Letters from Mongolia
From Australia, Paul Kotanko and his family serve in Mongolia where half the population is Buddhist Lamaist and some 40 percent claim no religion at all.
G’day! My name is Paul Kotanko and I am the Director of the Mongolian Mission Field. I came to Mongolia from Australia, where I worked as a Pastor for nine years. I have a wife, Miyong, who is from Korea. We met in the Philippines at AIIAS, the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies. We both completed theological studies there. We have two active boys: Christian, 8 and Samuele, 7.
27th March 2007
Blog with a difference today! Instead of focusing on the work of the church, I’d just like to share some happenings in the family if you don’t mind reading about it.
Two of the greatest challenges missionaries face on a personal level are language learning and their children’s education. Over the past few days, we have all started something new on both fronts.
Up till now, we have only home schooled our children (see eldest boy, Christian, at his desk), but last week we put the boys into a regular Mongolian school for the primary purpose of them learning the language and making friends. It made it a little easier that there were some children from church who also go there.
Our kids love it! The teachers are very helpful and the boys are having a great time mixing and making friends with other boys their age.
Now the parents. We also restarted our language learning. A tutor, Ayuna, comes to our home every afternoon to teach us. The slow progress, however, is not her fault. If you ever want to feel humiliated and totally foolish, just try to learn a foreign language in your low forties. As a person, you can be reasonably competent in so many areas of life, but in your target language, the simplest sentences so easily elude you! It cannot help but have a humbling effect. Then, when you talk to your children about how they are learning the language, they just shrug their shoulders and say, “We know what the teacher means.” Oh, to be young again!
Language learning is vital as it communicates a desire to understand the people you have come to serve. Fortunately, people are so gracious as you mangle their language beyond recognition!
Tomorrow we begin meetings with our local pastors and missionaries. I will post a picture so you can see just how young these faithful workers for God are.
Till next time, God bless you.
17th March 2007
Wow, what a day! The Central Church of Ulaanbaatar hosted a combined church baptism. Four churches from around Ulaanbaatar brought a total of 21baptismal candidates. Because the weather is still fairly cold, maximums about -3 Celsius (-20 Fahrenheit), the only place the smaller churches can baptize is the Ulaanbaatar Central Church.
It was great to see both young and older people making the decision for Christ. Some of the candidates were from evangelistic series the previous summer. Most were because of friends inviting friends to church or small group meetings.
The young man pictured on the right had his first contact with the church when he printed some evangelistic handbills. He became interested and came along to the meetings and then to church. Finally, he made his decision to be baptized a few months ago and ever since, he was pestering the pastor to baptize him. His big day came and he was finally happy!
The church in Mongolia is growing steadily mainly due to the tireless work of pastors, leaders, and members cooperating with the Holy Spirit to bring precious souls to Jesus. We look forward to many more this year!
Till next time,
13th March 2007
It has been quite a week here. Last Thursday we welcomed the new Korean Pioneer Missionary families, Pastor Park and Pastor Shin, to Mongolia at the unearthly hour of midnight. Also arriving on the same flight was the ministerial director and his wife, Pastor Elbert and Cleidi Kuhn, who were returning from furlough. It was great to see them again after three months absence.
On Sabbath morning Pastor Lee, another Korean Pioneer Missionary, was dedicated at the Ulaanbaatar Central Church before beginning his new church plant in one of the districts of Ulaanbaatar.
On Sabbath afternoon my boys and their friend Jonathan enjoyed pushing each other around the ice rink on an old desk that they found nearby. What else would you do when you are young and imaginative?!
Today we had our Executive Committee meeting where we wrestled and discussed various challenges and opportunities in Mongolia. As you can see from the picture, the Executive Committee is made up of mainly young people and young adults. However, despite their youth, they have good insight into the church and how, by God’s grace, it can advance here in Mongolia.
After the meeting, I spoke with Pastor Bold, pastor of the Ulaanbaatar Central Church. He told me that the population is now more open to Christianity than ever. This presents the church with many opportunities to advance God’s kingdom in Mongolia. By God’s grace and leading, we desire to be faithful stewards of His last message to a dying world.
This Sabbath there will be a baptism where at least three churches will participate. In my blog after this event, I will share some pictures and stories of some of the new members of God’s kingdom. If I have time, I will try to post one additional blog before then.
Till next time, God’s blessings.
