Monday, December 30, 2013

Great Christmas

I Skyped with my family on Christmas morning (Mongolia time), and then we had a mission Christmas party.  The mission president had it catered; it was really good.  He also organized a little show that included a Nativity with children from the mission presidency.  It was fun.

We had a baptism on Friday, and it all worked out.  The family is really supportive and will help the couple make progress.

Since this is my one year mark on my mission, then this is the last time I'll spend Christmas without family.  I am very glad to be on a mission, and I've grown a good bit, I think, at being able to handle hardships and accomplish things.  I hope to continue to improve all next year.  I hope everyone else can have a great new year, too.  We just have to remember that the Lord knows what He is doing.

Screen Shot of Joshua on Skype, 24 December 2014 (US time).

Monday, December 23, 2013

One Year

Soon I mark my first Christmas away from home, not counting last year when I was practically home and was in the MTC on Christmas day.  It will be different, but I'm glad to be able to spend it in service.

As missionaries, we are called to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Gospel means "good news," as it is translated in Mongolian as well.  The Good News is that Christ Lived and Lives, and that through His Atonement and obedience to His Doctrine, we can all be saved.

In 1 John 4:10 we read, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins."  It has been said many times, but the greatest gift of Christmas is the Savior Jesus Christ who died and was resurrected for us.  Verse 11 reads, "Behold, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."  If we remember God's love and great patience for us, then we must remember love and patience for those around us and all people.

The night before His Birth, the Lord spoke with Nephi to assure him "on the morrow come I into the world."  And that night, so to speak, He stepped down from His thrones above to be born in a humble and lowly manger.  He knew before that He had chosen a life of difficulty and trial and pain, but He did so because He loved us.  We missionaries have the privilege of testifying to everyone we meet that "Christ loves you," and this we know to be true.

When Christ told Nephi of His birth to comfort him, I wonder if He thought of the life He had chosen for Himself.  He, who was most perfect and sinless and full of good works, chose a life very poor in many of the blessings we often hope for.  Aside from the heavenly joy of being full of righteousness and charity, He led a life of opposition and trial that ended in betrayal.  How grateful then must we be that, imperfect as we are, He seeth fit to bestow on us so many bountiful blessings during our stay in Mortality, on top of the eternity of joy He promises to those who love Him.

I'm grateful for my great family and all the blessings the Lord has given me in my life!

Merry Christmas to all of you,
Elder Sims

In Choibalsan to train a district leader.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Q: What is running water? A: When two Elders run down the hill to fetch two pails of water.

So, one of our members asked us to get some water from the hutag ('hoe-tuck') for her; in the outlying neighborhoods you have to go get your water in a big container from a central well. If you live on a mountain, it's often far away. Now, it's not a big round hole in the ground, but a building with a pump and stuff. 

So, my trainee, Elder Norlund, and I carried the two big containers (about as big as a computer tower) to the bottom of the mountain and went to the well. We found out the well's pump was not working. We asked another guy at the well if there were any nearby ones and he said... no. We were about to give up, but then we asked some other guys and they said there was one at the next bus stop. SO we ran to the next bus stop! That was the easy part. It was nice and 'warm' running... anyway, we got water there, just one bus stop away. Then we had to carry it back... that was hard. At first we tried just carrying it on our chests, and leaking water frosted our coats in ice (just our coats, we were fine.) Up the mountain we took turns carrying the two containers. It was a fun activity for my companion's first day of work in the country! 

This week, I am actually not in Ulaanbaatar!  For a few days at least, I am in Choibalsan in the far east of Mongolia.  It is about 650km away from the capital.  I am training my former companion, who is now district leader here.  I am here with the other zone leader, and our companions are back in Ulaanbaatar.  I will return on the one-year anniversary of my mission!

How cold is it, you ask?  Well, we don't have smartphones, but you don't need one of those to know that it is cold.  We are told this has been a warm winter so far, where we have been above 0°F on many days, but those days are probably going away soon and for a few weeks at least.  It will then be around -40°F at times.  Pity my new companion.  He is from San Diego.  At least I am from Iowa, where subzero weather is not uncommon.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm afraid I did not have much of a turkey dinner this Thanksgiving. I ate Piroshki, chocolate crackers and chocolate wafers. As Thursday approached, I tried to think if there was any way I could procure for myself some manner of Thanksgiving dinner, even if it meant going to KFC and pretending chicken is turkey. But Thursday is a busy day for me, so it would have been hard. I realized, though, that I had much to be thankful for; the Lord blesses us with success and investigators and a good place to work. So I celebrated Thanksgiving by being grateful for all the Blessings the Lord has given me. 

I also celebrated by teaching my English classes how to use "I'm grateful" and "I'm thankful" and then had them share what they were grateful for.

I was grateful for an experience I had recently.  A few weeks ago, I bought a nice knit hat just to keep me warm. Ears get cold here in the frozen north. Well, last Tuesday I had said hat in my lap on the bus. The bus took a detour and skipped our stop, going one around it.  When we realized what had happened, we hurried off the bus so we could taxi home in time. Guess what didn't make it off the bus? My hat! The bus conductor later even saw us and said 'Hey you're the guys who lost your hat.' She didn't have it, of course, but I hoped some one found it who needed it and it's useful to them.

Well, the next day, after I lost my hat, I got a little packet in the mail from Grandma and Grandpa Sims.  They had just returned from visiting family in Norway.  The package said on the declaration, "chocolate" so I thought 'Great! some tasty Norwegian chocolate,' and put it in my bag to freeze at home. That night I thought I'd open it up and see what was inside. Along with one bar of chocolate there was a great Norwegian hat! I was so grateful. It was just 24 hours after I had lost my old hat. It is no great or impossible thing, but I was thankful for such a nice surprise, both to the Lord and to Grandma and Grandpa Sims. 

We had a great Fast Sunday, and ended our Fast at the Branch President's yurt on some meat and noodle soup. I tried to explain chocolate chip pancakes (what my family eats every Fast Sunday at home) just for fun, but I'm not sure if they quite got it. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Khailaast Branch

I got transferred this week!  I'm still the zone leader but in a different zone, and I'm serving in a fairly different area consisting of one apartment building and then a whole lot of little houses on very windy roads on a lot of icy hills.  It's fun, until I fall down.  The ice never melts in winter, and so everything is always slippery.

My new companion is Elder Norlund.  He's new and from North America.  Only, he's not here yet.  His visa didn't come through and so he is serving in Maryland until he can get his visa.  So, I have a temporary companion named Elder Unubold.  He's not really a full-time missionary but a ward member who is called to be a temporary missionary when visas are delayed.  He's great, but I do hope Elder Norlund can get here soon so I can train him.

