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Mongolia - GBGM Staff Briefing Summary

by Mary Beth Coudal



David Wu, Assistant General Secretary, Congregational Mission Initiatives

S.T. Kimbrough, Jr., Associate General Secretary, Mission Evangelism

Dr. David Wu began the briefing by discussing the common perception of Mongolia as "the end of the earth," which perfectly fits Christ's injunction to his disciples, "You shall be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8) A United Methodist mission in Mongolia, approved by the cabinet, brings the Gospel of Christ to the ancient land of Genghis Khan.

History of Mongolia

Dr. Wu gave a brief history of Mongolia, one of the world's oldest countries, which at its zenith in the 13th century was led by Genghis Khan. For the first and only time, all of Asia was unified into the Mongol empire that stretched from Korea to Poland.

In 1911, when the last Chinese dynasty (the Qing) fell, Outer Mongolia became independent of China. In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic, a revolutionary and Communist state, was formed under Soviet influence. When Communism collapsed in 1990, economic and political turmoil followed. The International Monetary Fund's (IMF's) imposition of structural adjustments forced cutbacks in social services. The current coalition government is the result of democratic elections.

Mongolia is about the size of Alaska, which is twice as large as Texas. With roughly 2.5 million people, Mongolia has a population density of about one person per four square miles. According to Dr. Wu, fifty-five percent of the population lives in urban areas. Tibetan Buddhism is the country's main religion.

History of Religion in Mongolia

Dr. Kimbrough spoke about the role of the church and the history of Christianity in Mongolia. He said the Christian past is "smothered beneath many layers of other religions." In addition to the Christian faith, traditions that have influenced contemporary attitudes towards religion include atheistic Communism, Shamanism, Buddhism, and Islam.

To illustrate the rapid growth of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, Dr. Kimbrough described the Gadan monastery in Ulaanbaatar. In 1990 it had 30 priests, whereas today it has 3,000 priests or priests in training.

Dr. Kimbrough explained that United Methodism is the "only church in the Protestant West that has, through the eyes of the Wesleys, always had the window to the East open in theology, ethics, and human understanding."

The 13th century reign of Genghis Kahn was a significant time for the growth of Christianity, which had been introduced as early as the 8th century by Nestorian Christian missionaries from Persia. Genghis Kahn was married to a Christian woman. One of the Khan's daughters-in-law, Sorkaktani, was a Nestorian Christian who became the mother of three great emperors, including Kublai Khan. Another significant Christian influence in the 13th century was the assignment by Pope Innocent the IV of more than a dozen Dominican and Franciscan missionaries to Mongolia.

The history of Christianity in Mongolia is characterized by conflicts between various Christians. Eventually all Christians were expelled because they were perceived as divisive. One lesson from the Christian past in creating missions in Mongolia today is for all Christians in the region to work together.

Nestorian Christian influence continues as the underpinning of Mongolian law. The Nestorian faith, broadly humanitarian, is anchored in a belief in God. A tenet of the Mongolian law is that all people on earth are created by one creator.

Missions in Mongolia Today

In Mongolia's main city, Ulaanbaatar, there are 350 Christian missionaries, mostly dispatched by Western conservative groups. Dr. Kimbrough reported that not one mainline denomination is represented in the city except the Korean Methodists, who work in a medical clinic headed by Dr. Chun of the Yonsei University Foundation. Mennonites, too, have a strong presence in the city; their mission work with the Mongolian people is in the field of animal husbandry.

Dr. Kimbrough presented several ideas about how United Methodists could initiate a Christian mission through the General Board of Global Ministries in Mongolia. Some areas in which the GBGM could work are:

ยท         To cooperate with Dr. Chun's health care outreach in the Ulaanbaatar clinic. To purchase a building for mission in the city center. To provide medicines, treatment and literature regarding tuberculosis, a disease which affects 50 percent of the prison population. (Five thousand dollars has already been appropriated to publish and dispense booklets for the general population on tuberculosis.)

  • To establish a youth center that offers vocational training. A United Methodist youth center could model a different, more open Christianity than the one currently exhibited by extremely conservative religious groups in Mongolia.
  • To develop a Volunteers in Mission project to repair the dormitories for nomadic children. Because of structural adjustment programs mandated by the IMF, funding for school dormitories was halted completely. The neglected school buildings currently lack simple necessities, such as hot water. The attrition rate for children is at 65 percent. The restoration of dormitory structures would improve the country's literacy rate and provide peace of mind to the nomadic parents of school children.

In answer to questions, Dr. Wu talked about how helpful the experience of United Methodists could be to Mongolian scholars who are currently translating the Bible into Mongolian.

Another question regarded the family life of Mongolian nomads. Dr. Kimbrough discussed how one owns only what can be moved, including one's housing.

The economy of Mongolia is pastoral, based on herds of sheep, goats, cows, camels, and horses. Close to one million people are nomadic. Their diet, consisting of all meat and milk without vegetables, has created health problems.

Essentially, Dr. Kimbrough reported that the GBGM staff learned as they visited Mongolia, that every Mongolian is a nomad at heart.

In general, the team discovered that the mission work of United Methodism is needed in this emerging and open country.


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Date posted: Mar 07, 2000