Taking the Bible to Asia's outback
Extreme conditions and vast distances cause distribution challenges in Mongolia
Imagine a place where temperatures routinely drop to minus 40C during the long, bitter winters and soar to a scorching 40C in the brief summer. In November and March, the mercury stays well below freezing point, while in spring people have to contend with dust storms that travel hundreds of kilometres. Outside of the cities, 90 per cent of roads are unsealed – sometimes little more than dirt tracks.
The Mongolian Union Bible Society works in these climatic extremes and wants to distribute 10,000 Bibles to churches across the Steppe this year. The months of September and October are a critical window of opportunity to achieve this goal before winter closes in and cuts off access to far-flung provinces. To be able to take advantage of the best season for travelling across the vast and difficult terrain of the Steppe, the Bible Society is hoping to raise funds this year for a sturdy vehicle.
Christianity in Mongolia is growing
Christianity is not new to this vast country between Russia and China. The Mongol ruler Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan had Nestorian Christians among their wives and were said to embrace religious freedom. However, because of Communist influence during the 70 years that Mongolia was part of the Soviet Union, the church is considered young and growing.
Radio broadcaster Batjargal Tuvshintengel, known as “Bat,” was one of the original 20 Christians in the first modern church, which was established in 1991, one year after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
He reports that Christianity in Mongolia is growing apace, with an average of 680 people turning to Christ every month since 2000. While Bible Society estimates there are about 50,000 Christians in Mongolia, Christian radio station FEBC Mongolia puts the number at 100,000 – about 3.6 per cent of the three million population
Bat, who is director of FEBC Mongolia, told Eternity during a recent visit to Australia that there are now 600 churches spread across this sparsely populated land, which is about one-fifth the size of Australia.
While about 40 per cent of Mongolians live in cities such as the capital, Ulaanbaatar, or Darkhan, one-third live nomadic lives as herdsmen on the Steppe, which makes ministry outside of urban areas difficult.
“Our mission is to provide a Bible to every family.” – Mongolian Union Bible Society
On the Steppe, some of the churches meet in gers – more commonly known as yurts. These are portable, round tents covered with skins or felt that are used as dwellings by nomads. Outside the urban centres, families pack up their ger and follow their livestock from one pasture land to another. Churches that meet in gers have to cope with serving a people on the move.
Both the churches and Bible Society are planning to establish a presence in more outlying provinces and townships to serve the growing Christian population.
“In order to distribute the Bibles, we need a quality vehicle which can cross distances – a jeep or a van,” says Bible Society Executive Director, Bayarmagnai Bayardalai, who is known as Magnai.
“Our mission is to provide a Bible to every family. We are also cooperating with three to four prison ministries.”