I'm technically not the Sign Language Elder anymore, but there are so many deaf investigators and members in my new area that I will continue to use sign language a lot.

I finally bought a nice new coat to go with the weather. It will help me stay warm.

I had a thought from the scriptures this week.  It is about Nephi and hope.  We recall Laman and Lemuel and their repeated wickedness; it seems every time that after they repent and humble themselves, they go back to rebellion again and usually fairly soon.  Nephi knew about them, and he also had seen in vision that his nation would be destroyed due to unbelief.  And yet, for example, in 1 Nephi 16:5, we read "And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness."  Laman and Lemuel were a source of hardship for Nephi.  When they repented, Nephi didn't say, 'oh, well, they will be back to normal in a month or two' but instead had great hopes that they would walk in the path of righteousness. He didn't assume that something bad would automatically happen, but had hopes that good would continue.  Hope is really key here.

Life doesn't give us a set amount of good and bad experiences.  Life isn't fair, but in the end we aren't judged by how many good or bad things happened to us but rather by how we chose to use our agency and follow God regardless of how much good or bad happened in our lives.  We should not try to guess whether great things or bad things will happen to us next; this turns our faith into superstition.  God blesses us because he loves us, and He gives us hard times because He loves us.  We cannot tell beforehand when or how they will come.  We have only to be grateful for the good times, be patient in the hard times, and follow God all the time.  As Paul said, "I know how to abound and I know how to lack.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."  And when we want to wish away our hard times, then as Gandalf said, "So say all who live to see such times.  But that is not the choice we are given to make.  The choice we have is what to do with the times we are given."

If we serve the Lord at all times, we are using our agency well, no matter what is happening to us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Modest Goal

As it gets colder, I am buying new things to keep warm.  I haven't yet used the boots I brought from home, but the slippery ice will make wearing them a necessity soon.  This week, I bought a hat to keep my ears warm.  They are the first things to get cold as we walk up and down the Ger Horoolol (yurt district) to meet with investigators.  My goal is to get through the winter without frostbite.  I think I'll buy a warm coat this week.  We are generally below 0°C these days, and we'll soon be below zero Fahrenheit.

Our newest member is doing well.  She really desires to come to Church and learn.  We recently started teaching the husband of another deaf member; that is going well.  And our other investigator is progressing very well.  It is important for all investigators to read the Book of Mormon to gain a testimony of the Restored Gospel.  Most people here are Buddhist, and so it is a big change to learn about Christ.

An Area Seventy came to Mongolia this week to talk about Home Teaching.  It is very important for us to do our Home Teaching so we can help each other stay strong in the Gospel.  I hope we see improvement here now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Only One Way

We have another progressing investigator, the father of one of our members.  He has been learning well and all, but he has hesitated about baptism.  He said he doesn't want to lie at baptism by going on afterward and breaking the commandments.  A lot of Mongolian traditions involve tea and alcohol, and so it is hard for new members to keep the Word of Wisdom.

We made a lesson plan to help this brother, to teach him about the purpose of our lives and the plan of salvation's results.  We wanted to talk about the three kingdoms of glory and how only in the Celestial Kingdom can we be with our families forever.  We planned to talk about how the only way to that kingdom is to start with baptism.  We planned to ask his daughter to bear her testimony about families, hoping he would feel the Spirit and develop the desire to be baptized.

We began teaching the lesson and, while we laid out the plan of salvation briefly, he said on his own that the only place he wanted to go was the Celestial Kingdom.  He said he understood now that he had to receive baptism to be with his family forever.  He told us that he really had understood the Plan of Salvation, and it seems to have changed him.  Then he told us that he wanted to stop doubting and set a baptismal date, and so we did!  I was so happy that the Holy Ghost reached out to touch his heart more than we could.  I had fasted for him that day, and I know the Lord answered our prayers.  I look forward to helping him prepare for baptism.

I remembered from this experience and others a talk that was given while I was at the MTC.  The speaker said that, like the brother of Jared, who saw the Lord's Hand touch stones one by one--stones  brought to the Lord by the brother of Jared--when we bring people unto Christ and He touches them one by one, we will see His Hand revealed.  I found that interesting at the time, but just now I have been having many of our investigators speak of the Spirit's influence when we don't even bring it up.  I see the Spirit's influence and I see the Lord's Hand revealed, one person at a time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Change Your Destiny

I have good news! We had a baptism! Our deaf investigator, Odgerel, was baptized on Friday and confirmed on Sunday; it was very nice. The font water was even warm!  Odgerel told us later that when she went home she cried for joy of feeling the Spirit. It was a real testimony to me of the power of the Holy Ghost. 

It's hard for deaf members, but I hope she will be able to endure to the end. Meeting with us has improved her life in many ways. She has first off found the Gospel, her sign language has improved significantly, and it seems to me her confidence has improved a lot, too (it's hard being a deaf person that doesn't really know sign language).  I remember what a struggle it was for her to ever try to pray in the beginning. She'd sign "Dear Heavenly Father," and then bail out. It grew until she finally learned to pray and now she prays great. I'm grateful to have been able to help her... now we have the period of the new member lessons to lay a good foundation for her.

At our last zone conference, we watched Faith In Christ, the Church DVD about Christ's life.  At the end, it shows the apostles going off on missions that would last the rest of their lives.  I thought about these men, ordinary men living ordinary lives until something extraordinary happened that changed their lives forever.  Of course, they had been foreordained in the pre-mortal life, but they didn't know that when they encountered Christ at first.  

And did any of the apostles--when they were getting beaten and reviled or were alone or facing hardship--regret for a minute that this had happened to them? Meeting the Savior was a fantastic experience, but the only reasonable response was to serve him forever. It changed their destiny and put them on a path far different than what they might have lived. I wonder if Peter or anyone ever wondered what it would have been like to have lived a normal life. But that is only from a mortal perspective; their Apostleship changed not only their mortal destiny but their eternal destiny, as well. They will go on to inherit eternal glory, all coming from their being born in 1st century Judaea and following the call to "Come, Follow Me." 

A similar thing happens in our lives, when we are born into this time into families with the Gospel. It sets the course of our lives, putting us on eventually a very different course than our fellow men. Being members of God's church and partakers of His holy temple covenants puts us into a different track than our peers.  This difference does not only affect our mortal lives but our eternal destiny. If at any time the responsibilities we assume by having the Gospel seem difficult, we can remember that our eternal destiny will be one of everlasting Glory.  And it is our responsibility along the way to help others get off the "normal" track and onto the eternal one, to change their destiny forever and find the joy of the Gospel. 

