Sain Bainuu ! That's "hello" in Mongolian. So glad you dropped in ! This is my blog: The raw, no masks or smoke-screens, bare truth of who I am, what I am learning and where I am in life right now. You don't have to agree with me or like what I'm about...but this is me. Thanks for taking time to read and know who I really am.

March 6, 2012

The Cookbook Saga

“So, what is ‘Khoroo 2’  ?”

As I sat somewhere in the middle of holding back hysterical fits of laughter and gaping in unbelief, I couldn’t help but think that no cookbook, was worth this effort.

Earlier that the day, my two friend from the office (let’s call them Sarah and Emily) approached me to ask a favor.  

Emily needed me to register an online cookbook for her and get the validation number. The first month’s trial was free, but after that, she had to call the company in the States and register the online subscription to keep using it. This was in fact, the last day that they could register it before the free trial expired. Sarah and Emily were very concerned about it. Seeing as my English is my first language and not theirs, it made sense that I should be the one calling.

It didn’t strike as odd that they were using online cookbook. Sarah loves to cook. In fact, most women at my office love to learn how to cook new things. They are always asking me to teach them how to bake cookies, cakes, chocolates, etc. I thought using a regular cookbook, which really aren’t that expensive, would have been much easier. However, I wasn’t going to argue. It was actually kind of cute that they were using an online cookbook and were very concerned about keeping it. I could almost see them having some kind of cooking club.

After calling the company’s international phone line, going through several automated phone menus, I learned that their offices were closed in the U.S.

Sarah and Emily asked me if I would please call when it would be morning in the States (9pm for us in Ulaanbaatar) because they really needed to register this cookbook and the get the validation number. I sighed inside because it seemed rather trivial to me, and could be a potentially messy situation if I called without them around.

“Well, I don’t know how to register the cookbook. I mean, they are going to ask for information that you guys know, but I definitely don’t. So…”

 “Oh no no.” they reassured me. That would be no problem. They gave me the product number, license software, and the business phone number the software was registered under. I caved. You don’t have to know me for long to know that I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to my friends. I would call the company back at night to get the validation number.

But, right then in the morning, was when it first began to get strange. At some point during the many phone menu options, I had to enter the “10 digit business phone number” of their account.

I looked at Emily a bit perplexed and said, “They want the ‘business’ phone number you registered the cookbook under.” 

Unphased, Emily gave me the phone number. So I shrugged it off. I had no idea why they wanted a ‘business’ phone number. Pretty sure Sarah and Emily weren’t registering this cookbook for our organization. But since it made sense to them, I ran with it.


At 9pm that night, my roommie, Kerry, and I were sitting in our living room when I called the company again. I went through all the phone menus again and this time was transferred to a real live customer service person.

Who did not speak English as his first language.

And who could not understand me. No matter how clearly I annunciated my words.

I think he may have been working in or very near India.

“Hello. May I ask what your name is?” the man said.

“Yeah, my name is April. Just like the month," I replied.

“So how do you spell that? A. P. R. …”

“Yes, yes. A. P. R. I. L.”

“So, A as in ‘apple’, P as in ‘Peter’, R  as in “Robert, I as in ‘igloo’ and L as in ‘London’ ?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Ok can I have the 10 digit business phone number you registered your product under so I can look up your account details?”

I gave him the phone number that Emily had given me.

“This isn’t a United States phone number. There are more than 10 digits…”

“Well, it’s a Mongolian phone number.”

“May I ask where you are calling from?”

“Uh. Mongolia.”

“Oh, well we need to make an account for you then.”

(SAY WHAAA….???? In my head I was thinking - Oh crap. This is not what is supposed to happen. How am I supposed to register an account for Sarah and Emily in Mongolia…!)

“Ok Ma’am ? What is the name of the business?”

(What the heck do you mean ‘the name of the business’! This is for Emily! Aaack!)

