Monument to the Past

Mongolian Monument

Historically, religion in Mongolia was dominated by Buddhism and Shamanism, the ethnic religion of the Mongols.  As late as the early 1900’s there were hundreds of Buddhist temples throughout the country, and nearly one-third of all men in Mongolia were Buddhist monks.  With the fall of Communism in 1990, Christianity was given a long-awaited religious foothold in Mongolia. Today, Mongolia can count tens of thousands of Christians among the faithful.

Right outside the front door of the V.E.T. Net headquarters building in Ulaanbaatar is a monument to the workers of another era. You see, our building was once the administrative office for the leather and shoe-making industry during the Soviet occupation of Mongolia. One side of the monument reads: “Glory to the worker proletarians,” while the other says: “For the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Great Bolshevik Revolution from the Leather Industry Union.”

Today, this building is no longer staffed with forced laborers of a failed socialist society.  Instead, it is home to a team of young veterinarians and support personnel intent on improving the lives of Mongolian herders and the rural communities in which they live – and on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are presently undergoing due-diligence in an effort to purchase this building that we have been leasing for a number of years.  We are trusting that God will provide us with the guidance and the resources necessary to take this important step, if it is His Will.  We have faithfully followed God’s lead during the last 25 years and will do so for this effort, as well.

Is V.E.T. Net having an impact?  You decide:

Not long ago, the son of a retired veterinarian who lives in a U.S. care facility managed by V.E.T. Net’s umbrella organization, CRISTA, was touring a remote area of the Gobi Desert during a visit to Mongolia.  While there, he struck up a conversation with a man who professed to be a Christian.  When asked how it was that he became a Christian, the man told him proudly, it was because of V.E.T. Net.“

How cool is that!

2 Thessalonians 3:1:  … pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

 

Metamorphosis

VET Net’s internship program is designed for recent graduates of the Mongolian Veterinary School. They have very limited opportunities for practical, hands-on experience, so the training received as interns is their best preparation for veterinary practice in rural areas. Their eyes grow large as they experience first-hand things they have only seen in the pages of books.

Of course, we want to help these young veterinarians become competent practitioners, because V.E.T. Net needs young, energetic, and capable veterinarians to fill the expanding needs of the organization. But we also have other reasons for providing this program:  We are seeking veterinarians who share our goals, our values, and our vision.

Puujee is one of our recent interns, having joined the program in May of 2018. She is a vibrant young woman with a wonderful personality. Every morning at 8 AM you can find Puujee joining in the singing of worship songs and listening intently to the V.E.T. Net devotions. She works closely with Solonogo, another V.E.T. Net veterinarian, who is also a committed Christian. For months, Puujee has observed closely the lives of these people who call themselves Christians, taking stock of how their faith is an integral part of their everyday lives. Recently, Puujee decided to follow Jesus, to make Him part of her everyday life.  Puujee knows that this is a life-changing decision.  As she says, “Now I am a new person. God has changed me into a new creation.”

We rejoice with this young woman who has placed Christ at the center of her life, and we pray that she will continue to grow strong in her faith.  We also pray for all of our interns, for their growth as individuals, and for the contributions which they will continue to make to the wonderful program that is V.E.T. Net.  And of course we pray that many of Puujee’s contemporaries will find their way to Christ, just as she did.  Change is good!

Tibet

Not long ago, we had a morning devotion that was quite interesting. Enkhtuya, one of our kindergarten teachers who has been with V.E.T. Net approximately one year, shared her life-story with the V.E.T. Net team. Normally quiet and reserved, she surprised us all when she revealed that she had been on a mission trip to Tibet.

It is said that Tibet is more difficult to visit than North Korea, with the Chinese government strictly controlling all access to the country.  Foreigners often require as many as seven different visas.  However, Mongolians have no such restrictions. In fact, they don’t even need a visa. Tibetans are close to Mongolians because of a shared religious history — Tibetan Buddhism came to Mongolia approximately 450 years ago.