I had this thought in the first place in connection with books I love to read. We read of countless Chosen Ones in literature. Think of Harry Potter, who was chosen at his birth to live a life very different and full of difficulties, but ultimately of great importance. Aragorn was born into the birthright of Isildur, which brought many hard tasks into his life, but he saved Middle Earth and became King of Gondor. We are called by God to enter into His Covenant and, if we endure it well, inherit His Glory, for which we should be eternally grateful and ready to serve Him our entire lives.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

A poem

A Chandelier hangs overhead
in UB's old enkhtaivan Church
Its twenty light bulbs light the room
suspended from their lofty perch.
Some weeks ago, I wryly thought,
the lighting piece did exposite
Mongolian Church Membership:
of twenty, only 4 were lit.
And in defeat I bowed my head,
and worried for the woes at hand.
When will this country rise above?
When will a temple grace this land?
Well, just today, while at the church,
I glanced again and saw the light.
To my surprise, all twenty bulbs,
were lit and each was burning bright!
Recalling what I 'ere had thought
Repented me of my regret.
For while I know not when nor how,
This land will build a temple yet.

For as late Elder Maxwell prayed,
this land must be a shining light
to nations near and far, he said,
Exemplary of truth and right.
And though at times things may look dim,
The day will come when we shall see
That strength foretold, in all its might,
in this land for eternity.
It may seem strange to put such hope
in Prophecy by Maintenance,
Yet I admit this token pinned
a smile upon my countenance.
What's more I trust Prophetic Prayer,
that promised us the blessings sweet,
that I shall see when I return
and with the faithful converts meet
Upon a freshly templed mount,
some stately hill not far from here.
Amid Hosannas I'll recount
of my oracle chandelier.

--Joshua Sims, October 2013

When people join the Church, it can be hard for them to maintain the same conviction they had at first.  They face persecution for their choice, life gets in the way, and they find keeping the commandments hard.  Like the friend that I wrote about last week, these converts may know the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true but they may not feel it strongly enough yet to attend weekly meetings.  And when they don't do that or the other things important to daily Gospel living, their light begins to fade and they forget, as it were, why it was so important to devote themselves to following Christ.  Mongolia is no different than any other part of the world, and so we do struggle here with less active Saints.  My poem helps me remember to have faith that dimmed lights will return and new light will be added so that the Mongolian Saints can shine brightly on a hill in the future.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Work Moves On

I'm always so happy when the Lord gives us investigators, like last week when two 19-year-olds accepted the opportunity to hear more about the Restored Gospel, but the Lord also gives those same people agency.  A lot of people we meet wind up not so interested in the end.  But we keep moving forward.

Sometimes this helps me appreciate some Bible stories more.  I might feel badly if an encounter that seemed really good in the beginning went nowhere in the end.  But think of Saul or David ... they started great, the were the Lord's Annointed.  And they went bad in the end.  Just because an investigator doesn't get baptized or stops meeting with us doesn't mean we weren't blessed to meet them in the beginning.

We read in Alma that "the wicked remain as though there were no redemption made" because the only thing that can reverse the Infinite Atonement and its effects for an individual is that individual's agency to reject it.  And so even people that the Lord gives to us to teach can reject our message, avoid us and give us false phone numbers.  They have their agency, their right to choose how to accept God's gifts, and this is truly important.  But the Lord will not cease to bless us as missionaries.

God wants us all to receive an infinity of blessings, but we cannot if we don't obey His commandments.  I shared this recently with a member who has not been coming to Church much, and he bore his testimony that he knows the reason we go to Church and live the Gospel is so that we may be saved.  It isn't just a matter of tradition or convenience or social gathering.  But the Lord will not force us to accept His gifts.  We have to come to Him.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Busy Schedule

For a P-Day, I seem to be pretty busy!  I taught English classes from 10-2 and then did translation work for deaf members from 2-4. But that's okay. We do have a deaf investigator who is progressing toward baptism, and we are grateful for that.

I went to the countryside again on a training split.  It was far enough away that we spent the night--sleeping on the floor on some blankets.  It was a fun opportunity, but I'm realizing that being in the city all the time isn't so bad.

I was thinking last week about how the scriptures often speak of Christ as a Prophet, which might seem strange because Christ is more than a prophet; He is also the Creator and Redeemer.  Well, I considered that the root of prophet in Greek is pro phemi, which means "to speak in behalf" (of God).  Prophets fulfill this role throughout the scriptures, whether they are called as the president of the Church or are also a Seer and Revelator or, like with some Old Testament Prophets, just have a quick message to deliver.  But Christ is the Greatest Prophet.  For the duration of the Old Testament, He spoke on behalf of the Father and represented His Will and Divinity, directing the affairs of Israel and being for all effects the Father Himself.  When Christ came among the Nephites, the Father said that in Christ, He had glorified His Name.  He had given His name and authority to Christ throughout history and Christ had, of course, done exactly as the Father Himself would.  But in this light, it seems to me very fitting that Christ is called a Prophet, as no greater Being has ever spoken on behalf of the Father with more perfection.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Random Notes

Mongolia is an interesting place to live.  Food involves some kind of meat, oil, dough (or rice), carrots or potatoes, onion and other spices, and fat.  They are combined in various quantities and forms but are more or less the same.  Khurag (which means 'a piling together') is basically all these things fried and steamed in a pan.  Tsuyuan has no potatoes and a lot more dryish noodles.  Shul means "soup," which has a lot more water and oil.  My favorite is Khuushuur, which takes the dough and instead of noodles makes it like some sort of scone filled with meat and the other basic ingredients listed above.  Buuz are like Khuushuur, but instead of the scone the are more like Chinese dumplings.  We also eat potato salad.  We make mostly Khurag and Tsuiwan at home; we used to get chicken but recently we have been getting horse meat because it is inexpensive, tasty, and lean.

Ulaanbaatar combines rich and poor in an interesting way.  Near the center of the city, huge malls and skyscrapers give the feeling of Japan or Korea.  However, outside the apartments and city center the city is surrounded by a huge thick ring of ger koroolol (tent district).  This is composed of a net of streets dotted by wooden or cement houses about 1,000 sq. feet or less.  Among them are countless yurts (ger, tents) that are round and white like you see in photos.  They are relatively small but will house an entire family.  These yurts have electricity and a TV but not running water.  The inhabitants of these dwellings include people from all walks of life, from college students to employees of various types of companies.  Many of the people we teach the Gospel to live in such homes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Did I Say Winter is Coming?