I had two options. Register the cookbook for the only Mongolian business I knew and had information for (i.e. – my organization) or I could tell him I’d have to call back later with the information. The trouble was that it was late at night for us (about 10pm) and I didn’t think my friends were awake to give me whatever the heck the ‘business address’ was. Also. This was the last day to register the cookbook. I didn’t want to let them down. Plus, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be an issue to register a cookbook for my organization. It was kind of funny, but all in all harmless. Who was going to care if we had a free cookbook at work? So I answered:

“The business name is spelled V. E. T…”

“So that’s B as in ‘bravo’, E as in ‘Edward…”

“No no. V as in… Vincent’. The first letter is V.

“Oh sorry, so P as in ‘Peter’, E as in Edward…”

“No. It’s V as in … ‘Victor’! V!

“I’m sorry. So “V as in ‘Victor’, E as in “Edward”…”

This was going to be a long conversation. And I proceeded to spell out letter by letter the name of the business. In fact, from here on out, you should just read all of my responses spelled out, letter by letter with an example of what each letter stood for.

At this point, Kerry was fighting a bad case of the giggles. I was on the verge of laughing too.
Sometimes when you’re tired you get frustrated. Other times when you’re tired, things are absolutely incredibly hysterical.

And this was one of those times.

If she laughed, I was going to lose it. And the poor man on the other line would have no idea why registering a cookbook was so funny. And I didn’t want to have to explain it to him. So I fought desperately to control myself.

“Ok. What is the business address?”

(You have to be kidding me. What kind of online cookbook needs a business address and phone number? This is ridiculous!)

I gave him the address.

Spelled out letter by letter.

Three times.

“U and in ‘uniform’, L as in ‘London’, A as in ‘apple’, A as in ‘apple, B as in “bravo…”

Three. Times.

For every line. And there are 6 address lines.

And the whole time I was trying not to get the giggles. I had to recompose myself at least 4 or 5 times. And then we had huge problems. Because his little screen in front of him, somewhere near India, had blanks that fit a U.S. address. Mongolian addresses are not at all like U.S. addresses.

“So Ulaanbaatar is the capital city”?

(Why on earth does that matter?!)

“Yes. That’s correct. It’s the capital of Mongolia.”

“So the zipcode goes in the second line?”

“Yeah. If you wanted to send something here, that’s where it goes. It’s supposed to go at the end of a U.S. address, but in Mongolia it goes in the second line.”

(I could only imagine him looking at his little boxes to fill in and being completely befuddled.)

“And what is ‘Khoroo 2’ ?”

This is where Kerry and I almost lost it. Because I proceeded to have to explain the geography of Ulaanbaatar.

“Yes there are street names, but no one uses them or knows them. Not even the mail people. So there are districts in the city and ‘Khoroo 2’ is a smaller part of the district we are in. Yes, I know you don’t have a box for a smaller part of a district. I’m sorry. I’m not sure what to do either.”

We were cracking up. Little bursts of giggles were slipping out as I tried to explain (and spell) everything. This was ridiculous! No cookbook was worth this effort. It would be so much easier to just buy a real cookbook for Sarah and Emily. Actually, it would be even easier to just google recipes. I mean, if you want to find anything to cook…you can find like 5 versions of the recipe online, instantly, and for free. Why on earth use an online subscription cookbook!?

After giving him the business phone number, business address, and business e-mail address, telling him how many people would be using the software (how many people is Emily going to share the cookbook with? 4? 5?), and how many computers it would be on (maybe 1 or 2?) he finally gave me the validation code.

I had no idea what kind of company sold cookbooks to businesses. Or why Emily was using a cookbook that was supposed to be for businesses. But finally it was done.

It had taken about 30 minutes. I was off the phone. And my organization had a new online cookbook.

Kerry and I were keeled over in laughter. It was the most ridiculous and complicated phone conversation ever! I wasn’t sure if that was what I was supposed to have done.  I may have broken all kinds of rules. But at least the cookbook was registered.

