Every year, InterVarsity sends thousands of students on urban and global projects. And, every summer, I try to visit one. In July, seven trustees, two spouses and a trustee’s adult son joined Mary and me for eight days in Mongolia. We were also joined by Tom Lin, InterVarsity's Vice President for Missions, and his wife Nancy. It was truly an amazing experience.
Our host was the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS of Mongolia, a sister member in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). Planted in the late 1990s by Korean IFES staff, FCS grew quickly after the Lins joined the team in 2001 as a part of InterVarsity's Link program. The photo above shows Mongolian, Korean, and American Link staff - past and present.
Unlike past trustee trips where we have visited American student teams, this time we were the ministry team. Our team served as the program staff for an FCS alumni camp, giving plenary talks, leading seminars and meeting one-on-one with alumni. Typically, fifty or so participate in these annual events. This year, that figure doubled.
I loved watching our trustees in action – Katherine Barnhart speaking on lordship, Elizabeth Nielsen on family, Larry Langdon on business, Ken Elzinga on education, and Greg Smith on life balance. Ron Williams, Eric Nielsen, Bill Gates and Susan Gates led group exercises. Special thanks to former Link staff, Chris Loose, who coordinated logistics.
Though we spoke no Mongolian and most FCS alumni possessed limited English, we found ways to communicate. Thirty babies amongst the Mongolian staff certainly helped break the ice.
First, the power of the Gospel to impact all cultures continues to amaze me. When Mongolia gained independence from the USSR in 1990, there were no known Christians. Zero. Today, the figure stands at about 65,000.
As we worshipped together, I recognize none of the songs. The tunes and lyrics were all Mongolian. It is exciting to watch an indigenous movement develop.
Second, Mongolian believers pay a real price for their faith. Most deal with varying degrees of ostracism from their families. Several of the young women have passed on marriage opportunities to Buddhist men, facing the prospect of lifetime singleness in a society that prizes marriage and children. In addition, all feel a sense of isolation in a culture that views their faith as “outside” or “odd.”
Third, my regard for InterVarsity Link staff skyrocketed. When Tom and Nancy Lin moved to Mongolia twelve years ago, electricity was irregular, medical care sketchy, and transportation suspect. Ulan Bator is the coldest capital city in the world with temperatures often sinking below minus 40 degrees. The sacrifices they made are staggering.
Fourth, my respect for IFES continues to grow. Mongolian Christian groups tend to run in two circles – Korean and Western. Unfortunately, these groups don’t intersect much. When IFES planted FCS, however, a decision was made to make it a joint Korean-American effort. As a result, the FCS has a strong three-ply chord that gives the movement a unique identity. I enjoyed watching Tom and his Korean counterpart, Mr. Park speaking in Mongolian.
Finally, FCS suffers from a lack of male leaders. Currently, all FCS staff are female. Male passivity in ministry is regrettably far too common in the global church. A better gender balance is sorely wanted.
Here are some photos - enjoy!
Our Global Project Team (photo by Nancy Lin). Our lovely campsite: how green was my valley.
Wowing the guy in the pink shirt. With her art skills and cross-cultural savvy, my wife Mary made many friends.
Trustee Ron Williams and friend in a self-photo. Babies galore. Susan Gates snuggling with a new friend.
Sleeping in a ger: home sweet home! Genghis Khan circa 1225 A.D - still casting a large shadow.