By Bonnie Markoff, DVM

I am home and recovered from my trip to Mongolia.  2010 brought unique opportunities and challenges as I left the capitol city of Ulanbataar and headed into the Gobi desert.  This trip did not bring the usual interesting and often frustrating medical cases, as I was not focused on veterinary medicine.  The purpose of this trip was to teach œservant leadership  and coaching skills to educators, government workers and military staff in the countryside.  I had a new set of hurdles to jump and new types of situations that still taught me the same lessons – people of all cultures are basically the same, and when we are stressing out we need to lean on God!

Servant Leadership is a concept that is luckily taking America by storm.  The old style of œtop down  leadership has proven to be poorly effective.  Rather than having a few œbosses  who make all decisions, tell others what to do and then wait for results or mistakes, servant leaders put their front line people on the top of the hierarchy.  Servant leaders help to develop goals and ideals that everyone embraces and then do all they can to help their people succeed.  Mongolia has most recently been occupied by Russia and still identifies greatly with the œold Russian  style of leadership and education.  The idea that a good leader actually serves his staff was a bit foreign, but amazingly well accepted!

Since my trips are part of the Christian Veterinary Mission, sharing the love of Christ is an important part of what we do.  Servant Leadership is modeled after Christ ™s example and in some circles is called œleading like Jesus.   The 3 Mongolians who accompanied me were wonderful examples of this servant behavior.  We seemed to touch base with every family in town, as we drove and drove and drove and drove on non-existent roads to small little villages and towns, usually 3-4 hours apart.  We had people join us for meals and were hosted for tea every day.  The love that was shared was truly amazing.  Even people we had never met before would welcome us into their homes and share what little they had.  It was very humbling.

Of course, I did my usual crazy stuff.  I got to ride a camel in the Gobi and was able to pull water out of a ground well to water a herd of camels.  I was finally served one of the favorite delicacies in Mongolia – sheep head.  This coveted item was prepared especially for me.  Despite our American revulsion to the idea of eating a head that is served intact (with eyes, ears, tongue and teeth), it was really quite yummy.  I was awed to see my Mongolian friends ™ knife skills and their ability to get every morsel of food from this animal.  This meal was no more unusual to the foreigner than was the sea scallops and artichokes I served to my Mongolian friends when they visited California earlier this year – it is all just a matter of what you are used to!

So Mongolia 2010 was a great success.  I spent endless hours bouncing along the heavily rutted roads of the Gobi, traveling hundreds of miles in just a few days, but my back recovered quickly.  I slept on the floor, ate boiled mutton and have bathroom stories to rival any traveler.  Language issues were a big challenge, but I communicated and made new friends.  We cannot learn if we are not challenged.  We cannot grow if we are not stretched.  I thank God for challenging and stretching me while allowing me to serve Him every day.