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By Mark

This Wednesday is the 10th Anniversary of the Nikdovnihan Church.  Its also a national holiday celebrating the Mongolian Independence (I’m still trying to get the full story on it).  Anyway the celebration is a big deal and calls for sheep.  The sheep runs about 80,000 ₮ or about 75 dollars.  I’ve seen several examples on YouTube of how Mongolians slaughter sheep but wanted to see it for myself.  When I went by to find out when the slaughter would be happening or in my limited vocabulary- Sheep When (draw line across throat- it is a universal signal)?  Answer- Now.  Hmm, didn’t bring the camera with so the following were taken with my cell phone (I am happy to say that I have discovered how to transfer pictures via blue tooth to the computer!) Below is the sheep- let’s call her Dolly.

the sheep

I expected this to take place outside- instead they lead the sheep into the kitchen.  I can say this, sheep don’t go anywhere easily.  Its not uncommon to hear bleating around the apartment buildings and look up to see a sheep on a balcony.  What makes the Mongolian slaughter technique unique is that they do not slit the throat.  Instead a small incision is made in the belly (see below) and the person reached in and either tears the aorta or simply holds the heart until it stops.  I could see the arterial blood on the guys hand so I’m sure he tore the aorta (or thoracic artery).  The sheep really doesn’t move much and is out in about 1 minute. 

sheep slaughter 2

sheep slaughter 3

There really is no blood.  Its really a great way to slaughter because it keeps the blood off of the hide so that it doesn’t need to be cleaned. 

sheep slaughter 1

In no time the hide is ripped off- except for a portion of hide over the brisket.  I asked and they said they cook it, I’m not sure if they mean the hair with the brisket meat or what.  When the internal organs are removed the blood is scooped out into a pan.  I would estimate there was about 3-3.5 liters of blood.  When dressed out this sheep will probably yield about 25-30 lbs. of meat.  They say that the meat from the head makes good bootz or steamed dumplings.  Nothing is wasted.  The hide will be sold for 2000 ₮ about $1.50  As I left the intestines were being cleaned out and the stomach as well.  I’m glad I’ve dressed out deer and been around cutting up meat.  I can’t say I really enjoy the smell of the intestines (thankfully they turned on a fan- I guess the Mongolians we not big fans of the smell either)  but all of that helped me enjoy watching this.  The whole process was about 20 – 30 minutes. 

I published this over on the thoughts and reflections page but thought I’d put it here as well, some of you will find much of this familiar in other teaching I have done – WARNING: Does contain Theological Content

The First in a Three Part Series On Language

I have the language ability of a two year old right now. Well that’s not exactly true, a two year old Mongolian has more language ability than me. We get ready to start language study in a week or two and there is a long road ahead to become familiar with Mongolian. Is it worth it? What does language do? From a Biblical perspective is language a positive or a negative thing?

When language is viewed through the perspective of the cross there are three ways which emerge in which language functions. Language expresses the mercy of God, language communicates the Gospel of God and language magnifies the glory of God.

Language expresses the mercy of God Genesis 11:1-9

The beginning of language is found at the tower (or ziggurat) of Babel as found in Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

When it comes to familiar passages it is easy to miss some essential truths that are part of the text. The central question here is how to view the Tower of Babel – What was God’s intention? I would assert that we can have a negative view of languages if we see them as a judgment of God instead of an opportunity to engage in His mission.

We must step back and evaluate the context before we proceed. The tower of Babel comes just after God has sent His judgment on the earth because of man’s rebellion against Him. He saved a remnant through the ark that Noah built. Although God declared that he would never judge man through a flood (Gen. 9:15) man has grown wise as well as continued in rebellion to God. In 11:3 it says that they used bitumen or tar for mortar- why? In order to make it waterproof and resist any flood that God might send. The tower was just as much a symbol of rebellion to God as a monument to man’s hubris.

The response of God begins in verse 6- this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. And so the Lord confused their language and as a result man scattered across the earth. Why? Was this a positive or negative event? Just as much as it is important to see what God did it is important to see what he did not do. Although God just as easily could have wiped man out by fire or had the tower collapse on them he chose not to. Far from being punitive God’s actions were an act of mercy, sparing man from the judgment he rightfully deserved, foreshadowing the grace of the Cross.

