OCMC Team Members Thomaida Hudanish and Leila Younes in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.
Taxis play an important role in the business of getting around in Mongolia's capital, Ulaan Baatar. Similar to other cities, the way to catch a taxi is to stand on the curb and hold out your arm out at a slight angle. It's a relatively subtle act--you don't necessarily have to look towards the street or the direction of oncoming traffic to be successful. The effect, at least to me, was that you look as if you're too cool to care if a taxi really stops. Even if you were looking towards the traffic, you have no way of knowing how many of the oncoming cars are taxis. There are a lot of freelance drivers, maybe even people who feel they can spare a few minutes to get you where you're going on the way to their own destination. A nice way to subsidize their own gas expenses, right?
Being part of an OCMC mission team of seven, plus two interpreters, meant that we could usually get where we needed to go in two taxis. I loved this method of transportation and when regrouping with our fellow teammates we discussed the aggression of our respective drivers and other interactions--a flirtatious driver, a driver who was willing to teach us a little Mongolian, a driver who laughed when I let out a little gasp when we nearly ended up trying to occupy the same space as another car and said, "Trust me."
More often the drivers observed us quietly. I was curious what they thought of us. Had they driven many Americans before or were we the first? How did we compare to the Americans they'd seen in movies and on TV?
One night as we were coming home from an excursion, we split into three cabs. The first cab was hailed for our team leader, Fr. Brendan. The driver had a child's car seat in the back, so only two passengers would fit in this taxi. I volunteered to accompany Fr. Brendan and got in next to the driver. Fr. Aleksei gave the driver instructions to get us back to the church. As we pulled away from the curb, I suddenly realized it was my first time in a car without a local accompanying us and while I had their phone numbers, I didn't have a phone. While I was assessing the situation and making a plan for what to do if something went wrong, the cab driver started speaking to me in English. “Many languages, many nations there," the driver said. I realized he meant back at the restaurant “Yes, Russians, Americans, Mongolians," I said, surprised by his desire to interact. He introduced himself as Jack and told us he had studied English and had been to London. I shared with him all the Mongolian words I knew and when I told him in Mongolian, "I don't speak Mongolian," he taught me another phrase: "I speak a little Mongolian." We learned that Jack had two sons--an eight year old and a three year old, hence the car seat. I explained that we were with the "Russian Church," but unfortunately at that point, I didn't know how to say Orthodox Church yet.
Earlier that day we learned how Mongolians say "Jesus Christ," so I was able to tell Jack that we were Christians. He understood and with a big smile and a laugh he said, “Me, I don’t have a religion—I follow myself,” pointing to his chest. I said, “How’s that working for you? Is it okay?” “Yes, yes, it’s good. Easy.” He told us that his wife is interested in Christianity. "She wants to visit a Christian church and every time she asks I say, 'I’m busy,'" he told us, laughing. I laughed too because Jack's openness and honesty was charming. I suggested that his wife should visit the Russian Church. "It is very beautiful," I said. I tried to explain what Orthodox means--right belief, true worship. He said, “Protestant Jesus Christ, Catholic Jesus Christ, Orthodox—why so many Jesus Christs?” I said, “There is only one Jesus Christ. It is just that each of these churches understand Him differently. Our church tries to keep the teachings that he gave when he was alive. Our Church started when he died. It is very old.” He understood and said, “Do you have a phone number?” We didn’t have a card with us, but he was willing to wait a few minutes until the second cab arrived and another team member had an icon card with the address and phone number of the church. As I handed Jack the card, he said, "I'll give it to my wife," he paused and then said, "But I am not coming!" I laughed with him again, "That's okay, that's okay." I think we were both encouraged by our exchange.
I shared this exchange with Fr. Aleksei. After listening he said that to bring people to the Church, there must be ten such exchanges and then maybe out of these ten, one person or family will come. Fr. Aleksei was encouraged by our presence and by our ability, in a short time, to have positive interactions with local people and parishioners alike. His point is well taken, however, the vineyard is ripe for the harvest, but the laborers are few.