Doing business to the glory of God in Mongolia

Elizabeth B and her husband Murray have been in Mongolia with Pioneers for nearly 14 years. They are based in a town of 20,000 people in central Mongolia, where they run a guesthouse as part of a ‘Business as Mission’ model.  

“Where can I put my camels?” came the Belgian man’s question from the other end of the phone. Yep, it must be tourist season in Mongolia, and our plans for the morning go out the window.

This is the tourist we helped a few days ago when, while travelling through a neighbouring town, one of his two camels shook off its load and ran off into the wilderness. Through our connections and our connections’ connections, we managed to locate this wayward camel – despite it having travelled over 90km away – and reunited it with its owner. And now they’ve arrived here, in our town in rural Mongolia.

Murray B with a camel.

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After helping him put his camels in a rented yard and stocking it with hay and water, we head back to our guesthouse with a long to-do list on our minds. But the next unplanned thing arises: some tourists have car troubles and need a mechanic. They have limped along, with our guesthouse as their target, hoping that we could help them. We take them along to our local friend from church, a mechanic, who will look at the car, and then we bring them back to the cafe for a hamburger and a cappuccino while they wait. Of course, like all the tourists, they want to know, “What on earth are you doing living here?”

God led us here to this small provincial capital with our four young children almost 14 years ago. After hearing about the relatively new Mongolian church that had sprung up over the past 20 years, which was asking for people who would come and disciple them, we felt a burden for these people who were so vulnerable in their baby faith to the Evil One, who is so active in this land.

We seek to do business to the glory of God. We want it to be known that, as Christians, we are people of integrity.

Needing a visa platform, we took over a business previously owned by English missionaries. The business was a guesthouse, cafe, bakery, and we have added a travel arm to the business, organising tours, renting out mountain bikes, organising horse treks and homestays with local herders, among other things.

Business as Mission (BAM) is a quickly expanding type of missionary work, as many countries become increasingly difficult to enter. We have found it to be an excellent way to enter and make connections in a community. Our presence in the community is immediately understood; we have contacts across many echelons of society, and we can employ locals. We have had up to 25 full-time employees and have built long-term relationships with them and their families. We can boost the economy and overall living standards of the local community, model godly business practices that challenge the often corrupt way of doing things, and so on.

Visitors at the guesthouse in Mongolia.

As with everything, we seek to do business to the glory of God. We want it to be known that, as Christians, we are people of integrity. We have been given a visa to do business, so we strive to do it to the best of our ability. We are “legit” business people. We have a high profile in the national tourism industry and are highly recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook. All of this gets us noticed and invites questions about our reasons for living in rural Mongolia and why we conduct business as we do, which we are all too happy to answer.

In fact, my husband will soon be meeting with a friend, one of our employees, who became a believer after asking those questions and hearing the answers. His unbelieving wife says he is now a better husband and father, and we love seeing his passion for sharing Jesus with those around him.

But it’s not always easy. This afternoon, I spent time with a believer from our church, reading the Bible, praying and talking about problems weighing on her heart. Her believing husband beats her occasionally, and she wonders if staying with him is the godly thing to do.

Discipleship is hard, the challenges real, and questions are sometimes heartbreaking with no easy answers.

And suddenly, another phone call. Our Christian friend, employed to do maintenance at our business, has got drunk and hasn’t shown up for work … again. What should we do? Should we fire him? Our believing Assistant to the Manager, a young woman I meet with weekly, asks, “How can he be a true Christian if he gets drunk so often? What is the best way to help this man?”

Discipleship is hard, the challenges real, and questions are sometimes heartbreaking with no easy answers. But we pray, ask the Lord for wisdom and hold on to Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”

With 30 minutes’ notice, my husband is asked to come to the town square. There seems to be a parade going on, with police, emergency services, firemen and health workers all lined up. There is a television crew and a band. Apparently, we are receiving an award, complete with a tall glass trophy, to be televised nationally. What for? For paying our taxes in full and on time. OK, well, I guess the to-do list can wait.