5th March 2007
Welcome back! Or welcome for the first time! Thank you for your interest in Mongolia and what God is doing here. I hope your interest will continue as you read this blog during March. This blog will have both the exciting things that happen in such a vast and varied mission field as well as some of the more mundane things that are just as important.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is the coldest capital city in the world. During the past week, the snow has come with a vengeance! After an unusually mild winter, -25 to -5 Celsius (-15 to +23 Fahrenheit), we are experiencing a colder blast after a big dumping of snow. It is now down to -33 Celsius (-27 Fahrenheit). You can see a photo of the main road of Ulaanbaatar. Of course, with cold weather comes colds and flus.
To strengthen the health our own Mongolia Mission Field staff, we decided to go to the market together every second Friday afternoon. The market has the freshest and cheapest fruits and vegetables. By going together, we buy in bulk and share in the savings. It means that all of us can buy quality fruits and vegetables that would normally be out of reach. Sometimes in the mission field you do things that maybe you wouldn’t think of in the homeland workplace setting.
Another project on the go is a carpentry workshop. Doug Camps (pictured in the workshop), a retired carpenter and industrial arts teacher, has come to Mongolia as a volunteer for the next five years to set up and run a workshop. Around 80% of Mongolians have a university degree of some sort, however, unemployment is still a big problem. As many of our church members are poor, the carpentry workshop will be a place to train people in a marketable skill as well as giving them an income. The other benefit is that quality church furniture will be made there.
That’s all for today’s blog. I will be writing about once a week, or a bit more if I can remember to take pictures and have the time! So please come back and check what God is doing in Mongolia.
Till next time, God be with you.
18th January 2007
Well it has been a busy week here in the Mission Field office. About 15 people participated in the Pastoral Training Certificate Program. This is where we get professors to come to Mongolia and teach our missionaries and pastors various subjects to help them in their ministry. Dr. Lee Jong Keun came from Korea and taught about the Pentateuch.
During this time I had a chance to share plans and challenges with our church leaders and to listen to their stories as well. A rapidly growing mission presents many opportunities and also certain challenges. Last year we had growth of at least 17% and total membership is now well over one thousand. Considering the first Seventh-day Adventist baptism took place in October 1993, the church has done very well in Mongolia. Here are some of the opportunities & challenges we face:
One of our biggest struggles is church buildings and expertise in building them. Mongolia has a very cold climate in winter and so buildings must be built well for such conditions. We are struggling to find committed and experienced builders to help us and foreign volunteer teams build the sort of buildings we need.
Education is another priority. We wish to open a primary (elementary) school in September 2008. We aim to be the first Christian religious-based school in Mongolia. No easy feat in a country where , although there is religious freedom, the government favors Buddhism. We need prayers for this important area. Approximately 80% of our members are young people. You can see in the picture of a church meeting just how young they are. They will marry and have children and we need to have an Adventist school to ground them in Christ and his last-day message and church.
Translating and publishing Ellen White and other spiritual books into Mongolian. A young and growing church has a voracious appetite for food! One of the challenges we face is providing good books in Mongolian so that we can train members to feed themselves. Then they will naturally grow rather than relying on pastors and missionaries.
Training. Members and leaders need training and grounding in Christ and His church. Some of our missionaries were baptized members for only a month or two before they became missionaries! While they have boundless energy and enthusiasm, they can sometime lack effective knowledge to help them both in their Christian walk and missionary endeavors. Same thing goes for church members. Some church groups from Australia and America are helping in this area by teaming with a local church and coming to provide local-level training as well as doing evangelism on an ongoing basis. This has proved most helpful.
One of the great opportunities we have is the opening of an English Language School in Mongolia (see picture). We currently have 25 students enrolled and they come from a higher social and economic background than people we traditionally reach in Mongolia. We are very excited at the potential of the Language School for soul winning in Mongolia.
I could go on and on as God’s work is not standing still in Mongolia – it is advancing rapidly. We still need plenty of prayer and financial help as you can see from this blog. Also, your church may consider sending community service / evangelistic teams to the same place in Mongolia for up to five or more years in a row. This sort of partnership produces excellent results. Summer is the best time for this – from about June to September.
I will be providing an update to this blog sometime in March. Until then, thank you for your interest in God’s work in Mongolia and thank you for supporting the mission offerings that help make our work here in Mongolia possible.
8th January 2007
Sorry about the silence for a couple of weeks. Things just run ahead and before you know it, time has flown by.
The new year got off to a good start. After a year of turmoil with the moves and everything else, it is good to begin a new year in our new home Mongolia.
