Christian life in Mongolia was close to non-existent by the time Mongolia adopted a democratic system, after around 65 years of communist rule. But since 1992 there has been a healthy growth in the number of Christians, which I was told on my recent visit to the capital, Ulan Bator, had reached some 60,000. This is about 5% of the total population of just over 3 million.
Every Mongolian Christian I spoke to had come to faith after 1992, and many of the churches do not affiliate themselves to any historical denomination. A number of churches worship in a traditional Mongolian dwelling called a ger – the round tent-like structure known in the West by its Russian word, yurt. But even in the ger, technology helps spread the biblical message! In one ger church I saw how a video camera was used to provide those who were unable to attend the service with a video feed via the internet.
The Mongolian Union Bible Society seeks to serve the growing Christian population, not only in the capital but throughout the vast country of Mongolia. Its territory is larger than France, Germany, UK and Italy put together, but with such a small population, it is the most sparsely populated country in the world. Both the churches and the Bible Society are planning a presence in more outlying towns and settlements.
Mongolia’s traditional religions are Buddhism and Shamanism, and these are also growing, along with the Muslim presence in the country. The Bible Society believes that a new translation in modern Mongolian will be a powerful tool for the local church to get the Christian message out to the Mongolian people.
Mongolia’s new-found national identity is closely linked with Genghis Kahn. The main square in the capital is named Chinggis Khaan, using the Mongolian spelling of the 12th century ruler’s name. And the same name appears everywhere, from the renamed airport, to beer and vodka, street names and hotels.
On an otherwise empty plateau an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator you find a massive 40 metre tall stainless steel statue of Genghis Kahn. It is part of a Ghengis Khan visitor attraction, which includes a museum. In there I found a small, decorated Nestorian cross from the 13th Century – evidence of the Nestorian Christian presence at the time of Genghis.
History tells us that one of Genghis’ wives was a Nestorian Christian and that Genghis, in spite of his gruesome treatment of his enemies while at war, was tolerant towards all religions. The tall structure shows the leader on his horse, and with an angry expression on his face. May his descendants today find joy in the Christian message .. and smile!