If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time working as a writer at Eternity, it’s when Al Watson phones, you take the call.
The charismatic president of Walk Thru the Bible is always inspiring, full of surprising good stories about what God is doing, and lives by faith. He trusts God to provide at a level that challenges me. How could I ever say no to a conversation with Al?
At 14 years of age, Al was expelled from school and functionally illiterate. Now, as a retiree on a pension, he has travelled the world training children and adults in biblical literacy as president of Walk Thru the Bible Australia – an interactive teaching method that uses hand signs and memory cards as triggers to aid in learning, retention and recall of key Bible events.
Al recently phoned to let me know about some new ministry opportunities that have opened up for Walk Thru the Bible – in Mongolia.
“Mongolia?” I asked, surprised. I really shouldn’t have been, though. If anyone is going to have new ministry opporties opening up in Mongolia it would be Al.
Some months ago, he was contacted by the ex-director of Samaritan’s Purse Australia and New Zealand, Jorge Rodrigues. Samaritan’s Purse, Al told me, has been doing significant work in Mongolia with the fledging church. So when Jorge phoned to ask if Walk Thru the Bible Australia would be willing to set up their ministry in Mongolia and take their teaching cards there and train Christian leaders to use them, so that young Christians could get a better understanding of God’s Word … well, of course Al replied with a resounding “yes”.
I racked my brain for any information it might be holding about Mongolia. A faint recollection of constructing a to-scale model of a Mongolian yurt in Grade 7 came to mind. This wasn’t going to help me, but Al was more than happy to fill in the blanks.
About 40 per cent of the Mongolian population are herders, he said. Mongolian herders are nomadic, moving from place to place to seek good pasture. As a result, the gospel hasn’t really reached them. In fact, 90 per cent of Mongolia’s herders haven’t heard about the Good News.
In 2010 Samaritan’s Purse Mongolia established a national NGO called Agricultural Innovations Development (AID). And, in 2011, AID became separated from SP and became independent.
Since then AID has implemented various agricultural projects that benefit herders in the western provinces of Mongolia. Alongside that work, the organisation does church planting and other work ministering to the herders.
In particular, AID plants Ger Churches. ‘Ger’ is the word for a Mongolian traditional house – and it is mobile. In fact, ger is the Mongolian word for what I was once taught is a yurt. Turns out ‘yurt’ is the word used by people with a Turkic-language background (spoken by people groups across Europe and Asia).
Ger Churches can move with herders when needed, and thereby work with the culture of a nomadic lifestyle rather than against it. To date, AID has planted 24 Ger Churches in Arkhangai, Uvurkhangai, Hovd, and Bayankhongor provinces of Mongolia.
Later, Al sends me ths report from Hoiga, one of AID’s leaders in Mongolia: “In the last two weeks, I have been travelled to the countryside. Our team travelled through this trip to 15 villages of six provinces and visited about 4000 kilometres of the road with obstacles. We were encouraged by Ger Church leaders, believers and shared Good News in the Kazakh villages.”
I was – and am still – astounded by the ground they have covered in just two weeks and the number of villages visited. It all sounds so incredibly different to the bustle of Sydney where I live.
The challenge for AID’s workers is that most of Ger Church believers are young and really need to be discipled in their Christian faith. So, in 2016, AID started a mobile Bible school for these nomadic people, training around 30 herder students each quarter. AID’s training consists of seminars and other training, but is seriously hampered by a lack of resources, from Bible teachers to Christian books to student workbooks and other training materials.
This is where Al and Walk Thru the Bible come in. Walk Thru the Bible’s resources are a perfect fit for helping to disciple a new Christian who comes with no Christian understanding or existing knowledge.
“Faith comes by hearing – hearing the word of God.” – Al Watson
Interactive (physical cards, videos and more) and already road-tested to be effective, Walk Thru the Bible’s method is based on the premise that knowing the framework of the Bible and its major events will help anyone understand God’s grand story.
“The Bible is not put together in a chronological order, it’s put in a topical structure,” Al said. “So you’ve got the first 17 books of the history and the whole of the Old Testament fits into those 17 books. It’s a bit like your skeleton, and then your backbone and the rest of the ribs sit in there. So knowing those first 17 books help you understand the whole story of the Old Testament.
“Faith comes by hearing – hearing the word of God,” he explained. “You need a conscious knowledge of the Bible story, and out of that can grow a revelation of the discovery of who Jesus is and where we came from, what went wrong and how to fix it.”
“So, how do you engage people, teach people, the story of the Bible? It’s a bit like building a house. You start off with a frame. If you don’t have a frame, it’s very hard to build a house. People need to at least understand that framework. We give people that big picture overview.”
Having agreed to take Walk Thru the Bible to Mongolia, Al is now doing what Al does: trusting God to provide the finance that is needed to print 5,000 sets of Old Testament cards in Mongolian. I ask him if he has a link that I can put in this article so people can donate? He doesn’t, but he promises to send through bank account details later so I have them if someone needs them. Clearly, Al is not at all stressed about the finance coming in – he’s been here before and has learned to trust God. (I’ve got those details now, by the way, so send me an email or Facebook message if you’d like them).
In the meantime, Al has already worked via internet with Christians in Mongolia, so Walk Thru the Bible’s teaching program is translated into Mongolian and ready to go.
To learn more or to contribute to Walk Thru the Bible’s work in Mongolia, click here.