Timehop reminded me that four years ago today, I was flying from Chicago to Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I spent three weeks in the Asian country (south of Russia, north of China), and that trip remains one of my absolute favorite traveling memories, in large part because of how it came to be.
In the fall of 2010, Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project sent 14-year-old Sarangoo and her mother, Byamba, to Peoria, IL for heart surgery. They stayed with a couple from my church, and the rest of our congregation poured food, entertainment, and love into their lives. Except me. I was recently returned home after college and five months in Senegal. Bored with the familiar and feeling very single amongst married or dating friends, I was depressed. And in my depression I couldn’t be bothered to help someone else.
Luckily for me, there was another depressed person in the mix. Gany was Sarangoo’s translator, and their host family sent out an email that essentially read: “Gany is bored! Will someone take her out for something fun?” That sounded exactly like me, so I volunteered. We went out to eat at Culver’s, took pictures of the Holocaust Memorial at the mall, and played the piano at my parent’s house. Almost immediately, I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
Although we grew up on opposite sides of the planet, Gany and I were the same age and had the same heart. We giggled when we found out we both preferred Jacob to Edward, and that led to a deeper conversation about love and marriage. I was absolutely thrilled to find someone who viewed romance as practically as I did; she was more concerned with finding a partner than with be ecstatically happy forever. We both loved to travel, and we were passionate about pursuing God before pursuing a husband. In a city where all of my friends were married, I felt incredibly validated by her compliments regarding my life choices.
We hung out three times during her time working in Peoria. I told her about my interest in working for an orphanage, and she told me her church in Ulaanbaatar ran one if I ever wanted to visit. We laughed, hugged, and she returned to Mongolia.
One month later, I emailed Gany, saying, “Haha! Remember when you said I could visit you in Mongolia? What if….I did?” For five weeks, I waited. No response. Just when I had given up, she wrote back, explaining that she had been in the country and without internet. “You should come!” she wrote.
I was working as a children’s librarian at the time, and when I asked for time off, our director blew my mind by allowing me to leave for three weeks in July of 2011. Which is exactly what I did. I bought the plane tickets, I ignored the people who said, “You’re going to a totally foreign country to see a friend you only barely know? And you’re not even going to be staying with her?” I packed my bags, and four years ago today, I arrived in Ulaanbaatar.