Well, you missed it! The chance to put on your best Mongolian duds and participate in a non-stop eat-a-thon!
Last week was a special week in Mongolia. Everybody dressed up in their traditional Mongolian dels (coats) and partied like there was no tomorrow! It was all part of Tsagaan Sar (White Moon), one of the most important holidays of the year.
White Moon is a time to spend with family, beginning with visits to the oldest family members – usually parents or grandparents. Upon arrival, each family member is greeted with a kiss or a sniff on each cheek. The older person puts his or her arms on top of the younger person’s arms as they embrace. At V.E.T. Net I had to put my arms on top of the arms of approximately 70 staff members, because nobody at V.E.T. is older than me!
Every family we visited had been making holiday preparations for weeks. Prior to the festival, families make thousands of “buuz” and freeze them outside in the frigid temperatures. “Buuz” are steamed dumplings, filled with chopped mutton and various seasonings. Stacks of hard bread adorned tables. Prior to meals, snuff bottles were exchanged. The main course consisted of “uuts”, which are whole sheep that have been steamed – fat tail, head, and all. And yes, the eating was pretty much non-stop: As each succeeding family member was visited during the holiday, guests were expected to enjoy the meal as if it were the first meal they were eating!
Tsagaan Sar is much like the secular Christmas celebrations found in America and other countries around the world. In the past, the celebration included various Buddhist activities. But today – just as in other secular celebrations – the holiday focuses more on family and food, rather than on the religion from which the holiday originated.
It is 8 AM and the office of V.E.T. Net fills with praise and worship songs in the Mongolian language. It is a call to worship that happens Monday through Friday at V.E.T. Net. The talented V.E.T. Net musicians lead the team as we prepare for the morning devotion.
This morning was a special one for us, as Professor Bolormaa was leading the devotion. She is on faculty in the History Department at the Mongolian Technical University, and her specialty is the history of Christianity in Central Asia. Her Department has just finished a documentary titled “On a Quest for the Holy Book.” We were able to see a trailer of the video, which is currently being released. The documentary is in the Mongolian language, but there are plans to add English subtitles.
According to the documentary, in 330 AD Byzantium was renamed Constantinople and was made the new capital of the Roman Empire. Missionaries were sent east, and Mongolia was exposed to the faith as early as the 6th century. Over the years, as we have traveled across this expansive nation, we have seen very interesting statues and monuments left from the Turkish influence. There are ancient artifacts in multiple provinces across the country with evidence that Christians were here. There are many crosses etched in stone, monuments with crosses, and even some places with Bible verses. In Hovd Province, Munkh-khairhan County, is a rock with a cross and Psalm 68:5b etched in the Syriac language – “God whose dwelling place is holy.”
One of the common things we hear from Mongolians is that they believe they should continue to worship their traditional religion of Buddhism. What this documentary proves is that Christianity was here long before Tibetan Buddhism. And, thankfully, many Mongolians are now coming (returning?) to Christianity. Praise God.
Here is a bit of trivia: What is the coldest capital city in the world? Answer: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar is spelled with a “U”, but it is pronounced as if it were an “O”— like “Olaanbaatar”. Also of interest, there are actually four “O’s” in the Mongolian language, each with a slightly different pronunciation.
So – since it is so cold here – when my wife, Frances, says, “Gerald, go to the freezer and get a roast,” I step out the back door onto the deck of our 8th floor apartment and into the world’s largest freezer, where I grab a 10 pound chunk of meat, which is frozen solid. With temperatures frequently registering at 40 degrees below zero, the temperature is easily colder than your freezer at home. Interestingly, at 40 below, the Fahrenheit and Centigrade temperatures are exactly the same.
There is at least one good thing about the cold weather in Mongolia. One of the V.E.T. Net programs we administer is called Gift-of-Love (see the video available on our website and Facebook sites). This program provides sheep and goats to poor families in remote regions. When delivered during the late fall, animals that are slaughtered and processed will last throughout the entire winter due to the extreme cold temperatures.
Processing meat is not a problem, since almost every rural Mongolian knows how to do so. Neighbors help those too old or otherwise unable to process their own meat. The skins can be sold for cash to purchase flour, rice, and other essentials. Mutton is the favorite meat of Mongolians, but goats are provided to the poor in areas where there are few sheep. One of the principle advantages of goat meat is that it can be preserved by drying, using animal dung. The dung smoke gives the meat a special flavor, which actually improves over time. Cashmere goat skins are especially valuable.
Over the years, fishing has been one of our favorite pastimes. Many times my wife, Frances, and I waded the clear, cold waters of Montana and Wyoming to cast a bit of hair and feathers to those wily trout. Hour after hour we tried to entice sleek rainbows and browns until the surface of the river exploded and our lines drew taut.
However, God touched Frances and me on the shoulder and said, “Come and follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” So, we left the U.S. and moved to Mongolia in search of men and women to reel in for the Savior.
But even as we “fished for men,” God gave us the desires of our heart. The Mongolian streams teemed with Siberian salmon and we were in the midst of some of the greatest fishing in the world. Tiamin, which grow to the size of a man, lurked beneath the surface of shimmering rivers, just waiting to be caught.
“I got one,” Frances would scream as my pole also bent double. We stopped counting after 50 fish that day and caught and released fish after fish — although we did keep a few for the frying pan, to break the monotony of our countryside diet.
Sometimes following God does not lead to deprivation. We may just be blessed with super abundance along the way.