Enkhtuya revealed that, during her mission trip, she and her friends would knock on doors and ask permission to spend the night. They then had the opportunity to share the Gospel privately with the host family.  Sounds just like the way the Gospel was spread in the New Testament!

Isn’t this amazing? Just a few short years ago there were virtually no Christians in Mongolia.  Now Mongolia is a missionary-sending nation! In a very real sense, Mongolia is like the Switzerland of Asia: Friendly with all surrounding nations — including China, Russia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea. Mongolia is given favorable status in nearly every endeavor with those countries, while maintaining its positive relationship with the United States and other Western nations.

Each time we are privileged to share the Gospel and witness the wonderful gift of a life transformed, we know that God is at work, around us and within us.  Watch for our next post, in which we will share just such a story of change and transformation!

Life in Ulaanbaatar

Every day, my wife, Frances, and I walk home from the office and then climb the stairs to the 8th floor apartment where we live — not bad for a couple of septuagenarians!  The walk from the office takes about 45 minutes.  And get this . . . Frances has never even been in the elevator of our apartment building! She fears the electricity will go out and she will be left in a tiny box hanging from a cable.  Given where we live, I suppose that is not an unreasonable fear!

From September of one year into the first few months of the following year, we watch as the mercury crawls ever-farther down the glass tube on our thermometer. You might think that the cold would be unbearable, but the body has an amazing ability to adapt.  Although the winter chill is difficult to accept in the beginning, by the end of the year 20-30 degrees below zero starts to feel pretty normal. And did you know that Centigrade and Fahrenheit are the same at minus 40 degrees? At that temperature, the C and F indicators become irrelevant!

Several times each winter, Frances and I undergo what we jokingly call our unofficial osteoporosis testing on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. During much of the winter, the sidewalks are covered with ice.  Invariably — and with surprising regularity —  we end up flat on our backs.  The falls happen so fast, and it’s only after we pick ourselves up off the frozen walkway that we establish whether we have passed the annual testing!

To add to our winter woes, the air in the Mongolian capital city is among the worst in the world. Although the air outside the city is pristine, within the city limits the coal smoke is stifling. Some years ago, I developed bronchitis and hacked constantly. We seriously considered that we might not be unable to continue our mission in Mongolia. Fortunately, I was able to work out a solution: First, we purchased an air purifier for the apartment.  Second, we started wearing face masks and hooded jackets.  Although we would likely be arrested if we dressed like that in an American mini-mart, the simple face and head coverings cured me and allowed me to continue my work for the Lord in Mongolia.

“Is it really cold at 30 or 40 below?” you might ask.  Well, one day somebody dropped a whole carton of eggs on the sidewalk along the route we walk to work every day. The eggs froze instantly on contact, and we walked on sunny-side-ups for the rest of the winter.   Don’t try that at home!

Ger Life

You get up well before dawn to start the fire.  There is no running water, no indoor bathroom, no shower, and cooking is on top of the small coal stove in the center of the only room. A trip to the outdoor toilet is to be dreaded and is strictly avoided, except for the direst of emergencies.  There is no way the kids are leaving their warm covers to face the freezing temperatures until the fire is hot.

Life is definitely not easy in a Mongolian ger (tent).

It is a credit to the pride and work ethic of the Mongolian employees at V.E.T. Net that although many of them live in gers and therefore face difficult circumstances every day, they somehow arrive each day neat, well-groomed, and ready for work. The children immediately go off to the daycare center over the garage at V.E.T. Net headquarters, while mom and dad attend devotions before going to their respective jobs.

Now, it may sound strange that we routinely employ husbands and wives in the same organization (and in many cases in the same building).  But there is a reason we have multiple married couples at V.E.T. Net.

