Are there really Christians in Mongolia?

butteville-church-1200wLight traffic greeted us as we headed north on Interstate 5 out of  Salem, Oregon. On this chilly Sunday morning in January, our destination was Butteville Community Church. Nestled between the Willamette River and the fertile farmlands south of Portland, in the 1840s Butteville was one of the first  settlements in the Oregon Territory. We were scheduled to talk about our mission trip to Mongolia during the adult Sunday School hour and then share about our ministry in Japan during the morning message.


Departing Chinggis City, Mongolia

We were especially excited to talk about Mongolia—Pastor Ken had mentioned that a Mongolian woman had become a Christian and been baptized in the church in recent years. She and her American husband had moved to a ranch in Arizona, but the congregation still had fond memories of their time with them.

When we arrived at the church, Pastor Ken came up and said “Guess what! Tseggy (not her real name) is back for a visit—with her children and her parents from Mongolia. They’re coming to the morning service!”

We shared with an unusually knowledgeable Sunday School class, and not long after we had finished, in walked Tseggy with her non-English-speaking parents. Pastor Ken had already told us Tseggy’s father was “a tough nut to crack,” but when Gary greeted him with a friendly “Sain bain uu!” (Mongolian for “Hello!”) his eyes lit up.


Mongolian teen praying for his country at a national youth conference

Meanwhile, my greatest joy was talking with Tseggy about Mongolia. She wanted to know how receptive the Mongolian people were to receiving the gospel of Jesus. When she left Mongolia more than 14 years before, she was not a believer and knew little or nothing about Christianity. When I shared about our experiences with the Mongolian church, her eyes glistened as she asked, “Are there really Christians in Mongolia?” She and her husband had sold their ranch recently, and were planning to move to Mongolia later this year. She asked me (a missionary from Japan!) to connect her to a church in Ulaanbaatar where they can fellowship when they get there.

What are the chances? To meet a Mongolian Christian at a church in the historic, but sparsely populated Oregon countryside, and then being able to help her find a church in her home country! It was as if God was again reconfirming the value of our ministry trip there last August. Oh … and another astounding “coincidence.” In addition to English, Tseggy is fluent in Japanese: She studied for a Master’s degree in Japan! What an amazing God we serve!

Without even knocking

Without even knocking

When over 10 years ago I wrote and published Discovering the Joy of Parenting, I had no idea all the ways God would use this text to draw mothers into his Kingdom.

I sing in a neighborhood women’s chorus. Last year we briefly had a substitute conductor. She speaks English well, but because of the setting, we didn’t really  get to know each other.

Recently she emailed me, asking if I would help her with the English pronunciation of some songs she would be teaching to her current chorus group. So we got together, and after we had gone through the songs, she said, “Actually, I would like to meet with you every month or two to talk about my ideas about Japanese education and parent’s relationship to their children.”

I looked at her in amazement. “You may not believe this,” I said, “but I wrote a book on parenting. I’m a Christian, so the text is based on principles from the Bible. I’d love to meet with you!” God is opening doors even before we knock on them! 

Pray that the parenting principles of God’s Word will touch the life this chorus teacher in ways she’s not anticipating! 

A surprise Skype call

Moogie_BilgeeJust the other day I got a surprise Skype call from Moogie—my friend in Mongolia! (Moogie was the leader of the translation team for the Mongolian edition of Discovering the Joy of Parenting.) The door had suddenly opened for her to come to Japan with a ministry team from her church, but by the time she was able to contact me, she was almost out the door on her way to the airport to go back home.

It was great to get an update on how the parenting ministry is going in Mongolia. She shared that the first printing of the book sold out in just a few months. Now they are in their second printing, with about 350 copies already sold out of the printing of 1000.

Moogie and her husband have been teaching the course to a group in their church in the capital city, UlanBataar, and also are going once a month to a town about four hours away.

They have also had the opportunity to do a seminar at a church for the deaf. One of the young people they are training is currently learning sign language, so that she will be able to continue ministry there.  

“In fact,” Moogie told me, “we have had more requests to do seminars than we can handle! So we are now thinking about how we can train more leaders!”

