celestial Kingdom on Earth.  It is a theme that many have heard since they were children.  Some want more and “run” to the mainland.  As a result, once they pass the Michigan Test, they are screened very carefully by the Stake President here as well as when they go to the American Embassy to get their visa—they make sure applicants have lots of family reasons to come back.  Thankfully, most really do come back to family.  BYUHawaii has a fabulous program called the I-work program–it affords them the opportunity to work on campus or at the Polynesian Cultural Center and they get their housing and schooling paid for through their I-work job.  That’s a very nice arrangement but they must return to their country of origin or they have to pay BYUH for all the money they received through the I-work program.  The whole idea of going to BYUH is to receive an education that will help the students lift their country as they return and find a good job.  It also helps them understand and speak English very fluently—especially after passing the Michigan Test!  They also watch and learn how to effectively serve in the church and then they bring that understand back and implement their experiences in Mongolia.  Even though our church is a “world-wide church,” it is an English-language based church so many things will never be translated into Mongolian.  Having the command of the English language is almost essential in church leadership positions in every country of the world.

On top of all of our assignments–Self-Reliance, PEF Loans, and all the charity work with DIC, President Benson has asked us to oversee all the English teaching training for the newly arrived American missionaries.  Oh—this has turned out to be a very time-consuming job!!!  We scheduled their time around the existing night-time English classes at the Bayanzurkh Building and we have the help of experienced young missionaries but it still requires us to help and we don’t get home until much later than we would like.  The Taylors, a senior couple that returned to America for a daughter’s wedding and other reasons, should be coming back to over-see ALL the English by the first of December and we will gladly welcome them back!  Meanwhile, it is just making us extra busy!

We have enjoyed getting to know the new doctor and his wife, the Sutphins—the only other senior couple here, right now.  He was the only urologist in the Rock Springs area of Wyoming and just retired.  He is an avid automobile restorer, and they both love scuba diving and Harley motorcycles.  Above all, they spend time with their children and grandchildren and are realizing the beauty of technology to keep in contact.  They will try to keep us all healthy and their English assignment will be coaching medical professionals as they try to pass their own version of the Michigan Test—equally as difficult with many more parts.

Just in case anyone cares, it is so cold over here…so cold!!!  Last year it wasn’t frigid like this until January so we thought we were going to dodge it once again since we leave in December.  I think it was 18 degrees BELOW zero this morning and we had to go to the Bayanzurkh Building for our District Meeting.  The cold…and then the wind on top of it!  Our eyes and nose start running and eyelashes start to freeze.  Then we get brain freeze behind our eyes…it’s real, really!  It doesn’t go away until we get to inside the building!  Thank goodness for winter clothes and the good sense to wear them.  I remember when it was winter in Utah, once in a while you’d see a cool dude in flip flops and shorts and you’d wonder.  Well, no one tries to be “cool” like that here–it would probably kill you!!!  Everyone has been warning us that this winter is going to be much worse than last winter.  That seems to be the case and somehow they just know!  So glad to be leaving and going to “Utah cold” soon!!!

Life is good!  Life is crazy busy!  Thank goodness our lives are center in the gospel with Jesus Christ at the helm.  We are grateful to have taken part in the work of spreading His gospel in Mongolia.  Sometimes It seems like the work revolves around English but that is a requirement when in Mongolia and we really are sure that the Lord sustains us in our English teaching.  It is our task to streamline that part so we can focus our attention on helping Mongolians understand and live the Gospel.  What a fantastic ride we have been on and we have memories that we never could have imagined.  Most of all, it has brought us closer as a couple and as a family—it’s amazing how a few lines here and there from home, accompanied by pictures, can help us feel our family’s love!  We are grateful for this time of service and we are excited to see some of you go out have your own adventure to share.

Enjoy the warm Utah’s winter!!!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

IMG_3628

Baganuur Sister and me

IMG_3630

New Year’s decorations are going up!

IMG_3633

Look…a parking garage!

IMG_3636

Grafitti on way home from English.

Our apartment (1)

Our apartment complex…4th floor on left!

Happy Birthday, Chinggis Khaan!!!