Picture this:  Two young singles come to work at V.E.T. Net because they need work or have heard of the wonderful things that V.E.T. Net is doing in Mongolia. They may already be Christians, or they may be interested in learning more about Christianity.  Regardless, before long the veterinarian falls in love with the teacher or accountant – or vice versa. Soon there are wedding bells, and before long the two singles are a working couple.

Some months or years later we find ourselves sitting at a table in the young couple’s first real apartment, attending an open house to share in their joy and excitement.  The apartment is warm and cozy, and two young children play quietly in the bedroom as the young couple smiles warmly.  Their lives are changing, and they have so much to be thankful for.

But there are many V.E.T. Net staff members who still live in substandard conditions.  So this past year V.E.T. Net started a new program to help young employees who have proven themselves capable of managing money and debt. Under this program, V.E.T. Net provides a grant of $3,000 to help with a down-payment on an apartment.  This is money that does not have to be re-paid! So far, five families have taken advantage of this new program, and four are already in their new apartments.  No more outdoor toilets!

God is always faithful to those who love him and do his work.

Sheep Drive

This past weekend I had the opportunity to stand in front of the congregations of three services at my home church in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and talk about V.E.T. Net.  Now, anyone who knows me is fully aware that I can talk about anything for just about as long as someone is willing to let me talk.  So when I was asked to tell the story of V.E.T. Net and why it means so much to me and to the people of Mongolia in 10 minutes or less, I knew I would be challenged.

My appearance on stage this weekend was actually the culmination of a month-long event at Christ Community Church called the Sheep Drive, during which children of the church were encouraged to bring their donations to Sunday school each week as a way of establishing a bond with the V.E.T. Net Gift-of-Love program.  This program is a God-inspired process by which rural veterinarians provide veterinary medicines to remote herders, who in turn provide sheep and goats to feed the poorest of the poor in Mongolia. V.E.T. Net oversees the process by purchasing the veterinary medicines and working with local organizations to identify those in need.

The V.E.T. Net story which I shared this weekend is one that only God could have orchestrated.  In the aftermath of the Soviet occupation in the early 1990’s, Christianity was given a foot-hold in a country long-dominated by Buddhism.  It was in this environment that V.E.T. Net was established to train veterinarians, provide internships to local university students, offer veterinary support to remote veterinarians and herders, and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Supported by short and long-term veterinarian missionaries, V.E.T. Net has now been providing friendship, practical guidance, and the soul-saving love of Christ to the Mongolian people for over 24 years.

So this is what I talked about for about 10 minutes at three services this past weekend.  Plus I had the opportunity to sign copies of my book, Tend My Sheep, which is the story of V.E.T. Net and my 24 years of missionary work in Mongolia – a mission which I have joyfully shared with my wife, Frances.   Over the years, Christ Community Church has sent a number of its members to Mongolia to experience first-hand the wonders of this great country and of the V.E.T. Net mission which it supports.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with so many people who understand and support the mission of V.E.T. Net as it touches the lives of the Mongolian people and enriches their souls with the saving faith of Jesus Christ.

Oh, and during the month-long Sheep Drive, we raised over $15,000 for V.E.T. Net, including contributions from the congregation, online donations, and the personal treasures of our precious Sunday school children. At a cost of approximately $50 per sheep/goat, V.E.T. Net will be able to provide life-saving nourishment to over 300 of Mongolia’s poorest families. 

Praise God for his faithfulness!

Advisors

One of the many by-products of the Mongolian V.E.T. Net Ministry has been the formation of an Advisory Board. Little did I know 17 years ago just how important this Board would be to our ministry. The Board is comprised largely of men and women who have been to Mongolia on short-term mission trips and who have contributed to the ministry in various ways – spiritually, physically, technically, or financially. Some have returned year after year – 20 trips is the current record. All have committed to continuing their encouragement and support of the V.E.T. Net Team.

Strangely, my biggest concern through the years has been worrying that we would not have enough going on to keep our Advisors interested and coming to the annual meetings year after year. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.  V.E.T. Net has become the primary ministry of this dedicated group, and keeping them engaged and interested has never been a problem.

