The Gobi desert paid me a visit today: icy wind, sand, rain and snow all arrived together, screaming off the steppe, lashing around me, boring sand into eyes, nose, ears and mouth.
I am getting warm again in our apartment on the top floor of a building in the eastern sector of Ulaanbaatar.
The sky is now deep blue and crystal clear, except for the trail of an international jet. The trees’ buds are a promising green, poised to make the sudden growth we’ve longed for all winter.
That startling, vivid, clear blue Mongolian sky! The Mongols of old worshipped the sky as god above all others.
Drab soviet-style apartment buildings – brilliant sky. The contradiction is typical of this land and its people.
Pain and hope
Away from the urban centres, the people of this magnificent vastness live in small, round, felt tents scattered across valley floors and mountain sides, as if to shelter from the hugeness of the steppe and desert.
Mongolian hospitality, as expansive and generous as the land, masks a deeply reserved and undemonstrative character, the legacy of a culture where trust can be a stranger even in the closest relationships.
Fermented mare’s milk, the sign of greatest honour when served to a guest, also gives expression to Mongolia’s deepest pain: the scourge of rampant alcoholism, which often leads to crime and child abuse.
The prisons are neglected dungeons for the outcasts: victims of a corrupt bureaucracy, which damns souls for minor offences. Street kids live under the city, hugging the hot water pipes for comfort while it is minus 35 degrees up on the street.
Today the ‘truth’ of socialism has been replaced by the ‘truth’ of material ambition and secularism.
But this is the Mongolia that Jesus Christ has entered, full of grace and truth – through those who bring his gospel. Mongol believers throughout this vast land are finding in Christ, grace, truth and meaning for the future.