Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Poor Church that outdo others in Mission

I was fascinated with the mission story told by Jonathan Bonk, a Canadian missiologist at STM few months ago. The Mizo Synod with a population of 500,000 members raised US $3.4 million for mission in 2003. How many denominations in Malaysia can match that mission fervor? Most of the Mizo people are farmers and relatively poor as compared to the affluent Christians in mega churches in Malaysia.

When I sat there at Presbyterian Church of India General Assembly on April 13 2008 listening to the reports from Mizo Synod, I was curious to look at its mission collection. There was a slight dip in the figure, but US $2.7 million is still an impressive figure. Mizo is certainly a missional church. There is so little write up about this church in mission journal. The Mizo women motivated each other by setting apart a handful of rice from each meal every day for a year. The handful of rice is then put into a container and to be sold in the market and the proceeds go to mission funds. Collectively the Mizo women raised US $1 million for mission each year. Such effort is known in Mizo language as “Buhfai Tham.” The Khasi Synod which is one of the eighth Synod inn PCI has the same tradition. The Khasi women also raised money for mission through “Khaw Kham.” (Handful of rice). There is so much that Malaysian church can learn from this poorer church tuck in a corner in Meghalaya. These unknown women are the unsung heroes in the annals of God’s mission history. Just as there are no little people in God’s kingdom, there are no little church.

My trip to Shangpung, Meghalaya has opened my eyes to the multiple possibilities of raising funds for mission. The size of the church does not matter what matters is the size of the heart for God’s agenda.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The descendants of the Great Genghis Khan

Badma and Badja are the first Mongolians I met three years ago when they spoke at City Discipleship Presbyterian Church. They aroused my interest of Mongolia. They mainly talked about the great need of Mongolian church. Mongolia gained its independence from Russia. It was only 18 years ago. The church is relatively young. In 1990, there were only 5 Christians in the whole country. Today Christian population numbers about 60,000. The growth is phenomenon. Mongolian Christians are aggressively planting churches and are passionate to evangelize their nation. My memory of Mongolian history flashed back to Yuan Dynasty in which the Mongols ruled China during the 13th century. In the twelve years between 1211 and 1223, historians estimated that more than 18 million people died in northern China at the hands of the Mongols. Genghis Khan was a fearless warrior and a world conqueror. His empire was greater than that of Alexander the Great.

Hugh Kemp, an OMF missionary wrote a fascinating Mongolian church history in his book “Steppe by Step.” It is the first book about Mongolian Church history that I laid my hand on. The stories gripped my heart and I could not put down the book. My heart resonates with the agenda of God and I could see God’s hand upon this nation.

“In the 13th century the Mongols carved out the greatest land empire in history. Their invincible warriors conquered Russia and penetrated Hungary and Poland to the borders of Germany. Medieval Europe quailed before them. There was nothing to stop the Mongol blitzkrieg from storming Paris and Rome and annihilating the cities of Christendom as they had already razed innumerable cities in central Asia. Then in 1241 the Khan Ogedei died and the Mongol armies voluntarily withdrew to elect a new Khan. Europe and Christian civilization were saved. It was one of the great turning points of history.” (Hugh Kemp, Steppe by Step, p.15)

Mongolian history and Chinese history might have been rewritten had the Pope responded positively to Kublai Khan’s request that one hundred Christian missionaries be sent to Mongolia and china. Tragically, the Pope sent only two Dominican friars, who never made it to Mongolia and China –they turned back half way. Mongolia winter can be very harsh (minus 30 degree Celsius) and the Silk Road was treacherous and dangerous. Sadly by the time the first batch of a few Catholic missionaries arrived in Beijing in 1294, Kublai Khan had died, the Mongols had turned to Tibetan Buddhism. The window of opportunity for the gospel was missed.

What has not been known is the missionary movement in the 7th century by the Nestorians who for 700 years brought many Mongols to faith in Jesus Christ. It was known that the Queen mother of Kublai Khan was a Christian. The rise of the Jesuit Catholic missions in the 16th century and the Protestant missions in the 19th century failed to pry open the hearts of the Mongols. The gospel remained shut. The hearts of the Mongols were bolted not until the collapsed of Russian regime in Mongolia. 1990s was the watershed moment when Mongolia got its independence. Since then the church in Mongolia has grown rapidly.

How God transformed his descendants’ DNA is quite remarkable- from conquering surrounding nations to evangelizing people.

Eric Fung, the national director of Asian Outreach Malaysia, who spoke at CDPC mission conference, challenged me to bring leadership training for Mongolian pastors and church planters, I immediately responded with a resounding yes.

The first leadership training was conducted over 3 days in Ulaanbator during the cold month of November 2006 when temperature dipped below 0 degree Celsius. The weather was bitterly cold but my heart was warmth as I witnessed the spiritual hunger of the Mongolian pastors and leaders. 36 pastors and leaders came from different parts of Mongolia. Some had to travel for more than 15 hours journey. Language was not a barrier as the translator did a superb job of bridging the hearts and minds. Judging from the interaction and questions asked, I knew that they had grasped the leadership principles well. Hwei Yeow, a church member assisted me in training them. Together two of us demonstrated the model of partnership between a pastor and a corporate leader.

I supposed we did a good job in training when Asian Outreach Mongolia invited us to go back again in 2007. But the trip did not materialize until May 2008. 70% of the original 36 came back for second phase training revealed that they really wanted the training. May 2008 was spring time but it snowed the day when we landed in Ulaanbator. There were some heartwarming stories Badmaa told me that he and a few other Mongolian leaders had used the materials and conducted leadership training for 20 town mayors and leaders. The response from secular leaders was overwhelming. Norjii, a woman Christian leader who came twice for the training also used the materials for educationist and teachers in Mongolia. One doctor found the training so beneficial for him that he decided to conduct similar training in his hospital.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Pastor Batbold’s church leadership for 4 hours. Batbold is a senior pastor although he is only in his mid thirties. It is not uncommon to find that most senior pastors in Mongolia are very young as majorities are first generation Christians. The history of modern Mongolian church is only 18 years old. I was able to process leadership issues with them. Batbold and his wife Mega came to my hotel and continued our conversation until 1.30am. He wanted to learn exegesis and sermon crafting. He wanted to know more about leading the church. I happened to be older than him and more years in the pastoral setting. I became his mentor in the ministry. The joy of ministry in Mongolia is unspeakable. I have forged good relationship with Mongolian Pastors and church planters. The frustration of being delayed by Air China for 2 days on the ongoing flights and further delayed for 14 hours in Ulaanbator and held up again in Beijing for another day on return flights was soon dissipated. The Nestorian missionaries traveled by foot over hills and steppes for months and the Protestant missionaries sailed for weeks in order to reach Mongolia. Mine was relatively an easy ride. Its only 9 hours traveling time by air from Kuala Lumpur to Ulaanbator. This time I had ‘wasted’ 4 days due to Air China lame excuses of bad weather. The plus point is that I got to spend a lot of time with Hwei Yeow who came along to co-train with me. We had free hotel and free food in Beijing at the courtesy of Air China. I think it’s a 'ploy' on the part of Air China for us to see the grandeur of Beijing airport and the superb Beijing Olympic preparation so that we become their ambassadors. More likely its the usual logistic issue of the airline industry. However we responded positively to what could have been potentially a ruined trip. We took it that God wanted us to rest. I had time to reflect on my life and ministry.