It is not until Paul preaches on Mars Hill that the full implications of the Tower of Babel as an act of mercy are understood in scripture as Acts 17:26-27 says

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

God’s action of introducing language was actually a redemptive mechanism for man to come and seek God. When this is understood there is also a better understanding of what is being said back in Genesis 11 when God states that nothing is impossible for man. The threat was not to God but to man – with man united there was nothing to stop sin from again flowing from one end of the earth to the other. The concern expressed by God is not for the height of man’s possible achievements but the depths that he might sink to. God’s action of confusing man and introducing languages acted like bulkheads on a ship. Although man is sinful it prevented further sin from automatically being communicated from one end of the earth to another. While in many ways mission would be easier without having to learn new languages its important to remember that God introduced and intended those languages to be an expression of His mercy.

by Mark

There are several ways to learn a language (I’ve been thinking about language acquisition quite a bit).  In general I see two approaches.  The first is the script, learning key phrases such as, “Where is the bathroom?”  “I can’t identify the rash I have in a medical textbook and think I am about to die, would you help me?” or other ways to smile and say phrases that you don’t necessarily fully understand.  The upside to this approach is you gain the ability to work in another culture very quickly – traveler phrase books are scripts.  When we first got here we learned the scripts for going to the market, a restaurant, a taxi and other life situations we find ourselves in here.  The problem is comes when people move off the script.  You can say hello in, oh about 2,000 different ways in Mongolian- in English we don’t say “Good morning sir, how do you do today?” but that is the script that is taught abroad- when you say “Hey, what’s up?” People look to the sky.  When people throw us a curve it takes a while to figure out what they are saying. 

The other way to learn a language is to learn the code.  We have two years studying this.  Its to learn the building blocks, grammar (I never thought I would be interested in discussing Mongolian grammar but it really is one of my new favorite topics for discussion- maybe a forum on the Internet?) vocabulary.  It takes much longer but we will be able to express and hear much more.  We will never be done with studying and learning the Mongolian language. (I realize I don’t really know English that great either, I just grew up speaking it)  The code is much more difficult but is vastly more usable. 

As I think about this I wonder if it is not true for the Christian life as well.  Do we know a script or are we going by a code?  Many Christians I know life life by the script (one they superimpose on the Bible) and as long as life follows the script all is good, but if things change-it all falls apart, they don’t know how to respond.  They can give the appearance of maturity and knowledge without knowing anything at all.  On the other hand those learning a code struggle.  Its embarrassing and not pretty, but they are growing, and maturing in ways that someone bound to the script can never know. 

Many are not content to learn the code, it takes to long.  I see many institutions who train pastors be content with teaching them a script of ministry  and not the code building blocks of theology, Greek, Hebrew, personal holiness an it goes on.  Its akin to teaching someone how to use Microsoft Word instead of how to program it and then calling them an engineer.  Most Christians don’t want to get caught up in it either- I mean forget theology, its about a relationship isn’t it.  The problem is we can’t understand what God is saying when he does speak, especially in the midst of suffering.  It isn’t easy but as that great example of cinematic theology, A League of Their Own Says- “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

by Toby


My name is Toby T-O-B-Y.  I like baseball.  I like batting the ball, throwing the bat and running around the bases. 

My friends are Levi, Miriam, Eli, Jack and Becca. I like eating at cut-cut-flip-flip (BD’s Mongolian BBQ- for the record, no its not really Mongolian but it is tasty) and Heckenbecks (we’re not sure where this name came from- its Modern Nomad but he calls it Heckenbecks- good food).

I can add that the kid can hit!  He’s got a good eye for the ball. 

by Mark

The Mongolian language has a fascinating history.  It is part of the Altaic language group, other languages in this family are Japanese, Korean and Turkish, I have also heard that Finnish has some relation but not clear exactly how it fits. 

The alphabet as is used now in Mongolia is Cyrillic or commonly known as Russian (see the title above).  It was an alphabet created by monks working to translate the Bible into Slavic languages sometime in the first Millennium.  There are some letters that correspond to Greek, such as X chi- more of an aspirated back palatal (for those of you who are into those things) As in the Spanish pronunciation of Mexico, the X is the same sound.  The Cyrillic alphabet was applied to Mongolia in 1924 when Mongolia became the first Soviet Satellite.  The Soviet method of contextualization  was pretty straight forward- Be Russian.  (about 80% of Mongolians speak Russian, Darhan was built by the Russians.  In fact it may help you to think of Russia and Mongolia in similar relationship of the US and Mexico.  Many Russians shop here because its cheaper and many Mongolians work in Russia in order to make more money than the can in Mongolia)


Classical Mongolian from a Mongolian language grammar- the first word (top) is Mongol or Mongolian

