Mongolia today is changing rapidly with a mining boom and a fast growing economy. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s national capital has traffic jams and gleaming new hotels. In the countryside, nomads send text messages on their cell phones on horseback and watch TV powered by solar panels in their yurts (portable round felt tents called ger).
In 2010 Mongolia celebrated 20 Years of the Democratic Revolution; in 2011 Christians celebrated 20 Years of the Mongolianchurch. Foreign Christians are welcome to come and help this dynamic country develop and to work alongside Mongolian Christian brothers and sisters.
- 90.9% Mongolian
- 6.6% Turkic (mostly Kazakh)
- 2.5% Other (Chinese, Russian)
The official Mongolian language is Khalkh Mongolian, a Ural-Altaic language unrelated to Chinese but related to Korean, Hungarian, Finnish, and Turkish. Contrary to popular belief, Mongolians do not speak Chinese. English has been declared the official second language of Mongolia, and foreign English teachers are always requested. In addition, Korean, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese are widely taught.
Mongolia is almost the size of Western Europe. It is completely landlocked, with Russia in the north and China in the south. There are mountains in the north and west, larch and taiga forests in the north, the Gobi Desert in the south, and steppes (grassy plains with rolling hills) in the central part of the country.
The climate is extremely harsh. Temperatures range from -40°C (-40°F) to 40°C (104°F). Winters are very long, lasting from October to April.
In 1206, gifted chieftain Temujin from a small tribe called “Mongol” conquered and united warring tribes and was proclaimed “Genghis Khan,” meaning “king of vastness.” He saw himself as appointed by heaven to subdue the nations. He and his descendants created the world’s largest continuous land empire in history, from the Pacific Ocean to Central Europe. Ruling over China, his grandson Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty and moved China’s capital from Xi’an to Beijing. Kublai Khan ordered the development of paper currency for ease of trade over the Silk Road, and Mongolian rule made travelling the Silk Road safer. Trade and the exchange of ideas was increased between Asia and Europe, and historians now view the Pax Mongolica as a forerunner to Christopher Columbus and of globalization.
In 1368 the Ming Dynasty was established, with Han Chinese chasing their former Mongolian rulers back to the north. To prevent the Mongolians from rising up again, the Ming Dynasty encouraged Tibetan Buddhist monks to convert Mongolia to Tibetan Buddhism to pacify the once great warrior people. During the Manchurian Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) Mongolia became absorbed into Chinese territory. The southern Mongolians, closer to Beijing, were more loyal to the Qing rulers and their land became known as “Inner Mongolia,” while rebellious Mongolian leaders to the north ruled over what came to be known as “Outer Mongolia.”
“Outer Mongolia” declared independence from China at the deposing of China’s last emperor in 1911. But de facto independence came in 1921 with the leadership of a young Mongolian nationalist D. Sukhbaatar, with great help of the Soviet Union. The Mongolian People’s Republic was announced in 1924, the same year as the death of the Bogd Khan, Mongolia’s last king, regarded as a living Buddha. Mongolia became the world’s second communist nation. The city of Urga was renamed “Ulaanbaatar” or “Red Hero,” and became the capital city.
In the 20th century, Mongolia became a satellite to the USSR, and the Mongolian government mirrored the Soviet government. There was a saying, “when someone in Red Square has a cold, someone in Sukhbaatar Square sneezes.” Soviet-style communism dramatically changed Mongolian life, bringing nearly 100 percent literacy, education, hospitals, and agriculture. However, Stalinist purges also occurred and people were fearful of neighbour spying against neighbour.
Influenced by sweeping changes in Eastern Europe, young Mongolians began demonstrating in Ulaanbaatar in December of 1989, and thousands were demonstrating for political change in 1990. Communist one-party rule was renounced later that year and a multi-party democracy was instituted with a new constitution in January 1992. Today there are elections in which the democratic coalitions compete with the Mongolian People’s Party (formerly the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, or, Communist Party). Power shifts back and forth between the different parties. A disputed election in 2008 resulted in violent protests and a few deaths.
Mongolia is traditionally home to nomadic herding peoples, but due to desertification and harsh winters (and the resulting widespread livestock deaths), many have migrated to Ulaanbaatar. With 1.2 million, about a third of Mongolia’s population, Ulaanbaatar is reeling with change. Some nomadic herders are better off than their town cousins, who migrate to Ulaanbaatar and other towns in search of work in the hope of a better life. Those who cannot find adequate work in Ulaanbaatar seek to work in South Korea and other countries. With a mining boom and a nascent IT sector, some Mongolians are doing quite well. There is a construction boom, with many of the labourers imported from China. Mongolia is doing well enough to welcome North Korean contract labourers.