After 17+ months, life in Mongolia is pretty predictable–just like back in the states.  But, once in a while it still throws us a curve!  Last Wednesday, our day was pretty normal and we even talked to Baatraa (self-reliance manager) about our team meeting the following day.  But, on Thursday, as soon as we left our apartment, the whole world seemed to be sleeping.  There were no cars zipping around to play “tag” with, there were no people scurrying from one place to another.  It was a quiet world.  We arrived at the Bayanzurkh church building and it was vacant and the hallways were dark.  We braved it to the light switches and lit our way to our office.  We started the day the only way we knew how and it wasn’t long before we realized that someone had mentioned that Chinggas Khaan’s birthday was on Thursday.  So…maybe…just maybe…the whole Mongolian world was celebrating his birthday by staying home???  After all, Americans celebrate George Washington’s birthday by taking the day off.  As the day wore on and no one came in for our team meeting, the silence was too much for us and we left to observe Chinggis Khaan’s birthday in our own way.  We wandered back to our apartment and we made cookies for an assignment for Friday as well as ironed those good old endless white shirts.

However, we were back to the building that same evening.  We had Primary presidencies and young men and women coming for two separate focus groups.  Sister Esplin, from the General Primary Presidency and Sister Marriott, from the General Young Women’s Presidency, both came to town accompanied by their husbands and Elder and Sister Wong from the Asia Area Presidency.  They came for two short days and wanted to visit with people from their specific auxiliaries.  We helped with the Primary group, and with a good translator at her side, Sister Esplin was impressed with how Primary runs in Mongolia.  She asked lots of questions and the presidencies responded with good caring answers.  Then, after a good night’s rest, our visitors returned Friday morning to go up to Ziasan Hill and read Elder Holland’s dedicatory prayer for opening Mongolia for preaching the gospel.  Afterwards, they went shopping and then back to the building for a cultural performance of throat singing, dancing, and a contortionist.  We seniors were invited to attend and then we all helped make a lunch of soups, salads, and rolls.  I had the privilege of sitting next to Sister Marriott at the table and what a fun visit we had!  She was very inquisitive about Mongolia so I answered lots of questions.  Our guests were whisked off to go visit members in their gers while we cleaned up and then went back to our regular workday.  Later on Friday night, there was a fireside to hear the council given by these same wonderful visitors.  Finally, they left early on Saturday to go back to America with a glowing report of Mongolia, we hope!  We know they also visited Cambodia and Hong Kong  but we’re not sure of the other places.  They looked a bit weary and it’s understandable!

Oh…let’s back up to Monday night.  There is a single older sister–never married–who is lovingly and everyone calls her, “Ukraine Naara” because she served a mission there.  She a beautiful and she is talented, and so very thrifty.  You know, one of those ladies who can accomplish much more in her twenty-four hours than you can even dream of in the same amount of time.  She invited us to Family Home Evening.  We took a taxi and traveled to the last bus stop.  She met us there and then we all walked together until we came to her ger.  There were four children waiting inside–an 11 year old girl, and three more ages 2, 3, and four–they were her nieces and nephews.  We were welcomed by the oldest girl, we sang a song, had a prayer, and they all recited a scripture that they had “ponderized” during the week.  Then we ate dinner.  She fed us more of those tasty Mongolian vegetable salads (canned from her greenhouse garden, of course!) and she also served potato khoosiers–like a flatten roll filled with some kind of wonderfully flavored potato filling.  It was so good!  After, we had a lesson on families, sang another song, and had a prayer.  The night was over and Ukraine Naara walked us back to the bus stop and put us on a taxi that brought us to our doorstep.  We left with a special appreciation for a dear single sister who has opened her home to these children.  They are very blessed to have Naara in their lives!  We took the new doctor and his wife, the Sutphins, from Rock Springs, Wyoming, with us.  It just happened to be the doctor’s birthday and when Ukraine Naara found out he received a bottle of her home-canned pickles with a chocolate candy bar.  Of course, it is tradition to sing “Happy Birthday” just like back home–even in English!

Other than that, we taught English to adults–we’ve had from zero to three in our classes which is so disappointing and almost not worth it, but our time is limited so we will do it through November.  We have started teaching the prep class for the Michigan Test and someone else will be receive the assignment and will carry on with it.  We’re trying to tie up lots of loose ends with DIC projects and it just takes time.  We have the time so it’s one day after another right now.

