There's a small group of Christian women who live in a small town in the south Gobi. I’m pretty much convinced they’re trying to change the entire landscape of Mongolia.
Part of my work involves periodically traveling 15 hours south of Ulaanbaatar by train to connect with this small south Gobi church, to help them out with leadership training. To encourage. The church is made up of mostly women and children. I did spend some time talking to an old man when i was there last. He had only just heard the Gospel for the first time. Other than that, no men. But while the church itself is quite small, their vision is impressive. In fact, they’ve managed to start three other branch churches in other parts of Mongolia, and an additional cell group in their small town, and a very cool and vibrant children’s church. Their church sponsors and runs and daycare for disabled children in their community. They currently take care of ten physically and mentally disabled kids everyday, with the capacity to expand to twenty in their current facility. Their aim is to show the love of Jesus to these kids by taking care of their physical needs and working with their families. They hope to start doing the same thing with old folks in the near future.
I’m blown away by the commitment and work of this little group of women and children.
I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I’m called to work here. But the Mongolian church has always impressed me. Don’t get me wrong. The church here has major issues. But, what church in which country doesn’t? Our issues in the US are typically more “first world problems” than what we find here. However, the core problem of human selfishness and sin is universal. Manifestation just varies. I still remember spending time with Mongolian believers in 2003, when Renee’ and I first visited this place. I remember being really impressed with their prayer lives and their vision for taking the Gospel beyond the borders of their own country. I’ve learned a thing or two about Mongolians and the Mongolian church since those days of bright-eyed naivety. However, I still am amazed at how the people of God persevere through hardship here.
A Mongolian friend and I were talking to the leader of this world-changing little group of folks in the desert. She’s a 50-ish woman named “Eternal Treasure”. She expressed to us her gratitude for our Leadership Training program. She said that the weekly leadership classes help to keep their church theologically and Biblically on target, and that these classes are a strong part of their church life. And indeed they are eager to learn. The one lament she made was the fact that “There’s no shepherd”.
Shepherdless. That's the literal translation of the word she used.
Flashback. A Summer afternoon at Starbucks in Franklin, TN, circa 2004.
Franklin is full of churches. It would then stand to reason that the town is also full of pastors. And it is. I was one of them. When I first moved to Franklin in 1993, the church was a kind of cut-throat business. The Nashville area is a virtual Wall Street for the business of church. In spite of this atmosphere, I saw God do a work in our community over the years to change this, as the barriers of denomination, race and even some socio-economic walls toppled through the work of a small group of pastors and lay leaders who were intentional about community and reconciliation. (There’s not a even a website anymore...but there's a brief description of what we were a part of on a friend's website.)
Eleven years later. Starbucks. Franklin, TN. 2004. I was drinking my small black coffee and supposed to be catching up on backlogged email. For some reason I found myself staring out the window, counting churches. There were five that I could see, or almost see, from my corner seat. Hundreds more within just a few square miles. I looked around the room, and for a moment it was all movie-like, surreal slow motion. There were two guys at one table doing a Bible study. There was another guy who I knew to be a pastor of one of these churches reading a book on leadership. There was another guy around the corner, a leader in a ministry specifically for men, doing discipleship with a young man.
In Mongolia there were no shepherds.
I knew I couldn’t stay here anymore.
“Eternal Treasure” expressed her gratitude for the training, and talked about how we can continue to to work together for the Kingdom of Jesus in the Gobi for the future. Shepherds are still few and far between here. Like the occasional outposts along the train route in the desert. The pastors we see are rugged and strong, but few and far between; sparsely equipped for the difficulties of shepherding.
When I share about Mongolia, people always ask me “What do you need? What can we do?” As my friend and I rode back to the city through the frozen Mongolian desert, my thoughts went to how our friends in Franklin (and now so many other parts of the US) could help. It’s simple, but also much more difficult than sending money. Money is the easy part.
Have a Starbucks moment.
Commit to pray
Commit to pray without ceasing that God would raise up Mongolian men who will have hearts to become servant leaders - real shepherds - who will lead this church with strength, grace, humility and gentleness.
You couldn’t do anything greater for us than that.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
(Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)