July 2009


Daily Articles

Mongolia on a Spiritual Roller Coaster Ride

by Wesley Kawato

When Jesus commanded his disciples to take His message of salvation to the ends of the Earth, He could have had Mongolia in mind. This landlocked nation of 2.5 million people is a land of barren plains, where one could walk for miles without seeing even a tree. It is a land that is burning hot during the summer and freezing cold during the winter. Interestingly enough, the gospel reached this nation, was snuffed out, and re-emerged more than once. Let’s start with the history of missions in Mongolia.

Mission Work and the Mongol Empire

In the 8th century Nestorian Christians began taking their gospel to the various Mongol tribes in Central Asia. (The Nestorian sect taught that Jesus “united in Himself two persons: the Word and the Man.” Also, they did “not recognize Mary as the mother of God” but that she “gave birth to a man who was the instrument of Divinity but not Divinity itself.”) In the 11th century the Nestorians won many members of the Keralts tribe to their faith. In the 13th century this tribe would produce Genghis Khan, the military leader who would unify the Mongol tribes. There were many Nestorian Christians in the court of Genghis Khan, including the wife of the khan himself.

Genghis Khan would go on to conquer much of Asia and Europe. At one point the Mongol Empire controlled more land than any empire before or after its time. Only a miracle kept the Mongols from conquering all of Europe. The death of a Khan, one of the sons of Genghis, caused all the Mongol generals to return home to elect a new Khan. They never returned to Europe.

The Nestorian influence continued after the death of Genghis Khan. The wife of one of his sons was also a Christian. Empress Sorkatani would become the mother of three khans.

One of these sons was Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler Marco Polo visited. Kublai Khan had a great curiosity about the religions of the world. He sent a message to the Pope, asking for 100 Catholic Christian scholars to teach his court the ways of Jesus Christ. At the same time Kublai Khan asked for Buddhist monks to come to his palace to teach his court their religion. It took the pope 10 years to send 10 monks to Kublai Khan. These men didn’t impress the ruler of the Mongol Empire because they couldn’t read nor write. Well-educated Buddhist monks from Tibet had arrived at the khan’s palace years earlier. These monks converted Kublai Khan to Tibetan Buddhism. Today historians are uncertain how serious Kublai Khan was about learning about Jesus Christ. Perhaps his request for 100 Christian scholars was a diplomatic gesture to gain military aid in conquering the Muslim nations of the Middle East. We will never know for sure. But it is very possible that the Catholic Church lost an opportunity to win souls in a powerful Asian nation. The door wouldn’t open again for over 700 years.

In 1368 the rise of the Manchu Dynasty drove the Mongols out of China. The Mongolians lost their empire and weakened themselves further with civil wars. Disunity allowed China’s Manchus to conquer what was left of the Mongol Empire piece by piece. After their days of greatness ended, the Mongolians returned to their nomadic lifestyle. To this day, half of Mongolia’s population remains nomadic, following their herds in a predictable yearly cycle.

Protestant Mission Efforts and Communism

During the late 19th century the London Missionary Society sent James Gilmour to preach the gospel to the Mongols. After 21 years he could count those he had won to Christ on one hand. By that time Tibetan Buddhism was so entrenched that the people weren’t open to the message of Christ.

The door to mission work closed again when a 1921 Communist revolution freed Mongolia from Chinese rule, but made it the world’s second Communist country after the Soviet Union. Starting in 1924, Mongolia’s new Communist rulers began cracking down on religious beliefs. Thousands of Buddhist monks were executed or forced to go into hiding. All Christian missionaries were expelled. There was no persecution against believers because there were no Mongolian followers of Christ at that time.

During the days of Communist rule, from 1921 to 1990, Mongolia had strong ties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets brought the modern world to Mongolia. They introduced cars, trains, radio, and television. The Soviets also built hospitals and brought modern medicine to Mongolia. These innovations were limited to the cities; they hardly touched the lives of rural nomads.