Well, off to church again tomorrow–out to Baganuur one more time.  We have a car-full of people coming with us and we have the snacks ready for the long trip.  I am reminded of what President Uchtdorf said, “The basic gospel principles need to be part of our life’s fabric, even if it means learning them over and over again.” So, we’ll go out there and hope for some translations so we can be reminded one more time of something we can improve in as we continue on life’s journey.  So much to learn even in a foreign land with a foreign language!  We love the gospel!

May we all continue to learn and relearn all that we need to do!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Ramblings…

It’s been such a busy week but not everything we do can be turned into words.  However, the biggest “stand-out” of the week came from a Mongolian returned missionary, an outstanding young church leader named Tulga.  He was assigned the arduous task of traveling to Salt Lake City for the World Conference of Families—we’re not sure what the exact name was.  When he came back, he told us that he had seen the Logan temple (his former companion lives close by), Brigham City Temple, Ogden Temple, Bountiful Temple, and attended the Salt Lake Temple.  That was very impressive to a young man who is required to make a four-hour flight to the closest temple to Mongolia (Hong Kong).  Then, he proceeded to tell us that another impressive Utah sight was the traffic.  He said, “The cars are so nice to one another.  Everyone knows how to take turns!”  Oh, how we laughed!!!  Sometimes, Utah drivers are known for their bad driving, right?  But, if you live in Utah be grateful for what you have because it could be in a place where cars DO NOT take turns—that would be Mongolia.  Here, the attitude is—I’ll beat you to the front—we’re not sure where that is!

We finally received a phone call from the Ministry of Labor and we started teaching English this week.  We both had THREE people and are hoping for more but with only a few weeks left to teach we’ll go and do what we can in the time we have left.  The people have certainly become our friends and it was nice to see so many greet us when we returned.  They told us that they’ve laid off many workers and those that are left are extremely busy so maybe English is a lower priority in their lives right now.  With the short time we have left, we’re not worried about taking on new students just to drop them.

Fifteen new American missionaries have arrived in the past two days.  The new mission doctor and his wife are among them.  We have met some of the new ones and they look like they are some of the best, but that’s the impression we always have and it turns out to be correct.  The more seasoned missionaries are anxious to teach them the language, the culture, and the best way to teach the gospel.  It’s amazing how quickly they learn—the next time we see them, most of them will understand and be speaking as if they had always known Mongolian.  It’s quite a miracle to see!

Periodically, we receive the local newspaper in English.  Yes, if you know Elder Francom, he devours it!  He read one of the editorials entitled, “The Outdoor Toilet and Mongolian’s Future” and chuckled so I thought I’d share the jest…There is a Japanese company that only gives business loans to women but not until the boss visits their home and check out their bathroom.  It states that the restroom of a home or an office is a mirror that accurately indicates the culture, hygiene, state of affairs, and capabilities of its owner.  (Quick…how clean is your bathroom???)  Then the author started in on the conditions of the bathrooms in Mongolia.  Of the three-million people here, about 45% use pit latrines by digging a hole in the ground and building a small three-sided shelter (wood or found materials).  With harsh wintertime outhouse trips, with badly polluted air, and flies that can carry bacteria onto food, Mongolians’ health can be affected.  AND…only 65% of the population consumes water and food that has been sanitized. Mongolia is behind North Korea on access to improved sanitation facilities (flush toilets).  Mongolia knows that this reflects the poor standard of living here but no one wants to deal with the issue.  The article suggests that everyone needs to wash their hand—a cheaper solution than seeking treatment after becoming ill.  UNICEF has donated modern facilities to kindergartens and school dormitories and the health of the students has significantly improved.  The final statement sums it up–“In order to have the city’s toilets meet the needs of today, it is time to launch a modern toilet infiltration initiative to improve the public health.”  We are so happy to see someone address the issue BUT…when you go into the ger districts you understand how next-to-impossible it would be.  Gers seems to land in any spot that hasn’t been taken and the roads are more like paths that snake around wherever there isn’t a fenced in ger.  A plumbing plan would displace so many people.  Yes, it would be so worth it but try telling that to those who have used a pit most of their lives.  Apartments have been built to try to lure ger-dwellers into them but there are such high costs involved compared with ger living.  Isn’t it a crazy situation?  Again, evidence of Mongolia being a developing country!

