Monday, October 26, 2009


October 18, 2009

On Friday, we attended a wheelchair ceremony sponsored by the Red Cross at a school for special needs children.  One young man’s body twisted and writhed as he was put into his wheelchair.  I leaned over to his contortion-twisted body and he whispered a distinct and heartfelt, “Thank you.”  As another child was lifted into her wheelchair, her body tensed rigid with excitement or fear and her mother and teachers were unable to get her to relax into her chair.  Maybe her body will cooperate another day.  My heart swelled with gratitude for this wheelchair project as child after child was placed in their wheelchairs.  The head schoolmaster told us that before today most of these children have been carried to school on the backs of their parents.  I’m sure it will be a relief to many of them to have a wheelchair to help ease their burdens. 

From there, we went to The Children’s Palace and viewed a display of teaching objects for blind students.  A few years ago, DIC did a white cane project for the blind.  That’s probably why we were invited.

We couldn’t stay very long, because we were also invited to Acer Computer’s launching of a new lightweight laptop, which has a long battery life.  The Ulaanbaatar East District President Tserennynam, who works for Acer, invited us.  It was pretty interesting to see how special guests were treated, seats marked, a press conference held, and special refreshments served while guests mingled with dignitaries.  During that time, we met the manager of Acer in Mongolia. He was interested in our Humanitarian projects and said he would like to talk to us sometime about our work.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wheelchair Ceremony at the Children's Palace

Partnering with the Red Cross, we held our wheelchair ceremony at the Children’s Palace on September 29, 2009.   The Red Cross put up a huge banner announcing their 50th anniversary.  They arranged for 27 recipients to receive their wheelchairs.  The event was special with red roses for the dignitaries, a special musical number performed by a man who had no legs at all, wonderful speeches by Church leaders, Elder Lasson, and the leader of the Red Cross, and Soyolmaa presented a statue called the “Hands of Friendship” to the leader of the Red Cross in Mongolia.  It was touching to see the people being helped and sometimes lifted into their wheelchairs by handsome LDS missionaries.  We had amazing media coverage.  We saw news reports of the wheelchair ceremony on three TV stations.  One of them was a national Mongolian TV station.  It was really fun to be on Mongolian TV.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Two shipments of wheelchairs were ordered from the Church by Elder and Sister Clark to be donated to the people of Mongolia.  They and we have been waiting for them for months.  The two shipments, one for 250 wheelchairs and one of 500 wheelchairs, were ordered months apart from separate manufacturers and were scheduled to arrive separately. However, we received word a week ago that the 500 wheelchairs had arrived at the train station and a few days later, we received word that the 250 wheelchairs had also arrived at the train station.  Since we are partnering with the Red Cross for distribution and since they were in charge of getting the wheelchairs through Customs, they added the 250 wheelchairs to the 500 so they could process through Customs together instead of going through the ordeal of Customs twice.  Even though they were together, it still took one week for the Red Cross to get the papers signed and to jump all of hurdles so the wheelchairs could clear Customs. 

Having 750 wheelchairs arrive at the same time caused us some concern,  because the Red Cross could only store 500 wheelchairs and we have very limited space available in the main Church building.  So, we had to scramble to find a place to store the remaining 250.  While we were exploring options, we met a really nice lady named Inkee who works for the Swanson Foundation.  In years past, this foundation has donated a lot of medical equipment to Mongolia, but since the economy is depressed, their warehouse is practically empty.  We called her and she offered to let us store some of the wheelchairs in the Swanson Foundation warehouse.  She picked us up and we visited the large warehouse.  It was large enough and very secure, however, she had the only key and we would have had to bother her every time we needed to get into the storage.  It just didn’t feel right.

We are glad we met her, though.  She is a great contact and through her, we have already had a meeting with a doctor at a training hospital who may play a very important role in our neonatal project. 

Anyway, we were getting nervous.  The wheelchairs would soon be through Customs and we were still not sure where to store them.  After we visited the Swanson Foundation warehouse, President Andersen suggested that we check out a couple of storage closets in the newly rented and renovated Khaan-Uul Church building.  I was concerned when I heard the word “closets,” because we needed a place for 250 wheelchairs, but we made a trip out to see them anyway.  After a nice tour of the newly renovated building, we came to the storage closets.  They were okay for storing things for the building, but they weren’t near large enough for us to store 250 wheelchairs. Just then, the building manager, Baatar, remembered another room nestled down a small hall between the two storage closets. It is accessed from the front foyer, but is far away from the other rooms, and is located at the back of the building.  He said it was an extra room and there were no plans to use it.  After a few phone calls, the decision was made that we could use the room for the wheelchairs!  It was really amazing!  We know that the Lord knew where it was all the time; we just had to find it. 

