Yet again, a lot has happened since my last email. Transfers came up a couple of weeks ago and I switched areas again, my 4th area in 4 transfers. This time, however, I got shipped out to the actual countryside, hundreds of miles outside the city. My new home is called Dzvvnkharra and my new Mongolian comp's name is Bilgunee. This new place I'm in is the smallest and most desolate area of the whole mission. It feels like I'm in the old, wild west. Its located in a valley surrounded by fairly large, rocky mountains on all sides. Here's the view of Dzvvnharra from one of those mountains.
Its kind of hard to see it in the background because of the smoke, but there's not much to see anyways haha. I've heard there's been some forest fires in Siberia so we're getting the smoke from those since we're just about 120-30 miles south of the Russian border. Luckily, at the time of writing this, the smoke seems to have dissipated and things are back to normal. It's unbelievably green out here, it's almost like a different country from the city. The mountains are bare and rocky, only covered in grass and not much else since just about nothing can make it through the harsh -40 and below winters here. Besides the little town of Dzvvnharra, there are just vast stretches of nothing all around, as far as the eye can see. It's quite beautiful and I can't say I've ever seen or lived in a place like this before. This town is known for being small and remote, pretty much completely untapped from the influence of modern civilization. Folks ride around on horses up and down main drag, herds of wild animals roam the streets, and there are no big stores or supermarkets like in the city, just a small outdoor market where everyone gathers to buy, sell, and trade goods. I didn't think that bartering was still in use as the main system of exchanging goods hardly anywhere in the world but I was sorely mistaken on that one. People trade eggs, goats' milk, firewood, homegrown vegetables, and all other types of things at that market. Luckily for me, they also accept cash because my allotment doesnt come in livestock.
The people here live a very simple lifestyle, most of them being farmers, ranchers, or something to that effect. It's been very easy to relate to them and understand their circumstances since just a couple days after arriving here, our place lost electricity and running water and we didn't get it back until just a couple days ago. That's one of the main reasons I haven't emailed recently, I haven't had the means to. But, it has been quite the experience. I feel a bit like I'm camping but in an apartment in the middle of town. We've had to get our own well water and purify it as well as somehow find a way to eat, preserve, and prepare food with no refrigeration system, stove, oven, or any of the works. To say it was a challenge would be an understatement. It's not like there's a 7-11 around the corner where I could just grab a protein bar if I'm hungry, we have to physically make a meal every time we want to eat. Despite this, we still looked for every opportunity to serve people and it all worked out and we were blessed with dinner each night. Now was it literally organs and parts of animals that I couldn't even identify every single night? Yes. But, it was a meal and their way of saying thank you for helping them. It's also just a part of their culture. Back in ancient times when they were purely nomadic (not too different from the way they're living now), if you were traveling for days in this desolate wilderness with nothing to eat and you stumbled across a ger, they would always feed you a hot meal and provide a place for you to rest before getting back on your way. That's how they survived and that's just the way they lived life. That piece of their culture is still held true today. You never enter someone's house without them feeding you no matter how much they may actually have for themselves.
The branch here is very, very small. On a typical Sunday we have just about 10-15 people there. Our "church building" is the 3rd floor of the city center building which is just a little building that has a couple little shops and a bank (2 ATM's in a room). We also don't currently have anyone interested in the church. However, even though we might have 0's in our numbers at the end of the week, I honestly dont think I've ever had a more fulfilling time on my mission. I just get to serve people everyday and that's my favorite part of my mission. I really just like being able to help the people. We've done all sorts of work from being ranch hands, herding animals, and birthing calves to working in lumber yards and everything in between. It never goes the typical way service usually goes either. The other day we were mixing and pouring concrete in front of someone's house while their little kids sat outside and watched us when all of a sudden one of them yells, "Cows! Cows!!" I turned to see that a herd of cows had somehow made their way onto this family's fully fenced in property and were making a meal out of their family's garden and flowers. I chased out of the herd but in the hustle and bustle of their escape, a young calf got stuck in the fence. Between trying to avoid getting tetanus from the rusty fence and getting kicked in the teeth from this anxious young calf, all while this toothless little girl laughed like a maniac next to me, it was an entertaining process. Just something to spice up the boring old foundation job for the day. It's times like those where I really enjoy what I'm doing here. By serving the people I feel like I'm able to love them and embrace their culture just a little bit better.