But then it got even better. Or worse. Depending on how you look at it.

The next day my friend Karen, who works at the small animal clinic branch of our organization, came by for lunch. Kerry and I were telling her the cookbook story and laughing all over again. And then I remembered something and mentioned it as a sort of a side note:

I told Karen, “You know, it was funny. He kept calling it ‘Quick Books’ which must have been the brand name. He was asking me what version I had. Was it ‘Quick Book Pro’ or ‘Quick Book Elite’ ? Well, I had no idea what he was talking about or what version of cookbook Emily had registered, but anyways, now we have a new cookbook at work.”

All of a sudden, Karen’s eyes widened.

“That’s not a cookbook. That’s our accounting software.”


“Oh crap.”

“Yeah. The girls at the clinic have a hard time saying the word ‘quick’. They always say it ‘cook’. So I’ve just gotten used to when they ask for help with the ‘cookbook’ at work, they actually mean the ‘Quickbook’ accounting software!”

“Karen. I just registered our accounting software. Under my name. I mean, they said I was the new contact person. Crap. What on earth have I done!? I had no idea! They asked how many people would use the program and how many computers it would be on. I was like, for a cookbook? Like maybe 4-5 people on one computer. But the accounting software…”

A cookbook is one thing…accounting software is an entirely different (and considerably more serious) matter. I was pretty sure I had completely overstepped my bounds. Like a lot. I was horrified…and fighting the giggles all over again.

The three us of laughed and laughed and laughed. This was going down as one of the famous “stupid/silly things short term workers have done and said” stories. It was the most perfect miscommunication ever.

Had the mispronunciation been a non-real English word (“Will you help me register my online kabutni?”…“ Say what?”) or had the word not made sense in context (“Will you help me register my online banana?”…”What’s an online banana?”) , I would have asked for a better explanation and figured it out immediately. But the fact that it actually made 100% sense to me made it even funnier.

“I almost wanted to hang up the phone at one point and just buy them a real cookbook! (Hahahahahahaha!) Can you imagine me presenting Sarah with a cookbook at work and saying, here this will be easier than the online one!? (Hahahahahahaha!) She would have been so confused! (Hahahahahahahaha!)”

Somewhere little beams of light suddenly pierced through some fog…the business phone number, business address and business e-mail, the urgent need to get the validation number right away…why the guy on the phone needed to know how many people and how many computers would be using the software…it all started to dawn on me…

The next day, I told the story to advisor of our finance department and explained (between sheepish giggles) what had happened and apologized for the giant mess I’d made. After reassuring me it was an honest mistake (albeit a stupid one, I think, looking back on it) and it shouldn’t cause any major problems in the future. He said he’d take care of it and have some one call back to get it all straightened out.

I do not envy them that phone call.

“Ulaanbaatar.  So that’s U as in ‘uniform’, L as ’London’, K as in “Kazakhstan…” 
“No no. U as in ‘uniform’, L as in ‘London’, A as in ‘apple’…”

February 25, 2012


There’s a cliché little phrase that goes “Home is where the heart is.”

I hate clichés. I try to avoid them, especially in writing. Because clichés are overused and boring. And their meanings are like an old “welcome mat” well worn and trampled on.

And yet I can’t find a way to improve upon this particular cliché. Saying “home is when you’re with the people you love and who love you”, is too long. I could be “poetic” and use imagery to say “home is driving in your pajamas” or “home is letting your ‘Trekie side’ go to a party”. But that somehow doesn’t sum it all up. I’d still need multiple examples to say all of what that stupid cliché says. Alas.

“Home” is a simple word that is immensely difficult to define. Some people might ask, “Where do you call home?” And the answer can be vague and quite elusive.

For example, if you ask me where my home is this is what I’ll probably tell you:

I’m from Minnesota. That’s where I spent 15 years of my life growing up. I love Minnesota. I miss the lakes, the forests, and the kind, laid-back, down to earth sort of people. I’m proud to be a Minnesotan and I always will be. (It IS called “duck duck grayduck” no matter HOW many people say “duck duck goose!) But I haven’t lived in Minnesota for 5 years. In fact, I haven’t spent more than a week in Minnesota in that time. So…it’s not exactly “home” any more.