Ironically, modern communications allowed the Mongols to learn about the democratic revolutions that had caused the collapse of Communism in one country after another in Eastern Europe. In 1990 similar protests broke out in Mongolia, causing the collapse of Communism. In 1992 Mongolia adopted a new democratic constitution. Since then elections for the 76-seat parliament have been held every four years. Mongolia seems to be moving toward a two party system. One of those parties is made up of former Communists and the other is a union of parties wanting to keep Mongolia a true democracy.

Church Growth After the Fall of Communism

Mongolia has been in a recession ever since Russia discontinued its economic aid in 1991. Unemployment has soared, and people are living on the street. Alcohol addiction is a serious problem. In hopes of getting their economy working, Mongolian leaders have allowed foreign investors to search for valuable minerals to mine. Others have eyed Mongolia’s unspoiled wilderness in the hopes of developing a tourist industry.

In the midst of economic disaster, the Mongolians have been open to spiritual answers. In 1990 a team of Native American believers preached the gospel in the capital city of Ulan Bator and baptized 34 new believers. By Christmas of that year the new church had grown to 200 members. There are now 200 churches in Ulan Bator.

The gospel also spread to Mongolia’s other major cities. Erdenet is the country’s third largest city. That’s where Magnus and Maria, a couple from Sweden, began preaching the gospel in 1993. They quickly led 14 teenaged girls to the Lord and organized these new believers into three cell groups. The couple wasn’t sure these teenaged girls could eventually become the leaders of a new church, but they took what God had given them and began training them in church leadership. Worship services soon began at all three cell groups.

The new church began to grow. By 1994 it had 170 members, still mostly teenagers. At that time only the youth were responding to the gospel. Then the church began praying for the sick and miracles took place. A deaf person, a mute person, and a blind person were healed in quick succession. Soon members of the older generation began visiting worship services and putting their trust in Jesus. Nomads from outside of Erdenet visited the church and some of them also received the Lord. By the end of 1994 the church in Erdenet included entire families, not just the youths.

In 1996 Magnus and Maria gave the leaders they had trained full control of the Mongolian church. By 1998 the church in Erdenet had 550 members and had begun planting churches in other cities. Some of these daughter churches had grown to the point where they began planting their own daughter churches. By 1998 there were 10,000 believers in Mongolia and their numbers continue to grow. The explosive revival in Mongolia is starting to look much like the one that took place in South Korea during the 1970s.

However, the Church in Mongolia faces serious challenges. The government, sometimes controlled by the former Communists, has evicted Christians from church buildings and has launched attacks against the faith on radio. Nominalism has become a problem. Cults have arisen, and Tibetan Buddhism is making a comeback. There is also a controversy over what should be the name of God in the Mongolian language. Some translators want to use the word “Burhan,” but other scholars have objected, saying that the real meaning of that word is “Buddha.”

  • Pray for the Church in Mongolia!
  • Pray that false believers will find true salvation. Pray that the peoples of Mongolia will look to Jesus rather than to cults, Buddhism or Islam for spiritual answers. Pray for the unity of the Church. Pray that the “Burhan” controversy will be settled in such a way that the Mongolian Church will be able to move forward in peace, truth, love, and unity. May the revival in Mongolia continue to grow and make strong disciples.


From the Editor

by Keith Carey

In the 1200s, the Mongolians came, saw and conquered the largest empire the world has ever seen. Cities were razed, women were raped, men were killed, and goods were plundered. About the only good thing one can say about the Mongol Empire was that it allowed relative freedom of religion for a season. The Mongolian ideal was pastoralism, not urban civilization. We all carry a legacy with us. The legacy of the Mongolian Empire was one of destroying civilizations and creating fear. After the Chinese regrouped, they began to curtail the Mongol Empire, and the 100-year terror was over. The Mongolians returned to their sheep pastures where they have been ever since.

Every individual and nation needs a purpose. Certainly God has a greater purpose for the peoples of Mongolia than we have seen at this point in history. Perhaps now is the time God will begin to bring about a small part of His purpose for the Mongol peoples. They have had a Church twice in the past, only to see it wiped out. But starting in the 1990s, there has emerged a Mongolian Church that is now strong enough to continue.

Still, several thousand believers are only a small part of what God would want for any nation. Certainly God would want to see Mongolia transformed, and His children there going out as His ambassadors. Please pray for this as we lift up the Mongol peoples this month.