Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thankfully, We Made It Home from Choibalsan

Monday night, January 10th, we returned from a trip to Choibalsan City, which lies 600 kilometers east of Ulaanbaatar (UB).  It is on the far eastern side of Mongolia and is lower elevation and a little warmer than UB, with a high while we were there of 6 degrees F and a low of -12, but it also has more snow than Ulaanbaatar.  The airport only has flights from Choibalsan to UB and return trips back on Friday and Monday, so we flew over to Choibalsan on Friday and bought tickets to return back to UB on Monday afternoon.  There is no bus or taxi service to or from the airport, so Elder and Sister Anderson hired a meeker to pick us up when we arrived.

While we waited for our flight in the UB airport, we made acquaintance with a Mongolian man who was going to Choibalsan.  Later, he sat across the aisle from us on the airplane. When we arrived at Choibalsan airport, the plane landed on a short runway.  The man we met earlier told us that this airport was a left-over military airport about six kilometers outside of Choibalsan and that the mounds that surrounded it were earthen and brick airplane hangers.  We found out later that the airport is about ten kilometers outside of town.

The terrain surrounding the airport was flat and covered with snow.  We could see for miles in every direction and saw no sign of the city of Choibalsan. 

We looked around for a place to pick up our baggage and couldn’t see one.  After several minutes, a man began handing out bags, one-by-one, through the same door we had entered the airport through  through.  We waited in the small crowd as bags were handed one by one through the doorway.  As we watched, the other passengers climbed into waiting SUVs, until only Richard and I and the man we met earlier were left.  He said he was waiting for one of his students to pick him up. 

We called Elder Anderson and discovered that the meeker they had hired to come and pick us up was stuck in a snowdrift along with several other vehicles.  Elder Anderson and several other passengers were helping to dig out the vehicles. We waited a half hour or so and finally the meeker drove up in front of the airport and out piled Elder Anderson, Sister Anderson, and Elder Davaadorj.  Since our airport friend hadn’t been picked up, we invited him to join us, and we all we piled back into the meeker and headed for Choibalsan.  As we rode to Choibalsan, the Andersons told us that they had gotten stuck several times on the way out to the airport and that they had had to help the meeker driver dig out so they could make it.  Also they said that the meeker driver had driven off the road in order to get to there. We really appreciated the hard work it took them in order to pick us up at the airport.  On the way into Choibalsan City, we discovered that by not going on the main road and by going a different route, it wasn’t so bad and the driver drove into town without getting stuck.

The main reason we went to Choibalsan was to attend a wheelchair ceremony at the Choibalsan Red Cross.   We had hired a large truck to transport 19 wheelchairs from Ulaanbaatar to Choibalsan, and then we flew out so we could attend the ceremony.    We made it in time to go to the ceremony.  The Governor of Dornod Aimag attended the ceremony and we had a nice visit with him.

We also wanted to check out the garden sites of people who had participated in the garden project last summer.  We arrived in time on Friday evening to attend the wheelchair ceremony, and deliver a couple of wheelchairs to individuals.

Saturday we visited some of the members and their garden sites.  Of course the land was covered with snow, but we examined several garden sites, green houses/frames, and personal wells and visited with several enthusiastic gardeners.  A couple of the gardeners we met was a man and woman in their eighties who were burning the hair off of cow legs/hooves so they could boil them up for soup.

We will be writing up our 2011 Garden Project soon and this gave us a better idea of the terrain and needs of the people in Choibalsan.

We appreciated the hospitality of Elder and Sister Anderson, who are serving there as a senior couple.  They will be going home next month and have spent their whole mission there in remote Choibalsan.  Elder Anderson is serving as the branch president and is setting a wonderful example of a caring, capable leader.  We attended a special baptism on Saturday night where a wonderful choir of Young Women and Aaronic Priesthood led by Sister Anderson, sang two special hymns.  Elder Anderson performed the baptism.  The Sacrament meeting on Sunday, which was attended by about 150 people, seemed like we were back home in Utah. Elder Anderson did a wonderful job of conducting.   He's probably the bridge that is needed between the old branch president and the new one here in Choibalsan.  Hopefully, whoever replaces Elder Anderson emulate the way Elder Anderson has fulfilled his calling.

It was really thrilling to see how much the members love Elder and Sister Anderson.  Elder Anderson told us that it took awhile for them to gain the people’s trust.  But it was easy to see that they are now loved very much.  They are like the grandmother and grandfather of the branch.  For example, Sister Anderson and I sat in the audience during sacrament meeting.  She had three sisters who wanted to translate for her, so one sat behind me and “tried” to translate for me, and the other two sat on either side of Sister Anderson and together translated for her.  Also, while coming and going to meetings, Sister Anderson was greeted with many warm “San ban oh”s and excited hugs.  The Andersons are loved and are making a great difference in this branch. 

On Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m., Elder and Sister Anderson invited us over to dinner at their apartment.  Even though Church let out at 1:00 p.m., they started the dinner at 7:00 p.m. because the missionaries had people to visit or teach and they weren’t through until 7:00 p.m, so the Andersons patiently waited until then to serve the dinner.  They served a tasty home-cooked meal of carrots, potatoes and chicken soup served over white rice and accompanied by mandarin oranges and home-made cake with sweetened condensed milk frosting (a Sister Anderson invention).

We stayed at a lovely, newly remodeled hotel across the street from the Choibalsan chapel, the To Wan.  During our stay, we made friends with a sweet desk clerk named Munkhgerel.  She was really friendly and interested in what we were doing.

On Monday, we visited Kindergarten #1, which was near our hotel.  They had put in a request to DIC for assistance and we wanted to see what they needed. We had fun as we visited the classrooms and met the children.  Richard insisted that I sing "Goya, Goya, Goya" with the children.  I did and it was really fun.