My parent’s live in Wisconsin. They moved there when I was 19. When I go “home” to see my family…I go to a house that I’ve grown familiar with and the faces that I’ve always known. But beyond those walls, there is nothing in that neighborhood I am attached to. There is no one in that town (except my family) that I get excited to see. So, my family’s house is not exactly “home” either.

The past 5 years I have lived in Colorado, and that’s where I’ll spend the next 4 years going to vet school. I have learned all the major streets (which is a big accomplishment if you’ve had any experience with how uniquely directionally challenged I am). I have my favorite coffee houses that I frequent and my favorite stores to shop. It’s where I’ve grown immensely in countless ways. It’s where I got my first “big girl job”. It’s where I discovered the worst and best parts of myself. It’s where I made my fondest and most painful memories. I love Colorado. I love the mountains, the sunshine, the winding roads and the incredible skiing.

But living in Colorado always revolved around school, and as such it was never a permanent “home” in my mind. I always knew in the back of my head that I’d be leaving eventually…and so would all of my friends. I’m going back to Colorado when I return to the States this summer. But when I go back to Fort Collins, most of the familiar faces and familiar laughs will be absent…graduation is a wonderfully bittersweet thing. So I’ll be going back to what feels like a different town and different school. It won’t feel like “home”.

So where is home for me? I honestly don’t know.  But if you ask me “what is home to you?”, that is much easier to answer (albeit just as complicated).

For me:

Home is being understood and understanding the people around you without having to say a word.

Home is driving in your pajamas to buy frozen yogurt or a frozen pizza to share.

Home is teasing and being teased, gushing tears and also offering your own shoulder.

Home is knowing the ins and outs of what makes people tick and what makes them ticked.

Home is when the strands of your heart are suddenly tangled in a knot with the strands of someone else’s.

Home is when you count down the days to see someone you can count on.

Home is going to sleep at night with the biggest smile on your face, but not being able to sleep because there’s too much joy in your heart.

Home is knowing that there’s always a bed with your name on it, always a number to call at 1am, always an ear to listen, and always a spoon to feed you.

Home is being able to sit in silence without awkwardness or a need to fill the gap.

Home is picking up the phone and the first thing you say is, “Ok, so…” to continue a conversation instead of “hello”.

In short, “home” is the people that fill my heart, the people that have seen me at my best and my worst, the people I can’t get off my mind, the people I am always trying to find ways to bless.

Anyhow, the reason I spent so much time talking about my “home” or rather “homes” is that this past weekend I realized for the first time that Mongolia has quietly, subtly, and slowly closed its fingers around mine. I realized that Mongolia is now another place I feel “at home” and I am really deeply going to miss being here.

(Some of you are saying, “Duh. I could’ve told you that before you left.” I apologize for being a numbskull. But it took me 5 months to get it. Bear with me for a minute.)

See, on Tuesday September 20th at about 6am or so, while being driven to the airport, there was nothing I wanted more to do than NOT go to Mongolia. (Fortunately, it’s a good thing plane tickets are non-refundable. I wasn’t going to waste $1,700.)

That morning I realized how much of my friends’ lives I was going miss out on. I realized how distant I would feel and how different my friendships would, at least temporarily, become while I was gone. I realized that 1) I don’t know how to teach and 2) I don’t speak the language and 3) I don’t know anyone in Mongolia. (Yes, I know. This didn’t sink in until I was driving to the airport, but I’m a little dense, what can I say?)

And the fourth and biggest reason I didn't want to go to Mongolia is because I seriously doubted that I'd be able to make any real friends or have meaningful relationships here. I was actually dreading meeting my roommie because we don't speak the same language, there is a considerable age difference separating us and I thought we wouldn't share much in common. In short...it might be a really long 8 months.

