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By Mark


My heart sunk as I read the text on my phone, “Bodio’s baby just died.”  Sukhee and Bodio are a young couple married a year ago.  They represent the future of leadership in the church.  Their baby Itgell was about three months old.  Bodio worked at CLTC (Church Leadership Training Center- the new name for ABTC).  Itgell was by her side as she worked. 

The child’s temperature was running a high temperature.  The took their baby to the hospital but it was too late, she died a short time after their arrival.  Meningitis is the suspected cause of death.  I went with several that Friday evening to visit them in Tusgon- a ger community of Darhan.  As we prayed with them I was reminded that hope in Christ is not just a future thing but a reality and truth that impacts how we live now. 

 Although the church was established over a decade ago there is still a struggle in understanding of what Christian funeral looks like in a Mongolian context.  There is work being done and there is more needed- please pray for wisdom and discernment in this important testimony of hope in a period of grief. 

Funerals are held on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays usually early in the morning.  We left the apartments at 5:10 AM to go to Bodio’s parents house.  We would then travel to the morgue for the body to be prepared for burial and a short service.  When we arrived at the home food was being prepared and allot of it.  Traditionally many people gather at the home to eat after the funeral, however this time people would be gathering at CAMA services. 

The morning seemed to grow colder as dawn approached.  As we arrived at the morgue around 6:30, two other funerals had already been held ahead of us.  We waited outside as the grandparents went inside to prepare the baby for burial.  The doors opened and we stepped inside.  The air was thick with incense, the smell of balsam.  The child was in a velvet coffin draped in a blue prayer flag.  Someone held a picture of the child.   

Itgell is a special name, it means “Believer.” Brent Liberda was asked to share the message and did an excellent job bringing home the truth of what belief means.  He shared Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men where by we must be saved.” We sang Amazing Grace together and than walked around the casket three times, clockwise to say farewell.  It was hard.  In the west we are very insulated from death – here there is no padding, it is raw and in your face. 

The parents were not to go to the grave site, in fact very few did.  There were many things that I do not know the significance of in the funeral.  I traveled with the Phams to the grave yard.  The grandfather tossed our rice and milk as we slowly made our way.  Five men rode in back of the truck with the casket, I can only imagine how cold they must have been.  It was probably around 15 F. The cemetery is far outside of town.  The right side of the hill is a favored spot which is where the grave was dug.  The truck carried the headstone.  Sand, gravel cement and stones were already at the grave side.  Sand was put down, dirt and cement- we each placed handfuls of soil into the grave.  A candle was lit and placed inside a small metal ger.  White stones were placed on top of the grave.  The stones marked out grave sites from one side of the valley to the other.  More rice and milk was offered. 

We drove away from the graveyard by another road, careful not to cross over the previous route.  Two fires were lit and the vehicles drove in between them and stopped.  Everyone got out and washed our hands in milk water, was given sugar that we dipped into a bowl of milk.  The vehicles then made their way back to CAMA.

That night on television I watched choral recital from the Netherlands.  I listened to a beautiful choir sing This is My Story, This is My Song in an ornate church with gold all all around.  It was beautiful but I wondered if they believed a word of it.  I thought back to that morning the melody of Amazing Grace echoing in my head in the room of the morgue.  They knew more than the words. 

by Cinda

Since we have dedicated the last few entries to Toby’s recent experiences, we thought it was time to give Annika some more attention!  She is doing great in Mongolia.  She has several good friends and has a lot of time to play with them since most of us live in close proximity.  Averiana is now living just a few doors over from us, so she and Annika play together along with Isaiah nearly every day after school.  Now that it’s getting colder we’ll have to find some fun things to do inside.  Last weekend when we were school supply shopping for Toby we found paints and modeling clay for them to use at home.  Those of you who know Annika understand that she HAD to have these craft items, and it has turned out to be perfect timing for new “stuff” since the weather has gotten quite chilly lately.  Annika put her skills and craft supplies to good use, creating a cute little skunk which is pictured somewhere on this page.  She has other designs in mind, including a volcano for Toby (his latest interest).  100_4761

On Wednesday afternoon Annika’s friend Sophie was able to come over after school for some play time.  Sophie’s family has been in Mongolia for many years, but they are new to Darhan and she and her brother and sister attend the Alliance MK school where Annika, Averi, Isaiah, etc. all attend.  Annika was thrilled to meet Sophie and her sister Leah, who both have their American Girl dolls with them here in Mongolia.  Wednesday afternoon was full of giggles and hair brushing, doll 100_4759dressing, fingernail painting and more.  Then they spotted a lonely little puppy sleeping outside our window in the cold rainy weather, so they ran out to care for it.  Since Annika has been asking frequently (okay, constantly) to Please, please, please have a pet, I had gone out to see it earlier in the day — however, it seemed to be the typical Mongolian breed, which would grow to be much too large for our small home.  None of us like to see a puppy suffer, however, so we did try to feed it and warm it; Averi took it home for awhile to warm

it up and the girls enjoyed playing with it over there.  Now it’s Saturday night and Averi, Isaiah, and Malachi are here watching Tom and Jerry cartoons with Annika and Toby.  It’s getting dark earlier each day, and that coupled with the frigid wind makes playing outside after dinner no longer a good option.  

