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!

White Moon

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.

Ancient Christianity

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.


Deep Freeze

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.

Fishers of Men

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.