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The first missionaries to arrive in Mongolia were senior couples in the Fall of 1992. The first six young Elders arrived in the Spring of 1993, and the mission was later officially established with Elder Richard E. Cook called to be the first mission president in 1995. Currently there are upwards of 100 missionaries serving full time, including native Mongolian members. Missionaries are not allowed to proselyte and must teach 12 hours of English each week. Officially, missionaries are considered employees of Deseret Industries.
Snapshot of Mongolia – Mongolia, “Land of the Blue Skies,” is the world’s nineteenth-largest country, in terms of landmass, but the most sparsely populated, with around 3 million inhabitants (there are actually more horses and camels than people). Mongolia’s official language is Mongolian, though Russian and English are sometimes spoken as second languages. About 53% of Mongolia’s population is Buddhist, with nearly 40% of Mongolians not practicing any religion, although many still claim traditional beliefs such as ancestor worship. Only about 2% of Mongolians are Christian.
About 40% of Mongolia’s population lives in the capital city Ulaanbaatar, while a significant part of the population is nomadic. Many Mongolians live in traditional tent homes known as ger or yurts. Traditional throat-singing, urtyn duu singing, and music using the morin khuur (a stringed instrument) often reflect nomadic and Buddhist practices. Since the end of communism, modern music and media have started to gain more popularity as well. Mongolia’s national festival Naadam is held every year from July 11-13, where archery, horse-racing, and wrestling competitions are held. These events are very popular and considered a central part to Mongol culture, though basketball, soccer, and table tennis are also gaining popularity.Mongolian meals primarily consist of meats and dairy products, with little use of spices and vegetables. Beef, mutton, goat, horse, and yak meat are all commonly eaten. One popular dish in the cities is buuz, a meat-filled dumpling. In traditional Mongolian culture, any guest that enters a ger (yurt) is offered food to eat, and it is considered rude to not accept it; however, the guest does not need to eat all of the food.
The Church has had amazing growth since it officially entered Mongolia in 1992. The Mongolia Mission was officially organized in 1995 and the Book of Mormon was translated into Mongolian in 2001, with a more correct translation in 2008. There are now more than 10,500 members (as of 2013) in 23 congregations and several Church buildings. The first stake was created in the country in 2010. Although most members are first- or second-generation, there is a significant portion who have served full-time missions for the Church, perhaps over 1,000.
February 2013 article on the Church in Mongolia, here.
“The way to a Mongols heart is through eating their food.” Be prepared for cuisine that is very different from American food or many other Asian cultures. The Mongolian diet lacks the wide variety of vegetables, which are difficult to grow in the climate. Typical fare consists primarily of dairy products, meat and breads, with a above-average consumption of animal fat. Buuz, a fried meat-filled dumpling, is the traditional dish and is very popular.
For drink, Mongols often drink Seabuckthorn juice, which is made from a local berry and is quite nutritious. As well, Airag (fermented horse milk) is a specialty drink common during holidays and the winter.
Mongolia does not have the more efficient or sophisticated forms of transportation found in Westernized countries. Missionaries can expect to walk or take buses called “meekers” that dozens of people pile into. Road infrastructure is poor outside of Ulaanbaatar, so depending on where you are traveling, transportation may include airplane, train, or bus. While missionaries themselves will not travel by camel or horse, they may see caravans across the Mongolian steppes.
Missionaries will mostly walk or use buses. There are also taxis, but they are expensive. Buses are slow, but cover a lot of area. If missionaries are out in the housing districts, walking is the only mode of transportation. Some people use bikes, but not often because there is a very small window to use them before the country is covered in ice for most of the year.
According to the U.S. State Department, “there have been no significant acts of terrorism or extremism in Mongolia, and there are no regions of instability in the country. However, you are advised to avoid all protests, including political protests and street demonstrations that occur occasionally in Ulaanbaatar, since demonstrations may become violent at any time.” Foreigners must carry their passport or permanent residency card at all times and are subject to police investigation and a fine if found without it. For more up-to-date information, see the travel.gov website here.
The only difficulties missionaries usually find are drunks (who are common) and the lack of timely transportation. Missionaries are not allowed to wear nametags or proselytize (speak of Church things) in most of their English-teaching capacities.
Mongolia has a lot of pickpockets, so missionaries need to be aware of that and avoid carrying valuables. Mongolia is otherwise relatively safe. Guns are outlawed escept for hunting. Police officers don’t even have guns. There are a few areas missionaries are not permitted to enter. Be smart and respectful, and you should be able to avoid troublesome situations.
Mongolians, especially the older generations, tend to be very traditional and a little superstitious. When you enter a ger (yurt) or home, there are often two doors. You will be expected to enter on the right. If you accidentally touch feet (or step on someone’s foot), you immediately reach over and shake their hand.
To this day, Mongolians revere Gengis (pronounced “chingis”) Khan, who united clans of wandering nomads and created an empire that spanned from Korea to Ukraine, Siberia to Vietnam during the thirteenth century A.D. Traditional clothing and customs date back to that period, nearly 1000 years.
There are two main holidays. The first is Tsagaan Sar (White Moon), which celebrates the lunar new year. It is a three day celebration where dumplings are eaten and the people pay respect to family and their elder. Gifts are also given out. The second holiday is Naadam, which is held in July. It celebrates the three national sports: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Together with friends and family, the people go and watch these sports together.
Colloquial talk is difficult because the language is so vast. It is imperative to study the language every day. It is one of the hardest languages for Americans to learn.
Sain Bainuu! (san-ban-oh!) = “Hello”
Bayartie (buy-arr-tay) = “Goodbye”
Mongolian Sign Language is common throughout Mongolia (there are many deaf people) and they talk a lot with their hands. For example, if someone asks you how you are feeling, you hold up a finger to show how you are: thumb being the best and pinky being the worst.
Warm (wool) suits and warm clothing for both elders and sisters.
It is best to purchase cold-weather clothing and gear in Mongolia, because most of what can be purchased elsewhere will not be warm enough. Bring thick wool socks and good winter boots. Shoes in Mongolia tend not to last very long.
Missionaries in the Mongolia Ulaanbaater Mission are not allowed to wear nametags (outside of Church premises). They typically teach English for 12-16 hours a week as per their visa requirements. Some English language teacher training will be provided them during their MTC stay.
For packages: Mission office phone number is 976-11-463-015. If a package is sent with a private courier, the mission office telephone number is needed. It is best to send via USPS.
Mailing and shipping: It is possible to get packages, but they take a very long time to get. It takes about a month or two to receive packages. All the mail is shipped to the misison home and then distributed there by Assistants or the mission office. Packages are safe to send, however.
5th Fl, LDS Church Bldg, Tokyo Street 6
Bayanzurkh District, 1st Khoroo
Straight from the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“Basically anything American. Cereal. Fruits and vegetables were also difficult to obtain.”
*What did you eat the most of?
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Too many to count—airag was gross, and all the animal fat.”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“Everything. Mongolians are very blunt and very different from Americans. They also really like the NBA All-Star game.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission?
“Remember that missionary work is different in each country. Love the people and your companions.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“Try to balance your desire to teach all the time with the reality that it may not always be possible.”
**Did you serve in the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission? If so, we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.**