The most famous Mongolian in history, Genghis Khan, worshiped the Eternal Blue Sky and consulted shamans, but also had Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in his court. Long before Genghis Khan, the Kherait tribe had converted to Syriac (Nestorian) Christianity in the 10th century.
Kublai Khan, whose mother was a Christian, was visited by Catholics (probably by Marco Polo) and was attracted to Christianity. He wrote a letter to the Roman Pope to send 100 teachers of the Christian faith, but only two were sent, and they turned back. Kublai Khan later converted to Tibetan Buddhism, although he continued Genghis Khan’s tolerance of different religious faiths. Subsequent Catholic missions did not establish congregations.
By the turn of the 20th Century, most Mongolians were committed to Tibetan Buddhism. The Communist Revolution of 1921 resulted in purges in the 1930s and 1940s. While Stalin purged the Orthodox Church of Russia, Mongolian Marshall Choibalsan ordered the killing of 150,000 Buddhist lamas. Almost all monasteries were destroyed.
In 1990 Mongolia began to open up to the world beyond the Soviet bloc. There were less than 10 known Christians, with some having heard the gospel as students in underground meetings in East Germany and other countries. In 1990 a Mongolian New Testament based on the Good News Bible was published. Many came to faith through this book, as well as watching the Jesus film, which was shown in Mongolian cinemas. Christians from many nations entered Mongolia to help develop this country.
After seven decades of sterile atheism with the State being god-like, many Mongolians have returned to Buddhism, which has been re-established as Mongolia’s national religion. There are now about 200 monasteries and more than 3,000 lamas.
Since the early 1990s, Christianity has spread rapidly. UBTC (Union Bible Theological College) was established in 1995, bringing together a few training schools, emerging Mongolian Christian leaders and missionaries from different countries. The Mongolian Evangelical Alliance (MEA), which represents most churches, was founded in 1999. The first complete Bible was published in 2000, and Mongolian churches and mission agencies began to send out missionaries.
Today there are more than 40,000 Christians in more than 400 churches. Many church members are first-generation Christians. Slowly Christian families are emerging.
Christianity has become more acceptable, but there are still pockets of social discrimination. Recently in the resurgence of Mongolian nationalism, shamanism has been growing by leaps and bounds, even to the alarm of some officials. New churches need strengthening.
OMF International works through JCS International (Joint Christian Services), a Christian relief and development organization. JCS works in areas such agriculture, education, and sports clubs for youth.