Mongolian herders are nomadic, moving around vast steppes, raising horses, sheep, goats, cows, yaks and camels. Most herders move between four and six times a year in search of better pastures. Their staple foods are meat and dairy, often supplemented with wheat, onions and potatoes.
Livestock herding is a way of life and selling cashmere, wool, hides, meat and milk products provides an income for families. Animal products form the bulk of Mongolia’s exports. Horses and camels provide transport, and horses are also used in racing.
Though livestock are the backbone of the local economy, nomadic families still face challenges such as isolation and harsh weather. Mongolia also suffers from droughts, forest fires, floods and dzud, a Mongolian term for the extreme conditions which exist after a hot, dry summer is followed by harsh snowy winter. In 2009-2010, herders lost more than 11 million head of livestock to the dzud. With their herds decimated, families lost their livelihood and many migrated to urban areas. Several herders felt so hopeless that they committed suicide.
JCS—A Good Samaritan
In response to this severe dzud, in the autumn of 2010, Joint Christian Services (JCS), an umbrella organisation for several mission agencies, including OMF, distributed livestock to a small community in the remote Altansoyombo region, where the valleys where the Altai Mountains meet the high Gobi desert. The community had seen 90 per cent of their livestock perish.
JCS provided new herds to 13 families selected by the community. Each family received 48 female goats and two male goats. Local officials also gave permission for those interested to receive Mongolian booklets containing Psalm 23 and John 10. Despite the county having no prior knowledge of Jesus, the message of the Good Shepherd loving and caring for his sheep, and the Lamb of God resonated in people’s hearts.
When we returned in spring 2011, the numbers of livestock in each herd had doubled as the goats had kids. One family even had 49 kids from 48 goats, ‘How?’ I asked. With a grin that showed his toothless mouth, the herder replied, ‘One of the goats had twins!’
The families now could enjoy milk tea again, a simple staple they did not have the previous spring. They began looking forward to the season where they could comb goats for cashmere. Depression had given way to hope.
One herder exclaimed, ‘We are so far from the capital at Ulaanbaatar, even the government cannot reach us! If you had not come, we would have all lost our livelihood. Your Jesus God sent you and these “Jesus goats” are giving us milk and food!’
We saw God’s abundant grace. He was stirring the hearts of these people. Those who read Psalm 23 and John 10 began asking questions. As we brought them Bibles, they started to discover the story of creation and wanted to know more about this creator God.
The following spring we returned and found the livestock had doubled again! Now these families had herds that could sustain a family of six.
As we went from yurt to yurt, we were given meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner! And as they eagerly brought out their dairy products that were made the past summer, their faces shone with joy and pride from the fruit of their labour.
Even better, some of them took out their Daily Bread devotional booklets. These were now marked and worn, proving that it was satisfying the hunger of their souls. An invisible but certain transformation had begun. That summer, the first believers were baptised in the small creek.
As we returned each spring and summer in the following years, we saw more people putting their faith in Christ. They work hard to increase their herds in order to support their families. Combing cashmere, trading goats for cows and making products to sell are all ways to earn an income and send their children to university. But they also work hard to grow their faith by reading the Bible. Mature believers from the capital were challenged to go west and disciple these eager followers. By partnering with the Mongolian Theological Education by Extension (TEE) programme, the young church has completed the ‘Abundant Life’ discipleship course.
Today, the God who created the Gobi Desert, who provides rain and sunshine to this place at the end of the earth is rightfully worshipped by the dwellers. A female leader commented, ‘If it had not been for the dzud, we would not have known Jesus!’
Praise God that JCS can be the hands and feet of Jesus for his glory. Nothing is impossible in the economy of Christ.