Imagine you are 200 years back in time. There is only one bustling city of one million people that is the center of all business and government. There are very few paved roads. From the capital city you can travel 45 minutes in any direction and be out of the city and onto the prairie. Cattle graze with no fences; a lone man on a horse follows his herd. Large herds of horses follow their stallions. As far as you can see there are rolling grassy hills. In the green valleys you see gers (round felt tents) dotting river banks every mile or so. Families have settled there for the summer to graze their cattle. Soon they will load up their home and few possessions and move on to fall pasture land. As you continue you see an abandoned animal shelter and corral on the protected south side of a hill waiting for its owner to return to hunker down for the winter as temperatures drop to -40 degrees. Throughout the winter humans and animals alike do little more than struggle to stay alive, looking forward to spring when young lambs again bounce around and grass and beautiful flowers appear. For these people life is very circular as they follow their animals around this circuit year after year. This part of Mongolian life has changed very little in the last 200 years except for the occasional vehicle, solar panel, TV, and cell phone.
This past winter Mongolia experienced a very harsh winter which resulted in the death of half of the cattle in the country. Many families were forced to leave their nomadic lifestyle and move to the city in search of some way to provide for their basic needs. This is not the first time this has happened. The city was already over populated with people looking for jobs and now there is a new wave of herdsmen feeling very out of place in the big city and increasing the unemployment rate.
While few countryside folks have cars or know much about technology, the cities are crowded with cars and people carrying the latest cell phones. Although they are very different on the outside, they share the same cultural and religious base. One hundred years ago everyone was Buddhist. Then in the 1920’s Communism came in and forbade religion saying there was no God. Democracy entered the picture in 1991 when the people banded together and revolted against the communist regime. At that time Mongolia regained religious freedom. Some chose to remain atheistic, many went back to Buddhism, but others, open to new ideas, turned to Christ and the church was born.
Even though the Church is nearing its twentieth anniversary, the work in Mongolia is far from finished. There are still many who have never heard the Gospel. Many others have heard rumors of what a Christian is and are disinterested for very good reasons. There are still others who have heard the truth and do not see a need to change from the religion they already have. What Mongolia needs now are people to share a living Gospel that will draw those who have never heard, speak truth to those who have been misled by the enemy and convict those who think all roads lead to Heaven.
Reaching the New Frontier
Remote herdsmen to successful businessmen, Buddhists to Atheists, the people of Mongolia are a very diverse nation. But as diverse as these groups are, they are so intertwined that you cannot separate one from the other. The city-dwelling politician has horses and cattle that his brother is watching somewhere out in the countryside but he will spend a month every summer living in the country enjoying his heritage. Mongolians are equally proud of their traditional lifestyle and economic advancement. On the religious side, Atheists and Buddhists are present in the same family and no one looks down on the other. Although it is most commonly thought that to be Mongolian is to be Buddhist, they are very accepting of others and their beliefs. Buddhism has taught them that each person has his own way to spiritual enlightenment, therefore most people are very accepting of different beliefs but do not consider another person’s beliefs as true for them. Also their national and cultural pride makes most people resistant to anything new that they view as a threat to their Mongolian identity.
So, considering that there are three basic groups of Mongolians in need of the Gospel--those who have not heard, those who reject Jesus due to inaccurate teaching and those who have rejected the truth--and considering that Mongolians are generally accepting of Christianity but resistant to accepting it as valid for themselves, how do we introduce the Gospel and plant churches? Of course, there are the obvious: prayer, the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit which are part of our Christian experience, but then what?
Since living in Mongolia I see that a person must understand that by accepting the new religion (i.e. Christianity) he is not rejecting his Mongolian identity. Mongolians, as do many other people, have a false picture of what it means to be a Christian. They may have gotten their ideas from movies or rumors. Many have never met or known a Christian. We are living among them, showing them that being a Christian is not a weird or scary thing. It is a lifestyle that is a result of knowing and following the Creator and Savior of all men.
Secondly, Mongolians are looking for answers to life’s questions. It is important that we show them that God is able to meet all their needs. Christianity is not just a religious system. It is a way of living that includes all areas of life. It is putting your life in the control of the One Who designed it and is able to keep us. They do not care who Jesus is if He cannot meet their needs. Their answers to life’s questions may seem crazy or superstitious to us, but to them those answers are real and they have no plans to change unless they find something that will promise more than the old system.
Thirdly, Buddhism teaches that sin is dealt with by doing good works or by going to the monastery to balance out the bad in their life. It is not about turning from sin. It is about doing equal or more good. But what we have to offer is salvation that by grace leads to transformation and victory over sin.
There are hurdles to cross, but none that God did not think of and give us the ability to cross. It is a big job, one that we can not accomplish by ourselves. We can only impact the people in our circle of influence. There are so many more who need to see and hear a living Gospel that has the power to transform life, to answer life’s questions and to make them into better Mongolians. Mongolia needs more Christians who are committed to entering into the lives of the people to show and tell them the way to Jesus.
--Written by a DNI worker