So, we’ve rambled on and on and it’s best to quit.  In closing, I found a quote by one of my favorite people, Ardeth Kapp.  She stated, “A feeling of self-worth comes from an understanding of who we were, who we are, and who we will always be.  We did not come to this earth to gain our worth; we brought it with us.”  We are all so important and we need to remember that our Heavenly Father sent us to earth already with great value and many talents.  Let’s all try to recognize our significance and build upon it in all that we do…every day!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

(I didn’t take many pictures…I must be running down!!!)

Two is the Loneliest Number…

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do…

Two can be as bad as one…

It’s the loneliest number since the number one…

This is our “theme song” nowadays.  We are down to TWO couples and it feels lonely!!!  The Harpers, the office couple, and the Francoms, jacks of all trades, are IT.  The Lewises (mission doctor), and the Hills, (couple from Erdenet), left on Wednesday morning.  Through texting, we learned that they sat on and off the plane several times before leaving Ulaanbaatar, but they must have finally left because we haven’t heard from them since.  They were on their way to Seoul, Korea first because the Lewis’ missionary grandson just arrived the day before to serve in that mission and they were going to take him out to lunch.  Then, they were stopping in New Zealand and Tahiti since they were going in that direction.  The doctor has been a “substitute doctor” for the past twelve years and did short jobs in those places so they wanted to say “HI!” to some special people.  They will have a great adventure as they work their way home to Bountiful where both couples live.

The future isn’t quite that bleak, however!  There is a new doctor and his wife coming, the Sutphans from Rock Springs, Wyoming, and the new DIC couple, the Maynes from Price, Utah.  The Sutphans should be here by now but have had some visa issues and the Maynes are scheduled to arrive right before Christmas.  Oh, we can’t forget the Taylors—they were here until the end of August and then went home to Provo for their daughter’s wedding.  They stayed home to work on the English program with BYU and they will return in December to be reinstated and finish their mission.  If you’re counting you don’t see a new Self-Reliance couple coming to take our place, do you?  Well, a new couple will come… sometime…but no one has been assigned, yet.  Do all of you realize how important it is to be senior missionaries?  It is very do-able as we have found out…in fact, we recommend it!

This week has been a good week but we just feel like there’s a hole in our hearts…a hole in the mission…and a hole in the work moving forward in Mongolia.  We will miss our dear friends but life is settling back down now.  We have had farewell dinners, testimony meetings, and receptions.  We have furnished some of the dinners, cookies, and we even had the Lewises and Hills for breakfast on their last morning since their fridge was empty.  Now, we’re moving forward to the next activity—Halloween!

Halloween does happen here to a certain degree.  The school kids have a costume parade, according to the President’s children but there are no school parties.  The service center brought their children around for “Trick or Treating” on Friday.  The Young Adults are having a party on Saturday evening and we are furnishing soup and rolls as long as they come up to our apartments and carry our crock pots down the hill.  We stopped by the building on Halloween and it was really decorated and the young people who dressed up mostly had painted faces.  Hopefully, they will enjoy our soup and rolls and several of them planned games so it will be a good time for them.

We are really into winter weather over here.  It hasn’t been above freezing for over a week–Saturday ended up being quite nice, however–and it snowed at the beginning of last week so now it’s packed and it’s turned to ice.  “Slip and Slide” is the challenge of every morning and evening as we walk up and down the hill outside our apartment.  The car tracks in the road are starting to clear off so we walk in the road unless we bow-out to the challenge of a car!

I was just at the Bayanzurkh Building with Sister Harper on this cold Saturday evening.  It’s amazing how many people enjoy being there even when there aren’t any scheduled meetings.  Of course, it is warm and welcoming but it amazes me how it is so busy so much of the time.  The gospel is also like the Bayanzurkh Building…warm and welcoming and so unifying and always a place to turn to when we need to feel loved.  How grateful we are to feel our Heavenly Father’s love as we serve as missionaries in Mongolia.

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Halloween Time in Mongolia!!!

It’s the end of the third week of October.  It’s getting colder all the time and Halloween is just a few days away.  Halloween…not much celebrating happens in Mongolia, but the English teaching missionaries are collecting scary stories and making games that they remember from their younger days to spread Halloween cheer.  Teaching is a great “excuse” to have some Halloween fun.