Pray for health and strength for Moogie and Bilgee as they continue the expansion of biblical parenting ministry in Mongolia.

The purpose of discipline

Praying earnestly for wisdom, I stood up for the next session, unsure of how I was going to start. Life in northern Mongolia is harsh, with rustic facilities (only outhouses, and no running water), and beatings the primary form of discipline. I had already spoken once, but I sensed these parents needed answers to some foundational questions, such as “What is the purpose of discipline?”

     Lord, how am I going to share about this topic in a way that connects with these people?

     Then the Holy Spirit brought an image to my mind.

The evening before, in another town, a woman had shared about her one-year-old grandson whose hands had been badly burned in the fire in the center of their ger (the circular portable house with walls of felt still used as a dwelling by half the population of Mongolia). ger-potFire is essential to life in the ger, both for heating and cooking. Young children who have learned to crawl are tied with a cloth “rope” to a wall pole on one side of the ger to keep them from getting too close to the fire. The cloth is long enough that the child can roam freely, but will not reach the center. As the image formed, I instantly knew how I could explain biblical principles of discipline to these people.

“When we discipline a child, our purpose is to protect them from danger. We set boundaries to prevent them from getting into trouble, just as tying a young child to a wall pole protects them from the fire.”

Their bright eyes and affirming nods told me I was connecting. Then I asked, “When a child gets to be four or five or six years old, do you keep them tied to the pole?”

“No, of course not!” they replied.

“That’s because when we set boundaries, a child learns to be responsible for his actions. Then we can give him more freedom, and trust that he will obey the lessons he has already learned.”

Pray that as first-generation Mongolian Christians learn biblical parenting principles, they will faithfully  apply them and teach others, who will teach others, who will teach others . . .

Parenting in Mongolia

Chinzorig and Aruina became Christians in the early 1990’s while in medical school in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. They started one of the first churches in the country following the collapse of communism. The photo above was taken in Japan when we first met in 2004.

Chinzorig and Aruina became Christians in the early 1990’s while in medical school in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. They started one of the first churches in the country following the collapse of communism. The photo above was taken in Japan when we first met in 2004.

When Discovering the Joy of Parenting was first published in 2002, I never imagined it would be used in any languages other than English and Japanese. But two years later, God began opening the door to take this resource into Mongolia as well. At our first “All Asia” Asian Access retreat held in March 2004, I met Ariuna, wife of our pastors training coordinator in Mongolia.

I showed Ariuna the text we had published in English and Japanese, and we talked about the importance of teaching biblical principles of parenting. She liked the content and format, and began to think and pray about how a translation of this book might be accomplished for Mongolia. In 2007, we met again at our fortieth anniversary Asian Access gathering in Malaysia, and renewed our discussions. But with busy schedules and geographical distance creating a major hurdle, it was difficult to move ahead.

Then, in 2009 the Lord provided airline miles for Gary and I to travel to Mongolia. We felt God calling us to pursue Ariuna’s vision for her people. Our one-week trip in June gave us a peek into the main challenges of families in Mongolia as well as some of issues common to Asian cultures. And in God’s amazing provision, we met Moogie, our future translation coordinator, as we stayed in her home the entire week and saw her begin to catch God’s vision for this text.

Progress was slow, but gradually Moogie put together a team of five translators to work on the project. These women not only translated the text—they met weekly to study the principles and apply them to their own families.

God miraculously provided help in another way as well. When we first met Moogie, she was a single mother with five children not yet in their teens. (Her husband had left her when she was pregnant with their fifth child.) During the translation process, God brought a fine Christian man into Moogie’s life to be her husband and father to her children. And guess what? He owns a small printing company! You don’t have to guess where the Mongolian version of this text was printed.

During the four days I was there (from the evening of October 31 to the afternoon of November 4), it was an honor to hold the completed Mongolian text in my hands as I shared biblical parenting principles with over 130 people in three separate seminars in both rural and urban Mongolia.

I am humbled by the words Ariuna shared with me: “This resource is God’s miracle for Mongolian families.”