Mongolia Missions in Action
My husband and I had an amazing and unique opportunity to travel to Mongolia on a 17-day survey trip, as part of the Missions Internship Program developed by our sending church. Since we believe it’s God’s call for us to serve in the country of Mongolia, it made sense that we go see the land and people.
We felt very much like the Israelites in Numbers 13:17-20:
“…see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean…And be ye of good courage…”
After we “saw the land,” and more specifically, the people, our burden to win Mongolia for Christ increased as did our desire to get to the mission field. The trip was eye-opening to me as a woman, and as a soon-to-be, first-time mom (I was 7 months pregnant when we went, although you could’t tell under all those layers).
I would like to take you along that journey with the intent of passing on the vision for the lost and unreached peoples of the world, especially those within the 10/40 window. Maybe like me, you too can say “Mine eye affecteth mine heart…” Lamentations 3:51.
I hope you’re ready for an adventure! Serving God is far from boring. Much of what I will share are direct excerpts from the journal I kept while in Mongolia. Here we go…
Mongolia or Bust: From America to Seoul
We are getting ready to leave from Oklahoma City, on our way to LAX in California, en route to our first major layover in Seoul, South Korea. My husband has jokingly adopted our theme verse for the trip as Psalm 118:17, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.” In all honesty, it is our prayer that we be able to come home and report of God’s working and not focus solely on the physical “hardships” such as the cold or the pollution.
This is the first time for either of us to fly internationally so we are naturally a little hesitant. I can already feel the prayers of countless members from our church and family, standing before God on our behalf as we enter a new land with the Gospel.
My husband went to find a restroom. I opened the card my mom had slipped in my hand as we went through the security checkpoint. Maybe I picked the wrong timing to do so. Tears are falling and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I am so blessed to have Godly parents who raised me for the Lord’s purposes and have released me freely to go fulfill His will for my life.
I would be remiss not to thank God for the little things: fast lines, somewhat stable emotions, under weight limit on bags, smooth flight, and baby is handling cabin pressure just fine. Praise God from Whom ALL blessings flow! These are big days– full days– I couldn’t be more delighted in our Lord!
Happy New Year
It happens to be Chinese New Year. During our layover in Los Angeles, three Chinese dragons are parading back and forth to the beat of drums and cymbals. No rest tonight! I had to put away my Bible reading for later, because it was just too loud to concentrate.
Since it was an overnight flight, the airline is trying to put us on the time schedule of our final destination to help reduce jet lag. Being awakened to eat chicken and rice stir-fry dinner at 4:00 AM is an adjustment. We were able to catch a few winks but the baby made it a little uncomfortable to sit still for 14 hours. Imagine what the poor lady next to me thought every time I climbed over her to use the restroom. Actually, she was my “guardian angel.” I found out she was also a Christian, a nurse, and had been to Mongolia twice on missions trips. God knew I needed someone experienced to watch over me.
While going through security in Seoul, my boots set off the metal detector. The woman security officer who gave me a pat-down, spoke no English, but when she got to my belly, she looked up and said in broken dialect, “Baby?”. I nodded in agreement, and we shared a smile. I’m finding it amazing how many hearts just a nod of thanks and a smile can open.
Mongolia At Last: Our First Impressions
My first view of Mongolia out the plane window shows the country to be both rugged and beautiful. It’s landlocked between China and the Gobi Desert to the south, and Russia and the Siberian tundra to the north. It’s February right now; “Springtime”, as they would say, but still bitterly cold to this Oklahoma girl.
As we had prayed, the weather is unusually warm for this time of year. Upon landing, it was only -14 degrees F, the warmest it’s been all winter. Most of the capital Ulaanbaatar (also called UB for short) is made up of Soviet style apartment buildings and high-rises. We are house-sitting for a lady in the missionaries’ church while we are in country. It is a fully furnished apartment just five minutes walk from our host missionaries’ house.
Woke up feeling rested, but with a nose bleed. It is so dry here that my hands are cracking. I had to get up in the night to guzzle some water and put on lip balm. No wonderthe missionaries had a humidifier running in every room, as well as a industrial sized air purifier. I look out the window and can barely see down the street because of the smog. They tell us that the pollution in UB is worse during the winter because people burn rubber in the slums, to keep warm. We are praying for a wind to blow it out of the city.
I didn’t pack a hair dryer; no need since the air temperature inside the apartment is set by government regulations at a constant 85 degrees F. By the time you get bundled up to go outside, you’re already sweating.
Happy New Year: Mongolia Style
As God would have it, we arrive just in time to celebrate perhaps the biggest holiday in Mongolia, Tsagaan Sar (“suh gone sar”). This is their New Year, which falls in the spring and occurs whenever the monks decide that year’s date. Culturally we were able to experience far more than the average traveler to Mongolia would.
Here’s a brief look at how Tsagaan Sar works:
- Most stores and markets close down for about 9 days in Mongolia
- Gift giving and receiving is a must – usually something small like chocolate bars or scarves, money to the host
- Greet everyone by placing the elders’ arms over your own and sniffing their cheeks (they say it’s more sanitary than kissing).