Well, without even trying we had a “Halloween-ish” experience this week.  After work one day, Puje (Mongolian senior missionary) was driving us out to the Sukhbaatar Branch area to do some visiting.  We started our adventure with the sun still shining so all was well.  We brought two of the branch missionaries to help us find addresses.  When we say, “addresses” we use that term VERY loosely!  There are NO ADDRESSES in the ger districts—but, every ger has a number on the gate’s door and SOMETIMES they run chronologically as you proceed down the “road” (another term we use loosely).  We had ger numbers and two American Elders who were almost certain they could find the correct gers—they had even met with some of the ger occupants before.  We called ahead to our first visit and both parents were working so we proceeded on to the next “address.”  A missionary actually recognized the area so we easily found a ger that was just off the main road, down an embankment.  The mother was a very active member—we see her almost every week.  Her husband, a bus driver, was at work and doesn’t come to church because he works on lots of Sundays.  She assured us that he is faithful and strong in the gospel and that’s good to hear.  Two of her three children come with her regularly.  We shared a scripture and enjoyed our visit.  As we left our visit, I thought about all these members in their small gers–no running water or sewer system, we certainly find a great appreciation for the efforts they make to be to church on Sundays, dressed so appropriately and clean!

As we left, it was dark, it was dank, it was cold, and we were so happy to have a car to crawl into.  We got back up on the main road and found crazy traffic all over the place and a thick haze from the coal/wood being burned in every ger–it was hard to see.  There were useless street light dimly shining through the smoke.  Then, all of a sudden, you’d see the dark outline  of black figures scurrying in front of the car—pedestrians trying to navigate between the cars!  We finally found a place that looked familiar to one of the new Elder so we turned and found ourselves traveling down a hill with moguls to navigate over and around–even cement sewer covers sticking up here and there!  We feared for our little red car but Puje just kept going in the dark of night bumping over one mound after another.  Oops…the car bottomed out more than once!  The ger gates weren’t even close to the number we were looking for but she persisted until we met a dead-end.  Now, we had to turn around in the narrow path and do it all over again, uphill this time, to get out!  We give a lot of credit to the little red car and Puje’s Mongolian driving skills, but we talked her into giving up and decided it was best to go home and try again with a real Mongolian Elder (nothing against the two willing American ones!!!) and daylight another time.  Wow…what a long eerie ordeal and we were so glad to see it end!!!

Later in the week we went visiting again.  We have a wonderful Mongolian Elder, Elder Saruul, who is being released soon.  He has been an assistant to the president so we all know him well.  His family lives in UB but none of them are members of the church.  Some of them speak English so the Lewises and we were invited to dinner.  Yes, more missionaries accompanied us but this time we walked and walked and finally climbed the steps of an apartment building to the top floor.  They welcomed us warmly with food that was immediately ready.  We feasted on pumpkin soup and a warm berry drink.  Then a rice dish, several salads (the beet salad was exceptional) and mutton ribs and a stir fry.  Elder Saruul’s mother is vegan so everything she made was meatless and his dad made the mutton.  She even had two friends helping her do all the cooking–it was so good!  Oh, did we mention that there wasn’t ONE buuz!!!  Maybe that’s what made it so good!  The father had been a construction engineer and from what we could gather from his partial English, he attended school is Russia and has a PhD.  The daughter worked a summer at Yellowstone so she had excellent English.  She explained that when Mongolia was under the control of Russia, many of the best students were sent to Russian schools for a better education.  That explains why so many older people tell us that they attended school in Russia!  Their apartment was nice enough to rival any of our senior apartments here.

Other than that, we had two missionary dinners here this week and it always puts smiles on missionaries’ faces and that’s the goal!!!  We are blessed to have the same smiles on our faces as we go from day to day.  Living the gospel makes us happy.  Serving others makes us happy.  Hearing from our family and friends makes us happy.  We pray that we will all be worthy of the many blessings we receive and that we will all continue to do things that will building our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.