On the manifest, it said all 750 wheelchairs that were scheduled to be delivered to the Ulaanbaatar Red Cross building at the same time.  If that happened, we would have 750 wheel chairs there and have to find a way to reload and transport 250 wheelchairs across town in the middle of the night.  We said a special prayer and headed out to try to find the manager of the trucking company. Thanks to our driver Baatar’s excellent navigational skills, we found his office.  After we explained our dilemma, he agreed to accommodate our request and deliver 250 of the wheelchairs to the Khaan-Uul building instead of to the Red Cross.   We were greatly relieved!  We now had a place to store the wheelchairs and a way to get them there!  We were finally ready for the wheelchairs to clear Customs.

The next afternoon we received word that the wheelchairs had cleared Customs and were on their way.  The wheelchairs were being delivered in three great big semi- trucks. We were worried that since they had been processed together, they may arrive at the storage places at the same time. However, we found out that the trucks going to the Red Cross couldn’t go on main city streets during the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the truck going to the Khaan-Uul building could go on side streets, so it could be delivered during the day--another tender mercy.

As it turned out, we were finished with the Khan-Uul delivery and serving pizza to our missionary helpers before the other trucks arrived at Red Cross.  Because the two semi-trucks carrying the 500 wheelchairs go lost on their way to the Red Cross, it was late and dark when they finally arrived at the Red Cross.  About twenty missionaries were there waiting for them and dug right in to unloading the huge trucks. The missionaries took it as a personal challenge to unload the trucks as fast as possible.  It became a competition to see which truck could be unloaded first.  They unloaded while Chintuya and the Red Cross women told them where to put the boxes.  Elder Lasson said, “The wheelchairs were practically flying off the trucks and into the storage areas.”  

The pizza deliveryman got lost, too, but a little after the wheelchairs were all unloaded and secured, he showed up to the grins of grateful, but tired, missionaries.

Yes, this wheelchair-unloading day was a day of miracles!  There were too many to give much detail about, but a brief outline follows:
1-    Richard and I felt better. Richard and I were both sick last week when the first wheelchairs arrived at the train station in Ulaanbaatar, but by the time they were through Customs, we were pretty much on the mend.
2-    We had good weather for unloading the wheelchairs.  Last week, we had snow and the weather was really cold.  The night of the unloading was chilly, but the ground was dry and the temperature was actually nice for working hard.  Later that night, after the wheelchairs were unloaded, it rained, and in the morning the ground was wet and muddy. Either way, before or after would have been a terrible mess.
3-    The wheelchairs arrived in Ulaanbaatar together so the Red Cross was able to process them through Customs together.
4-    It took a week to get the wheelchairs through Customs.  Even though it seemed like a week was a long time to get the wheelchairs through Customs, it was a blessing because we needed the time to figure out what to do with the 250 wheelchairs.  Once we knew where to store them, the wheelchairs cleared Customs the next day.
5-    The Lord prepared a storage room for the wheelchairs. It was in the Khan-Uul building (the Lord knew where it was, but we didn’t).
6-    Baatar found the trucking company’s office.  They had moved, their office wasn’t labeled with their company name, and there are no street addresses in Mongolia.  Thanks to Baatar’s tracking skills, he found the office.
7-    The trucking company owner agreed to deliver the truck-full of 250 wheelchairs to a different location than on the manifest (namely, the Khan-Uul building).
8-    There was a car available.  Richard hasn’t even driven since we arrived in Mongolia.  He has had his driver’s license, but we haven’t had a great need and there hasn’t been a car available.  There are only three in the mission.  One is for the mission president’s personal use.  Car #2 is a SUV and is for Batbold to use to take care of missionary housing, etc. and the other one is a 12-passenger van.  Richard’s license is only for regular vehicles, so presently, he can’t drive the big van. Anyway, we really needed a vehicle for unloading the wheelchairs, but they were being used to pick up new missionaries who were just returning from the Philippines MTC.  Thankfully, the #2 car arrived back at the mission home just in time for us to load a couple of dollies, spotlights, water, plates, napkins, etc. and drive to Khan-Uul. Transporting the equipment we needed would have been much more difficult if the SUV hadn’t made it back in time.

