Much To Learn: Illinois, Mongolia joined by beliefs, language

Ottawa resident Dan Hennenfent, executive director of Cup of Cold Water Ministries has made several trips to Mongolia.

Ten times the size of Illinois and with a 2008 population of 2,632,287, Mongolia is the world's 19th-largest country.

When asked why he's traveled to Mongolia, Hennenfent talked about Susan Griffeth.

"About 12 years ago, Susan Griffeth moved to Mongolia (from America) to teach English. That's when she first saw a great need. Alcoholism is at 70 percent and the family structure is fairly poor. These facts inspired Susan to stay and help.

"Her work helped keep families intact and provided some educational advantages to the children in the way of programs like Head Start. But Susan found it hard at first to understand the language. We in this country have all been given a great gift — English. And that's where our translator, Tuvshinjargal.TS comes into the picture."

The 23-year-old Tuvshinjargal — who uses the short version of her name, Tuvsho (pronounced TOOV-show") — is in Ottawa as a translator for CCWM. A resident of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital city, she almost constantly wears a smile. And at first, Tuvsho didn't want to learn English.

"From fourth grade to high school, we were only given one choice for language — English or Russian, though today, there are many more choices," she said with a smile. "I chose English but I didn't want to learn it. I was the worst student in my class. When I got to university all the classes were taught in English so for the first two years it was a disaster. Instead of learning about international business management, I was struggling to learn English. Today, none of my classmates can believe I'm a translator."

Tuvsho thought learning English would be good for summer because there were tourists and missionaries needing language help. The summer after ninth grade, she was asked to work as a translator for orphans at a governor's camp shelter on a short-term basis. For three weeks she helped with activities.

She said while her English was poor, "it was good enough to communicate."

The children played sports, worked on crafts and learned about hygiene.

"Most of these kids do not have families, so we wanted to recreate a family atmosphere. We divided into 10 'families' with names. Everyone made a family banner. Our family was the Star Camp," Tuvsho said.

Tuvsho learned about CCWM and met Griffeth for the first time in 2006 when Hennenfent was in Mongolia with a friend, CCWM member Keith Goetz of Ottawa. Hennenfent asked Tuvsho to work as his translator.

"This group was foreign to me. I found out about them but didn't really know what they did," she said.

Tuvsho made several short trips between the United States and Mongolia on a volunteer basis for the group.

"When I met the Green Bay Packers, I had no idea about football," she said. "I never wore a sweatshirt until Keith Goetz picked up one."

And what are some of the other differences between Mongola and the United States?

"There are many," Tuvsho replied. "Here in America you have well-organized cities that are clean. Everywhere there are nice roads. And traffic is nice here. In the (Ulaanbaatar), there is portable housing. We are a nomadic people. The streets are not designed for cars. People ride horses and there are no lanes. Sometimes we have two to three lanes of one-way traffic. There are no yield signs."

Thirty-eight percent of Mongolia's population lives in the nation's largest city. Tuvsho said there are many problems with high unemployment, alcoholism and air pollution. There is nothing to burn for fuel and therefore very little food. There is no running water, but water stations in the central part of Ulaanbaatar.

Tuvsho found great support in Griffeth, and they became friends, communicating by e-mail. Tuvsho found more unexpected friends when the ministry organization sent a second mission to Mongolia in 2009.

Troy and Shari Tvrdik, with their four children, moved to the poor area, near Tuvsho.

"I found out through Dan who they were," she said. "They became my neighbors. They lived only 50 steps away from me. Amazing. I started to help them with translation. They were looking for a church. We helped each other. Shari helped me with Bible study, so I learned more about God as I translated."

After 12 years of living in Mongolia, Griffeth and her husband, Batcha, moved to America.

"She married my uncle," Tuvsho said. "I don't know how they met, but he learned English by himself."

Troy Tvrdik took over and hired Tuvsho as his personal assistant and translator. Since CCWM could not operate as a nonprofit group in accordance with Mongolian government rules, a whole separate corporate entity — Flourishing Futures NGO — was created with Troy Tvrdik as training director.

Flourishing Futures provides many programs to help the children. Besides a Head Start program, it offers a university scholarship, conversational English learning class, art classes, a supper club and basketball courts.

English education is very important to Tuvsho.

"When children from poor families go to university, they reject those that don't know English. There are children 5 and 6 years old who have never held a pencil or learned to write or count numbers. That's why I teach basic English to them. I know how hard it is," she said.

Tuvsho is very grateful for the help she received from an unexpected source.

"Tuition for university is very expensive — $1,000 to $1,500 a year. At the time I began, my salary was $150 a month, so I had a problem being able to pay for my education. Susan's (Griffeth) father knew about me and paid for me. Otherwise, I would not have had an education. When I found out I was crying. I was so happy!"

The best part about translation is Tuvsho's ability to communicate.

"I like to see two different nations communicate. Without me, translation for two people might only be a smile that could mean anything. With help of a translator, they can get to know each other. I get the satisfaction of helping them translate love and understanding for each other." she said.

The worst?

"It is hard to deliver bad news," Tuvsho replied. "I know help is impossible. A heavy messsage is a hard. But you always try your best. I love to help people, but if two people are fighting, help is impossible. But that doesn't happen very often."

Flourishing Futures and CCWM rely on a combination of church and individual monthly donations for help with food, education and other family needs.

"We can leverage our money over there much better," Hennenfent said.

The primary purpose of CCWM is to proclaim and demonstrate the love of Jesus among the poor. Tuvsho lives that purpose every day and feels very fortunate for the gifts she has received from God.

"That I was able to learn God and English is a gift from God. This has all been like a fairy tale," she said


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