This year our Advisor’s Meeting was unusual.  We met in early April in rural, western Tennessee. We usually meet in more metropolitan areas, where the resources are in greater supply.  But this year we were hosted by the hometown churches of Dr. Hillary and Michael Mincher, two of our long-term veterinary missionaries. Never have we been as spoiled as we were by the hospitality of the folks who love and support this amazing couple. In between meetings and advisory events, we were treated to hiking, fishing, and shooting – and my did we have food!

Our Advisors have been meeting since 2002, and this year we had 28 from all over the US and Canada. As always, the meeting began with worship, followed by reports on our various projects. Two of our Mongolian leaders were with us this year to share about the 10 teams which V.E.T. Net sent into the Mongolian countryside this spring. These teams are sharing the Gospel with remote herders as they provide them with much-needed training and modern veterinary medicines.

These leaders also shared their plans to start a model dairy operation. Since dairies are just now beginning to appear in Mongolia, there is a great need for professional expertise. Dr. John and Laurie Day were with us, and they are both dairy veterinarians who have committed to joining our  long-term mission. One of the things I miss most in Mongolia is fresh, clean milk; and with the aid of volunteers like John and Laurie, perhaps one day soon we can solve this problem. During the meetings we also talked about the need for an expanded Large Animal Facility, which we use to provide practical training for our interns and for the remote veterinarians.

This year’s Advisor’s Meeting was a special one for my wife, Frances, and me, as we used the opportunity to dedicate our book, Tend My Sheep, to our friends and fellow workers.   These folks have been – and continue to be – our partners in the ministry and in our effort to spread the Gospel. Together with them – and with our friends Joe and Judy Lenard, Francine Thomas, Bob Brown, and Kellie Moeller – we have shared a vision and witnessed God’s glory in the changing lives of the Mongolian people.

As we ended our time together this year with a prayer, we thanked God for His blessings on our humble ministry and for His Grace in allowing us to share in His kingdom mission.  To God be the Glory!

Day Care

We have found that working mothers in Mongolia have the same concerns as mothers elsewhere in the world. And if these concerns happen to include the welfare of children, we know that working parents lose focus, and job efficiency suffers.

Although many of the challenges of parenting are the same regardless of location – whether in Mongolia, Manila, or Minnesota – Mongolian families face more challenges than most.  This is because many Mongolians still live in traditional Mongolian tent-like structures called gers.  

Ger families must rise early each morning to begin their day in a cold home that has no running water or indoor bathroom facilities. A fire is built in the central stove to coax the children from their warm beds. Food is prepared in these primitive conditions, and everyone dresses quickly before piling onto a crowded bus for the trip to wherever they must go – one which they must often make while standing, because seating is frequently insufficient.

One of the most awesome things which God has enabled us to do is to open a day care facility to support the children of the staff working at V.E.T. Net. We feel that this may be one of our most important ministries yet, as these children are becoming the second-generation Christians who will in turn carry the Gospel to the next generations of Mongolians. For the V.E.T. Net parents, there is the added peace of knowing that their children are safe and secure in an environment of Christian love and learning. 

A week or so ago we uploaded a short video of Mongolian children playing, sharing, learning, and singing, attended by teachers who lovingly care for them.  If you have not watched this video, you are really missing something.  Who doesn’t like Praise music and beautiful children?  Check out the video, and witness the transformation that is happening every day in a country that was once closed to Christianity.  It is our hope that the day care model we have created at V.E.T. Net will become the standard by which other organizations care for their workplace children.

Praise God for his faithfulness!

Bone Flicking

Have you ever heard of “bone flicking”? I didn’t think so.  Well, let me tell you about the unique Christian outreach program envisioned by one of our remote veterinarians.

Tserendorj was born in Govisumber Province in 1980. Being a veterinarian’s son and a herder’s grandson, he grew up close to animals and livestock. His path to becoming a vet began when he started spending summer vacations with his grandparents at their herding site. He tended sheep, rode horses, and even milked the cows occasionally.

