If there’s one church you might call “millennial”, it’s the church in Mongolia. Christianity really arrived there at the very end of last century.
“After being there for 25 years, the Church in Mongolia is just starting to mature,” says Batjargal Tuvshintengel, Director of FEBC (a radio ministry) in that country. “That means we are gaining a leadership, and a vision.”
There’s about 60,000 to 90,000 Christians in Mongolia today. 25 years ago, there were about 20. Bat (not only Australians shorten his name) should know. He was one of them.
“25 years ago, there was zero. Then It went from zero to 20 quite fast, and the growth continued.”
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Everyone had to be careful. You did not tell things to your peers. It was very scary.
Before Christianity began to blossom in Mongolia, Bat says there was a spiritual vacuum in his homeland. “It was communism with an atheistic background. Then missionaries came in. There’s a lot of young people – 50 per cent of our people are below the age of 18 – and so a lot of young people caught on to this new faith. There was no concept of God before.”
The good news was brought to Mongolia with the arrival of missionaries, mostly from the UK (but also from the USA). They were able to access Mongolia due to the country shifting from communism to democracy in 1990.
“There were different stages in the development,” remembers Bat about how Christianity grew in Mongolia. “In the first three or four years, there was a pioneering stage when mostly Westerners had come in; they came in as English teachers, as the country opened up. They started teaching English and the Bible at the same time.”
Also at that time, the Bible was being translated. The New Testament was published in Mongolian in 1990. One year later, Bat was finishing high school and trying to get into a medical university. “I failed my exams so I really had nothing to do,” admits Bat. “I fell in with a group studying English. A lot of missionaries had come under the umbrella of a group they formed called ‘International Support Services’. They did medical relief and aid.
“That’s when I met a lady from the UK. She was one of the first missionaries. She was a nurse but she was teaching English, tutoring a small group of us. We became the first church basically.”
I experienced freedom, a breath of fresh air.
Brought into contact with a new and strange religion, Bat’s first impression back in 1991 was “freedom”.
“There was something about freedom there, because fear had been the dominating factor for us growing up in a Communist country. Everyone had to be careful. You did not tell things to your peers. It was very scary. They controlled everything.”
“So, I experienced freedom, a breath of fresh air.
“More than the concept of God, this individual called Jesus was the first thing that stood out. Because we really did not have a concept of God. Jesus was powerful for us, his loving and his sacrifice. That was the first thing that really attracted us.”
It took about five months of English classes before Bat started to think he would like to become a Christian. Along with Bat, most of that first 20 Christians in Mongolia are still in church. Only a couple of them have dropped out, says Bat. Some of that first generation have become pastors.
They were mentally hungry, socially hungry, they were spiritually hungry.
The first 20 did not face much opposition in becoming Christians. “That was because the country was just opening up. All these opportunities, all these choices; people were just trying to grab at whatever there is,” says Bat.
“People were so hungry. They were mentally hungry, socially hungry, they were spiritually hungry.”
Bat is now thankful he had failed his exams and was wandering around without much to do.
“It turned the course of my life around. My parents wanted me to become a medical doctor. There were two main professions that were respected, being a doctor or a teacher.”
They were unhappy with me for failing my exams. They were not mad about me choosing my faith.
“But it is interesting, the moment I started working for this International Support Services, I became the medical agent – I took medical aids to all the provinces.
“That made me think, God can use your dreams also. He can use them to get you to help others.
“I was born and raised in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. My dad was in the middle class, he received higher education – he was an electrical draftsman; mum was a nurse.
“I was just like the other kids. I did not face any resistance (to becoming a Christian) from my parents. They were unhappy with me for failing my exams. They were not mad about me choosing my faith. I was surprised because I had expected them to push back at me ‘what are you doing with your life’, but they did not.
“My Dad said, ‘In my time, Communism was a big thing, maybe in your time Christianity will be the next big thing’.
“He accepted me choosing faith. My Mum became a Christian, and I think my Dad is one too, although he does not talk much about it.”
There are no denominational walls.
Christians are now about 3.6 per cent of Mongolians. “We have this audacious goal to make it 10 per cent by 2020,” says Bat. “But 2020 is closing in very fast.”
Because the churches in Mongolia started from scratch, they have no baggage – the Christians are united. “It’s great,” Bat comments. “There are no denominational walls.
“Our churches are reaching their adulthood …They are becoming independent – and learning hopefully to be interdependent.”
Bat says numbers are not the priority. “The big emphasis is on making disciples. Not just evangelising, but making disciples. We are looking for servants of Jesus Christ.”
Bat is currently the Mongolian director for radio company FEBC. He says he has two aims for Christian radio.
“The first is preparing the soil because the seeds are going to be sown. On the other hand, you need to help the Church to grow to the stage where they can help people become disciples.”
We are speaking to them, responding to their needs.
To that end, Bat trains church leaders while also running the FEBC team. To reach out to Bat’s nation, FEBC “wants to label ourselves not as a Christian radio station but as a family radio station, but based on Christian values and principles.”
“Ninety seven percent of our population is our audience. They are not Christians; they are shamanists, they are Buddhists, they are animists. We are speaking to them, responding to their needs.”
The message that connects with Mongolians? “It is anything to do with families. Mongolians are very affectionate to their kids, but they are failing in their parenting skills. Because in the Communist time, everything was doing what the government wants you to do. But nowadays people are having a problem in handling choices. They have been presented with so many choices but they don’t have the skills to choose.”
“So, we are trying to walk them through some of the best practices with families. Family counselling, bringing up children, relationships, seeing each other’s point of view. Most of our shows have counselling elements embedded in them.
“Radio has ceased to be one directional. It’s no longer a one-way street. We always want the listeners to be interacting with us. We are a community learning structure with Christians engaging in the dialogue.”