Mongolia has always held a sense of mystery for me. I remember from my schooling that Mongolia once stretched from Austria to all of China. Chinggis Khan achieved this conquest through war and shrewd alliances. But he could not have been successful without the Mongolian horse.
Mongolian horses are amazing creatures. They are smaller than most horses and can go for extended periods of time with minimal food and water. A Mongolian horse could continue on after its rider cut a vein on its neck to drink some of its blood. They were the real reason that the Mongolians could dominate.
For all his fame, few people know that Chinggis Khan allowed freedom of religion. Even as a conqueror, he allowed people to worship however they wanted, as long as they paid their taxes to the Mongolians. If they did not pay, however, the consequences were swift and deadly.
On one of my humanitarian trips to Mongolia, we planned to go to the Gobi Desert and set up a base camp and then travel to few small towns. We traveled in these old Russian minivans called Forgones. The problem with these vans is that the front row sits right over the engine, they would overheat, there were no seatbelts, and minimal suspension made the ride extra rough. On top of that, the countryside of Mongolia has no paved roads, so you go blasting down some dirt road at 40-50 mph. Also, they use landmarks as signs to know where they are going. As a passenger, you pray that your driver has a clue where you are because everything looks the same shade of brown to you.
Once we were in a caravan with about 16 other Forgones, traveling a long arc hugging the valley floor. We were in the last van, eating everyone’s dust and our driver decided that he had enough and wanted to be first. So, rather than following everyone else, we cut out across the desert using the road less traveled, which was a straight line from our last position to the first van.
We had every intention of passing them like a NASCAR race. As our driver build up speed in his attempt to be first, we saw that we would soon be in the lead and not have the taste of dust in our mouths. We then quickly realized what the other 15 Forgone drivers knew: there was a deep ravine, and we were certainly going to crash down it. We all screamed as the driver hit the brakes and--miracle of miracles--we stopped at the last possible second. We got out and walked around, looked at the ravine, and knew we had just dodged certain death.
That moment of near-death caused some clarity in my life that I had been missing. It made me think of my life path. I realized that, more often than not, I was cutting out across the desert like a renegade. I was not following the examples of others who could help me avoid certain pitfalls, temptations, or emotional and spiritual ravines.
Jesus said in KJV John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” We had left the safety of the caravan and a leader who knew the way and the dangers. We were not first but did that really matter?
Does being first really matter? Jerry Seinfeld once said that the most satisfying place to be in line is Next. You’re next in line at the bank or the movie theater, next to get that big tub of popcorn. Being next is actually a very satisfying feeling. Being first is great. But is it realistic that we be first every time? I do not think it is. Furthermore, I believe it is unhealthy. Real growth comes from trials, errors, and following the examples of others.
Are you willing to be next? The next one to offer a kind word or a helpful hand? Are you the next one to hold the door open for someone who struggles to get around? Are you next to offer gratitude rather than a demand? Are you next to let someone merge in front of you on the Parks Highway? Are we next to be a follower or disciple of Christ? I pray that we are Next!
John Boston is a local physician, member of the Mat-Su Regional Hospital Board of Trustees, Colonel in the Alaska Air National Guard, father, husband, grandfather, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.