Take care of one another and BE HAPPY, too!!!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Salads and Service

Have you ever had visions of eating a cooked celery salad?  Envision the thinnest of long celery stalks cut into ½ inch pieces, a few slices of red pepper and a couple of pieces of carrots cooked together with a just a hint of vinegar and garlic.  How about a pickled cucumber salad?  Toss cut pickles together with green peppers and tangy ___.  Then, translucent rice noodles mixed with other vegetables.  The tofu salad was really quite good also.  All of this was served with a soup made from kale, mushrooms, and eggs in a beef broth.  It really was good enough to have seconds!   AND…a Mongolian meal wouldn’t be complete without buuz!!!  We finally found some that were homemade and wonderfully flavored with beef inside and soy sauce or sesame oil as a dip.  It was quite a meal that we attended as a going-away dinner for Boyandelthger and her family.  She is leaving to spend the coldest of the Mongolian winter months in Sweden and she wanted to have us for dinner before she left.  We enjoyed our visit thanks to  our translating Elders and we learned a little more about Mongolia.  All women retire at age 55 and are given a pension of 200.000 tugriks (about $100) per month.  It seems to be a flat rate for all.  The men qualify for a pension at age 60.  She said that she cannot live off of that but she lives with two daughters and two granddaughters.  She also has a daughter living in Korea and this other one in Sweden.  Boyandelthger’s non-member husband died a few years ago and she traveled to the Hong Kong temple and is now sealed to him.  She has a picture hanging over her bed with him by her side standing in front of the temple, thanks to someone’s photo-shopping skills!  Her daughter, Enkhtuya, came a bit later.  She works in a bakery so our dessert was the Mongolian form of éclairs—all puffy with a white cream filling.  However, she is also a silversmith and she showed off some of her creations.  They are truly a special family and they have been blessed with many talents and their love for the gospel and family members is very evident.  They will always hold a soft place in our memories of Mongolia.

American food was our treat to some Elders between General Conference session last Saturday and then some of us senior sisters made the Sunday potluck a little more nourishing with crock pots full of soup.  Usually, the Sunday Conference potluck consists of snack items picked up at the market late on Saturday night.  We think it was a success and we know they ate better this time.

As far as work goes, we were able to finally answer all of church headquarters’ questions about a maternity hospital needing five labor and deliver beds, two fetal monitors, and two newborn warming tables.  This DIC project has been in the system for about six weeks and it finally passed!  We are so excited and so were the maternity doctors and nurses.  In the past, they have had one large room for all baby births and they remodeled hospital space into five private birthing rooms.  Now, they will have the proper equipment as well as be able to include the fathers in the birth.  Up until this time, the fathers had to wait out in the stairwell during the whole process.  We are so excited and we’ll bet the new dads are, too!!!  We also had a second project pass that had to do with training and counseling teens that were involved in crimes.  They actually asked for FIVE motorcycles but DIC doesn’t furnish such things so we helped them with printing, some whiteboards, and posters.  The end of the year and the end of the money is upon us so we’ll just concentrate on getting these finished up, written up, and closed out.  The new DIC couple, the Maynes, will be here just days after we leave in December so they’ll be properly trained in the MTC and we hope to leave all DIC related things complete and tidy.

The PEF Loans are still coming in but not at the rate they were in September.  Elder Francom and Miigaa seems to spend a bit of everyday working with them.  We have had more new students than ever this year.  It’s a bit more complicated now because every applicant has to take a 12-week course called “Education for Better Work” so they cannot decide to go to school a week before it starts.  Besides this course for university students, we also offer a course called “Starting and Growing My Own Business” which is a great fit for a developing country like Mongolia and “My Job Search.”  We actually facilitated “My Job Search” with a few English speakers and it was an amazing experience.  These are soon to be part of the American culture and they are guaranteed to help anyone become self-reliant if they really want to be.

We’ve actually had three snowstorms with lots of nice autumn days in between.  This weekend has turned rather cold and we’re not sure if the temperature will climb much higher.  Oh, that wind can be so frigid!  At least we’ve got a little “winter in Mongolia” experience so we know what to expect.  Experience is nice!  We are gaining more experience in Mongolian food, in Mongolian customs, and in Mongolian thinking.  We are also gaining more experience in service the good people of Mongolia.  Service is the most important elements of our mission.  As President Uchtdorf states, “As you lose yourself in the service of others, you discover your own life and your own happiness.”  We are happy in this life far from home, far from our family and dear friends.  Service puts a smile on our faces many times everyday and we are blessed to be asked to serve in Mongolia.  We are grateful for our testimonies of the gospel and all that we are learning.

Take care of one another!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Last week’s pics are first! 🙂

Bookends!

