Merry Christmas from Mongolia 2014
It’s fun to reflect on all the food and presents and blessings of Christmas, especially after the frantic pace of preparation is finally past. Christmas this year was a bountiful one for the Bergevin family. The girls sang Joy to the World in church the Sunday before Christmas. Johanna was especially joyful in singing.
We started Christmas eve with a luncheon at work with our 12 Mongolian staff members of the project center. Aggie, a young mother and our cleaning lady agreed to cook the meal. She decided on horse meat as the food of honor for the festive occasion. She then borrowed a pressure cooker from the security guard Shinee, who did not know how to use it. Neither did many of the rest of us.
As the preparations and smells were bustling about Cama Center, Renee’s head poked in my office door to say that horse grease was all over the kitchen and Shinee had burns on his face. I set out for the store leaving the mess and smell in search of last minute items and burn ointment.
Shinee fortunately escaped without blisters and was seated beside Renee when we finally sat down to a beautiful banquet to sing Silent Night and pray a blessing over the food. The meat was tremendous. The pressure and spicing must have been perfectly done because it was tender, flavorful, and moist, if a little cold from waiting for everyone to come to the table. Praise the Lord there was no hint of that smell of a frothy horse rode down on a hot summer day. Previous horse meat experiences have been so.
Dawaa, whose English name is David is the leader of Cama’s Financial Freedom Training and the Alliance Association of churches in Mongolia. Dawaa told the story of Jesus’ birth, and explained the meaning of the word Christmas, and many of the symbols that surround the holiday, all pointing to Jesus, born to bring us eternal life. After the talk, he led us through Games with prizes. Though young, Dawaa is married to Bainaa, Cama’s Family Counseling Leader, and also the father of two young children. He won most of the games, a new bible and did all the dishes as well.
Next we picked up the kids and new-to-Mongolia colleague Chelsea for some ice skating. She was visiting from Ulaanbaatar where she teaches English after coming in August from Ohio to serve here for a year.
The skating rink we planned to go to was packed with people. Probably forty students circled on one end, while a hockey team in full gear filled the other. Bad music blared out of blown speakers. The people in the skate shack treated us like attraction in the zoo. No wonder celebrities go so crazy. Rather than be driven that way too, we drove away.
The hockey rink by the sports complex looked promising when we pulled up. But inside the fence there was grass poking up through snow.
So off to our friend’s ranch we drove. Their ice rink is a flooded part of their barn yard, but the best in town for a peaceful Christmas eve skate.
Dusk brought bitter cold and the sinking feeling there was still a lot of Christmas shopping not done, and most stores closing about seven. We stopped by the ‘Stuff Mart’ about six on the way home for a ham dinner.
While Renee put the finishing touches on Christmas dinner, Maggie, and Johanna needed to go to the pet store to shop for Lydia. They got her some fish and asked me to hide it for them until Christmas morning. We got home to eat about 7:30 pm. After dishes, Renee and I went out, both needing to shop a bit more, awkwardly we found out, for each other.
Most everything was closed, so we didn’t get each other much. We got home about 10 pm. We got the kids in bed and started to put gifts out at about 11. We got into bed after 1 am.
Mercifully, morning came just before 8 when Clara and Johanna came into our room announcing: “Merry Christmas! There’s presents out there!” We opened presents for about two hours or more. The kids started right in on all the candy they had been given so there was no hurry for breakfast.
Except for Josiah who opened a box of Apple Jack cereal, his favorite, and watched the rest of us open presents while he ate a big bowl of his present.
We finished unwrapping around ten in the morning. More coffee, then fried eggs with last night’s leftover ham. About the time we were wondering what kind of starch we would have with them, a knock came at the door. Mark and Toby Wood held out a fresh pan of cinnamon rolls from Cinda.
We had nothing planned the rest of the day until evening. At 5 pm we arrive at church in time to greet the folks at the Christmas celebration. But we couldn’t stay because the Darhan pastors had arranged for the whole body of Christ to sing Christmas carols in the center of town square at dusk.