Well, it snowed today.

We had a lot of new missionaries come in last transfer.  It has been easier lately for American missionaries to get their visas.  That's why the other zone leader and I each also train new elders.  It's good, though. As zone leader, it is important for me to uphold the rules and be a good example. I enjoy it.

I'm still translating for deaf members at Church, and I'm settling into teaching English classes again.  It looks like I will be teaching a lot this semester.  I make it a point not to speak Mongolian in my class, so the students will have to speak English.  It's hard, though, to get many students to participate in small discussions or other such activities.  That's necessary for language learning, so I'll try some different things.

We had a pretty good week and started teaching a few new investigators.  We met a nice deaf family on the bus and hope to be able to teach them the Gospel. I have seen the Lord bless our work.

Did I mention it snowed ... in September?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Winter is Coming

Fall is here, and winter will be along soon in Mongolia. I don't think it got much past 80°F here all summer, which is hot compared to -40°F, which is what we have to look forward to. 
We had good attendance among deaf members and investigators at Church Sunday. One of our investigators came, but he left before we could meet with him. I decided to pray with my companion to decide if we should go to his  house to meet with him, since we had just met yesterday. While praying, I felt we ought to go. We took the 30-or-so minute busride to his house and got there, and he was out. As we were walking toward another investigator, we saw him on the street, and we went back with him! I felt we were blessed for following the Spirit. We had a nice lesson about the plan of salvation and the importance of baptism.  

Another of our investigators is just in the process of learning sign language, but she is making great progress in her ability to comprehend what we are teaching.  The Lord works through the Spirit, and this is helping her learn. We always tell our investigators they don't need to just believe us, but they must ask for themselves.  There can't really be conversion without the Holy Ghost.

I'm a zone leader this transfer, still assigned to teach in sign language. I'm also training, which is interesting. We two zone leaders are in the same appartment along with our two trainees. Mine is Elder Baldandorj and my fellow zoneleader Mainbayar has Elder Erikson.  We are all working on meeting with members in our ward boundaries to find more people to teach.

I started teaching my English class again this week.  This semester I have one class that meets twice a week for 90 minutes each.  Most of my new students (20 of them) have very little English.  My class is a "conversation practice" class, so I have to figure out how to help them converse when they don't have much experience at all.  It will be interesting. We had an opening ceremony on the first day: the principal had me say something inspiring and motivational to the students and other teachers, then some famous singers sang two songs that were very nice, and the year had begun!

Elder Sims and his companion in downtown Ulaanhaatar.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sundays are great

Isn't the Sabbath great?  Some people dislike it and see "keeping it" as a burden, but really it is a great day when we can rest from work!  Except on a mission, though, when it's the best day for our work.  But some day, I will enjoy going to Church and then coming home to read the Greek Old Testament for a few hours or something, then doing my home teaching, of course.  I know, I know, it won't really be so idyllic, but it is still an ideal day of rest that everyone should embrace.

I was able to baptize three people this past Friday.  They had been taking lessons from our sister missionaries.  Afterward, we taught a lesson to our deaf investigator.  I testified of Christ and the importance of baptism, and I felt a great spirit of these truths.  I hope our investigator can understand what we are teaching.  Sign language is hard to learn in, no matter how fluent both parties may be.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Still Signing

We had transfers this week.  I stayed and my companion was transferred.  My new companion is Elder Anar from Mongolia.  I am still the sign language Elder. 
I went to the countryside for a day! My companion got permission to go back after the transfer to baptize his investigator, so I got to ride to Baganuur, about 2 hours out of town. It was a fun experience, though I'll admit, the city's not that bad, and though the countryside is nice to visit, It won't devastate me if I don't get to serve there. But it was fun to see some more of the mongolian steppe. 

Portion of Baganuur, Mongolia.  Due East of Ulaanbaatar

Monday, August 5, 2013

Getting chilly

We have had to put our suit jackets back on, as the weather is starting to cool down here.  But it is still nice.

I have been in Mongolia almost 5 months now, and so I have had plenty of time to get to know Mongolian people.  Missionaries are often asked what they like about the culture or people where they serve.  Well, in Mongolia as with anywhere, there are really wonderful people and some who can be pretty bad.  But that doesn't matter.  I am here to serve them all.  Christ loved the Jews and served them His whole life, and then gave His life for them (and all of us, good and bad).  He didn't do these things because He liked Jewish cuisine or the climate or the language of the day.  He didn't do it because the people were the most faithful or most humble people (see the New Testament).  He served them out of love because he made a covenant with them and He kept it.  Today, the Lord doesn't ask us to spread the Gospel throughout a hardened world because he wants the Celestial Kingdom to be a multicultural place, but because He loves us and wants us to have joy.  I love the Mongolian people because they are God's children, and He knows who will follow Him and He wants me to find them.

Sometimes speaking in sign language can be tough, but at other times it can be great.  This last week, I was humbled at the opportunity to speak simple but important Gospel truths with my hands.  I see the Lord's promises and prophecies fulfilled in my life all the time.  It is great to use simple ways to invite people to come closer to Christ.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Flecks of Gold

Missions are full of simple joys, sometimes very small but meaningful.  When the work is hard, as it often is, I look for these simple things...from smiling at funny English signs on buildings to seeing friends around the city to remembering childhood fun to trying to smile at everyone I meet so they have a positive experience with me.  Just trying to be a good representative of Christ every day is part of that, too.  These are all like the tiny gold flecks from the conference talk by Elder Ballard.  The grateful collector can gather a wealth of gold.  I want to be a grateful collector.

(From Joshua's mom, here is an excerpt from the talk to which Joshua is referring.  M. Russell Ballard spoke in April 2011:)

Oftentimes we are like the young merchant from Boston, who in 1849, as the story goes, was caught up in the fervor of the California gold rush. He sold all of his possessions to seek his fortune in the California rivers, which he was told were filled with gold nuggets so big that one could hardly carry them.
Day after endless day, the young man dipped his pan into the river and came up empty. His only reward was a growing pile of rocks. Discouraged and broke, he was ready to quit until one day an old, experienced prospector said to him, “That’s quite a pile of rocks you are getting there, my boy.”
The young man replied, “There’s no gold here. I’m going back home.”
Walking over to the pile of rocks, the old prospector said, “Oh, there is gold all right. You just have to know where to find it.” He picked two rocks up in his hands and crashed them together. One of the rocks split open, revealing several flecks of gold sparkling in the sunlight.
Noticing a bulging leather pouch fastened to the prospector’s waist, the young man said, “I’m looking for nuggets like the ones in your pouch, not just tiny flecks.”
The old prospector extended his pouch toward the young man, who looked inside, expecting to see several large nuggets. He was stunned to see that the pouch was filled with thousands of flecks of gold.
The old prospector said, “Son, it seems to me you are so busy looking for large nuggets that you’re missing filling your pouch with these precious flecks of gold. The patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth.”
This story illustrates the spiritual truth that Alma taught his son Helaman:
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. …
“… And by very small means the Lord … bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6–7).