The temperature has been hovering between minus 15 [5° F] and about minus 30 [-22° F] odd Celsius for the past few days. The smoke from all the fires in the gers (round felt tents many Mongolians call home) has been particularly bad. I hate to think what it is doing to our lungs and health. But you can’t begrudge the people for it. The people who live in gers are mainly poor and the wood or coal fire in the stove in the middle of the ger is the difference between life and freezing death.
People are slowly returning back to work after taking holidays. New people have been appointed for various church offices. I was speaking with Pastor Bold about elders in the Ulaanbaatar Central Church and he was saying that with so many new or newish members, it was extremely difficult to find people suitably qualified for the office of elder! I had a Mission Executive Committee today and it looked like the Youth Advisory Councils in any other country!
One of the projects we are looking into is buying land to build a dormitory. This would be used for housing tertiary students from various parts of the country who don’t have adequate housing in Ulaanbaatar. The plan is for this to be a leadership training centre as well so that when young people graduate from University, they will be future leaders in their local churches. This is just one of the exciting projects ahead.
In my next and final blog, I will share some of the opportunities and challenges facing Mongolia Mission this year.
Thank you for your interest and happy New Year!
25th December 2006
I forgot to cancel the alarm for the holiday morning and so the whole house woke to my regular 6:15am alarm.Bad move.Once the two boys were awake, they went straight to the Christmas tree to unwrap gifts.Before long, “disagreements” started breaking out as each wanted to play with their own and the other boy’s presents.So much for sleeping in.But at least this was a Christmas feel that had been missing till now! Looked out the window and noticed it was snowing. At least it might be a white Christmas.
Got up and helped the boys put the slot car set together.Then fired up the computer to get the Internet and Web cam going. Australia is only two to three hours ahead so we hoped to see everyone at their lunches well before we would have to leave for our own. Unfortunately, the Internet connection was not so good.You have to take what you get when you are freeloading off someone else’s unsecured wireless network.We got a bit of talking done though and we were able to see a bit of each other on the perpetually freezing Web cam. All in all, more than a little frustrating as we were really looking forward to seeing family.That’s life I suppose.
Early afternoon we went to the ADRA office. Lewellyn Juby is the ADRA Country Director & his wife Renee looks after the finances (see picture at right).They were hosting all the expats for Christmas lunch, about 15 in all. We all brought something to contribute and really enjoyed each others’ company. At least we were all in the same boat, far from home on Christmas.
After a big lunch, some of us decided to go ice skating on the basketball court next to the ADRA office that Lewellyn and Renee’s son Dwight had converted into an iceskating rink. The boys and I skated, but Miyong just took pictures. It was a lot of fun but very tiring.
Back at home it was back to the Christmas toys – and fights. No need for dinner after the long late lunch. All in all, Christmas day was better than anticipated but still not as good as back home. Better get used to it I suppose.
Til next time,
24th December 2006
Our first Christmas in Mongolia. We’ve made a few futile attempts to make it feel like Christmas but nothing seems to work.
A few days ago, my family went tot he Christmas program at the Bridge Language School. Late July we did a two-week Mongolian Language Survival course there. The course was extremely helpful for reading the Cyrillic script that is used here was well as giving us some good vocabulary and sentences for common situations such as shopping and traveling.
Currently in our mission, Pastor Lee and his wife, pictured singing at the language school Christmas party, are doing a one-year Mongolian language course. After March, Pastor Lee will preach in Mongolian and plant a new church. I really admire their dedication.
At the Christmas party it was good to catch up with some of the students we met during our course. We also met the three different teachers who taught us survival Mongolian. Bit embarrassing though that our entire conversation with them was in English!
The Sabbath before Christmas was a highlight. We went to the Ulaan Baatar Central Church where the pastor, Pastor Bold (pictured), did a review of the church year. It was inspiring to see how God had been with the church during the past year. I think we can all learn from doing such an exercise each year. As Pastor Bold said, we can get to the end of the year and really wonder if God was with the church or not. However, when we review in detail, it is easier to see God’s blessing.
Sabbath afternoon saw a children’s concert. I have included a picture of some of the children who participated. I have never seen so many children in the church. Evidently, a few people brought their relatives and friends’ children which was really good.
Sabbath evening saw a huge Christmas social, with about two hundred in attendance. Again, I had never heard of or seen so many at a social. All ages enjoyed a good time and many unknown talents were displayed. Your correspondent tried a bit of public singing. Fortunately, the audience joined in to drown me out!