Unfortunately both events were supposed to start at five. We figured they would start late so we showed up for caroling carrying our candles at about 5:35. People who had showed up at five were already cold and tired of waiting. We waiting about 15 more minutes before someone appeared behind a microphone to announce that the song leader was late. A few minutes before 6 a group of singers and a man with his back to the crowd began to make some noise. It was a mixed scale rendition of Silent Night.
We tried to sing loud enough to drown out the out of tune chorus ahead. In the mean time, the cups they handed out to shield candle flame from the breeze were wax-coated and highly flammable. Several had to be stamped out on the freezing concrete slab on which we stood. After the first song, the singing improved and we all sang in one single chord.
New believer Tobo came with his two kids. Though they didn’t know the songs, but enjoyed holding the candles. One of the kids singed a piece of the fake fur on his or her hood.
The cold was unbearable. Renee had to take Josiah to the car before it was over. Lydia was also too cold to stick it out and followed suit.
While we waited for the Wood family to meet us for dinner, we went to the theater square, where out front was a huge lighted Christmas tree about 40 feet tall. More amazing than that were the 12 ice sculptures surrounding in a circle. Several pieces had colored lights inside them and all the ice was crystal clear. The most amazing one was one of a Mongolian countryside herdsman couple in traditional dress.
Now it was 6:30 and time for our reservation at the Chinese restaurant. When we talked about going there for Christmas, someone suggested we may need to sing “fa ra ra ra ra ra” and have roasted duck ala The Christmas Story. But our waiter was Mongolian and we mostly ate sweet and sour chicken. It was great as usual. The fried spicy stir fried mutton, not so much. But we took it in a doggie bag. There was a kid who had been asking for food on the way in. He was still there when we went to leave, and asked Renee so we gave it to him.
We got home in time to start Its a Wonderful Life with Chelsea. It was fun seeing it with someone who hadn’t seen it much before, like seeing it anew. Maggie and Lydia joined, but Johanna, Clara, and Josiah went to bed.
We were able to sleep in the next day a bit. About 9:15 am the video calls with Ohio began. The kids got to see the Papa and ‘Grandburger’ along with Uncle Aaron and Ashley. Then Lydia had to go to her horse-head fiddle lesson. Afterwards, the kids went out sledding.
Jeremy joined Dawaa on a visit to our Cama employee’s home because his wife, who also used to work for us, has terminal liver cancer. Dawaa anointed her and we prayed for healing and comfort. I think she and her family were encouraged by the visit, and hopefully we will better know how to help them and support them in this trial after seeing them.
Around 4 pm, as the day’s light began to fade, we all pulled on our snow pants and warm clothes, grabbed the sleds and piled them and ourselves into he car. We drove up the hill on the south side of town, parked facing north downhill toward Darhan and piled out and onto the sleds.
Johanna’s new red plastic one was the champ in new snow, but the yellow wooden one was a blazing bomber on the packed down dirt road surface. Josiah’s new red sled ended up with a new hole in it when a sister rode it.
Dusk fell and the cold followed. All piled back in the car and eased down the hill and into town. The girls complained about cold toes. The kids sat with Chelsea in the car as Renee and I went into a store to return the boots she got for Christmas, which were a half a size too small. Then we dropped by the ice sculptures again and took some pictures.
Then it was home for Renee’s hot beef soup which some wanted to call chowder. It was award-winningly good, especially after sledding. Unfortunately she was unable to make rolls because the replacement bread maker part she got for Christmas was somehow the wrong size.
The Wood family came up and we played cards. They went home about ten. We all had pie and sat down to watch the rest of Its a Wonderful Life.
It was a wonderful Christmas, with plenty of food, fun, love and presents. God be praised He is God with us in Jesus, Emanuel. May we all sense his Love and presence in the gift of Life through the new year and eternity.
Merry Christmas from All of Us,
Maggie, Lydia, Johanna, Clara, and Josiah
P.S. We went to Ulaanbaatar on the 27th for New Years. We enjoyed Pizza Hut in Mongolia!