Monday, July 22, 2013


Naadam (The Three Games of Men) is the summer festival in Mongolia.  We were able to go to the Games opening ceremony.  Here's a picture I took:

Naadam, Opening Ceremony 2013 in Ulaanbaatar, National Sports Stadium

From Joshua's mom...

Naadam traditionally consists of archery, wrestling, and horseback riding.  The opening ceremony features parades and various demonstrations.  This is a huge national holiday.  It has been celebrated for centuries, but it now actually marks the nation's independence (1921) and is held July 11-13.

If you really want to read more about the festival, the government puts out a description in general:

Happy Birthday To Me

Greeting my first companion, Elder Lloyd, at a meeting in July

(Sung to the tune of one of the Primary birthday songs):

Happy Happy Birthday, from me to all of you,
I wish it were your birthday, so you could party too.
Happy Happy Birthday, may all your dreams come true,
I wish it were your birthday, so you could party too!

(And a different Primary birthday song):

I've had a birthday, shout hooray! 
You want to sing to me today!
One year older and wiser too,
Happy Birthday from you!
(And then sort of the normal Happy Birthday song tune):

Happy Happy Birthday from Joshua,
Know I'm having fun in Mongolia,
I sure wish I could be there today,
but have a happy birthday anyway!
I celebrated my birthday by opening a brand new toothbrush in the morning and having a great time brushing my teeth.  Then I celebrated further by translating our Church meetings for two hours (between Mongolian and Mongolian Sign language).  

Then my district treated me to a surprise cake and song, for which I was very grateful. 

At night I opened two ties I got from Grandma and Grandpa Sims; they are very nice ties! 

I celebrated my birthday-on-American-time by eating a breakfast of toast.  I will further celebrate it by buying a book about Mongolian names if we have time to get to the bookstore on P-Day.  I'm happy to be 20!  It's been a good two decades, and I know that in my life I have been greatly blessed.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


People on the streets who don't really like us tend to mock us by calling us "Yesus!" which is "Jesus" in Mongolian.  Not a terrible name to be called, since we are his missionaries, but that's what they call us.  Anyway, a few days ago, I was on the bus going home.  I gave up my seat to an old man (which is the rule on the bus anyway, but he was carrying a big load).  When I stood up, someone else on the bus saw me and said, as expected, "Yesus!"  But then I had the thought that by being courteous to someone in hard times, even though it was no great deed, I was trying to be like Jesus, and I was glad to be acting like Him when I was called by His name.  It reminded me of the responsibility carried by me and all of us to be examples of the believers, so that whether people call us Mormon or Jesus or any other name, we are worthy bearers of it!

Monday, July 8, 2013


Funny how things happen sometimes....

Yesterday, a German businessman walked into Church.  He said he was just looking for a Christian church to attend that day, as he was in Mongolia on business.  In German, I informed him that this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He was acquainted with the Church's name, but he didn't seem pleased all of the sudden to be there.  He left.  But then a Mongolian Church member approached me after hearing me speak in German.  He had lived in Germany for a while and could also speak German.  He hadn't been to Church for a long time.  In fact, Sunday was his first day back in a very long time.  Hearing me speak German gave him the courage to talk to me, and now we have arranged to meet with him to help him find his way back to full activity.  If he hadn't heard me speaking German, he might not have approached me.  But he was there at the right time, and now we can help him!  This is how the Lord blesses us.

My German isn't as good as it used to be, since I am mostly speaking Mongolian, but it was enough.  Sometimes we cannot know how the Lord will prepare us to serve Him, but if we work hard and always act in faith, we can be sure He will prepare us to serve His children.

Our district had a baptism last week!  The sisters taught a father of a part-member family.  I was able to perform the baptism.  I think this family will now be much stronger because both parents are now members.

I've noticed throughout the Bible that the Lord makes constant emphasis on His covenant people.  When the covenant people became wicked, He didn't just walk away from them.  He strove consistently with them, even if he had to withdraw his priesthood for a time.  He worked for millenia to make sure He could gather His covenant people again.  That is why we have the Restored Gospel.  So today, the covenant people here in Mongolia are the 10,000 members who have entered into a baptismal covenant.  We stress to our investigators their part in that covenant, that it's important for them to do their part and keep the commandments.  But the Lord makes half of that covenant, too, and He will not forget His covenant people.  Part of our covenant and duty as members of the Church is to help the Lord with His "half" of the covenant--that is, to not forget His covenant people, even if many of them have forgotten Him.  We must keep working to help them remember Him and their part in the covenant.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Learning lessons

I'm learning many lessons these days, like how to interpret between Mongolian and Sign Language, or learning that losing a wallet is unpleasant and a big headache. I am learning through my work here how important it is to be and have a righteous father. I thought about that on Father's Day.  I'm learning more about the city of Ulaanbaatar since we get around in teaching our investigators.  My companion and I met up with one of our investigators in a big city square near a giant statue of Chinggis Khaan--a different one than we visited a few weeks ago.  I'm always learning more about how to work hard and be an effective missionary. I'm grateful for the time off from teaching school so that we can work full time as missionaries.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Silent Life

Well, I have had my first week in my new area assigned to teach in Mongolian Sign Language.  You forget you can talk sometimes.  At least, you forget that most people can hear you.  I am learning so much.  We teach in all areas of the city as needed, which means a lot of time spent on busses.  Of course, that means teaching and meeting wonderful people!  But it also means we get to see some of the surrounding countryside, as much as most American missionaries get to see, anyway.  In the summer, the mountain outskirts where many of our investigators live are very green and nice.

Learning signs in Mongolian Sign Language isn't too hard, but the language isn't really standardized.  Many people who are deaf don't speak it that well, and so it can be difficult to interpret what they are trying to say.  We do a lot of miming.  And sign language leaves out grammar; you just sign root words to make yourself understood.  If you do a sign one way, it might mean "teach me," but the same sign done another way can mean "teach you."

It is fun to teach about the Restored Gospel in Sign Language!  The signs are cool.