I'm sure God was sighing one of those "you've got to be kidding me" sighs. Because pretty sure He knew he had way better plans for me and pretty sure he knew I was wrong and should have just trusted him with what he was getting me into. Because within a minimum of 3 days or so, I knew without a doubt that it was the Enemy of my soul that put these feelings of fear in my heart.

Because my roommie and her sister are the two people that have made Mongolia feel like “home” for me. There is no one less boring, no one that I get along with better, no one with younger hearts and real inner and outer beauty, no one I feel more “myself” around than these two dear friends. They are like two sisters I never had growing up. And I love them very much. Somehow the strands of my heart got tangled in a knot with theirs.

My roommie and I have had to play burglars and break through a metal door together, we go to the gym and get ridiculously sore together, we go to concerts and share a love of music, we both love fruit (like a lot) and also chocolate (like even more a lot), we are both not morning people, we both enjoy our share of shopping and vegging in front of the TV (we also both think a lot of body hair is absolutely nasty but you don't really need to know that).

So on Friday night, as I was sitting next to my roommie in my first ever jazz music concert, attempting to sing along to the Mongolian words “Sain Bainuu, Ulaanbaatar min. Sain. Sain Bainuu, Ulaanbaatar min…” and waving our hands in the air in time with the music (yeah…this jazz concert was way more lively and exciting that I expected! So great.), that’s when it hit me. I’m going to miss this. A lot.

I won’t miss the smog. Or the traffic. I won’t miss the frigid cold. Or the language barrier. I won’t miss working at a desk on my computer all day. Or not being able to take a shower in the countryside.

But I’m going to miss walking to all the cool little shops and to get various ingredients and always finding surprising things in them.

I’m going to miss the excitement of mastering a new phrase in Mongolian.

I’m going to miss me “Mongolian language lessons” which are really “let’s talk about life, and catch up and share our hearts and pray for each other and maybe get around to learning one new Mongolian word” times.

I’m going to miss going to the small animal clinic and all the fun and smiling faces there. And I’m going to miss the laughing and teasing of the guys in my Master’s class.

I’m going miss being called “Dur-vroong Sar” which literally means “4th Month”.

I’m going to miss the endless interest in baking that my friends here have.

I’m going to miss having a  neighbor upstairs who loves to watch chick flicks with me.

I’m going to miss coming “home” to my apartment and just doing whatever with my roommie, whether watching a Korean soap opera or high-fiving because we caught the cheapest bus in town and we’re excited about it (the difference in price is about 20 cents, but hey. 20 cents is 20 cents. And that’s pretty exciting! )

It’s a good thing I still have 3 months left here. I still have a lot of memories to make and a lot more love to share. I have a lot more friendships I want to develop. Unless God has other plans, I am sure I will be back to visit multiple times in the coming years.

I recently said to two of my best friends in the States, that I was emotionally ready to “go home”. And I am. My heart is “at home” when I am with them too. I miss them immensely. I am counting down the days until I get to see them again, drive to their homes in my pajamas, and just BE with them doing whatever we feel like doing.

But now, at the same time, I am not emotionally ready to leave. How is it possible to be emotionally ready to “go home” and not emotionally ready to leave this place? I suppose it’s because “home” isn’t a place…”home” is people…and those people are in different places.

I wonder if this is why we are never quite satisfied 100% in one place. There’s always someplace that has something better to offer. Ocean side property. Better schools. Safer neighborhoods. More nightlife. More interesting jobs. Prettier environments.

I wonder if we’re not satisfied because we’re longing for a place where everyone we love can stay with us in perfect unity without the fear of disruption, change, or separation.

Home for me would be living in northern Minnesota, in a cabin on a lake, with my family, my college friends, my InterVarsity friends, my extended family, and my Mongolian and Chinese friends. (Not all in the same cabin mind you…but all on the same lake.)

