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Published March 02, 2012, 12:00 AM

Val Farmer: New adventure: Becoming missionaries in Mongolia

It is official. My wife, Darlene, and I know our plans. I mentioned before that Darlene had learned Russian and that I wanted to see her use that language in a meaningful way in our lifetime. The time didn’t seem right until now. It also helps ease my mind that Dr. Mike Rosmann is waiting in the wings to extend this column to my loyal readers.

By: By Val Farmer, INFORUM

It is official. My wife, Darlene, and I know our plans. I mentioned before that Darlene had learned Russian and that I wanted to see her use that language in a meaningful way in our lifetime. The time didn’t seem right until now. It also helps ease my mind that Dr. Mike Rosmann is waiting in the wings to extend this column to my loyal readers.

We are prepared to leave behind the column, my consulting and mediation work, seven children, their spouses and our 23 grandchildren to do something else. This something else is demanding and strenuous.

Beginning the middle of May, we are going to serve as missionaries in Mongolia for 23 months. If indeed we are going out to pasture, this is the biggest pasture there is.

About Mongolia

There is nothing cushy about Mongolia. It is a sparsely settled land of 2.7 million people, 1.2 million of whom live in the capital city of Ulaan Baatar. Thirty percent of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic herders who make their living selling wool, cashmere, milk, meat and animal skins.

Mongolia is south of Siberia and north of China. The winters are cold and windy with lots of sun – something like North Dakota. Nothing new – at least not for us.

The herders with their goats, sheep, cattle, camels, yaks and horses underwent a summer drought in 2009, followed by a devastating four-month winter of snow, ice and bitter cold. The death loss from the herds was horrific.

With the worldwide recession, the market for high-end cashmere products plummeted. Herdsmen were in trouble, with their lenders calling in loans and repossessing their tent homes and remaining livestock. There were disputes about collateral and herd counts. Displaced herdsmen and their families migrated to the capital in search of jobs and a fresh start. Any of this sound familiar?

A church mission

We will be serving as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has a program for senior couples to serve six-, 12-, 18- or 23-month missions worldwide. Couples pay their own mission expenses.

Many of these missions have to do with education, employment, temple service, manning visitor centers, family history and genealogy, humanitarian service, proselyting, leadership training with local members and office support. Couples can request the kind of mission and service they are willing to provide. Church leaders make every effort to accommodate the needs, abilities and desires of senior couples as these assignments are made.

Darlene has had 15 years of background and study with the Russian language. I have taken courses in Russian these past two years. We inquired about serving in a Russian-speaking country.

The church missionary department responded that they had a need for a senior couple in Mongolia, where the people over 40 generally speak Russian as a second language. Also, the Mongolian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which will make it easier for us to learn the language.

Our fifth daughter served as missionary in Mongolia, so we were familiar with the country through her experiences. We were delighted with the mission call to serve in Mongolia. Our particular assignment will be to assist the Mongolian people and church members with family history and genealogy work. Again, this is one of the passions Darlene has developed over the years.

There are five senior couples currently serving in Mongolia with two more couples arriving this spring. The rest of the missionary force consists of single young men and women ages 19-25. The church has been in Mongolia for 18 years and has about 9,000 members. It is the fastest-growing Christian denomination in Mongolia.

Continued contact

I will have a blog, drvalfarmer.blogspot.com, where I will be posting some of my thoughts and photographs from Mongolia. Those who wish to follow our adventures and experiences in Mongolia may do so.

Before May, I will be renovating my website to consolidate my writings into more readable segments, particularly those articles on family management in agriculture. When I return in 2014, I will resume my farm family consultation and mediation work. Readers can access archived articles on my website, www.valfarmer.com, for a one-time $5 subscription fee.

If any of you wish to communicate with me, you can do so through the JV Publishing address above or through my email at val@valfarmer.com.

In the meantime, after my column concludes at the end of March, we will be visiting our children and grandchildren in North Carolina, Mississippi and Utah. We will be attending our son Trace’s graduation in Civil Engineering from BYU at Provo, Utah in April. We will be taking a week-long immersion experience in Mongolian and receive tutoring via our daughter and also with a Mongolian speaker using Skype.

Retirement is going from one kind of work to a different kind of work. Work is defined as sustained effort toward a meaningful goal. “You only grow when you come to the end of something and begin something new.” – John Irving.

Maybe we aren’t going out to pasture after all.


Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo.

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