As Christmas draws ever so close and we are in this far-away land, we are reminded of the vastness between our American Christmas and the Mongolian Christmas. In fact, we have felt a little like the Grinch who’s heart grew several sizes that day…
“Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, were singing without any presents at all. It came, somehow or other, it came just the same…it came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes or bags! Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
You see, Christmas in Mongolia is all about Christ and service to others for Church members. It is simple but important. The Service Center of the Church held a party for disabled and handicapped children and their families this week–they dressed up and had music and games. Another service is the young adult choir and we have loved listening to them practice because many of their Christmas carols are sung in English. They have actually performed at a local store that sells New Year’s decorations but, strangely, they look just like our Christmas decorations.
The traditional Mongolia holiday celebration is on December 31st. It seems like it might accommodate our Christian holiday, too. There will be parties, fireworks, and gift-giving then. There are no trees for sale at the corner lot, no lights on the gers or apartments, no talk of gifts from Santa–in fact, there is no Santa!!! Today, we saw a “Santa” in a store but kids were singing a song into a microphone for him–that would scare most of my grandkids off, for sure! He is called “Grandfather New Year” and he brings ONE gift! We’re thinking that we’ll learn so more as their big holiday comes closer.
We do have a “pet peeve”…NEVER have we sung Christmas hymns in ANY church meeting…NEVER! We didn’t realize how much they brings the true Spirit of Christmas into our lives. We are still singing, “Choose the Right”, “Did You Think to Pray”, etc. Oh…how we miss Christmas hymns! The hymn book here consists of about 60 hymns that have been translated into Mongolian. (Now you know why the YA choir sings in English.) Someone told us that “Silent Night” exists in Mongolian. Now, if we were in charge…we’d sing it every Sunday, every opening and closing song, in December!!!
However, we are trying to participate in Christmas. We found a small artificial tree under our bed so we straightened out the boughs, bought a few ornaments, and set it in our living room window. Next to it we put our wood-carved nativity set that our translator’s husband carved for us…just beautiful! We’ve shopped a bit for our kids back home and we bought…(shhh–we hope they still read our blog)! Oh, it’s not a lot but it was fun! That’s about it!!! Meanwhile, we’re making plans with the other senior couples and we’ll feel the spirit of the day as we gather together.
President Benson has been back for the week and everyone is so glad he’s back. His family has been waiting for little Joseph Ellsworth Benson (baby) to get a passport and visa–funny thought! President Benson hopes to leave on the 18th and be back by Christmas Eve day. We are going to go help him decorate his house for Christmas on Monday for Family Home Evening. What fun to think of the Benson family coming home to a decorated house. We’ve missed them!
Even though it’s December, life goes on. We’ve been so busy with English teaching and the Michigan Test. The Michigan Test went well–there were sixteen at the early time and twenty participants later. In fact, we had to turn several people away–we really wish they would have come at the earlier time since we had openings. Then, on Monday, we consented to let two late-comers take it so we weren’t the reason that they weren’t going to BYU-Hawaii sooner than later. Yeah…we’re softies! We mailed them all off and are waiting again with thirty-six young people sitting on pins and needles!
The grand opening of the Self-Reliance Center is this Saturday and Sunday so we’ve been very busy when we’re not teaching English. We’ve ordered food to feed so, so many–that’s what you do in Mongolian (chicken dinners). Then, 300 snacks here and 300 snacks there–all with bottled water and candy. It’s quite different from what we’re used to but…TIM (This Is Mongolia!!!) The main office in Hong Kong sent a manager from Taiwan as our special guest. We took him out to dinner on Thursday night and really enjoyed our visit. He actually attended Taylorsville High as a young person but has lived in Asia most of his adult life. He has set up twelve centers in his country so he knows what he’s talking about and we’re so glad he can answer a lot of questions as our manager tries to figure it all out. We hope to report great success next week!!!
We’ve gone on long enough but we witnessed an interesting experience this week. The translator for the mission doctor got married–both he and his wife were missionaries a few months ago. Oscaryama, the translator, left work in the early afternoon with his bride-to-be at his side. She wore levis and he had on his work attire–a shirt and tie. They went somewhere, signed papers that stated they had lived together for two months, signed additional papers and were “officially married!!! HOWEVER…they had a deadline of two weeks to get to the Hong Kong Temple to be sealed–any longer and they would have to wait for the usual year. They left on Tuesday morning and, with the help of temple funds, flew to Hong Kong and were sealed in the temple for time and all eternity. No family was involved in any of it but they gave their blessings to the young couple. They come from fine families but a marriage doesn’t seem to be a family affair. Oh…living together for two months…doesn’t happen but it’s a little lie that seems to be necessary! (You just have to show proof that you have the same address.)
The weather is cold…smoggy…colder…darker…and…coldest when the wind blows. But…we’re learning to dress well. It’s just amazing how much a single layer can help. It’s good to bundle up but if your face is not covered with a scarf, oh, it just hurts! Cheryl Fortie, our wonderful neighbor, was so sweet in giving us a package of assorted things before we left. Little did she or we know that the one thing that would absolutely save me was a pair of EARBAGS!!! Oh my…my whole head feels covered with my ears nice and warm! THANKS, Cheryl!!! Oh don’t worry…when it’s really cold and we’re walking a distance, the hood goes up, too.
The simplicity of our Christmas of 2014 will mesh with our simple lives and our gratitude for the blessings of this season. We are so blessed to be part of the missionary effort that is moving forward to so many nations of the world. We are witnessing lives being changed for the better and testimonies growing by leaps and bounds–we are speaking of ourselves as well as many Mongolians. We are so humbled that we have such amazing children and grandchildren at home who continually reach out to us with love and devotion. (Can you believe that Haylee and I text daily?) We have other family members–Rick’s dad especially–who seem to be doing so well and we appreciate our contact with them. Then, to all our friends–you give us such great memories of fun time and we hope to come home and continue building them with you. Our testimonies of our Savior and his birth are real and we are blessed to be in His service.
Sing a Christmas hymn for us this Sunday!!!
Elder & Sister Francom