The bad news is, this is never going to happen. My heart will seemingly forever be divided across States and oceans.

The good news is, Jesus has a solution to my problem. 

Since whenever the earth began, he has been building. And designing. And planning. He has been getting the best Home ever ready for everyone who chooses to trust and follow him. And that’s a long time to be designing something. So I imagine, this Home is going to be the best Home ever. If it is taking thousands and/or millions of years to get it ready, then dang. It is going to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.

(Ok fine, God could make it in like less than one second and doesn’t need that much time. Maybe it’s already finished. But you get my point.)

As a side note: I don’t know if we’re “allowed” or supposed to make requests, but just in case, I personally have already asked Jesus if my personal room (or space or whatever it is Jesus meant when he said this Home is going to have tons of “mansions”) could be in an A-frame wooden cabin with huge windows facing west over a lake with a forest around it, but also with mountains in the back and an ocean somewhere not too far away.

I also asked if possible if I could have some leopards, jaguars and other big cats to live with me because that would make my heart so happy. I also asked that if God could plan the interior to look something like the architecture of Rivendell from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies…then I would just…I mean I would just have no words it would be so amazing.

(Look, I don’t know what you’re “dream home” would be like, but I figure that God has no limits so…you know, start dreaming because it’s going to be even better then you can possibly dream up! Also, if you don’t like leopards and in your perfect world there ARE no leopards…well, I figure God’s got it all worked out some how. Just like how in my perfect world there are no spiders, but if you happen to actually LIKE spiders in your perfect world…I’m not in charge of that, so I’m not worrying about it.)

I don’t know if it works that way, but I do know Jesus knows me better than I do and so whatever he designs and plans is going to blow my mind away and I won’t be able to get over it. Call me crazy, but that’s what I think. Not to mention all the other cool things like finally being 100% the way I was intended to be, not having any kind of emotional, mental, or physical pain, and getting to actually be with Jesus all the time. And don’t even get me started on the new earth he is going to make, because I get almost even more excited about that!

Ok. Back to what I was saying: The point is, that the Home that Jesus is making for us will be the one place that my heart can rest in the fact that it is no longer divided. Everyone I love will be there. And they will never move away. We will never get separated. We will never have to say goodbye. We will never miss each other again.

And we will never have to choose between living near one group of friends or family or another. We will never be disunified or feel awkward because one group of friends at dinner doesn’t know or get along with another group of friends at dinner. 

We never feel like time is too short or that there isn’t enough time together. There won’t be any language or communication barriers either. We will always have a full heart and always be around the people we love and the people that love us.

And that is truly what “home” is to me. That is the “home” I long for. The place where my heart is all in one place again…that is where “home is”.

“Home is where the heart is.”

Stupid freakin cliché but stupid freakin true.

January 25, 2012

Arkhangai...stripped bare. (Part 2)

Alas. This is yet another post that should have been finished in December, but that I have only now edited and completed. It is not my favorite piece of writing therefore. Not very creative, and mostly just giving the facts. On the other hand, this was my experience in Arkhangai. Completely honest. Nothing held back. The depths of my being were changed. It's a long story because a lot happened and I didn't want to leave any of it out. It would have robbed you of the truth. So if you've got the time, I hope you'll read it all. I also hope (fingers crossed) to be writing something more current and up-to-date soon. And also hopefully back to my preferred style of writing. In the meantime, here is what really happened in Arkhangai from my perspective:

It’s funny how sometimes two people who experience the same thing come away with completely different stories about it. During my two weeks in Arkhangai, I’m not sure what my 5 teammates learned on the trip, what surprised them, what was difficult, what was encouraging, or the ways God spoke to them. However. I would be willing to bet they learned something completely different than I did. Because I am almost 100% sure our experiences were entirely different even though we were in the same place.