Sunday is usually my day with my two boys, a tradition that goes back to when we were in Australia. It’s even more important here as it gives Mum a break after being with the boys all day everyday home schooling, etc. We went out for lunch to our favorite restaurant Pizza del la Cassa. Afterward, we went shopping for Christmas presents for some children we would see on Christmas day.
On way home, we stopped at the North Korean owned restaurant near our apartment to get some dinner for Miyong. When Mongolia was part of the Soviet Union, it enjoyed good relations with North Korea. Having lived myself in South Korea for two and a half years, and being married to a Korean, it is an interesting experience to go to the North Korean owned restaurant and talk with the North Korean staff. It was not so busy as we arrived mid afternoon. The staff took a real interest in the two boys.
We are now all together at home. Miyong has just come in and said what we are all feeling – it doesn’t feel like Christmas. No family around, our Christmas tree looks pathetic among the unopened boxes in our sparsely-furnished house. No Christmas carrols on TV, we are just plain bored. For the past few days I’ve been singing the song line to myself “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.” But it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve said and sung it, it is not beginning to feel anything like Christmas!
Who knows? Maybe tomorrow will be better. We are really looking forward to getting on the Internet and Web cam and seeing our scattered families tomorrow at their celebrations. Maybe then it will begin to feel a lot more like Christmas . . . or maybe a lot more lonely.
Till tomorrow, Merry Christmas, and please spare a thought and prayer for missionaries around the world at this time of year.
22nd December 2006
Had an interesting few days winding up before Christmas. Last Sunday my two boys, Christian & Samuele, and I we went ice skating with some baby Christians and non-members. They are attending a church started by Pr Park, a Korean pioneer missionary. We had a really good time together. Social functions are an integral part of making friends for Jesus in Mongolia. It breaks down barriers and is just plain fun. Ice skating outdoors is something I have never done – I’ve only done it indoors a few times before that.
The weather is getting down to minus 25 Celsius, but it doesn’t really feel too cold, except when I lose my ear muffs. Then I really feel the cold.
As we go shopping, we see many shops selling Christmas things such as Christmas trees and decorations. Only trouble is, most of the people who are buying them have no knowledge of the meaning of Christmas. They buy them because they see it as an exotic international custom. Christmas day is not a holiday in Mongolia, except in the Mission Office and other Christian-based organisations. Life will go as usual.
During the week, Miyong and I had lunch with a furniture maker and his wife. We are still trying to furnish our new apartment. We told them about my work for the church and the wife said she would like to send her children to our church so they could meet and make good friends. While many Mongolians are ambivalent or even hostile towards Christianity, churches are recognized as a bit of a safe haven from “the world” and some of the bad influences.
That’s about all for now. Hope you like the photos of the ice skating.
Till next time, God bless.
9th December 2006
Today, I experienced something I never have before – leading a footwashing and communion service where the participants had never seen these services before. Around 30 church members and visitors had come for this special service. The local church leader had previously asked me to explain things as simply as possible and to be sensitive to the fact that this would be very unusual for Mongolians. My translator also shared with me his first experience of footwashing. He had washed the feet of Elder Robert Folkenberg when he was the GC president visiting Mongolia!
I had to really pray and think hard to see the whole service from the perspective of people who had never seen these things before.The sermon started in a cheery and relaxed way. However, as I explained what would happen and what they would do, there was some nervousness. We began with footwashing. People had so many layers of clothes and socks – it certainly took longer then I was used to in Australia! It was so great to see the smiles on people’s faces as they served one another. Not every one took part in the footwashing, some chose to watch which I stressed was perfectly OK. When we assembled again, I could see on their faces the profound impact washing each others’ feet had made. I wondered if perhaps this was how the disciples looked after Jesus had washed their feet. All agreed it was much harder to have their feet washed then it was for them to wash another’s feet. How interesting, I thought.
We then proceeded with the communion service. The solemnity at the realization of Christ’s broken body and shed blood for them, as represented by the bread and the wine (grape juice), had a potent effect on people’s faces and demeanor. I felt like I was part of that very first Lord’s supper that Jesus had presided over.
As you will see if you follow my blog, life in the mission field is not always easy or so dramatic. In fact, much of it is difficult and routine. However, when you have these serendipity experiences like what happened today, it makes the frustrations and homesickness all worthwhile.
Until next time,
For a selection of other missionary blogs, click here.