From the far corners of the captivating land of Chinggis Khaan, gers, yaks, eagles, camels, the Naadam Festival, and the Gobi dessert, Mongolian LDS youth gathered for an All-Mongolian Youth Conference. 345 youth and 108 leaders boarded seven busses and traveled from the nation’s capital city Ulaanbaatar to NARC camp in the forests of Mongolia.
In order to attend the youth conference, each youth needed to attend early-morning seminary at least 80% of the time. Considering that this past winter was one of Mongolia's coldest -40 to -50 below (F) and was attended by a Dzud disaster and deep snow in some areas, the fact that the youth of Mongolia attended early morning seminary consistently enough to qualify to go to youth conference was a miracle!
In December 2009, we traveled from Ulaanbaatar to Khovd. We experienced first hand Khovd’s reputation for being very cold. During their visit, temperatures plummeted below -40 degrees below zero. Early one morning as we arrived at the Khovd branch building, we were surprised to open the door to the seminary room and see the seminary room filled with the bright, happy faces of over thirty eager early-morning seminary students. These students, their teacher, and missionaries serving in Khovd had braved the dark morning and frigid, sub zero temperatures to walk to early-morning seminary. Some had to get up even earlier in order to do their chores before they left for seminary. We were amazed.
These youth and their leaders from Khovd on the western frontier of Mongolia traveled for three days and nights over mostly bumpy dirt roads to arrive at the Ulaanbaatar so they could attend the youth conference. Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission, President D. Allen Andersen said, “The Khovd Branch is probably the most remote branch in the world.” It is 1,000 miles away from the Chuch’s center of strength in Ulaanbaatar. The Khovd Branch also brought the largest contingency of leaders and youth. Thirty-eight youth and three leaders piled into an old-style bus along with two drivers to make the long journey.
They were richly rewarded for their efforts. In addition to attending a well-planned youth conference, they had the privilege of listening to the counsel and advice of Elder Richard and Sister Mary N. Cook who were visiting Mongolia with their 18-year-old granddaughter.
Elder Cook was the first mission president in Mongolia and is currently a director of the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund. Sister Cook is the first counselor in the General Young Women Presidency. In July 1995, when the Church created the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission, Elder Cook, who was serving with his wife as missionaries in Mongolia, was called to be the first mission president. Sister Cook served with him in Mongolia until 1998. The Cooks later lived in Hong Kong, China while Elder Cook served as a member of the presidency of the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund.
Along with other youth and leaders from all over Mongolia, the contingency from Khovd was mesmerized as they listened to Elder and Sister Cook tell about the early days of the Church in Mongolia. During the opening meeting, they heard about the Sister Cook's experiences with the first Young Women organization in Ulaanbaatar and enjoyed hearing stories about and seeing the photos of early missionaries and Church members. They also enjoyed hearing Elder and Sister Cook describe how much Mongolia has changed since those early days. They were also challenged to read the Book of Mormon every day, to pray morning and night and to smile.
Later at NARC, the youth attended workshops on pertinent gospel topics by outstanding Church leaders, and had other wonderful activities such as: learning the Haka, throwing pine cones with a sling shot like Daniel, playing all kinds of sports, a dance, a wonderful fireside with Elder and Sister Cook and their granddaughter as special speakers, scripture study time, games, a talent show with talents from each ward/branch, etc.
One of the highlights was working on a service project of sewing/tying 61 newborn baby quilts. This project was orchestrated by Elder and Sister Clark, senior missionaries serving in Ulaanbaatar. They were assisted in preparation by Elder and Sister Caldwell and in execution by Elder and Sister Powell. Groups of youth and leaders joined together to figure out how to accomplish this feat.
It was a wonderful youth conference. Elder and Sister Cook also gave special workshops to the youth on Personal Progress for the young women and Duty to God for the young men. Later, leaders gathered together while the youth were engaged in workshops and activities to receive training from Elder and Sister Cook, respectively, on how to administer the Duty to God Program and Personal Progress Program.
Before youth conference, the theme song for the Young Men/Young Women theme for the year was translated into Mongolian and sent out to all of the wards and branches for the youth to learn before youth conference. Also, the youth were challenged to memorize the theme scripture: Joshua 1:9 "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." The theme song "Be Strong" emphasized these words. It was exciting to see the way the song "Be Strong" captured the hearts of the youth. With a choir from Erdenet leading the way, all of the youth and leaders sang it together for the opening meeting. Later they sang it together with piano accompaniment for the fireside. Then, after the dance Friday evening, Uyanga and another girl led everyone in singing the song a couple more times. This time they used an upbeat recorded orchestration. They cranked up the speakers and everyone sang their hearts out while they spontaneously holding hands high above their heads and waving their arms back and forth to the rhythm of the song. It was a “We are the World” moment! Truly magic! Also, it was fun to hear the youth sing "Be Strong" in small groups as they walked around the camp and, finally, as they walked to their busses to leave the conference, echoes of "Be Strong" floated through the air. On Sunday, we ran upstairs when we heard a group of girls singing the song in the Bayanzurkh building in Ulaanbaatar. They were preparing to sing the song in their YW meeting. "Be Strong" is here to stay in Mongolia.
We were very grateful to have the mission doctor and his wife, Dr. and Sister Eliason, accompany us to youth conference and stay the whole time. It was comforting to know that he was there when we needed him. Also, they were both a great help and pitched in any time they were needed.
As we returned to the Bayanzurkh building, Elder and Sister Caldwell and Elder and Sister Powell had sack dinners put together for Khovd, Choibalsan, and Murun, and all of the Darkhan District branches, as well as snack/traveling food for them and additional snack food for the hungry youth from UB who popped their heads in to see what was going on. They were an invaluable help in organizing this. We just wish we had a photo of them and all of the bags they put together lined up ready to go.
Over all, this was one of the best youth conferences we have ever attended! It was hard to believe that we weren't in the US.
When we ate Mongolian food for three days, saw a ger that was put up for additional sleeping accommodations, and heard Mongolian spoken all around us, we were reminded that we were in Mongolia, but other than that, we wouldn't have known!
By Elder Richard and Sister Carol Lasson, Humanitarian Missionaries in Mongolia
3 years ago