We feared for another week of “bed-to-bed” reporting and then we realized it was a “book-ends” kind of week.  Something happened at both “ends” of the week.   At the first of the week, we were still entertaining our Asia Area self-reliance and PEF Loan managers.  We invited them and our Mongolian team to our apartment for dinner on Monday night before they left the following morning.  We decided to make a good old fashioned American meal with baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, rolls and dessert.  It seemed to please everyone and we really appreciated our managers’ visit since they addressed some of our concerns about the Self-Reliance Initiative in Mongolia.

Then again, on the other end of the week, we attended our first DIC Opening Ceremony or Turning-Over Ceremony (it seems to have many names) at a women’s and children’s hospital.    There were doctors, technicians, and nurses all gathered for the opening of a big eye-care project for children that the DIC sponsored along with Orbis.  (Orbis is a big international non-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide.)  Mongolians are big on ceremonies and certificates and it was all evident at the event.  There was a red carpet at the entry, bright green badges for important people (we both wore one), speeches spoken (thank goodness Elder Francom is quick on his feet), champagne and candy to partake of (water for us), and a red ribbon to cut after Elder Francom and others put on white gloves.  The only thing wrong with it all was that this all happened outside—and it was freezing!!!  Once we finally were able to walk the red carpet to the inside, we warmed up with traditional music from a horse fiddle and then were escorted into a small inner room.  The technicians showed us two computerized machines that ground two lenses into the perfect prescription for glasses.  Then, the second machine cut them precisely to fit into the frames of glasses that was inserted into the front of the machine.  After the machine cut, and smoothed the edges of the lenses, they snapped perfectly into the frame and the glasses were ready to wear.  In fact, two young girls entered and were presented with their own glasses made especially for them.  Thanks to Puje, our translator for the event, we were told that this eye center will serve over 10,000 Mongolian children every year.  They will offer their services to children in the hospital as well as start giving vision screenings to all the school children in the city.   The glasses will be free to some and will be discounted by 30% to those who can afford to pay.  When we told missionaries who teach English in schools, they were excited because there are so many squinting students and there are too many to sit those with poor sight at the front—not enough room.  Remember last week’s pictures of the school room and imagine being stuck at the far back—even good vision might not be enough help???

If one ceremony was good then TWO ceremonies are even better!  Friday night we attended a second ceremony.  The DIC sponsored a abused women’s center to help them print teaching and coaching materials as well as furnished a water machine and a couch and chair set with a rug underneath.  The owner is a less active member who went to America on her mission so she had excellent English and she really was so appreciative of our help.  This time it was my turn to “speak” (with Puje’s translation) and I talked about women needing a safe place so families can grow strong and true to move the country of Mongolia forward–I just happened to read Elder Perry’s final conference address the day before.  We ate pizza and other treats and finally left to walk home on a cool but nice Friday evening.

Oh…I guess we need to put one book in this “bookends” of happenings.  We did the “We have given our last Michigan Test” dance all the way home on Tuesday night!!!  We have enjoyed every minute of teaching the prep class and cheering on those who really desire to pass.  We hope to hear good news and a few weeks.  For some it is just another exercise in proving to themselves that they are getting closer to conquering the English language and to others it is VITAL that they pass and get to BYUHawaii.  We hope to deliver wonderful news to many soon.  Yes, we’ll probably start another prep class for the test the will be given after the beginning of the year but it will be another senior couple who administers it.

This is our General Conference Saturday and we have been blessed to participate in it.  The children’s choir made us homesick for grandchildren and for the sweet spirit of Primary back home.  The talks inspired us to do better and to stay connected as grandparents and parents.  And, Elder Holland’s talk made us reflect and tear-up a bit as we thought of all the wonderful mothers in our lives–including a daughter and daughters-in-law and a dear sister.  Our hearts are full and we are so grateful to be able to return tomorrow and partake of the wonderful spirit that accompanies conference every time.  We are thinking that we feel the spirit a little more intensely being so far away but we have visions of sitting with our family member next April.  That is almost the perfect dream for our future.

We love you all and hope all are well and happy!

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom

Yes…I have pics but I’ll post later!!!