In my district, the sister missionaries know some sign language and one of the other Elders was the previous Deaf teaching missionary, so we all get along well.  My companion is very hard working and he knows the city very well.  We work hard.  I can communicate with him fairly well.  It can be hard to understand others sometimes because everyone signs differently, but I'm getting there.  Yesterday, we taught a brief lesson to a speaking family (which we can also do), so I taught most of it and also translated for my companion.  Actually, I have to translate a decent bit now.  So when we go to a store, I do the talking and I translate for my companion.  Probably seems weird to Mongolians to see an American do this.  It's great training for me in both languages!

Since I don't teach English during the summer, we have three months to be full-time missionaries!  Hooray!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Signing Off from Unur

Well, my time in the beautiful Unur Ward has come to an end.  We have had some good times here.  We really have great investigators.  We have to hand them off to the new Elders in our area, but they'll be in good hands.  KFC and Cinnabon have opened in Mongolia, so we Americans have enjoyed some nice American food.  The KFC is way better than I ever remembered it in America!  

I have received my new assignment to the Enkhtaivan area across the city. 

But wait, there's more! My companion will not be a native speaker of English....or of Mongolian! My companion, whose name is Oyunsukh,  speaks Mongolian Sign language and soon, so shall I. I have been assigned as Sign Language Elder, an Elder-at-large who teaches all deaf investigators. (Deafness is relatively common here.) It will be a different experience than what I have had so far. I have a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but as it says in the Book of Mormon: "Believe in Christ, for all things which are expedient unto him are possible to him that has faith in Christ."  Since this is my assignment from the Lord, I know it is expedient in Him.  I must have faith.  

But wait, there's more! In my district of six missionaries, two are sisters, two are zone leaders, one is deaf, which means.... I'm district leader! No joke. 

 Well, there's my new assignment. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

School's Out

I handed out final exams this week, and assigned final grades; that was an experience. My students did pretty well.

I've had some great experiences recently. Nothing amazing, but good. A few days back I wasn't feeling too well.  I would have liked to just go back to our apartment, but I knew I had to keep going to visit our investigators. Even though drinking watered-down milk isn't the most appetizing thing when you don't feel well, we had some great visits and went to many people. Our last visit with an investigator family of ours was short, but the mother said she liked having us over because she felt such a warm feeling when we came. I was so glad that, because I was patient and chose to have a good attitude, we were able to bring the Spirit and hear an investigator witness that it is there. I've been trying to keep a really good attitude no matter how good or bad the day is (for example, it's snowing today!) because I want to be able to let our investigators feel the Savior's love for them.  It's surprising how good you can feel when by all rights you should be feeling crummy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weather is Fun

This week we had both a dust storm and snow! Weather is fun.

I was reading from 1 Nephi 17:2-3. Nephi recounts their hardships in the wilderness, but then notes that the Lord gave them the ability to eat raw meat and strength to do their work, and he counted himself greatly blessed because of it. Sometimes a mission is like that: even when it gets tough, we can see that the Lord is blessing us with the ability to succeed and then we can count ourselves greatly blessed, as well.

Our investigators are good; we are teaching a family.

My school's term ends soon and we will have a break for the summer. I just have to administer some tests and issue grades, then I can focus just on missionary work. That will be great!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Skype

It was great to see the family on Skype Sunday and to show off my growing skill with Mongolian sign language.  It is popular among the missionaries, even though only one is really assigned to teach in sign language at any given time.  The rest of us just like using it, and it helps us communicate when we meet someone who is deaf.

My English students are nearing the end of their semester; some of them are doing really well.  Others not so much, but I hope they will keep trying.  This will be my first experience with issuing grades! While I teach at a community college, my companion teaches at an elementary school.  I prepare my lessons while he teaches, but I also listen in at times.  At the elementary level, they teach English through music--so I'm learning a lot of little songs about colors and things.  It's fun.  But I think I am better suited to teaching adults.

We have been sharing Mosiah 2:41 with a lot of the people we meet with.  It is a great scripture about the blessings of the Lord:

"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.  For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.  O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it."

Another truth to think about:  The more we serve, the more the Lord replenishes us, which lets us have more than we could have had otherwise.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bluff doesn't translate

I played Bluff (aka Balderdash) with my English students.  It ... didn't go very well.  They had a hard time understanding the rules, but they want to try again next week.  English class is interesting, but I'm figuring it out.

Fast Sunday was busy, and we were running around serving until nearly 7:00 before we could finally make dinner.  We made some delicious spaghetti!

We have a lot of investigators and the work is going well.  We also minister to the members here, as that is really important.  I was in Elders Quorum and thinking about how it winds up just being a discussion so often.  From General Conference, I gather we should include more time for thinking about how we can help our members, especially the less active ones.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Piano Guys in Mongolia?

Well, not exactly.  We were walking one day by the Soyombo theater in Ulaanbaatar.  The owner was playing Youtube videos on the advertisement screen.  Guess what we saw!  The Piano Guys.  It was the video where Jon Schmidt and company were playing a song together on one piano.  It was crazy!

Anyway, I'm finally able to send some photos of our excursion to the Chinggis Khaan statue.  We got to walk out on top of Chinggis's head (about 13 stories above a 4 story building).  It was pretty cool.  It is such a new site that it isn't finished yet.  They plan to add a few hundred life-size horses and warriors on the lawn surrounding the monument.

I feel very fortunate to be here for many reasons.  I learned that a group of missionaries called to Mongolia last summer were not able to get visas.  They are still serving in an alternate mission.  In fact, our group was the first to have received permission to enter since February 2012.

The members of the Church here are awesome!  Most are first generation members, but some of the missionaries were baptized when they were 8 or 9.  So we are getting to the point where many adult members have been active most of their lives.  Their knowledge of the doctrine is deep, and they adapt to the Gospel culture very well.

April 19, 2013 was a great day to get baptized

Chinggis Khaan can't even see tiny Greg from his perch
Greg interacts with a display of future horsemen at the Chinggis Khaan statue

This is ... fun?  That eagle looks hungry.

Those are yaks back there

Tally Ho!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Field Trip P-Day

On Friday, April 19, we had three baptisms!  These were great investigators, now members of the Church.  My companion performed two baptisms and I performed one.  It was the birthday for one of the converts.  It was a great day.  We are working with new investigators and hoping to help them progress in the Gospel.

Today we had a field trip to see the Chinggis Khaan statue.  I also rode a camel and held an eagle!  I'd like to send pictures, but sending photos from here is hard.  I'll try maybe next week or as soon as possible to send a photo or two.

