Presence of God’s Love and Healing in Mongolia
By Sandra Brands
Mongolian church leaders are finding that people are hungering for the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Bishop Jeremiah Park, episcopal leader of the New York Annual Conference.
Park was appointed presiding bishop last year when the Initiative was given formal mission status.
In a letter
to members of the New York Annual Conference
announcing his appointment, Park invited them to be part of this effort. "I ask you to pray for our missionaries and the people of Mongolia," he wrote in the December letter.
There is a lot to be excited about, he said. Since the mission began in 2002, two mission centers have been founded in the capitol Ulaanbaatar. Since 2006, the centers have spawned six United Methodist congregations.
Park said he wrote the letter not just to let the New York Annual Conference members know about his new assignment. "It is very exciting news. Our church is a global church, and the mission of our church is expanding in other parts of the world.
"Our people need to hear that," he said. "This is an exciting opportunity to make a difference in people's lives."
The Mongolia Mission Initiative
is already making a difference in people's lives, said the Rev. Jong Sung Kim, Global Ministries Director of Mission Initiatives.
"There are three areas that we are focusing on," he said. "One is church development. The second is leadership development. The third is community outreach, like hospice care and economic development programs. We [also] have a significant and very big afterschool program for children.
"Any church can participate in the work of our mission in Mongolia," he said.
The Hospice Ministry is so well established the Mongolia Ministry of Health has requested the church join them in providing care for cancer patients, Kim said.
"We have not said yes, because we don't have a clear idea what our financial commitment will be to work with the government," he said. "There are some areas where we can be helpful—and we should be doing that—but we don't want to carry out a government program."
Founded by missionary Helen Shepherd
after she was assigned to the area in 2002, the Hospice Ministry now employs 13 people. Three teams--each consisting of a doctor, a nurse, and a social worker--visit the patient at home.
Those ministries help form bridges into a community that is 90 percent Buddhist. For Shepherd, one of the strengths of the Hospice Ministry is it "helps individuals who want to do hospice work understand the importance of showing one's faith by the way one gives care, and not only 'preaching' at individuals who are sick."
For years, Shepherd was the only missionary assigned to Mongolia. Today, mission interns Holli Vining and Matt Rodebush join her.
She said their role is to build up a hospice that makes sense in Mongolia. That means "maintaining and raising up the Mongolian way and heritage rather than showing non-acceptance for Mongolian ways. In hospice, it has been a huge challenge to teach compassion, empathy, and things related to 'feelings'."
Hospice and afterschool programs can be the door way into the church for many Mongolians. "Christianity is perceived, especially by young people, as a way to learn and to widen their perspective," Kim said. "That's why it's very attractive to young people, and that's why they first come to church. They are attracted and then become Christian, and some even go further."
And many have, he said. The majority of members of United Methodist congregations in Mongolia are under 35. The emerging leaders are university-educated graduates who attend Bible school for training; some are commissioned as certified pastors to serve local churches.
"When they joined our church, they were teenagers," he said. "They grew up in our church. Now they are in their mid-20s. This is fairly typical of our pastors."
Partner churches can help work with the Mission to help train leaders and provide experiences that differ in emphasis from what is offered through missionaries, Shepherd said. Partner church members can teach "John Wesley's beliefs and practices, music and style of worship. By modeling different worship experiences, [we let] people do some thinking and choosing, questioning and not just repeating what others have taught them."
Kim agrees. "We would really welcome [partner churches] to join us in our work in Mongolia," he said. "We would like to continue to be useful in terms of providing the resources needed. Local leadership wants us to help provide opportunities for young people to be educated."
For Bishop Park, the opportunities to connect and form relationships with Mongolian United Methodists are an essential blessing that continues to grow.
"So many people involved in mission experiences come back changed," he said. "They make connections with more people who get involved in mission. It is a continually growing circle. I hope our presence as United Methodists will demonstrate that we are there as the presence of God's love and healing, and the hope for a better future for God's beloved people.
"I hope and pray that our people get more and more involved with mission," he said. "You never know. Some of them will visit Mongolia and get involved and come back with exciting stories."