When we were first driving to Arkhangai (let’s say 2 hours into the trip) I had this bursting excitement that we were God’s ambassadors carrying the most precious thing on earth to these rural communities and I was so excited to share God’s love and truth with the people I met. We did share God’s love and truth and people’s lives were touched. But now I’m not sure that’s why God brought me specifically on this trip.

Let’s be real. I can’t speak more than 10 sentences in Mongolian. I understand just as much when I am listening to Mongolian being spoken. And so, after I’ve introduced myself, shared my age, where I come from, talked about my family and what I do here, learned what the rural Mongolians’ names are…after that…well, my part in the conversations were done.

I obviously couldn’t give seminars. I did teach an English song twice to the high school students for fun, but that was my only “official” purpose on the trip. In fact, when we visited families or met with other Christians, I couldn’t even have conversations with them unless someone wanted to translate for me, but mostly there wasn’t a lot of time for that. I could talk to my team because they speak English…but it isn’t helpful or good time management to always be translating. And so I couldn’t understand what they were saying at all. I just sat there. Language is a funny thing. You don’t know how much you rely on it until you can’t use it.

Even our Bible reading times every morning with my teammates were almost all in Mongolian and not translated. So I couldn’t even share in those special times with them. And I got a little bitter about it. I kept thinking, “Why aren’t they including me?” And then I was hurt inside. I felt somehow inferior and like I really shouldn’t be there. It was like I was just taking up space you know? And every time something was translated for me, I just felt worse like it was a burden to them to have to translate for me. I felt so isolated, so alone, so useless, so inferior. And all because I couldn’t participate in any of the teaching, encouragement, conversations, seminars...anything.

And so, I began to seriously wonder “Why am I here God? Why am I on this trip?…I can’t contribute anything of worth. I can’t do anything. I’m just an awkward burden. And all of this makes me feel so incredibly isolated from every person around me.”  

It was sometime in the middle of feeling really isolated, alone, useless time that I began to realize that finally God was teaching me humility and breaking down my pride.

How could I have had pride when nothing was about me and nothing depended on me? I was completely in the background…and it hurt…but it was good for me. I can’t take credit for any of the success and amazing things that happened. I was completely dependent on my team for everything. From language and understanding what was happening and who people were, to telling me what we were doing next.

I finally realized I had to take on the mentality of a servant…not to belittle myself or my worth, but to remember that I was here to serve my team…not to have them serve me. That was the first mental and heart shift I had to make. I remembered that I was there to support and encourage my teammates as much as I could. This was at least a purpose I could have and way I could participate on the trip.

So, I began to pray for them all the time. Or rather I tried to. It is so difficult for me to not daydream in the middle of praying. And after a certain amount of time, I’d sort of run out of ideas or things to pray for. And if I wasn’t praying, I looked for ways to help out, like washing dishes or sweeping the ger. It was so humbling. I was still in the background, still isolated, and I was immersed in my role as a servant. However. God wasn’t done yet.

Because sometimes I even have had pride in doing things for people – you know? I so often find worth and value in the fact that I can contribute, help and do something for someone else. I am always the strong one, the one who can help others. And in my heart I’m prideful about it. Additionally I put part of my self worth in it.

But in the Arkhangai, God stripped me even of this. It turned out that I really didn’t have very many times to “do things” for other people. For the most part, they served me. My teammates showed me where things were, how to do things, told me what people were saying. They even had to show me how to wash my hair since we had no sink or shower!

And this all culminated in one final collapse of my pride when I got strep throat. To my best knowledge I have only had strep throat once before and I was young enough not to really remember it. And now I know for sure that I never want to experience it again. To be brief – I was completely miserable and weak. There was no way I could take care of myself. Raging fevers and the almost complete inability to swallow and talk topped the list of  “I’ve never felt this aweful or helpless in my life” events.