Annika says she really likes it here in Mongolia.  She’s growing like a weed, doing well in her school work, and having a lot of fun with her new friends.  Every week her class studies a different region of the world, which includes a geography test.  Annika impresses us with her ability to remember the names of each country.  This past week was a difficult test over the countries of Equatorial Africa — it’s hard enough to just read the names of those countries, let alone remember them all for a test, but she did it!         100_4755



Toby is floating off the ground he’s so excited!


On the way to the classroom

Toby had his first day of Mongolian pre-school today.  He and Levi arrived at the same time and were the first two children in their class, so they enjoyed having the room and toys to themselves.  They are in an upstairs classroom with many windows, so it’s bright, sunny and cheerful.  Having new toys to play with and a big sunny room to play in seemed to suit them both well.  There’s an attached room with a lot of little beds for naptime, but we will bring Toby home each day as soon as we’re done with class so he’ll take his nap at home.  When it’s too cold to play outside, there is at least one large play room in the building as well as slides and toy rooms in various places along the hallways — that’s going to be so much better for them than being confined to the small space of the apartment all day!  Thanks for praying, and continuing to pray.  We hope he will soon begin to try the food they serve.

We would appreciate you praying for Toby and our family.  Monday we will  be putting Toby into Mongolian pre-school for a half-day.  He is excited about all the school supplies and does well in new social situations, the tough thing is that it is all in Mongolian.  There will be two other American families putting their kids in also.  Because of some issues with child care it became clear that this was the right time to have Toby enter tsitserlik (pre-school).  Please pray for a good transition and for Toby to pick up the language quickly, and that he would bravely taste the Mongolian food.  Also pray for Cinda and I to have peace through this time.

Okay, brace yourselves!  Toby continues to keep us entertained with the funny things that come out of his head via his mouth.  I’m sure I can’t do justice here to his little voice and phrases but I’ll give it a shot.  Getting ready to read to the kids from the Bible, Mark asked what we read yesterday.  Toby answered, “about Moses when he was on the ark.”  Sitting on the couch with Toby– me studying, him watching Discovery Channel with Mark: “Momma, I’m a little bit twisted.”  Can you tell me more about this, Toby?  “In the head, because I want to do that job” (there was a preview for Deadliest Catch that apparently described fishermen as a little twisted in the head?).  Last night eating ice cream at Lain’s (the same ice cream we frequently eat): “this is the best ice cream I have EVER eaten!”. Between 9:00 and 10:00 every night when he should not be getting out of bed: “I have to tell Mommy something.  Mommy, when I’m  in my bed I feel like . . . (big pause here while he makes something up). . . there’s lava all around me (or a tiger looking at me, etc. etc.)”

This last one may bring tears to some eyes, but I think there are some grandmas who will be glad of them anyway: “I forgot to tell Grandma that I miss her in Mongolia, I wish I could see her here.”  I don’t know which Grandma he was thinking of, but I think he feels the same way about them both so I didn’t ask who he meant at the moment.

Grandma’s have been on his mind for awhile now, and Aspen, too.  He also just realized this week that he didn’t get to bring his big fire engine with him to Mongolia.  Some of these things have made it a difficult week as we’ve watched him start to grasp what it means to be living in another country, but we praise God for His presence that gives us such joy and peace and for His promises, His love, and His faithfulness that give us hope for our own lives and for the people of Mongolia.  The blessings He has for Toby and Annika are far beyond anything we can imagine so pray for us to help them understand and for them to see God’s goodness in all of it.

by Mark

So what goes on during an average day for us in Mongolia?  Well for our first two years here we have two priorities.  1) Learn the language 2) Take care of our families and learn to live in the culture. Our time right now is focused around learning the language, going to language school and taking care of what we need to do to live here, such as buying food, getting supplies, etc. 

Morning- We walk Annika up to the bus for school around 8.  The Micro is usually there early, waiting but last year he was always late so nobody suggests that he could come later.  After that Cinda and I have some time to finish up things before taking Toby upstairs to our house helper(good time for devos).  We usually head to school a bit after 9. 




We walk over with Larry and Krista, here is Krista hanging out in the doorway of the school.  The entryway was just added on.  It will help keep the chill out on the cold days.


When you think classroom, don’t think to big.  We are lucky to have a classroom with the four of us.  We used to study in twos (Larry and I and Cinda and Krista).  Sadly our teacher fell off the wagon and we don’t know if he’s coming back or not.  We do enjoy the language school, one of the best in Mongolia.  (I saw one of the survival course books selling in UB for 30,000 T or about $25 – WOW.  There are many books here on how to speak English, not to many on how to speak Mongolian.

Our brains get a bit fried after studying from 9:30-12:40.  We do get a short break in between. Its not physical but I have never been hungrier and at times more tired than studying Mongolian.  The day usually starts by the teacher asking – Yu Yo Hiesen Bay- or What did you do yesterday- and we have to list out what we did.  Here is a picture of us all with Toya Baksh (Baksh means teacher, its a term of respect that each teacher is addressed with) Amazing patience! I am also very thankful I am not learning English- what a tough language with so many exceptions.


By the time we get home and fix lunch its usually around 2:15.  We try to get Toby to take a nap- sometimes successfully but more often we are the ones who need a short rest.  Annika comes home around 3.  On Fridays its a half day for her so we get to spend the afternoon together (or usually watching her play outside).  Running errands, cooking dinner and its bed time for the kids before we know it.  The kids go to bed, we study and the whole thing starts over again.