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the Church in Mongolia, and there were a lot of celebrations throughout the week.  It was really fun, but we are looking forward to getting back to our regular missionary work.

Fun fact:  For various reasons, the mission district I am in extends from the capital all the way out west to Khovd, where two sister missionaries are stationed.  So, my district is in more than one time zone!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cold Does Things to You

It snowed again today.  Hooray!  Is it spring in America?  I think this is the land of everlasting winter.

But we have great investigators and are getting new ones, so that's all good.  We were able to watch General Conference this weekend.  I liked President Packer's poem about old age.  I reflected on the fact that he was doing at 80 what some people do at 60.  It showed to me that if we continue to serve others diligently, even through trials or difficulties, the Lord will bless us with strength beyond our own.

I also liked Elder Holland's talk and the one by President Monson in the Priesthood session.  Conference made me think about what needs to happen in Mongolia and my part in it as a missionary.  

Teaching English is going okay.  I'm getting better at it.  It takes a lot of time to prepare for my classes, and it is a challenge to plan the lessons.  I may have a lot of linguistic knowledge, but teaching these classes is a different experience.  

Just so you don't think I am always eating sheep head, we do cook for ourselves when we can.  We don't have an oven, so that limits us to a pan, but we do combine pasta with chicken and vegetables like peppers, mushroom, onions, and the like.  It's really good.  We can also get decent store bought bread and German muesli, so we eat fairly well.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Scotland has nothing on Mongolia

The Scots might like their haggis, but now I have also eaten something in a sheep's stomach.  And on top of that, I've eaten boiled sheep's head.  It is actually quite a delicacy, and it was an honor to be served it.  Still, it was interesting to watch our host cut off sheep cheek and serve it to us, along with the ears, neck, palate, and tongue.  It was actually pretty good.

I have been eating German müsli for breakfast every morning.  It's great! I prefer the mix with dried fruit over the nutty stuff, but it is all really tasty.

Not that I am fixated on food.  I just know people will wonder what I eat.  As for everything else, teaching English is stressful but getting better.  Our mission is growing.  There aren't very many Americans in our mission, but we are told we will be getting another 18 over the next 9 months due to the rise in missionaries around the world.  That's great!

We are looking forward to some baptisms later this month.  The ward I serve in is about the same size as my home ward; it is a really good ward.

The work is good, the weather is cold, the Church is true, and I'm doing well.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Red Egg Day

Happy Easter!

Mongolians call Easter Red Egg Day, from a Russian tradition.  But they don't really celebrate Easter here.  The Church usually calls it "Christ's Resurrection Holiday."

I began teaching my English class.  It was fun.  And kind of hard.  Two 90-minute classes in a row are tough.  But I'm figuring out what I need to do to keep the class interesting and useful.

We have 3 baptisms or so lined up for the 19th, which is the 20th anniversary of the Church in Mongolia.

Greg approves of our cooking

Monday, March 25, 2013

What fun!

Just to illustrate how different this mission is from other missions...

As far as the government is concerned, we are only English teachers.  Then, in our spare time, we are permitted to talk to people about the Gospel of Christ, but only by invitation. That's why there is no proselyting.  Or street contacting.  But, nevertheless, we have a lot of investigators.  If people ask what we're doing, we usually respond "English teachers," but that doesn't stop us from having wonderful investigators.  

All the American missionaries only can serve in Ulaanbaatar, where there are about twenty different areas.  Our English teaching assignments stay the same the whole two years.  Currently, we both are an hour commute away from our assigned schools because we live in the absolute farthest apartment for missionaries, but most of my other areas should be in walking distance of my work. I start next week, by the way! When we teach, the teaching missionary teaches and his companion just waits and studies.  Not the best situation, but it is how it works.  Now, my companion and I will probably overlap, which usually doesn't happen.  We'll just have to figure it out! That's what you do on a mission.  

The Lord gives us success.  There is no way we could teach here, what with English-teaching and no contacting of any kind, if the Lord didn't prosper our work.  This really is the Lord's work, and he will forward it.

This is a great mission. By great, I mean, occasionally frustrating and difficult, but also great.  If missions were measured by the tastiness of the food and your freedom to contact people, it wouldn't be very good.  But since missions are measured by the worth of the souls we are here to teach, Mongolia is the best mission.

By the way, so far, I have met Mongolians who speak all the languages I know best: French, German, Russian and Chinese. What fun! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mongolia is Great!

Mongolia is full of new and intriguing experiences, but it's great!  My companion is a good cook, and we have been experimenting with various ways to cook chicken, potatoes, peppers, and so on.  Our little kitchen is workable; our apartment was built in the Soviet era.

We have some great investigators, and I love teaching the Gospel. Our ward is nice.  I spoke on my first Sunday there.

So, being a missionary in Mongolia is complicated.  We live in the weirdest mission, I'd say. We can't proselytize in public, but we can teach in private.  Missionaries who are not native Mongolians are not allowed to go door to door or to approach people in public.  We have to be quiet when we are out and about, but we can teach freely when we are introduced to someone in private.  We do not talk about the Church when we are teaching English at our jobs.  The native missionaries are free to speak to strangers in public.  It's challenging because I want to talk to people, but the law won't allow it at present.  But, as the scriptures say, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.  So everything we go through here is completely worth it for the people we do teach and baptize.  And nothing we have to do here is in vain, so long as we are working hard and doing our best.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Frozen Steppes of Asia

Guess where I am!  That's right! The cold steppes of Asia!  Actually, it is not that cold now.  Some days.  Except for a few days ago when we had to walk around in a frigid ice-sand storm.  Cold deserts are fun!

The flight was like all flights, really long but you survive.  Going to Korea was cool! The airport was more like a mall with airport terminals stuck on, so many shops!

So, I got here Sunday night (3 March) and spent the night with two Elders who I then followed around on  Monday for their P-day activities.  They took me to the Church office building, and we went to the airport to pick up the rest of my district that was arriving on a later flight.  Then we started normal missionary stuff.  We read Elder Maxwell's dedicatory prayer on Zaisan Hill where he first gave it.  Then we did various things at the office, got some training, and met our companions.  Mine is Elder Lloyd, which is funny because his name is pronounced the same in Mongolian as it originally should have been in Welsh!  What a coincidence.  We live in Onor, the farthest western area of Ulaanbaatar.

