…to Mongolia!!! Yes, so many all over the place! Remember those silvers, stringy, shiny things we used to hang on our trees…a long time ago? Well, they are a big thing over here! We had a Branch Christmas Party on Saturday night and they were everywhere…but not on the tree..thanks to the kids! The Relief Society Presidency was in charge of the dinner, of course. We met last Sunday to plan it on quite a small budget. During the meeting I had to continually ask the other counselor what was going on–in other words, “Please translate once in a while!” By the end, I was making 75 cupcakes, another sister was making 75 cupcakes and bread for liver sandwiches. (LIVER sandwiches…only in Mongolia!) No one else had any assignments but a lot gets lost in translation so I just worried about my 75 cupcakes. In America, cupcakes of any amounts isn’t a big deal but I had to find cupcake liners and cake mixes since I really didn’t want to make that many from scratch. We walked and bused to a store and found everything so I succeeded in my assignment. Can you see us carrying seven dozen cupcakes on the bus? Don’t worry, we asked someone to come and pick us up! It was a very nice night and we actually sang a few Christmas songs which was such a delight! Then, Santa came in and he had a gift for every child and delivered it with a kiss on both cheeks! The gifts were very nice and we think that is the extent to which Santa delivers gifts here. Then, there were talents shared–singing, piano, dancing, and a contortionist! It was really very entertaining!!! Afterwards, a liver sandwich–complete with mashed potatoes and carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes–and a cupcake was passed out to all and the party was a success as far as the delighted children and adults were concerned.
We went out to Nalaikh on Sunday and were able to drive one of the mission cars. A sister that works in the Bayanzurkh Church Building was there and she translated for us in Sacrament Meeting but the rest of the time we were on our own…almost. There was a sweet 20-ish girl who offered to translate for us but she has a cleft-palate and was very difficult to understand. We listened closely and she tried very hard. She was sweet and gave the lesson in Relief Society and you can tell she is just the very dependable type. Dr. Lewis is trying to get her to SLC this spring to “Operation Smiles”. We hope it works out for her!
We also had a group for dinner on Sunday. We invited the new couple, the Taylors, to our home for Sunday dinner. We also invited Dr. Lewis since he wife was still in SLC and the Linfords since they were the only other senior couple. It’s always a good time when we are all together. The Taylors just arrived from a special English training in Hawaii (what luck!). He has been a professor of the Welch language down at BYU for many years. His assignment here is to help the young missionaries be the best English teachers they can be. We’re excited to see them make a difference and it will be a challenge since the missionaries don’t have a lot of down time to prepare lesson plans.
We have taken the Taylors to get their “first meat” at the Zakh, then to another market called Mercery, then to the American store that has saved our life–The Good Price Market. They have already lived in China for a year, teaching English, so they are much better prepared than some of us!
Our first Christmas gift was given to us by the Ministry of Labor and they didn’t even know it–they cancelled our English classes on December 24th! They invited us to their New Year’s Eve Party on that day but we respectfully declined since we had plans with the other senior couples. The mission brought all the missionaries into town so we had six senior couples for a nice dinner and gift exchange. In the middle of it all, Sister Lewis returned from Salt Lake City with precious cargo from our family! She was tired but joined in the merriment of the evening. However, Elder Francom had a commitment to lots of boys and girls that night and Christmas morning. He was asked to put on the Service Center’s Santa suit and go around spreading Christmas joy to all the good girls and boys. “HO…HO…HO!!!” Yup…he now knows to appreciate all those Santas out there in those HOT, uncomfortable suits with fake hair tickling their noses all night long! He really had a good time but was so glad when it was over.
While Elder Francom was “playing Santa” on Christmas Day, I went over to our office to help missionaries skype home. They were so full of excitement and only had 30 minutes to fit it all in. There were several shifts on that day and the following day–when it was actually Christmas Day back in America. They all loved it, of course!
After seeing it running smoothly and seeing the missionaries wanting some privacy, I walked over to the Lewises and retrieved the suitcase that was packed with our goodies from our kids and grandchildren. I rolled it over rocks and ice…up hills and down them…then up all the flights of stairs at our apartment. I wanted to be ready when “Santa” came home. When he arrived, I was already skyping our family at OUR home in Salt Lake City on Christmas Eve…just as they were finishing up the “Candy Bar Game.” Next, was the Nativity and we sat with our children, watching our grandchildren and reading from Luke. It was wonderful!!! We saw them open our Mongolian gifts and then they watched as we opened the suitcase and looked in our stockings they had send and opened other packages. Wow…it was so much fun! It was fun but hard at the same time. How blessed we are that our children and grandchildren wanted us to be “there”!
Later on Christmas Day, all those in our mission met at the Bayanzurkh Building for a dinner and program. It was our first meeting with the Benson family since returning the night before with Sister Lewis. It was so fun to see them all! They were all so excited to be “home”. The baby is so sweet and is dearly loved. (Can you imagine a houseful of kids suffering from jet-lag???) It really was a special Christmas Day–the food was typical Mongolian food but it was wonderful. The Elders sang several songs, then the Sisters tried to out-do them. We had several individual selections–quite a few talented people serving in this mission. President Benson spoke and used some of the church videos in his presentation. AND…we sang lots of Christmas songs!!! Yes, it finally happened and it felt like Christmas! Everyone just wanted to visit and take pictures and then visit some more. What a fun time to renew friendships of old companions.
Then, December 26th came and we got up early, got ready, and went to teach English just as if nothing had happened. We even came back to the office afterwards and life just moved on. We know church members recognize December 25th as a the birth of our Savior but the world doesn’t stop for celebrating like in America. However, there will be a few additional programs during this coming week so we might be wrong.
All in all, we have had a wonderful Christmas. We have felt the Spirit of the season as we have gathered with others, have seen the smiles on children’s faces as Santa revealed himself at their door, and have spent time with our own loving family doing traditional Christmas events from so far away. How blessed we are to have testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for all of us. We recognize the love our Heavenly Father has for all of us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) We are grateful that we have the Gospel in our lives and that our testimonies can be strengthened at this time of the year. May our special family and all our dear friends and neighbors feel the true Spirit of Christ at this Christmas season.
Elder & Sister Francom