Testimonies burn brightly: Mongolia

The testimony of Church members in Mongolia burns bright in the face of harsh, freezing winter temperatures and possible ostracism from friends and families who follow Lama Buddhist beliefs or are atheists.

Many Church members in Mongolia are the only Latter-day Saints in their families. They live a lifestyle that is economically austere and have a hard time getting around during winter months when temperatures drop well below zero.They face opposition - "but are so faithful, so strong," said Sister Munkgtsetseg, a Mongolian native who is currently serving a mission on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. (She said Mongolians are given just one name and use a second name, their father's name, only to avoid confusion.)

The first LDS humanitarian service volunteers arrived in Mongolia, a country in east central Asia, located between Russia and China, on Sept. 16, 1992. They lived in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of about 600,000. A branch was organized in 1993, and by March 1, 1996, it had grown to three branches.

Today, there are four branches and one district, with active seminary and institute programs.

And in the future, the Church in Mongolia will continue to grow, said Sister Munkhtsetseg. She smiled and talked about the many Church members who have left the country to serve Church missions.

"After they finish their work, they will be good leaders," she said. "Soon there will be wards there, of course - maybe before I go home. Everyone tries to do all they can."

Sister Ochirgerel, who also just arrived in Salt Lake City from Mongolia to serve a mission, said her greatest obstacle with Church membership came from family and friends who do not understand the Word of Wisdom. When she joined the Church they wondered why she would no longer drink tea. "Mongolian people always drink tea, every day, all the day," she explained.

She was a Primary teacher for one year in Mongolia, and said working with the children strengthened her testimony. "They are so cute, they say, `Teacher come on - help us, teach us.' "

Sister Munkgtsetseg also worked with the Primary children. After she began bringing home some of the projects that she did with the children, her mother agreed to let her younger brother attend Church. He was later baptized and will soon turn 12. "He is so excited to be a deacon," she said.

While Church meetings are conducted in Mongolian, members must study the scriptures and other Church literature in either English or Russian.

Sister Munkhtsetseg is spending part of her mission translating the LDS scriptures into her native tongue, as the scriptures currently are not available in the language; only the New Testament been translated into Mongolian.

During a recent visit to Mongolia, Stephen K. Iba, a Church Educational System zone administrator, observed a sister unofficially translating a Young Women lesson from English to Mongolian. The new Church member, who speaks Russian, English and Mongolian, explained: "I have the most wonderful experience when I translate, words come into my mind and I have this wonderful, warm, burning feeling go right through my body."

Brother Iba explained studying the scriptures is another challenge for seminary and institute students in the country - who understand more English and Russian than they can speak or read, but are eager to learn and are developing a love for the scriptures.

Lkhamaa teaches seminary to six students daily. "It's just wonderful," she said. "Students and I become so close to one another. We feel together in our hearts. They have so many questions about the New Testament. Sometimes we go 30 minutes over time."

Sister Lkhamaa said her students overcome the challenges that come with their Church activity, "by sharing how they avoid temptations."

Doya, a 15-year-old seminary student, said seminary helps students keep the scriptures accessible. "The scriptures teach us to help one another and love one another," she said.

Members in the country have great enthusiasm for the future. They are eager to share their testimonies.

An 18-year-old Mongolian convert to the Church asked Brother Iba during his visit: "Are there any sisters in Salt Lake City who have lost their faith. . . . May I have their names and addresses so I can write to them."

Imagine this young girl, on the other side of the world, concerned about her sisters in Salt Lake City loosing their faith, said Brother Iba. "To me this illustrates the kind of faith those Saints have."

He said - despite the challenges Mongolian members face - "there is great enthusiasm there. They just vibrate. The Spirit is strong."

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