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Cultures of Life and Death--a Report from Mongolia

I write today from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where I have been doing mission work since 1997. When I was in high school, I didn’t even know that Mongolia existed, and when I first heard its name, I certainly couldn’t have located it on a map. (Hint: it’s between China and Russia)

In 1905, three European journalists visited the very primitive nation of Mongolia. At that time there were no cities, just scattered settlements of nomadic tribes. The nation was Buddhist, extremely poor, and forty percent of the young men were Buddhist monks—with rampant venereal diseases among them.

Upon leaving Mongolia, the three journalists wrote that Mongolia would not exist as a nation in twenty years.

It didn’t happen. In 2015, a culture of life is replacing a culture of death. In the Western world the opposite is true—a life-giving culture is spirally downward into death.

What can we learn from Mongolia about cultures of life and death?

The process of coming back to life started in an unusual way in the land of Khans. The newly born Soviet Union engineered a “Red Revolution” in Mongolia in 1915 through a leader named Sukhbaatar. A few days ago I visited the central square of the capital city where there is a statue of the “Red Warrior” who brought communism to this part of the world.

In many ways it was horrible. Thousands died, temples were burned to the ground, and the USSR placed Mongolia in its vice grip that was spreading all over Eastern Europe and Central Asia during that era.

One of things that the Russians did during the next thirty years was to build five cities in the midst of the Mongolian Steppe and move many of the nomadic people into them. It was a radical change of life, but for many it was a vast improvement from living in tents in an extremely harsh and cold climate to having heated apartments with running water.

Yet, Mongolia remained both spiritually and physically poor for another forty years. A nation without knowledge of the true and loving God and under the hammer of evil men is certainly not a culture of life.

In 1980 there were no known Christians in Mongolia and it remained one of the poorest nations on earth.

But the Russian-built cities provided an interesting opportunity: It’s easier to do evangelism in urban areas than from tent to tent. And when the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1989, freedom—and the coming of the Good News of Jesus Christ--eventually spread into Mongolia by the early nineties.

In 1986, the first Mongol that we know of since the communist revolution gave his heart  to Christ. He was led to Jesus by a Christian leader from America.

I will personally visit that first Christian convert this week while here in the nation.

During those early days of freedom, many missionaries came to Mongolia from Europe, North America and South Korea. The first church in the nation was established by YWAM missionaries from Finland in 1991 and by the time I first visited in 1997, there were hundreds of new believers, churches being born, and the Gospel beginning to bring hope to a once dying nation.

Today, there are over 100,000 Christians in the nation of Mongolia and over 600 churches in all the aimags (provinces) of the country. I spent last week with 200 of them at a Gateway Camp devoted to mobilizing Mongol young people for world missions. Representatives from five nations were present as we baptized fifty new believers in the Tuul River, spent a night in worship and prayer, and then sent teams off to minister in various locales.

It is such a privilege to serve in a country where spiritual life in Christ is excitedly being born!

When I came here in the late nineties, Mongolia was still quite a poor country. The average person lived on about $20 a month and the Russians had built paved streets in the cities--but there weren’t any cars. Few could afford them.

One of the fruits of a growing democratic movement was the growth of free enterprise throughout the nation. Shops sprang up. Major businesses were born. Colorful advertisements began to replace the gray drab colors of communism.

Yesterday I shopped at a mega-Mongolian supermarket that could have been found anywhere in the Mall of America. This type of store was unheard of even ten years ago. A growing middle and upper class is now able to buy global products and provide for their families in ways unimagined a few years ago. Apartments and condominiums are under construction everywhere.

There are some growth pains that go along with that. A Mongol pastor friend of mine now says: “Too many cars, too few roads.” In 2015 the streets of Ulaanbaatar are jammed packed with the evidences of progress.  A culture of life (progress) is replacing a culture of death.

What are the keys to this life-giving cultural break-out? Here are some first-hand observations. In many ways, it has to do with birth rates:

  • Spiritually, thousands of people are being “born again” through faith in Jesus Christ. Whereas there were no spiritual babies being born just three decades ago, a Christian baby boom is now taking place in the nation (like the fifty baptisms this week). Spiritual births in the country are bringing faith, hope and love to a once spiritually impoverished nation.
  • New believers in Christ are hungry for the things of God. You don’t need to limit your talks to twenty minute sermons. They’ll eagerly listen all day—hungry for God and his truth. In the apartment in which I’m staying, I just took a break to say hello to a young fourteen year old believer who I found reading her Bible in her bedroom. Two years ago she was being raised by a shaman (Buddhist witch doctor). Today she is a worship leader and a dynamic servant of King Jesus.
  • New births in Christ are beginning to inject life into the culture. Christians are bringing character, virtue, prayer and evangelism into many parts of Mongolia. One Mongol friend explains that Christian “drivers” are teaching other Mongols to not drive like maniacs and hog the road. (I used to observe that the driving right-of-way rule in Mongolia appeared to be “whoever gets there first and has the least to lose in a crash” has the right of way.) Today, Christian drivers are yielding to others, flashing their lights (a sign that “you can go first”), and bringing salt and light onto the streets. This is happening in business, education, government and other aspects of society.
  •  Mongols have always loved family and little children—and families are beginning to thrive in new ways. As opposed to the West, you see little kids and babies everywhere! At last week’s camp, I was struck by how the Mongols adore their children—including kids of all ages playing with the little ones. Babies were being passed back and forth between teenagers and younger kids as if everyone simply delighted in the new lives that had come into the world. The physical Mongolia birth rate and the love of the nuclear family is a vital sign to a culture of life—and Mongolia can teach us much in this regard.

To summarize, when growth is taking place both spiritually and physically, and when both spiritual and physical life are being celebrated by a nation, then LIFE is the result—the presence of God in fresh and vibrant forms.

Birth rates matter.

This brings us to why America and other Western nations are no longer cultures of life, but are becoming cultures of death:

  • Our birth rates are falling, and we continue to kill millions of babies a year through abortion.
  • We no longer see waves of “spiritual births” the way we used to during past days of God’s visitations (revivals) Westerners are turning away from God, Christians are not sharing their faith with passion, and biblical truth is losing its respect and impact in many Western nations.
  • Kids are being replaced by pets. On one walk I took through a California neighborhood I counted fifty people with dogs and only two with children (and both of them were Hispanic). Do you know many American teenagers love to hold babies?  Do they pass them around like adorable treasures or are they too distracted by their hand-held machines in our self-absorbed culture?
  • Marriage is being discouraged and even re-defined to include anything goes. This breakdown of the nuclear family--moms and dads joyously nurturing and raising God’s precious gift of children—is becoming the exception, not the rule. Death-like cultural symptoms are spreading across the Western landscape.

Yes, birth rates matter in nations—both spiritually and physically. Although Mongolia has a long way to go to become a godly and prosperous nation, a culture of life here radiates hope for the future.

In the Western world, with both spiritual and physical birth rates collapsing, a culture of death looms.

It’s time to learn from a nation that almost died a century ago. Mongolia can teach us today the road to real living. 

We must turn from our sins and be born again. Preserve marriage. Cherish family and children.

I pray that we will learn from Mongolia.




Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for sharing this great blog and experience. We are praying for you and the team.
June 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAntoinnette

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