Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Most of my free time has been going to reading since I’ve been getting so little of it. On top of that, the internet has been out in our entire city for the past two weeks. Anyone who knows me - and an old nickname of mine, "Captain In-Touch" - has an idea of what that's done to my anxiety level.
We have brought new life into our Soviet-bloc apartment in the form of a turtle we’ve named Luther. He’s about the size of my palm and spends most of the day holding his breath and sleeping. When he does decide to get mobile he “swims” hitting his head on the glass trying to chase his reflection or swim into the picture of a river Kim put behind the aquarium. We’re thinking about getting him a buddy to hold his breath with.
I almost saw my first live birth last week. I was walking around the hospital with the nurses having them point to things and ask me, “What is this in English” so I could give them more vocabulary words. We walked to each of their wings in the hospital and when it came time to go to Bayarhuu’s wing I was hurried into a back room and the nurses went to work throwing clean surgery clothes on me. Within a minute I had on a brown cape-like thing that tied around my neck but covered my whole body, a white mesh hat, and brown shoe-covers. I looked slightly medieval-Italian and completely ridiculous. Then they took me to the small closet of a room next door where there was a TV showing a woman in labor and then one of them yelled, “Baby coming! We go!”. We rushed down the hall and as they opened the doors to the delivery room I thought, “Do I really want the first baby I see born to be someone else’s?” I was suddenly hit with immense fear of not only having to see that, but of having to explain it to Kim.
“You see, honey, I got pushed into the delivery room. Everyone else was doing it!”
Anyway, the good news is that the delivery room they took me into was empty and I was spared the awkwardness of being the only male and American in the room of a Mongolian in labor. Interestingly though, they have surveillance cameras in all of the rooms so that the families can watch from the waiting room.
Teaching English has been more than humbling. It’s a pretty good confidence check when you’re forced into near desperation while teaching your native language. I feel like God is using it to kind of say to me, “Oh, you want to be a teacher huh? A pastor? Let’s see how you do when you have to teach a room full of foreigners the most basic elements of the language you’ve been speaking for 27 years.” Yup, it’s a daily exercise and reminder of who I need to rely on; God and not myself.
The nurses have taken it upon themselves to teach me a little Mongolian in return so we end up speaking Mongolish, which is a lot like Spanglish only it sounds like it can kill you….since Mongolian generally sounds like you’re always angry and cursing. I’m excited to bring some back to the States!
As far as weather, the fun cycle of the seasons here is as follows.
Winter: it’s so cold that everything dies. Flies drop dead out of the air and the only thing on the ground are rocks, dirt, and cement.
Spring: After everything is effectively killed, the winds come flying out of the west and north. Seeing as how most of Mongolia is a plain and there are very few trees or hills to get in the wind’s way, it picks up the dirt and blows it…really hard. Everything gets covered in a fine layer of brown dust.
Summer: Since there’s no body of water to stabilize the temperatures (wow do I miss the Pacific Ocean) the winters are well below freezing – to the point that it has to warm up in order to snow – and the summers run to the other end of the spectrum and hover around the 90s and 100s. The good news is that apparently there’s a chance of rain every day so I’m looking forward to that; and hopefully a little thunder and lightening.
Fall: I think fall lasts for two weeks in September.
I started reading the Bible in Genesis when we got here and am now up to 2 Kings. If you’ve never read the Bible from front to back, it’s been a great experience and one that’s helped me grow a lot. Kim and I have also started memorizing Bible verses together over breakfast which has also been deeply rewarding. Do you ever feel like there’s not enough time in the day? I do.
There is a girl in my class at the YWAM base that recently got engaged and Kim and I volunteered to do the photography for her wedding. Kim brought her nice camera so she’ll do the formal, posed, and group shots and I’ll do the candid shots with my little point-and-shoot. The Mongolian church does something kind of cool. When two people in the church start dating, they have to go up in front of the church as a declaration of their relationship so that the congregation can help hold them accountable as a couple. It adds a weight and responsibility to dating over here that we don’t have back home. I should be clear that it’s not a cultural thing, its something unique to the church.
Speaking of cultural. Another thing I’ve learned is how secular Buddhism is. It’s a lot like Catholicism in the States. The vast majority of people who consider themselves Buddhist here don’t go to temple and don’t practice the faith much more than hanging a picture of the Dalai Lama up in their house. It’s also been interesting to recently read about the rise of militant Buddhists. For some reason with the way Buddhism is described back home, with this almost protected spiritual-ness to it, I imagined Buddhists being more devout. Nope, it turns out Buddhism prone to the same corruption, manipulation, and cultural passivity as any other belief system. For example, if something is wrong in your life you can go to the temple and tell a monk about it. He will give you a list of the prayer books he’ll need to read or recite for you which you then take to the cashier and pay the amount according to each prayer. You then take the receipt to the monk and he then says the prayers for you. When you want a name for your baby, you pay the monk. When someone is sick, you pay the monk. If someone has died and you want the monks to give them a proper Buddhist burial, you pay them a much larger amount. It’s like a spiritual vending machine.
I’m close to finishing The Living Church by John Stott and am still working my way through both Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Wright and The Bondage of the Will by Luther, and I’d highly recommend all three. Stott’s book is a look at the defining, Biblical attributes of a church; such as preaching the word, worship, evangelism, and practicing generosity. That might sound a little superficial at first but Stott’s a world-class theologian and he looks at each of the characteristics from a Biblical standpoint and from a current cultural standpoint. I found it clarifying and encouraging.
Wright’s book is an academic look at how the Old Testament tells the stories and contains the promises which Jesus came to fulfill. It starts with an overview of the OT story and then goes into an excellent breakdown of the individual covenants in the OT. I’m in the third section about Jesus’ OT identity; meaning how, since Jesus was a Jew he found his identity in the Scriptures. The following sections are on Jesus’ and His OT Mission (as the Messiah), and then on his OT values. I would recommend this book for any Christian who rarely wanders out of the New Testament.
Lastly, The Bondage of the Will has been what I get to read in my free, free time. It’s more of a reward than priority at the moment since I want to get through Wright’s book first. I say “reward” because it actually really is. The only Luther I’ve ever read are his necessary but excruciatingly dry catechisms in school. I’m pretty sure I laugh out loud at least once every time I read the Bondage of the Will. It’s a difficult read in that it’s translated from 1500’s German and deals with a pretty dense topic, free will, but at the same time its fun to read because its written in the form of a debate. Luther was responding to Erasmus’ Diatribe on free will and he pulls no punches, in fact I think he looks to take them, in this book.
The language aside, the theological content of the book is timely and, I think, foundational for Christians to grasp; our will is bound to sin and God’s will is free. We are slaves to sin and apart from God can do nothing else. Everything, from our salvation to our faith to our ability to repent to any good deed we might do, they are all gifts and the work of a free God. We cannot merit any part of our salvation and can only continually rely on God’s grace. I know that sounds as familiar as John 3:16 to most Christians but its interesting the subtle ways a works-based righteousness can creep its way into not only the theologies of our churches but in our hearts and minds, especially when justification and sanctification are confused.