From the March-April 2011 Issue of New World Outlook
Eight and a half years have passed since I came to Mongolia. It was not abilities or skills or special gifts that brought me here, to this north Asian country between Russia and China. It was a calling born out of the knowledge of who I am in Christ--a sinner saved by grace. This truth filled me with a passion to share the good news with Mongolians and to pray that, together, we would be able to realize God's purposes for our lives. So it was the Holy Spirit that guided my footsteps to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital. I have been here ever since.
I knew no one when I first came to Ulaanbaatar, so I arrived with only Christ by my side. The memories of my first month in Mongolia are still vividly alive. I can still feel the cold of the April winds and my fear of the tornados that whirled through the air. Often the wind was so strong that I could move only where it blew me, since trying to walk in any other direction was a futile exercise. Now my early fear has lost its strength and love for Mongolia has taken its place. The many similarities that exist between Koreans and Mongolians eased my transition. I have no doubt now that this place has become my second home.
Aiming for the Blue Sky
Mongolia means "brave." The men and women here are strong, thanks to the harsh climate, the physical nature of their work, and diets heavy in meat. They are brave in the face of extreme cold and the hardships that life brings them. Russian and Asian influences have shaped Mongolian culture, allowing it to reflect a tension of being both "open" and "closed."
God's work in Mongolia never seems to end. When work in one area is finished, another area needing work always seems to reveal itself. No matter how urgent such work
appears, I try to be faithful in taking on new tasks only after much prayer and discernment. I long for Mongolia to know Christ and to receive through him a hope and vision for the future. I believe that children are the root of transformational change because they are a new beginning--a fresh start that can be influenced by
In the past, Mongolians were like birds whose wings did not enable them to fly. Now, having gained independence, they have the chance to strengthen their wings, stretch them out, and soar. I long for the visions of Christ to be carried on their newly outstretched aspirations. I pray that, as they take flight toward Mongolia's blue sky, it will be the word of God that guides and sustains them.
One Young Girl's Story
Khishigjargal is one of those children whose wings have been filled with Christ as she grows into young adulthood. She began attending Chingeltei United Methodist Church a year after it was opened, and I have come to know her very well. She has faithfully attended Sunday worship services and Bible studies on Wednesdays and Fridays, her faith growing along with her involvement in our church community. Over time, she took on leadership responsibilities for our church-school program, church choirs, and daycare ministry. Her joyful and giving spirit has been evident to all as we have come to know and love her.
When Khishigjargal graduated from high school, though she lacked financial means, she was able to enroll in the local university with the support of our church. There, her education was paid for by both an academic scholarship and church funds. While she studied, she continued to balance her academic work with her church commitments, remaining diligent in all of her responsibilities.
In 2009, she went to Korea as an exchange student and, upon her return, finished her course work while interning at a local company. After graduation, she worked for this same company for a short while--then left her job in response to God's call to the ministry. She has since been serving as our church's director of Christian Education and has applied for the Master of Divinity program at the Korean Methodist University in South Korea.
Learning From Each Other
Life has not been easy for Khishigjargal and her family. They live in a Mongolian ger (a collapsible felt hut covered with canvas or hide, traditionally used by nomadic herdsmen). Unable to afford property near the church, the family had to move the ger to a mountainous area with no running water or electricity--far from their home neighborhood. Despite such hardships, Khishigjargal's positive attitude and demeanor have not wavered. She has continued to walk in faith, trusting that God will provide for her family when she leaves for Korea to prepare for ministry. Her wings are fully extended. Undeterred by strong winds, darkness, and struggle, she is flying. Each day she rises in her faith, choosing to follow Christ regardless of the cost.
Ministry in Mongolia involves not only struggling to persevere but also delighting in our brothers' and sisters' growth in faith and in the things we have to learn from one another. A few years ago, we purchased a small building for a home church that we had started outside the city. The front lawn was choked by uncut grass and weeds so tall that it was difficult for people to enter the building. As we prepared to hold worship services there, I was anxious about how we could get rid of the weeds since we didn't have any equipment to cut them down. As I expressed my concern, a church member named Sarah told me not to worry, promising that they would be gone by the next Sunday. I wasn't sure how she was going accomplish this, but I decided to trust her word.
When I returned the following week, I was grateful and relieved to find a neat and beautiful lawn awaiting me. "How did you do this?" I asked Sarah in amazement. She smiled as she explained. She had brought over cows from a nearby house, and the cows had gladly eaten all of our unsightly weeds. I was humbled in that moment by the wisdom of her actions and for the grace she had shown in the face of my skepticism. Knowledge handed down to her by her ancestors had great value in her life. Living here in Mongolia continues to teach me what it means to be open to new and different ways of doing things.
New Churches Start Small
Experience has also taught me to let go of my own notions about what a church or church member might look like. New churches start small--with neighbors and family members and the few others who find their way there at the beginning. The Khonkhor United Methodist Church, for example, has been as much animal-inclusive as it is welcoming to human beings and as much a place for the young as for the old. One little boy, Jayaa, comes to the church every day, bringing his three goats with him.
Jayaa, an eight-year-old with a cheerful smile, and his three tag-alongs are equally at home in the churchyard. The goats graze on the grass and leftover scraps of food while he attends Vacation Bible School. They make bleating sounds as he plays basketball or soccer and attends the weekly worship service and Bible study. As a third-grader, Jayaa is already a faithful attendee of church events, and his shaggy shadows are never far behind. In a church that has been meeting for only five months--located in a ger built in a Mongolian village by Mongolian United Methodists--Jayaa is as much a part of the future as the space set aside for Khonkhor UMC to grow and flourish.
By God's grace, our ministry here in Mongolia has grown to include not only church planting but also community development. Opportunities to serve our Mongolian communities have come in a multitude of forms, including a hospice ministry, outreach to detention centers, a bread mission, daycare and after-school ministries, a handicrafts ministry, and a vegetable garden. Through these ministries we are calling our brothers and sisters in Mongolia to fly with wings that carry the vision of Christ and the redemptive and transformative power of God.
Originally from Korea, Sun Lae Kim is a Global Ministries missionary serving in Mongolia, with a focus on congregational development and outreach ministries in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Sun Lae Kim's home church is the Korean Community United Methodist Church in Englewood, New Jersey.