Foreign mining companies compete for Mongolia’s vast deposits of copper, gold, coal, and other mineral deposits. Foreign businessmen dine with Mongolian businessmen and officials in classy restaurants and cafes. Many Mongolians fear that Mongolia will have the “resource curse” as with some African nations, with foreign companies taking most of the wealth and increasing the wealth divide between rich and poor. Others welcome Mongolia’s new wealth. Mongolia’s rapid changes are welcomed as well as loathed, sparking anti-foreign sentiment in some quarters.
Agriculture has been developing in Mongolia, and the traditional Mongolian diet of meat and milk has been changing. Mongolians are learning that vegetables are good for health. Sea-buckthorn, a berry extremely high in vitamin C, makes a good health drink, and its oil is sought after, not only for health, but also for its use by foreign cosmetic companies.
Development across Mongolia is a challenge. Covering three time zones and 21 provinces with over 90 percent of roads unpaved and only a small railway network, development in this vast country is difficult and expensive.
Three worldviews live side-by-side in Mongolia: pre-modernism of sacred cairns on mountain tops, with shamans beating drums in esoteric rituals and Tibetans chanting Buddhist lamas; modernism with square Soviet-era buildings, atheists, and jaded ex-communists who used to look forward to a workers’ paradise; and post-modernism, including visiting Indian gurus and New Age spiritualities, in which many seek to get rich.
The most famous Mongolian in history, Genghis Khan, worshipped the Eternal Blue Sky and consulted shamans, but he also had Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims in his court. Christianity had entered Mongolian lands as early possibly as the 7th century and certainly in the 10th century with the Kherait tribe converting to Syriac (Nestorian) Christianity.
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 his Genghis Khan’s tolerance of different religious faiths.
During subsequent khans, William of Rubruck and John Montecorvino had limited impact in Catholic mission, and did not establish any churches. In time, Nestorian Christianity died out, due in part to their failing to translate the Bible into Mongolian, preferring to chant the Syriac Bible as a mystical liturgy.
By the turn of the 20th century, powerful Buddhist lamas owned most of Mongolia’s livestock, and the Mongolian population was just half a million and in decline. Yet people were committed to Tibetan Buddhism. Neither James Gilmour from Scotland in the late 1800s, nor Frans Larsen of Sweden in the early 1900s, saw any fruit for their years of dedicated labour. 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 ten known Christians, with some having heard the gospel as students in underground meetings in East Germany and other countries. Christian “missionaries” began to work in Mongolia, along with Mormons, Baha’i and other groups. Turkish Muslims came to strengthen Islam among Kazakhs and tried to convert Mongolians to Islam. 1990 coincided with the publication of a new translation of the Mongolian New Testament.
Contrary to what has been portrayed in Western media, most missionaries that have entered Mongolia are not American, but Korean. Half of missionaries to Mongolia have come from South Korea, with others having come from approximately 30 nations.
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. Union Bible Training Center (now Union Bible Theological College) was established in 1995, bringing together a few training schools, emerging Mongolian Christian leaders and missionaries from different countries in 1995. 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 nascent mission agencies began to send out missionaries to countries near and far.
In 2012 the Christian population was more than 50,000, with approximately 400 churches. Many church members are young people, first-generation Christians. Yet there are also young Christian families and grandparents who bring wholeness to the churches.
Christianity has become more acceptable, with even a recent major Mongolian film indicating that the main character had become Christian. Yet 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. There is an urgent need for trained church leaders, pastors and teachers. The church needs to mature on a solid biblical foundation.
OMF International works under the auspices of an intra-agency called Joint Christian Services (JCS International) in development, agriculture, education, alcohol abuse reduction, medical training, and small business development. JCS’ vision is “to see Mongolians building and restoring families, churches, and communities.”
- Encouraging the planting, growth and development of indigenous biblical churches.
- Discipling Christian leaders.
- Meeting the needs of the people of Mongolia with skills in education, health and economic and community development.
- English teaching.
- Small Business Development.
- Training Mongolian Medical Personnel.
- Making lasting friendships
- For continued religious freedom in Mongolia.
- For healthy families free from addiction to vodka.
- For outreach to the less reached in Mongolia, including Kazakhs and nomadic herders.
- For continued unity in Christ among local Christians and among Christian workers from many nations.
- For Mongolian missionaries as they go out to other Asian nations.