Dec. 13, 2012 Ulan Bator, Mongolia…Sarah Deblois and Ansel Oliver/ANN
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Mongolia Mission Field acquired five new properties this year, positioning the still fledgling church in the region to expand its community services and church infrastructure.
Only established in Mongolia’s modern era since the early 1990s, the denomination in Mongolia has 24 congregations and close to 2,000 members. Thanks to international support, recent capital investments in land, church buildings, and plans for community centers, the church is poised for more significant outreach and, church officials hope, membership growth.
And not a moment too soon, they say. The cost of living is beginning to rise as the nation embarks upon a mining boom of its untapped natural resources.
“Mongolia has a bright future, but we believe if we don’t take this opportunity now to establish our school and health centers, later on could be too late,” said Elbert Kuhn, director of the mission field, based in the country’s capital Ulan Bator.
Kuhn said the mission field is planning to build as many as 15 community centers in the country over the next four years.
“The church must be relevant for its members, but for the community as well,” Kuhn said. “We want to make a difference where we are established.”
Evangelism outreach is slowly yielding results. A dedication ceremony of an Adventist church in the Övörkhangai province in October was the first time an Adventist congregation was officially organized in the country in eight years. And next month, the Amazing Grace Adventist Church in Ulan Bator will be completed and dedicated.
This year, the mission field acquired a 600 square-meter plot of land in the Khentii province, east of the capital, and a 500 square-meter lot in the Arkhangai province, west of the capital. The mission field also purchased a lot and a building in Erdenet City, the second largest city by population with the largest per capita purchasing power. The city is home to several major factories and is a hub for copper mining.
Adventist work among Mongol people began in 1926 by Russian missionaries operating from Manchuria, China, according to the Adventist Encyclopedia. A few years later, an American missionary worked to establish a mission headquarters and a clinic. He returned to the United States in the late 1930s, and World War II prevented further work in the region.
Adventist work wasn’t reestablished in Mongolia until the early 1990s after the end of socialist rule, which opened the country to religious expression. Volunteers from the supporting ministry Adventist Frontier Missions came to Mongolia in 1990, and the Adventist Church’s Mongolia Mission Field was formally organized in 1997 under the Northern Asia-Pacific Division.
Christianity is relatively new in Mongolia. About half of Mongolians are Buddhist and more than a quarter are atheist. Shamanism beliefs are also widespread. Society today, though, is largely secular, Kuhn said. Under earlier Soviet influence, the government conducted campaigns to dissuade young people in the region from participating in religious activities. That influence remains, he said.
Kuhn, 43, worked for the church in Mongolia from 2003 to 2009 before returning to his native Brazil. In January, while working as an associate Ministerial Association secretary for the South American Division, he received a call to return and serve as director of the church in Mongolia.
Much of the recent capital development, Kuhn said, is the result of a partnership between the mission field and the denomination’s Australia Union. The new Munkhinn Geree Church was built largely the on the foundation of five years of work by volunteers from the Western Australian Conference. Beginning in 2006, they sent groups who built playgrounds, organized sports for youth, and delivered lectures on health and Bible study.
Weekly church attendance at the Munkhinn Geree Church is about 60, and the sanctuary can hold about 120.
Kuhn said an Australian developer is volunteering to help build the future community centers, with additional funding from donors.
A future step in the development of the field would be to hand over leadership to native Mongolians, said the Brazilian, Kuhn. His predecessor was an Australian.
“We want to try our best to ground our church by preparing local leaders who can take care of the church themselves as soon as possible,” he said.