President Benson is an avid outdoorsman. We didn’t have any idea when we left town on Friday, but and he was looking for a good adventure. We thought it was all about doing a Branch Conference—and it was–but with a little excitement on the side. We were scheduled to go to Murun for a long weekend of a Branch Conference and some training. We left later than we thought since he had a surprise missionary arrival in the wee hours of the morning from America and he had to meet with her before leaving. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction and were on the road and headed to Erdenet, a small city about 150 miles away. It took about six hours because the roads twisted with the mountains and were bumpy and bumpier AND we learned that all roads are small animal crossings—there are NO fences. Since Batbold was driving and we were with the Lewises, it was a great time and along the way, we even planned for trainings that we would be holding with the Primary, Relief Society, and Young Women’s Auxillaries. When we arrived, the Hills—a senior couple assigned to this area–took us all out to dinner and then had a surprise birthday party for 11-year-old Bella (birthday on previous day) since she was accompanying her father on the trip. The next morning, we said “Good-bye” to the Lewises who stayed to train the Saints there and then they took the bus back to UB on Sunday. The rest of us headed up towards Murun which is close to the Russian border but we took a cross-country side-trip to a “friend” that Batbold met while fishing up north last summer. We ditched the road and traveled cross-country and found his place. They were a young, small ger family—the man, his wife, and one-month-old baby girl. Behind his ger, he was building a larger log home he hoped to finish this summer. He had already built a food storage building as well as some shelters for his animals. He had a herd of sheep with their little baby lambs—one born the night before. He herded the sheep into the enclosure where the babies were and it was amazing to see the mothers baa-ing and the babies crying until they found their own. The mothers then went out to the field with the baby scurrying right behind them—the mothers grazed while the babies nursed. Of course, Bella had to hold every baby she could find! She was looking for all the animal experiences she could find and took lots of pictures for a school project. We city dwellers were fascinated with it all! We finally got back to the road and were off to our destination. It was a new two-lane road and we sailed along hearing stories of past trips that took much longer over a dirt road. We finally made it to Muron quite late that night since we traveled about 245 miles to get there. The next morning, we were in church–rented space but it had a nice feel about it. After the meetings were over, I trained the auxiliaries and later that evening, Elder Francom spoke with the President at a Self-Reliance fireside. These distant Branches are in need of so much help but are so far away–what a challenge for the President! He hinted earlier that we might visit Khövsgöl Nuur (Hoovskull Lake) and so we packed up, picked up the three Sisters in the area, and were off for another adventure. This time it was off-road traveling but it was at night and there were times that we really wondered what was going on–Batbold knew the way eventually, of course! The three Sisters were grinning from ear to ear thinking that they were doing such a thing on their mission! It was cold and there we all were in Sunday clothes, missionary style! We arrived at a lodge and there was a beautiful dinner prepared for us with a cabin for each group–thank goodness for space heaters! The next morning we ate a wonderful breakfast but the best part was the bilberry jam, bilberry hot drink, we were smitten with bilberries and even tried bilberries in rice pudding…we could have eaten bilberries in everything! They grow wild and were so delicious. Bilberries are like a small blueberry but so naturally sweet!!! Then, we hopped in the two Land Cruisers and were off for the lake. The locals assured the President that we could travel ON the lake since it was frozen but he chose to travel on the road, then park on the water’s edge, and then we walked out on the ice–we loved his caution. There had been an ice sculpturing contest at some earlier time so we walked out to see the works of art. It was windy and cold and I was so grateful that I had thrown in a pair of Levis and shoes (wish they were boots) at the last moment while packing! The lake water froze so clear that you could see the rocks at its bottom. And then, bubbles of air froze on their way to the surface. What a spectacular view! The ice sculptures were still in good shape and after climbing, playing, and taking pictures we all headed back to the warmth of the cars. After dropping two of the Sisters off at their apartment, (one came back to the city with us) we headed towards Darkhan. Again, it was late when we arrived but we stayed in the best five-star hotel…ever! Even in America it doesn’t get much better! It was a welcome change since we roughed it the night before with only an outhouse. The President visited some of the missionaries and a senior couple in the morning and then we were on the road again, headed back to Ulaanbaatar this time. We arrive home in the early afternoon and went back to work since we had to teach the Michigan Test Preparation Class that evening and had to prepare. We now know what “going to the country-side” means when Mongolians say it. It was an amazing experience and we enjoyed getting to know President Benson, Bella, the Sister Hawkins (on the way up) and Sister Snedden (on the way back). Bella loved the games our grandkids already had downloaded to the ipad so we can thank them for entertaining her. We played “Charades”–again, thanks to our ipad–and tried to solve riddles that President Benson had up his sleeve. He still has us stumped on one but we’re still thinking…and thinking…and thinking!
In all our preparation for our mission…in all our planning once we found out about going to the strange land of Mongolia…we would never have had any idea that it might be full of such adventures. It is a blessing to be able to travel and find another culture that is so diverse–from city dwellers to country-side nomads. People are warm and genuine the world over because we are all children of God. We know our Heavenly Father is conscious of us and our situation. We are having the time of our lives. We are grateful to be in Mongolia and for the opportunity to share our experiences with our family and so many friends. May we all look forward to continually serving and loving others wherever we are. This week’s blog is a story of travel and adventure but we are back helping the Self-Reliance Center to move forward and will stay in touch with those that we’ve taught up in Erdenet and Murun.
Take care of one another and know that we think of our family and so many of you!
Elder & Sister Francom
PS…I cannot find my pictures of the sheep and lambs at ger. Stay tuned…