Lucia Otgongerel was born in Mongolia 30 years ago without hands or legs. She lived in a deep depression until 2002 when she converted to Catholicism and, as she explains, discovered “true joy.” Today she works in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, as a teacher for seven children with special needs.
Now Lucia claims, “I could not live without my faith.” She overcomes the challenges of her physical condition though an intense life of prayer: including the daily Rosary, meditations and study of the Bible in the midst of her predominately Buddhist country.
In an interview granted to UCANews, Lucia explains that her daily work with seven disabled boys whose ages range from 15-19. Lucia teachers, despite not having hands: cooking, cleaning, reading and writing at the Faith Center, a small school run by St. Mary’s parish in Ulan Bator which opened last September.
The sixth of eight children, Lucia Otgongerel was born in the Zavhan, a remote province in the Asian country of Mongolia. She had a very difficult childhood that started to improve when she began using her first prosthetic leg. Because of it, she was able to attend cooking classes at a very young age which has greatly increased her cooking skills.
“Even without hands, there is nothing I can’t do. I can open doors with keys, sew, work on the computer, use the cell phone, cut up food, cook – nothing is impossible! I like embroidery and beads. People are surprised when they see my parents’ house, decorated all over with my needlework,” she says.
She recalls that in 2001 she began going to Mass because her sister was the friend of the bishop’s secretary. While she was interested in the celebration, she did not have much faith. She explains that she enjoyed the songs sung in English and the words continued to ring in her ears, though she did not understand the lyrics.
Faith in Christ began the following year and after praying the Rosary intensely, but with great difficulty at home. She realized the importance of prayer and decided to convert to Catholicism.
“Since then, I pray a lot, every day, all the time. I pray a lot and cry. When young people in the church see me like that, they just leave me alone, and when I come out of the church laughing, they know I was praying.”
“It would be hard for me without prayer. I pray every morning before I leave home….Later in the day, I also read the daily readings and meditate. I try to implement the message of each day’s readings. It gives me much power.”
“Prayer is an important part of my life. I am alone a lot, so I pray all the time. I make time to read the Bible. I am also writing a book about the church in Nisekh and about faith.”
“My faith is very important to me. I could not live without my faith.”
Lucia also explained how she was often depressed and felt incapable of doing things. “I was a very different person before being Catholic.” After her conversion, she recalls, “I wanted to tell many people about my faith, so I started with my family. Several people followed me. My niece is now baptized. My younger brother, my older brother’s children and my two friends come to church too.”
“People seeing me somehow get interested in God and the Church. Our church in Nisekh is like a family. I have been teaching catechism there to seven adults, five women and two men.”
When discussing her work, Lucia credits a Polish volunteer, Violetta, for showing her “how to teach challenged children. She taught me very intensively for two months, and then I read many books about how to teach special children. But mostly I learned from the children themselves.”
She also noted that “most of my time is taken up by this school. This work is very beautiful. The children are not ordinary, so we can’t have many in one room. I now have seven students and feel I’ll soon need a helper. They obey me very well, but at first they did not know I was their teacher.”
“During this first year I learned how to work with each student.”
For Lucia, challenges never end because of her physical condition. She suffers from kidney problems because her legs “do not bend at the knees. The doctors say the way I move while walking is too stressful for my kidneys.”
Lucia also plans to bring her elderly parents to Ulan Bator. “I have not seen them for three years. I have to save up 115,000 tugrug (about $100) to travel there. I need to see them, and decide if I must bring them soon, or whether it can wait a little.”
She plans to save from her monthly paycheck, which totals $150 per month.
“I want to take care of my parents and my sister who first took me to church.”
“My parents are very happy about me because I’m very successful. All my life, they worried a lot about me. Parents worry about their children even if they have hands and legs, but they worried even more about me because I was born without them.”
The original interview can be found at UCANews: http://www.ucanews.com/2008/08/13/i-could-not-live-without-my-faith/