Blessings in Bulgan

December 01, 2007 | Jennifer Woehler

I had great plans. I was headed to build a church in Muren, Mongolia, where Christianity struggles to thrive in a Buddhist climate. Banking on my previous Maranatha experiences, I eagerly anticipated the challenge until changing circumstances leveled my enthusiasm.

For starters, my family's volunteer group had no official leader. I began to feel apprehensive as I found myself missing Maranatha's streamlined system. Then my mother-in-law, who was scheduled to go on the trip, wound up with a fractured collarbone and subdural hematoma. How could she endure the 14-hour flight across the Pacific, much less the 18-hour bus ride to Muren? Miraculously, when the CT scan came back, it was normal. She could go.

When we arrived in Ulaanbaatar, the city was gearing up for the festival of Naadam. It is a national holiday; shops shut down and people are given time off. What could we do but join in the celebrations? Meanwhile, we learned that our target project had not progressed as planned. So instead of taking a bus to Muren, we'd ride the train to Bulgan to help finish a church. We felt a keen disappointment in not fulfilling our original purpose.

While I stood washing dishes, discouragement threatened to set in. I argued with God. "Lord, I came to do something significant. Washing trowels, maybe, but not dishes!"

"My child, if I'd asked you to do some great thing, you would have done it. So why not the little things?"

Maybe it was time to re-examine my focus. Maybe I needed the humility of Christ. This message came clearly through the Sabbath sermon, taken from 2 Kings 5:9-14. Maybe, like Naaman, I needed a washing too.

Blinding tears forced me to glance away from the smiling translator, whom I later discovered was the famous Pastor Bold, one of Mongolia's first Adventists. Now God spoke through him to my heart. "Unless we fully commit ourselves to God, we won't be prepared to receive His gifts," he said. Had I really surrendered to God's will?

"Please give Me 100 percent," God said. When I joined the congregation in singing "Create in me a clean heart, O God," we sang in different languages but with one spirit.

The delay in Ulaanbaatar prepared me for the monotonous task of sanding the Mongolian missionaries' apartment in Bulgan. It wasn't what I had expected, but it needed to be done. In the evenings, we attempted to communicate with the young Mongolian who assisted my husband with insulation. Alyosha couldn't speak much English, but we broke the silence when we discovered his reading abilities.

Afterward, when the missionaries handed me a gift, I knew that my seemingly insignificant task had made a difference. And when Alyosha sat with us on our train until just before our departure, I knew we had changed his life too. I no longer wished to build a block church in Muren. Instead, I had found blessings in Bulgan.