This is the first time that I've really tried to have a truly genuine, positive attitude as I approach all of this. It's no surprise that this country and mission is really, really hard. It takes it's toll on everybody that serves here and ends up creating a bit of a negative atmosphere and stigma around being here. America really is the best country in the world, hands down, without a doubt, it's nowhere close. So when you take a bunch of American teenagers and throw them in this forgotten, desolate, wasteland with people who, for the most part, act like they live in a forgotten, desolate, wasteland, it's not a secret that it can really suck. The living conditions are sketchy, the food is a far cry from the amazing things that we had a plethora of back home, and the people are very sour, prideful, and biased against you. You don't call it a day until you've had at least 3 different drunk or just flat out angry people confront you and try to kill you, all while telling you to get the [expletive] out of their country. This takes a large mental toll on the people who serve here and we all know that misery loves company. It's a bit of a snowball effect when one person starts talking about the conditions of our mission or missing the amazing country we call home. Not going to lie, it can get bad sometimes. To be out of that situation and what is the 'norm' in the city, to be away from all the people and their general negativity has given me a chance to change. On the train ride out to Dzvvnharra I had the final words of some of my friends before I left going through my mind. Most of it going something like, you've never experienced the kind of loneliness you'll feel out there with no one to talk to who understands you or you them, you're in the worst area of the mission with nowhere to buy food and nothing to eat, you'll have no missionary work so good luck feeling useful, etc. But, I made a conscious decision on that train ride to change. I said a more earnest prayer than I have in a very, very long time and I asked God to help me be more positive; To see these people the way He sees them. I pray everyday for Him to help me love them.
To say it's been a sudden, overnight change would be a flat out lie. Just like anything else worthwhile, it's taking a lot of consistent work and an honest desire to change. I've come a long ways from where I started, and I'm starting to really empathize with the people and see them in a different light. I don't know if it's my effort to see them differently or if it's just a stated fact but it seems that the people out here in the countryside are much different than the people I came across in the city. Maybe it has something to do with their simpler way of life but they do genuinely seem to be friendlier and certainly nicer towards me. I've joked and laughed with more Mongolians here than I ever did in the city. They just seem happier, and for some (many), I'm the first white person they've ever seen. I love seeing the look on people's faces, especially kids. Their minds are blown. I've had kids come up to me and pull my head down to look at my blue eyes. They just stare at them and talk to their friends about them. They all say, "Whoa, how are his eyes that color? I've never seen that before." People are always pointing and talking about me (more than normal). This is probably the closest I'll ever feel to being famous haha.
It's funny to me the kind of crazy things that happen everyday that I now just brush off and consider normal. As I'm thinking back, I've seen some pretty wild things and didn't even think twice about them. For instance, while walking down the road I saw an old man yell at a pretty large bull who then stopped dead in his tracks and turned towards the old man who was now sitting down on his overturned metal bucket. Out of nowhere a herd of cows comes around the corner and are all coming straight for the old man who couldn't stumble over his bucket fast enough to get away. I laugh at it now but at the time I just thought that was a normal occurence. I once saw a young boy, couldn't have been any older than 9, saddled up and directing a herd of cows through a river. In fact, just this evening, I was standing by the edge of a river watching the sunset when out of nowhere a band of wild horses came running right around me on both sides and splashed into the river. It was amazing and almost surreal to see. This place has a lot of beauty that can always be found if you look hard enough. It may not be hard for now, in the summer time in the countryside, to see that beauty. But, that's not exactly the kind of beauty I'm talking about. There's a beauty in the simplicity of the lifestyle these people live here. A beauty in their connection with the earth and animals around them. A beauty in the church members' devotion to God and camaraderie with each other. A beauty in the pure, innocent smiles of the little children who I see playing with rocks in the dirt streets, chewing on their piece of animal fat or solid, spoiled, milks curds as a snack. It's the little moments here and there that I'm learning to love. I'm not having some huge, grand old, life changing experience all at once, but rather instead it's coming slowly over time, completely dependent on the manner and attitude in which I handle the circumstances and situations around me. If Christ, our ultimate example, lived on the Earth for 34 some odd years and yet only has a few books written about the highlights and big events then my 2 year mission doesn't have to be packed chock-full of amazing experiences every single day. It's just about appreciating all the little moments because in the grand scheme of things they all add up. You may not notice any change because it could be happening so incrementally, however, it's still happening albeit slowly and over a longer period of time than you think. My desire to learn to love the Mongolian people is slowly being brought to fruition but not before a whole lot of effort on my part is given. God will always answer our prayers, in fact I feel like He's always waiting for that chance where He can, it's just a matter of how much work we want to put in to help Him give us that answer. Appreciate the little things in life, look at life through a wider lens to more fully appreciate your progress, and always back up your prayers with some action to give God something to work with.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A countryside sunset
While hauling chairs and tables to an area where we we’re having a branch activity, the truck got stuck in some thick mud. Couldn’t have been a prettier area to get stuck in.