- Drink lots of suta tsai (“soot tay sigh”) which is hot milk with tea and salt mixed in.
- Eat and eat and eat: lamb meat especially the tail, pinches of lamb fat, dried soured yogurts, buuz (“bolts”) which is a steamed fatty meat dumpling, and Coca-Cola which they believe cuts the heaviness and aids digestion.
- If you clean your plate completely, you are given more, because apparently you are still hungry. My mistake!
- Visits are made to inner family on Day 1, outer family on Day 2, and friends on Day 3.
- Visits last no less than 3-4 hours and you make visits all day long those 3 days. Talk about not wanting to eat anymore after this!
- Often entertained by stories or throat singing accompanied by the horse head fiddle, a classic Mongolia tradition.
Thankfully, we were able to make Tsagaan Sar visits in the homes of some of the Mongolian church members and be a testimony to their unsaved relatives.
Mongolian Ways: A Whole New World
Culture shock was to be expected but life is viewed so differently here than in America. Some moments are humorous, and some insightful into the Mongolian mindset. This will help greatly when we come back to share the Gospel of Christ with them. I found some of their ways particularly interesting, as a “foreign” woman finding my way among Mongolian women.
Some Interesting Cultural Norms
- Mongolians are not time oriented. If you say be there at 3:00, that’s when they start getting ready to go. Also, nothing opens before 10-11:00 AM. They are serious night owls!
- Pregnant women do not greet each other for fear the gender of their unborn babies will switch.
- There are no tortillas in UB. Mongolians do not appreciate Mexican flavored spices; thus, no Mexican foods are available. My attempt to make corn tortillas for the missionaries’ kids was a horrible disaster. I had five sets of “helping hands” thinking we were making Playdoh.
- Speaking of kitchens, none of the apartment buildings are grounded so you might be in for a literal shock when cooking on the stove-top. Usually you can hear it starting to spark before it shocks you, so you know it’s coming.
- Doctors and hospitals are still learning modern medicine and techniques. For example, if you break your tailbone during labor and delivery, your diagnosis is to walk backwards for six weeks in order to
- They do have American restaurants: KFC, Pizza Hut, and the newly installed Burger King with the triple “Bopper.”
- Cashmere and leather goods are super cheap, but vegetables and fruits are not. You can tell what is imported and what is obtained locally.
- Any car can double as a taxi, just hail whoever might be driving past, and see if they’ll make a deal with you.
- Using a water closet “AKA- a squatty potty” is really hard to do when you’re seven months pregnant… enough said.
Seeing Mongolia as Christ Does
One of my prayers that God has answered while I’m here is to have no fear. I didn’t want to be crippled by inadequacy or insecurity. We were given the opportunity to knock on doors and pass out flyers for the church in some apartments with one of the Mongolian Christians. Everyone seemed very open to receiving a “gift” from a foreigner like me. I had such an overwhelming, unexplained peace that these were my people, this w
as my country that God had placed in my heart to reach, and nothing could be done to scare or deter me. Amazing how the truth of the Gospel emboldens you to feel untouchable by doubts and fears.
There were two eye-opening moments during the trip. At the Gandan Buddhist temple, an 85 foot tall golden Buddha statue loomed over a crowd of worshipers trying to pay and appease their way to forgiveness. The other was when God touched both my and my husband’s hearts while driving through Nalaikh, a smaller town right outside of UB, that has absolutely no Christian presence or true Gospel-preaching church. During both experiences, I realized the great need and utter “lostness” of a people without Christ. Growing up surrounded in truth and Christian freedom, it was shocking to see a society untouched by all that is familiar in my spiritual life.
Realizing that God Can Use Me in Mongolia
This isn’t just a pleasure trip or an all-expense paid adventure to the remote part of the earth. Our trip has a purpose and it is to see the need for God and do something about it. One thing that struck me the most about seeing the Mongolian churches and Mongolian Christians is how simple the Gospel really is. The heart-felt singing to the Lord, who had changed their lives, was so beautiful. I didn’t understand the words but you could tell that each life there was a miracle of God’s saving grace, delivered out of Buddhist idolatry, Shamanistic fear, or Westernized atheism.
The Gospel works the same in Mongolia as it does back home in America. There isn’t a different formula; for God’s message of salvation is cross-cultural. It doesn’t need a fancy presentation or to be delivered with captivating attention. You can stumble over the words in a difficult language, and God can still be in it and use you. All that is needed is a willing servant and the power of God’s Word, reaching souls and resounding the truth in their hearts. I’m so thankful I don’t have to be “qualified” for this job, just called and willing.
Is giving my life as a missionary to Mongolia a wild adventurous thing? It looks like it will be, at times. More importantly, it is only right that I be willing to give it all for my Savior Who gave His all for me.
About the Author
Hannah and her husband Cameron are currently on deputation, raising support so they can begin full-time missionary work in Mongolia. She juggles the demands of traveling with those of a toddler and keeps a sweet spirit through it all. Hannah has authored two books in addition to her writing for the Submissive Spirit. She also blesses us with her beautiful voice.