My companion teaches English at a private elementary school, and he has between 1-4 hours of class during the day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  During that time, I study language and read the Book of Mormon, but I will soon also be planning to teach my own English class.  I'm not sure yet, but it sounds like I will be teaching at a sort of community college, or rather, a school between high school and university.  But I probably won't start until April, so they say.  Anyway, I will be an "employee" of the school, giving tests and issuing grades and all that.  It will be cool.  You may wonder how we can teach any missionary lessons with a part time job.  But we are plenty busy, mostly because Mongolians are awesome!  Essentially, we replace tracting time with English time, and then we teach investigators we meet through referrals, and it's great.

The food is ... interesting.  It's hard to get a cold drink, but we can buy delicious juices at the store.  Most drinks are heated (go figure, it's cold here).  One drink is called hyerem; if you want to taste it, mix milk (the irradiated, Mongolian kind) with water and a lot of salt, then drink very warm.  It's an acquired taste.  I could go for some lemonade.

Elder Lloyd is a pretty good cook.  We made some sort of chicken stir fry a couple of times.  Once we had a stroganoff of sorts, which was like stir fry but with horse instead of chicken.  That was pretty tasty.  Dried sour milk curds are not tasty.  But I'll get used to them.

It looks ... cold!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Joshua landed in Mongolia on Monday, March 4th.  His new companion is Elder Lloyd and his mission president is President Clark.  His new mailing address is the mission home.

Joshua wrote a short letter just before he left the MTC, clearly anxious to leave and be on his way.  He wrote: "If you want to know how I feel at this moment, just put on a suit coat and go sit in your room for three hours.  To know what I will feel like next week, go outside without a jacket and lay in the snow... Hey! Why did the missionaries cross the Pacific? To get to the mission on the other side!  Hah! Hey, what was Genghis Khan's favorite position in soccer?  Mon Goalie!  Wait, wait, where is the best city in the world to get Christmas pancakes? Julen-batter!  Sorry, that was lame.  Where is the grass actually always greener on the other side?  You-lawn-better! I had better stop.... A poorly planned pun is like the color purple: you were only half-ready so you blew it."

Anyone can tell Joshua was getting a little stir crazy, but then this is actually pretty classic Joshua.  He will write next week on his P-day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Week in Provo

We have finished our EIL training and are doing our last work before heading off to Mongolia.  We are all supposed to travel together (our district of six), but two visas have been delayed, so we will see if they come before Saturday.  We are ready!

Greg plants the flag on a mountain

Greg studies his Mongolian vocabulary words

This Provo weather is tame! I got a haircut after this photo was taken.

Our last day working on EIL with the BYU professors.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Travel Papers!

We got our travel papers and itinerary for Mongolia!  It is very exciting.  We leave Utah on March 2nd and will arrive in Mongolia on March 4th!  We will stopover in Beijing at an airport I was in two years ago.  That will be fun.

I can't wait!  Greg took things in stride; he thinks hanging around the MTC is just fine.  I think I am ready to leave.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learning and Waiting

There isn't a lot to write about because the MTC is pretty much the same every day.  I have enjoyed EIL and practicing teaching the international missionaries.  I can't wait to actually get to Mongolia.

Greg stands proudly by his Mongolian name.

Mongolia and Back Again

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Halfway at the MTC

I've been here now longer than I have yet to go here!  Then Mongolia!  Speaking of which, we have started our week-long EIL (English as an International Language) bonanza, with training from eight to noon every day. Then we will practice our teaching techniques on missionaries here from other countries to learn English.  

I'm learning to write a little in the Mongolian script, but people don't use that for everyday language.  It looks cool but isn't very practical for modern usage.  So, Mongolia still uses the Russian alphabet.  We always get stopped at the MTC and asked if we are going to Russia (or Greece) when other missionaries read our nametags.  Nobody ever guesses Mongolia!  It is fun.  Also, for some strange reason, Mongolia is in an MTC zone with Madagascar, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.  I don't know how we got in the tropical island category, but it is fun.  I have learned how to greet people in Samoan!

I have been gaining a reputation as a language guy.  I can usually guess anyone's nametag, and missionaries are often surprised when I can speak to them in their language.  

Our class is fun, and we have great teachers.  They appreciate the help I am able to give the others when they are not teaching.  We are also learning a few things in Mongolian Sign Language because there are a lot of deaf people in Mongolia.  Now, there are plenty of native missionaries assigned to teach in sign language, but since there are so many people who are deaf, it is good for us to know a little.  We like to use it to spell things to each other in class, but I'm sure I'll use it more in Mongolia.

Well, I've learned all sorts of things here, like how to sleep in a room with three other guys, how to tolerate public bathrooms, and how to do good ROTC style calisthenics.  One of our district members was in ROTC, so he is helping me maintain my fitness; it is really helpful.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Too Busy to Write

We have very little time to write email in the MTC, but things are going well here.  I've been here a month already!

We go to the temple every P-day; it is a great experience.  Our district is doing well, and we are getting a lot of new Elders in our zone.  We are in a zone with all the Pacific languages, which is a strange pairing for Mongolian, but it's fun. 

It is pretty cold in Provo, but we are doing well, and I have nice warm clothes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Greg is famous.  He has been to Europe and China and Perú.  And now he's going to Mongolia.  On his last day in Perú with my brother, Kristian, he looked like this:

Now he is learning about life in Mongolia...

And preparing for the climate...

He has been welcomed by my district! I have a great district! Can you spot Greg?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Firm A Foundation

The branch chorister is in our district, so I volunteered to play the piano in Church last Sunday (6th).  I sat down last Wednesday to pick some hymns and, thinking that I would be doing it for several weeks and should save the easy songs for later, I decided that my first song would be How Firm a Foundation, #85.  I couldn't really play perfectly at first (two lines gave me trouble), but I kept practicing every day.  Even when I thought I should give up on it and play one of the songs I can play with no problem, I kept at it.  Come Sunday, it was the best of the three songs I played.

Then, during Fast and Testimony meeting, one Senior Elder who is going to Spain bore his testimony.  He bore it of what he liked to call the "Tender Ironies" of the Lord, such as the fact that on his first Sunday in the MTC, the first hymn that was sung was his favorite hymn, #85, How Firm a Foundation.  I was shocked as I realized that I had been silently led by the Holy Spirit that week to learn a song I didn't know so I could give a small bit of comfort to a man who was going out to serve a mission.  I know it was no great thing, but for me it was more of a proof of concept, that we really can be led by the Spirit in the things we do without even knowing it.

Then later on Sunday, we watched a recorded talk.  In it, Elder Bednar essentially taught that we shouldn't worry about whether we are being led by the Spirit in any given moment (that is, we shouldn't have this debate about "is it the Spirit or is it me?"), but rather trust that when we are righteous and 'being a good boy' the Spirit will guide us without us necessarily knowing it.