On the one hand Mongolia is a literate society with literacy rate in the 90% (I can’t remember exactly- check Wikipedia if it bothers you).  There are beautiful Mongolian poems and songs and literature available in Mongolian.  On the other hand Mongolia is still a very oral driven society- meaning it is not a book based society.  People read, but not to the extent that I have seen in Europe or the US.  In some ways to counter this I see music and song, ballad type songs playing  much more important role here than the West.  A man who has a beautiful voice and can sing well has great honor here. (I need to find another way to be honorable) The nomadic lifestyle did not necessitate books and it was only after Chinggis Khan started conquering that he saw the great need to record the conquests in written form.  This brings us to Hochin Beetchik or the Old Writing.  Which I will say straight out I am fascinated in a Lord of the Rings, elven writing- how cool is that way. (Warning Rabbit Trail: Many Scandinavian countries noticed similarities between Mongolian writing and Nordic ruins- what Tolkien used.  They organized many expeditions through Mongolia to see if there were links that could be established, there were not) The calligraphy of Classic Mongolian is a thing of beauty and quite unlike any other alphabet I have seen.


Our Names in Classic Mongolian

Chinggis needed a writing system and so two Syriac monks came up with the alphabet, you can see the examples below.  It looks much like Arabic to me and seeing the influence of the monks background it is no coincidence. (I have heard conflicting stories as to the origin of the alphabet and reserve the right to be wrong) The earliest writing in this style dates back to 1227, it is classed as the Sogdo-Uighur alphabet.  I have heard that each word reflects the image of a horse, with its ears at the start of the word and tail flowing at the back.  Its interesting that it is written vertically (like Chinese)but also read horizontally.

The difficulty is that Cyrillic was not an exact match to the sounds.  There are Russian sounds that there is no equivalent in Mongolian.  (the whole evolution of this language would be fascinating- we learn just as many Russian words in vocabulary as Mongolian.  The word that is used is usually whatever is shorter- good Doctoral thesis right there)

The old writing is used in Inner Mongolia- part of China, but I have heard different comments on who can actually read it.  Schools are teaching the old writing now to students and in time I think it will become more promanint in Mongolia.  There was supposed to be an “official” return to old writing at the 800th Anniversary of Mongolia but it was pushed back.  Our teachers know the classic writing and I would like to study it a bit but that is far into the future (I need to learn first how to say something more than- “my name is Postage Stamp [that’s what Mark means in Mongolian but its ok I met a guy the other day named Mahlgai, or Hat]”  Its surprising but your computer has the ability to write in Classic Mongolian and Cyrillic, you can change it under the control panel section.

For more information or to see what the alphabet looks like check out these two Wiki articles


OSHA has determined that bricks may pose a significant risk to individuals using them to support vehicles.  Please be advised. 

Anthropological reflections on Mongolia by Mark


Sorry, this isn’t a political post.  Instead I wanted to share a few things on being in a different culture and trying to figure out why some things are they way the are in Mongolia.  The creed I learned from Jim Eberline on culture has served me well, “Its not wrong, just different.” 


Every day as we go to language school we get a glimpse of a mural on an apartment building behind the school, its pictured below.

Look at it and ask yourself the question- what is it, what does it mean?



I’m fascinated by the mystery of this mural.  I don’t know when it was put up but probably some time in the past 30 years or so.  My first thought was “What is the Virgin Mary doing on a mural in Mongolia?”  This mural would be at home in Mexico, where I have seen a few like it, or even some places in the US.  It appears that there is a woman holding a child.  I’ve asked my teacher who it is and she says she doesn’t know.  Its not Genghis Khan, who adorns everything else here so I’m still left with the mystery of who it is, why is it here?  What does it mean?  I don’t know.  Just because someone lives in Mongolia doesn’t mean they know either.  There are many things that we do in our respective cultures that we do but don’t always know why we do them, nor do we attribute any special significance to them but they are different from other cultures.  Not wrong, just different. 

Another interesting thing a learned this week is about directions.  If I were to ask you what left and right mean in regards to directions on the compass you would probably reply Left is West and Right is East.  Most western cultures are established on a Northern orientation.  When the United States was being settled we knew about Magnetic North and used a compass.  In Mongolia the opposite of the directions is true.  Left is East and Right is West- a Southern orientation.  The question I have is why? There may be a few different reasons.  When a ger (the circular tent that is lived in, you can see one above) is set up the doorway is always chosen to face south.  This catches maximum light and warmth.  Also if you think about how Mongolia is situation the North is only cold (Siberia is up there and besides mosquitos and nuclear waste – that makes bigger mosquitos  there still isn’t anything there- look on a map at the size of Siberia compared to Russia!).  The south here is  much more favorable position.  This throws me allot when I think about directions, keeping it straight in my head.  Its definitely different, not wrong, just different. 

Annika recently had an open house at her school, we wanted to share some pictures with you of the assembly and recent work.


A sample of her work- look at the social studies aptitude! (from a former social studies teacher)






The Class


A science experiment