“Bed-To-Bed”

Earlier this week, we were starting to worry because nothing out of the ordinary was happening.  We hadn’t even taken our camera out because there wasn’t anything to take a picture of.  Oh, what were we going to do–we didn’t want to subject you all to our “bed-to-bed” lives!!!  It was going to read something like this:  We got up a little earlier than usual since we just “fell back” from daylight savings time.  We each had a wonderfully hot shower–NEVER…EVER take hot water for granted!  We ate our bowl of hot cereal, checked our email to see if there was any news from home, and then studied together from Preach My Gospel.  Then we walked to work, Elder Francom checking to see if more PEF Loans had been approved and myself logging on to see if I could inform waiting institutes that their projects were ready to move forward.  While Elder Francom was busy with Miigaa and PEF Loans, I helped clean out the mission storage room and prepared for the Michigan Test–the LAST round of Michigan Tests we will be administering in Mongolia!  As usual, we greeted and helped various Mongolians who wanted to speak English or find a little confidence for passing the test and then walked home, enjoyed a quiet evening, then went to bed.  There’s our “bed-to-bed” lives this week!

Thank goodness things started changing by about Wednesday.  Sister Cleveland needed to make cookies as a reward for her English speaking class.  We both decided that it would be easier just to do it at our apartment since we readily had the ingredients.  We invited her and three others for lunch and I thought I’d treat them to BLTs since three of them were American.  The one lone Mongolian was NOT even willing to give them a try so she put peanut butter and jam on her bread.  By the time we were done eating the cookies were baked and we sent the girls out the door and went back to work.  Then, again Thursday, we invited our District for lunch and to District Meeting at our home.  We made sloppy joes and a potato casserole and they all put both meat AND potatoes on their buns?  I was not impressed but they all went back for seconds.  Maybe there just wasn’t room for the fruit salad on the bun, too!  It’s good for us to attend these meetings because it gives us an appreciation for how hard the missionaries work.  They all make weekly goals and report on them the following week at District Meeting.  We studied from Preach My Gospel and worked on better understanding the principles and good ways to present them to investigators.  They work hard!

Thursday evening we went to the airport and picked up Chad, the Asia Area Manager, and Marco, the Asia Area PEF Loan Manager.  (This was my first time back there since we arrived about sixteen months ago and it was so strange to remember how foggy that time was!)  On Friday, we started early and went visiting with our guests.  We accompanied Miigaa and Marco to a school where a teacher was in her first year of teaching after graduating with a PEF Loan.  It was a fourth grade classroom…SIXTY students in one room!!!  Yes, I said SIXTY!!!  The kids were so cute and I had a brief conversation with some.  Most could say, “Hi, my name is ___.”  They were so excited and a bit out of control…SIXTY!!!  It was easy to see who was the ringleader and all of a sudden, one boy came to the front of the class and started singing a Justin Bieber song–“First Love” with the entire class joining in on the chorus.  So cute!  We had our pictures taken with them and then left to visit school we hoped would partner with us for PEF Loans.  After lunch we went back for a meeting and then there were more meetings but we weren’t involved.  This weekend, Baatraa and Miigaa have taken them to Darkhan but we’re planning on Monday being another busy one and then they’ll leave on Tuesday morning to return to Hong Kong and Taiwan.  They are amazing young men with such a wonderful business sense and a strong testimony of Self-Reliance.

Today, I accompanied Sister Lewis to the Uuner Ward for a quilting project.  There were about fifteen sisters and four sewing machines waiting for us.  We cut fabric and batting, pinned them inside out, sewed around the edges, turned them right-side out, and tied about four baby quilts.  We didn’t get to finish tying six others but it was a great day with lots of busy sisters learning how to make quilts and planning a time to finish the remaining quilts.  We asked the missionaries assigned to that ward to come and translate and they actually learned a lot about quilting!  Two of the sewing machines were not electric and it was amazing to watch the sisters’ efficiency and talent when cranking the wheel while sewing so straight.  Give them so much credit!!!

So, once again our week was full and our hearts are grateful for the experience of serving a mission.  The “bed-to-bed” days will come someday but we’re hoping that our family will keep them from happening too often once we’re home.  We are excited for General Conference and the announcement of our new Apostles and are so grateful that we can look online and get the news almost as quickly as if we were back home.  We are grateful for a living prophet, President Monson, and for those the Lord chooses to help him direct His work in our modern day.  We support and sustain them and know that we will never go wrong if we follow their teachings.

Until next week…

Love,

Elder & Sister Francom