9-    The parking lot was almost empty. When we arrived, the Khan-Uul parking lot was full or cars, which wouldn’t have allowed enough room for the semi-truck to pull off the main road, however by the time he arrived, it was almost empty and he had enough room to drive in, turn around, and back up to the bottom of the ramp to the church.
10- We had enough light to unload the wheelchairs.  Because the Red Cross didn’t have any way to light the yard or storage areas, they didn’t want the trucks to arrive after dark. Because the trucks couldn’t come into the city earlier, unloading in the dark was a necessity.  However, this was solved because the SUV made it back in time, so the spotlights and the SUV headlights were available to light those areas.
11- The missionaries were available.  However, the next day they had a huge transfer and wouldn’t have been available to help us.
12- We found water and cups for our missionary helpers..  About half way through the unloading at the Red Cross, the missionaries were hot and sweaty and very thirsty and we didn’t have any water with us because we had used all of what we brought at Khan-Uul.  Also, there wasn’t any place to get clean water at the Red Cross. It was after dark, but I went with two sister missionaries to find water and it was a blessing that a tiny store across the ally from the Red Cross was still open at about 9 p.m., so we were able to buy eight 2-litre bottles of water. However, as we gave drinks of water to the missionaries, we used the rest of the paper cups we had brought with us and that left no cups for the drink we were having delivered with the pizzas.  It was little thing, but a tiny miracle never the less that the Red Cross had some paper cups to loan us so we could give our missionaries drinks again when the pizzas arrived.
13- Chintuya had enough minutes on her phone to make it through the day.  During the day, we relied heavily on our translator/assistant Chintuya to coordinate efforts by about a zillion phone calls to the Red Cross, to the trucking company, to the pizza store, etc.  At the end of the evening, she was shocked to discover that she had only one tugrug (or a fraction of a cent) of time left on her phone.
14- Chintuya arrived home safely. Since Chintuya stayed late to help us, it was a blessing to have the SUV so we could drive her to her home in a ger district and see that she was safely inside her fence before we left.

I know to some of these things may not seem like blessings or miracles to you, but when you realize that we are in Mongolia, you might understand that even little things we normally take for granted in the States, are sometimes very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish here—without the Lord’s help.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Last week, before our shipment of new wheelchairs arrived, a new or almost new wheelchair mysteriously appeared in our building.  One of the building guards told us that it was in the men’s baptismal dressing room.  We don’t know where it came from and no one else knew either.  We don’t know if someone just didn’t need it and dropped it off or if it was a left there by mistake, but no one claimed it and so we just put it in our storage closet. 

Then on Monday, a homeless man knocked on the door of our Deseret International Charities (DIC) office.  He was dusty and dirty and wheeling himself in a dilapidated wheelchair because he didn’t have any feet.  The wheelchair was an old DIC wheelchair and it was falling apart.  It was also dusty and dirty, the tires were falling off the rims, and it was falling apart. Even though it was in terrible condition, the man was very protective of it because he said it wasn’t his; he had borrowed it from a friend of his who is in a hospital. 

Chintuya, our assistant and translator, told us that the man had made an application for a wheelchair long ago when our predecessors, Elder and Sister Clark, were here and he has checked back once in awhile to see if DIC had received a wheel chair for him. As he told us his life story, he just cried. He lives in a manhole where the water pipes go that heat the buildings in Ulaanbaatar. He had a rough life growing up in an orphanage.  Even though he was able to get some schooling as an engineer, he has had a terrible life because of his alcoholism.  He told us that one night, after he had been drinking, he passed out in the freezing weather and, as a result, he had to have his feet amputated because they were frostbitten.

At first we thought we couldn’t help him because our new wheelchairs hadn’t arrived yet, but then Elder Lasson remembered the mysterious wheelchair in our storage closet.  As Chintuya and I talked to the man, Elder Lasson quickly walked down the hall and pulled the new wheelchair out of the closet.  When the man saw it, he beamed and kept enthusiastically thanking us and thanking us. Elder Lasson and the building guard helped the overwhelmed man into his into his new wheelchair.  He zoomed down the hall, twirled his chair in circles and kept repeating words of gratitude.