Plastic toys had not been introduced to Mongolia at that time, so children invented their own games from whatever was available.  Sheep ankle bones were a popular choice.  One game that has remained popular is played with a piece of bone about the size of a Mongolian 50 cent coin (a bit larger than a U.S. quarter).  The bone is ‘flicked’ with the middle finger through the air at a small target just over 15 feet away, and teams of six compete against each other, two at a time from each team.  Think of it as bone bocce ball.

Tserendorj became addicted to the various bone games at the competitive level, and he became the champion of Govisumber Province. All was going well until he became a veterinarian and came to work with V.E.T. Net. It was there that he met his future wife, Undraa (you can read about their story in Tend My Sheep). Tserendorj quickly found he had to make a choice – either give up “bone flicking” or give up Undraa.  Tserendorj and Undraa now have three children.  Good call!

Although Tserendorj sacrificed the sport he loved for the woman he would marry, he never lost interest in the game. Here is what he says:  ”I love horse riding, singing, and poetry; and most of all I have loved playing the ankle bone flicking game since I was seven years old. One of my dreams is to build a Christian ankle bone flicking team. I see this as a chance to minister to the ankle bone flickers in Mongolia.”

Here is the rest of the story:

Tserendorj recently left to return to Govisumber Province with one of our V.E.T. Net interns, Ugnaa.  It so happens that during the several months he has been at V.E.T. Net, Ugnaa has been constantly exposed to the Gospel and to Christians living in service to the Lord. Before he left on his trip, he was asked by one of the teachers if he had decided to follow Jesus. Ugnaa simply replied, “Jesus is itching me.”  What a unique and wonderful way of putting it!  Could it be that the Holy Spirit is tickling Ugnaa’s heart?

Ugnaa is also a “bone flicking” enthusiast, and he and Tserendorj will play as a team in an event during their trip. As Tserendorj says, “I want to get close to Ugnaa through our love of this sport so that I can help him give his life to Christ.”  God truly works in mysterious ways!

Shepherd’s Conference

What makes a church a church? It certainly is not the number of people that gather together.  Rather, it is the Spirit that is present when handfuls or hundreds gather to worship the one true God.

This week we are having a special gathering of our own at V.E.T. Net – our Annual Shepherd’s Conference. We now work with nearly 100 small church and home groups across 11 provinces in conjunction with our Watering-with-the-Word Program. Through this Program we provide Christian outreach and support to the remotest regions of Mongolia. Each year we invite 120-140 of the leaders from the remote churches to attend a week of training at the V.E.T. Net offices in Ulaanbaatar.

Gerlee is one of our remote veterinarians.  Her story is too long to detail here, but I will try to summarize – because the story provides a wonderful example of the powerful things we have seen God do through the V.E.T. Net organization.  Gerlee is a veterinarian in a very remote county. She began coming to our V.E.T. Net Continuing Education training in 2006, when she was unable to make a living as a veterinarian.  She credits the Veterinary Continuing Education Program at V.E.T. Net with turning her life around. As Gerlee says, “V.E.T. Net trained me in how to be a practicing veterinarian and helped me to obtain modern drugs and equipment. Now I have a very successful practice. And I learned about God as I came to V.E.T. Net Continuing Education.”

Now, almost 15 years later, Gerlee has accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.  Perhaps more significantly, she can’t wait to tell others about her transformation. The little group of four Christian families in her county are now meeting together on a regular basis to share their faith. She told me today, “I want to add on to my vet office and have a room for a church so we can have a good place to meet and worship.”

Rural veterinarians represent the best opportunity to share the story of Christ with remote herder families, because they ‘Tend Their Sheep’ by regularly visiting the remote herding sites and spending time with the families living there. In this amazing way, rural Mongolians are coming to Christ one herder at a time.  Praise God!