Friday, February 26, 2010


Myagmardorch is in his early forties and dying quickly. His wife babbles to herself in the bed on the other side of the room. His three teenage children lack any wherewithal or motivation. Even the puppy is more sad than alive. The hospice staff nurse changes the dressing on either hip to reveal bed sores the size of saucers. The cold air of the unheated one room house steams as it hits the warmth of an open sore - like warmth of an exhale on any frigid Ulaanbaatar morning.

I have been visiting Myagmardorch and his family for some weeks now. From the Grace Hospice office we take a bus for miles and miles, then switch to a micro-bus for miles and miles more, then we switch to a taxi for the last mile; weaving in and out of alleyways in the maze of a ger district. Generally we knock on the outer gate for (no less than) 5 minutes before one of the children wakes up, puts pants on, and manages to meander on down to the gate.

This week was different. A visiting relative heard the knock on the first try and bounded down to let us in. Our patient can't walk, talk, or feed himself and the family has expected each night to be his last for at least a week. But, even as he lay dying, his family is showing signs of new life. Today the puppy seemed happy, inquisitive, and playful.

His wife managed to get out of bed for a few minutes. His daughters were alert and concerned and one daughter was downright helpful. Even his son managed to exchange pleasantries. Myagmardorch's oldest daughter explained during our visit that she had accept Jesus Christ this week.

It made all the difference. Even in the midst of a time of such darkness, her witness shined brightly and the countenance of the whole house had changed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oh look, here I am with horses and eagles.

Today I went with Beverly, who lives in our building, and her three boys to the eagle festival. Beverly worked at an orphanage and now she cares for three of the boys from the orphanage. They're a mess - but so much fun to hang out with. This is Aaron wearing Beverly's glasses. He looks like Kim Jong Il when he puts them on.

Here's Aaron holding up an eagle at the festival.

20 eagle trainers participated in traditional garb.

I love this picture.

Yesterday we went to a few houses for the final day of Tsagaan Tsar. Our first house was that of a hospice care family and Dr. Bolerma went with us. This is a picture of her daughter and the father of the family. I really liked their big boots.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tsaagan Tsar

Happy Lunar New Year, friends.

It's day three of the four day (city folk only celebrate for four days, apparently people in the countryside celebrate for a full month) celebration and I think I'm going to survive.

On Tsaagan Tsar eve we were treated to a very nice meal. Our friend Od invited us to her house. After several rounds of salads, steamed sheep meat, and candy; Od's mother brought out two heaping platters of byy3 (meat filled dumplings, pronounced boatz) and placed one plate in between Erin and Holli and one plate in front of me. Her mother explained that the girl's didn't have to finish their plate, but that there are higher expectations placed on the men. I ate about 30 dumplings before polishing off my plate.

The next day we went to church at Tsaiz. Following worship everyone did the tradition Lunar New Year Peace Greeting. We hold arms (the younger person with his or her arms placed on the bottom) and move our heads from cheek to cheek. Young people kiss each cheek (like rich people sometimes do) while older people sniff on either side of young people (like no one else in the world does). I can't really describe it any other way - it's bizarre and heartwarming at the same time.

After worship we were invited to a family's home. Nanda speaks English and Korean fluently. Her family presented a lavish feast and ran us through the gauntlet of White Moon (Tsaagan Tsar in English) traditions. We Peace Greeted, we ceremonially sniffed the tobacco flask, we snorted snuff, we drank fermented horse milk (and how does one milk a horse, again?), an we chewed on hard candy made from horse milk and oil. Then we began the feast - after many rounds of salads and delicious steamed beef we began eating byy3. Luckily, my plate was hidden by the five-tier unleavened-bread Tsaagan Tsar cake and no one was counting my byy3 consumption! Even without social pressure I ate WAY too much.

The Seo family, GBGM missionaries from Korea, joined us for the festivities and it was fun to practice my (EXTREMELY LIMITED) Korean with their daughters. We shared a lot of laughs during the meal and they invited me over to their house in the future for Kimchi Jiggae (my favorite Korean dish) and a few rounds of Nintendo with their daughters.

After the meal with Nanda's family we were invited to Haja's humble abode for a celebration. It was an honor to be invited to her house, as she isn't allowed to entertain when her brother is home. Haja came from the countryside where she had been an accountant to the capital city to go to school. She is currently unemployed, but she was a supremely gracious host. We were allowed to watch her cook as she steamed the byy3 over the heating stove and we enjoyed lively conversation.

Holli, Helen, and Haja

We have large meals planned for today and tomorrow. Also, I hope to make it to the wrestling palace to watch some of this weeks wrestling events. At Od's house we watched hours of Mongolian wrestling and Od and her cousin Meega explained the rules. It's like Sumo wrestling, but without the rules and with more singing.

This is a video clip of Mongolian wrestling from Naadam festival. The internet is too slow and I haven't watched it ... so no guarantee that this particular match is exciting ... but you can get the general idea.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boreat doctors came from a border city in Russia to learn how to set up a hospice care ministry. It was nice to sit in on a meeting held in Russian.

When I play dominoes with the senior citizens I aim to win. Senior citizen in this country is defined as "anyone over 50" or as defined by our church "anyone who shows up."

Me and Lucky (Helen's dog) enjoying a good book.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hospice Care

She is somewhere between the ages of 60 and 94. Her hair is gone because of the chemo - her teeth are gone because of the long, hard life she has led. She grew up in the countryside and married another sheep herder. They had a multitude of children; her descendents number 70 at the moment. Her high cheek bones cascade in wrinkled flesh to her chin, and her eyese shine bright with a quick wit and a good sense of humor. She is active and lively, but dying none the less. Our hospice care doctors help her deal with the pain and grief that come with end of life. She reminds me of an older lady from my childhood and I look forward to our visits. She asks about Jesus, and our hospice staff engage in a tender conversation with her and her family about the Reason we are present. We are present - this is the ministry we are called to; to be present with the people.

Twice a week I travel with the hospice staff to visit patients. Travel is the proper word - we often stand in buses or crowd into micro-buses for the better part of an hour just to get to one patient's home. Sometimes a hospice-care visit takes less time than the travel to the destination. I sit and visit with the patients and learn from the hospice staff. Some older adults speak Russian and I can communicate, but more often the doctor's translate questions and answers and I just try to be present and stay out of the way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More Pictures

Even in the fresh snow, a pick-up game of soccer is ALWAYS a good idea. The youth lead the children's ministry and effortlessly interact with them as equals.

As the Lunar New Year approaches, children and youth are needed at home to prepare thousands of boatz (similar to ravioli or dumplings) for the parade of visitors expected at their homes over the long holiday weekend - this is our slim youth gathering.

The three young adults working with GBGM Mongolia. Michael Airgood (me), Holli Vining, and Erin Eidenshink enjoy a laugh during the Birthday party for our friend, Delgarma.