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Missionary Spotlight-A cautionary tale

July 2002 | by Stephen Howard

My wife and I came to Mongolia three years ago, to work in rural areas. We knew that much had happened in the country since the end of communism more than ten years ago.

A fast-growing church was emerging. Mongolians were reaching out to neighbours at home and to people beyond Mongolia. We heard from some missionaries that we would soon no longer be needed!

Having completed two years of language study we moved from the capital, Ulaanbaatar (UB), to a remote provincial town several hundred miles west.

Expectations

Understandably, we went with certain expectations. We envisaged that we would be strengthening a local church begun in the early 1990s.

Our goal was to leave it as an indigenous, biblically-based church, reaching out to others with the love of Christ.

My ‘tentmaking’ work in the town was teaching English at a local college. Our free time was spent helping the small church in whatever way the Lord would lead.

When we arrived we were welcomed with enthusiasm and it all looked positive despite the humble surroundings.

But we had been there no more than a week when one of the ‘Christians’ came to us with a story about her brother needing urgent medical attention in UB.

This proved to be a lie – a ruse to get a free ticket to UB. Later, others in the church told us ‘stories’, all with the purpose of obtaining money.

No repentance

It soon became obvious that there was immorality and idleness in the congregation, along with constant lying.

This state of affairs continued with no real repentance, even when individuals were confronted with their inconsistency. There were empty displays of emotion, but no change.

The ‘church’ began in the early nineties. A missionary couple teaching English in the town started a ‘worship meeting’ with some of their students, and claimed to have established a church.

However, the majority in the group were not seeking Christ; they only wanted to learn English.

Several of these had been baptised and that has caused no end of difficulties for us. They believed that they were Christians because of this. But their lives were no different from what they had been before.

A number of them had been offered places to study at a Bible college in UB, and they took up the offer. This only made things worse. For most of them, it was a further opportunity to be with ‘wealthy’ foreigners.

Discernment

Our vision for the future work was obviously changing in the light of these experiences.

We were no longer thinking about how to strengthen an existing church, but rather of the need to re-evangelise something far less than a true church.

Furthermore, it became apparent that the church’s reputation was bad enough for us seriously to consider whether it was wise to continue associating with it.

How such a ‘church’ originated in Mongolia has given us much concern. Many of those who joined it did so in the hope of getting free clothing, free trips to UB for Bible seminars, etc.

But when Jesus said ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs’, he was teaching the importance of Christians exercising discernment. In this situation in Mongolia there has been an obvious lack of biblical common-sense shown by some missionaries.

The earnestness of some missionaries to baptise without knowing enough about the profession of faith of a particular individual is deeply troubling.

Why are we so quick to call someone a Christian?

Jesus was not so easily persuaded of professions of piety. He knew that the heart of the natural man was wicked and acted accordingly. It was out of love that he said to the rich ruler: ‘You still lack one thing’.

Genuine faith

There is one elderly lady with whom we fellowship. She is genuinely born again and has had a clear testimony for several years. She is the only one we know of in the town.

This lady witnesses at every opportunity, even though her family ridicules her. She is proof of the fact that the Lord is able to do a good work in all he chooses to save. We and other missionaries in the town are seeking the Lord’s guidance how to respond to this situation.

For example, one missionary couple are now challenging one of the Christian groups, week by week, with their need of salvation.

Please pray that the Lord will give all of us working out here discernment and perseverance, despite the setbacks.

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Mongolia