Giving Away What You Wish You Had

Amazing people come in different packages with different contents.  Generous people deserve more recognition they.  Giving to someone else what you would really like to keep for yourself is commendable and rare.

Four of us board a recycled military van and begin the drive from Ulaanbaatar to Zunhera, Mongolia.  This will be a 100-mile trip through the high desert. The dilapidated vehicle has long since lost its carpet so our feet lay directly upon metal and we can hear and feel the sand, rocks, and gravel carom off the underside of the van.  Already the rust has eroded the floorboard allowing near freezing air to seep into the car.  Thermal underwear and blankets are in the car if the heater fails or we get stranded on the roadside.

Our stringy chauffeur makes this trip monthly. This is fortunate because the roads appear to me as almost indistinguishable from the barren desert floor. I know from experience that these drivers are also miracle mechanics, capable to repair most breakdowns with wire, string, or rubber bands. The sandy road is free from traffic.  Occasionally, we pass a cowboy or two on horseback and they wave wildly in recognition of other signs of life.

Ernest Gillis and Bob Watkins

Periodically we see herds of fat hairy camels.  I wonder how they stay so healthy when nothing green is available to eat. We are able to get some close-ups without spoofing them. We catch a glimpse of a small sheep farm lodged into the opening of a mountain canyon. My imagination drifts into the past with visions Genghis Khan with his spindly beard and his nomad army crossing these plains, slaughtering any civilian resistance unwilling to surrender their animals.

These nomads have one or two gers (yurts). They can be easily disassembled and moved from one place to another as they seek a place to graze the sheep.  They build the gers on wood frames with a wool felt cover. Dark coal smoke belches from the center of the roof.  Sheep wander freely within site of a yurts and the fold where they are kept safely at night.

A mound of blue appears immediately ahead of us.  It looks like a road block. The closer we get the more I focus on what resembles a roadside dump topped by blue flags.  No one else seems to notice the site.  It is so striking, I ask the driver to stop and question what this memorial heap means out in the middle of no where.  He says, “That is an Ovoo. They are all over the roadsides. It is the equivalent of a shamanist shrine.  Many travelers walk around it three times and place a rock, a coin, or a bone on it.  This action entitles them to a “windhorse”, bringing them good luck on their trek.”  I stare at the pile of cast aways and wonder the significance of each offering.  There are crutches and alcohol bottles–are these prayers of faith, recognizing or pleading for healing?  I leave with more questions than answers, afraid to pursue the discussion.

Our goal is to arrive at the Junhera church for a scheduled 6 p.m. worship service.  And, without their knowledge, we are carrying a surprise that they could never expect. They will be very curious when we carry the two huge cardboard boxes into the sanctuary.  I know the contents but have yet to actually see them.

We arrive slightly early.  The church is easily identifiable by the four-foot cross at the peak of the rust brick cracker box-shaped church.  A few aged cars are haphazardly in the parking lot.  The congregants are watching for us, and surround our car before we can exit.  It is a crowd heavily weighted by children and youth.  The kids have rosy cheeks, apparently chapped by winds that never rest in Northern Mongolia.  One child takes my hand and ushers me into the building and out of the chill.  The inside of the church is only slightly warmer than outside. Everyone has heavy coats as if preparing to go sledding.  Most have stocking caps, neck scarves, or baseball caps, and everyone is wearing gloves or thrust their hands deep into their pockets.

The pastor is a young man a bit uncomfortable with his leadership role.  He quickly hands over the service to the song leader who urges volunteers to come forward to help with the praise period.  Finally, he gets six people to join his choir. Even though I can’t understand any of the words, I recognize the tune of “Our God is an Awesome God,” and I feel the ever-available presence of the Spirit of God.

The pastor then assumes the leadership to introduce the guests.  The two huge boxes are resting on the stage on the right side of the stage.  My guide, Ernest Gillis, a missionary to South Korea, takes the pulpit and speaks briefly.  Then, he says, “I have a surprise for your church from my church.”  Smiles move across the room as if Santa Claus has entered the room.

Rev. Gillis calls the six choir members forward and begins to pull from the box blue and white choir robes for each of them.  He asks if there are others interested in joining the choir.  Before we can count, the choir had grown to fifteen—the number of robes available.  The concert that followed was greatly improved by the smiles of all the participants.  We left the church fully blessed and tanked up with joy.

The greatest surprise came when I learned the donating church did not yet own choir robes. I quietly contemplated the significance of giving away what you would like to keep.


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