When it came time for us to leave Choibalsan, Elder Davaadorj made arrangements for a meeker to pick us up at our hotel.  He told the driver not to take us by way of the main road because of the terrible snowdrifts.  We loaded our suitcases into the meeker, but as we started out, the meeker began making terrible noises.  The missionaries hopped in and told us that the driver was going to take us to the Zakh (big open market) where we would get into another meeker and then be taken to the airport.

At the Zakh we piled into another meeker, drove to the gym, dropped off the missionaries so they could play basketball, and started driving out of town.   We were concerned when the driver started driving straight out of town on the main road.  I kept thinking he would turn off the main road and go the safer way out of town, but we realized that when we changed into the second meeker, he probably didn’t receive the same instructions about which way to travel to the airport.  As we neared the edge of town, the driver drove the meeker right into a big snowdrift and, of course, we got stuck!  Richard and I got out and pushed and pushed while the meeker’s bald tires spun and spun.  As the meeker rolled backward and then forward, I could see spots of oil splattering on the snow under the meeker.  We finally pushed the meeker out of the snowdrift.

The driver drove around that snowdrift and gunned the meeker another block or two through the drifted snow, getting stuck and unstuck a couple more times.  Finally, the meeker gunned half way through a huge snowdrift and there he sat stuck in a depression in the road, and spinning his tires, he couldn’t go backwards or forwards.  He didn’t have a shovel, only a long metal pole, which he tried to use to bat the snow away from the tires.  We felt very helpless and very stuck.  I told the driver that my husband was a good driver.  The meeker driver agreed and so Richard got into the meeker while the meeker driver and I tired to push.  Richard tried his best, while we I pushed, but to no avail.

Finally, Richard got out of the meeker, worriedly looked at his watch and said, “Let’s walk.”  He asked the meeker driver where the airport (neesick) was and the meeker driver pointed to what looked like a tiny building straight down the road ahead of us.  Richard paid the man 5,000 tugs, took our bags out of the meeker, and we started trudging straight ahead through the snowdrifts towing our bags while the driver watched us with a bewildered look on his face.  The further we went, the more we were convinced that our meeker would never have made it any further than he did.  Also, the further we went, the smaller the meeker looked, but the airport didn’t look any larger. 

We trudged along the snow-drifted road for about twenty to twenty-five minutes, when suddenly we heard the sound of an engine coming up fast behind us.  Richard yelled, “He’s coming!” 

It, of course, wasn’t the meeker we had abandoned; it was a big Russian van with new-looking snow tires and four-wheel drive.  As it neared, we didn’t know if the driver would stop for us or not, but thankfully, he did!  He asked us where we were going and when we told him the neesick, he motioned for us to get in.  As Richard threw our bags into the van,  I climbed onto the middle of the only seat behind the driver, a rear-facing bench seat, between two Mongolian men, one of whom was practically buried in an animal fur blanket. Richard plopped himself next to another man on a pile of bags on the floor of the van. One more Mongolian sat on the bags behind Richard.

Once we were safely inside, the driver reached out to us and shook our hands like we were old friends, turned around, and started driving through the snowdrifts.  As we bumped up and down and sideways, we asked the men in the back if they were going to fly.  They laughed and said no.  We think they told us that they were workers at the airport. 

As we bumped along, our Indiana Jones driver plowed through the snow, got stuck, backed up, gunned it and plowed on.  He pulled off the road and around several big snowdrifts.   Once we were stuck and I thought we would have to get out and help shovel, but just at that moment, the driver skillfully maneuvered the van and we were suddenly on the move again. We drove on like that for about twenty-five minutes until we realized, through frost-covered windows, that we were approaching the fence around the airport!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  As we approached the airport, the driver started singing in English, “Country road, take me home, to the place I belong . . .”  I joined in!  He laughed and so did we!

As he stopped and we pulled our bags out of the van, I exclaimed many bayarlalaas (thanks).  The driver came around the van and shook our hands. As Richard thanked him with some tugriks, the driver started singing again, “Country road . . .”  I joined in and we loudly sang the chorus together.  He then laughed, shook my hand, and gave me a big hug. 

While he walked into a small auxiliary building, Richard and I picked up our luggage and walked gratefully over to the airport terminal.  It wasn’t long before we were asked to go through security and into the waiting room.  We were very grateful that we weren’t still out in the snow walking to the airport.  The airplane left about ten minutes early and there were only about ten people on board. We were grateful to be part of them!

We felt like the cavalry had rescued us!  We realized that without this ride, we would never have made our flight, we would have been stranded on the frozen prairies of Choibalsan, and would have had a long five days' wait until the next airplane came.  Being rescued was truly a tender mercy!

Thankfully, we made it home safely and were able to sleep in our own bed that night!  We slept well!


  1. What a tender mercy that you made it to the airport! It makes me tear up to think about. I will tell the kids that our prayers are being answered and Heavenly Father is keeping Grandma and Grandpa safe in Mongolia! Love you! Sharlene

  2. I am in tears as I read your tender story. Oh, my goodness. Heavenly Father loves you! I am so grateful that you are safe. What an adventure. I am sharing the Mongolian dvd this morning in Relief Society , and I will share a new tender story about your adventures in Choibalsan. I love you. MOM

  3. What an adventure, and what a blessing. And we thought "four wheeling" to Choilbason was an experience. It's good to see winter doesn't stop the blessings from flowing all around the country. You guys are doing a great work. We can't imagine how they will ever replace you.

  4. Oh my goodness!!! What a miracle!! I can't believe my mom and dad were walking through the snow drifts in Outer Mongolia to get to the airport. We pray for you in every prayer we say. I am so glad Heavenly Father is watching after my mom and dad.

    Love you!!!!