And so. I had to submit to everyone taking care of me around the clock for two straight days. I couldn’t even put up a fight to explain that I’d be fine and I didn’t need their help. It is so humbling to be served and to let other people help me and take care of me. I normally want to be strong and independent, but this time I couldn't. I learned to take the seat and position of someone who needs help and takes instruction and advice without arguing or insisting on my way. It was hard. I didn’t like the feeling one tiny bit. But. It was good for me. However. God wasn’t done yet. He took it another step further still…

At this point I was really sick, but not delirious enough from my fevers to realize that I did indeed have strep throat. (As a microbiologist I recognized that white spots ALL OVER my very swollen red angry tonsils is NOT a good sign and is definitely more than a “sore throat”.) I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were about 100 different ways and places I could have gotten Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria in the countryside. Other people had different theories however. When my teammates explained that my sore throat was probably because I had gotten too cold outside from not wearing my warmest socks and shoes, my instinct was to argue and try to explain that it didn’t work that way.

But when God is teaching you humility, funny things start to happen.

I learned to submit to people even if I did know more. I had to love them by respecting them. So like when they insisted that I wear more layers because I was an American and not used to the cold, even though I knew I would, in all honesty, be fine, I went back inside to put on more layers. Because in Mongolian culture I needed to show them respect and honor because they are older than me.

In American culture, I’m so used to arguing and fighting the point…”No really. I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself, thank you very much for the offer, but I’m fine on my own.” In Arkhangai, I realized it’s like saying “I know better than you and so I’m going to exercise that authority and knowledge over you.” We’re so independent…we are so assertive…and it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s good you know? But other times, it’s worth it to just listen to others and let them have the last say.

And so instead of making a point that I knew better than they did. I learned to submit and be humble instead of prideful…even when maybe I did know better. They so wanted to take care of me that I wanted to honor and respect their care…not throw it aside and disregard it by asserting my own strength and abilities.

So. While I am absolutely sure the cold didn’t make me sick, I promised to wear more socks from then on so that they would be honored and so that they wouldn’t worry about me. It’s a completely different way of thinking from American culture that’s for sure. I think I’ll even take this practice back home with me. It’s changed me for sure.

Some might call me submissive, without a backbone, and a bit of a pushover.  But it’ll be willfully done. Now I’m choosing to back down on purpose.

Anyways, I think this is what God meant when he said we shouldn’t do anything with selfish motives, or vanity or pride, but instead we should consider others better than ourselves. (I love that Paul, who wrote the part about being humble in the book called Philippians in the Bible) used the word ‘consider’. It’s as if you could say “consider others better than yourself”…even if they aren’t better.) We’re supposed to pay attention to their best interests as well as our own. It’s a hard lesson, but it’s good.

Truthfully, outside my personal feelings of isolation and bitterness, our team had so much unity and love for each other. We really were like family because no one was “the boss”. And after I put myself mentally in the role of a servant and let myself be the least and let myself be weak and intentionally be taken care of…then all of a sudden, my heart didn’t hurt and I didn’t feel excluded anymore. I still couldn’t understand 80% of stuff going on and being said, I still couldn’t really participate, but it was ok then. It didn’t hurt my heart anymore. I was ok in the background. It’s not about me and what I can do anymore.

Later I found out that I was quite the ice-breaker. I was so easy for my team to start conversations with the students and couples and various families because they all started off by asking about the blonde foreigner who spoke a little Mongolian. It was way easier for them to build trust and relationships with people. I am not sure if I am flattered by being an ice-breaker and conversation starter, but it’s something I wasn’t even aware of during the trip.

So for me, the trip wasn’t about the seminars or the beautiful scenery, or even about making cool friendships, or about the amazing ways lives were changed. I think I got to go on the trip because God knew it was a perfect way to teach me humility and break apart my pride (not to say I’m not prideful anymore, but it’s a step in the right direction).

So you see, God did amazing things in the lives of the people in rural Arkhangai. But he took along a head-strong, independent, prideful American girl to break her like a wild colt. Humility is one of the most bitter bits to wear, but when you stop bucking and fighting the one in the saddle, the ride through those Mongolian mountains is one of the most peaceful and freeing you’ll ever know.