Elder Earl C. Tingey's recent visit to Mongolia found the membership of the Church to be thriving among a people who are "ripe and prepared to receive the gospel."
"They live in humble circumstances. They are a people readily receptive to the gospel," he said.
Elder Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy visited Mongolia Aug. 20-27 with his wife, Joanne, and President and D. Allen Andersen and his wife, Jill, of the Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission on assignment to teach and train members and missionaries.
Mongolia is a country about the size of the western states of the United States. It lies between Russia to the north and China to the south. Some liken its terrain of mountains and high plains to the state of Montana.
Historically, Mongolians are the forgotten heirs of the largest empire in the world. The military prowess of Genghis Khan gained control of a vast empire spanning much of Asia and Europe in the 13th century.
Today, a population of nearly 3 million live out of sight of the West and quietly survive the bitter cold winters by constructing "gers" or "Yurts," portable housing lined with thick yak wool for herders. Once a nomadic people, they continue to be transient in their lifestyles.
"These are self-sufficient people who have learned to live on what they have," Elder Tingey said.
More than 6,000 members reside in 20 branches organized in two districts. Baptisms include many families. The Mongolian ambassador to the U.S. once quipped that the country was 99 percent Buddhist and 1 percent Mormon. While the percentage is actually .01 percent, the inflated estimation is a reflection of the esteem and goodwill the Church has generated in this humble country since missionaries were allowed to serve in the early 1990s.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is probably among the few Christian Churches with a well-established presence," said Elder Tingey. "It is recognized at the highest levels of government," due, in part, to the many humanitarian aid projects over the past decades, and because of the work of early missionary couples sent to share their professional skills.
Elder Tingey visited one such humanitarian project where the Church donated pumps and a tractor to aid Mongolian war veterans on a six-acre plot located on the fringes of the capital city.
In appreciation, one farmer offered carrots and a huge head of cabbage. Before the pump, farmers irrigated their crops by scooping water from the well by hand.
Early groundwork for the establishment of the Church was laid by Elder Monte J. Brough of the Seventy who had significant contacts with key government leaders developed years before he was called as a General Authority, then cultivated as a member of the Asian Area presidency.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many services and opportunities for higher education were lost. In arrangement with the government, six LDS missionary couples were sent to provide expertise in education, computer science, business, curriculum development, medicine and English.
Missionaries were permitted to answer questions and invite the curious to Church meetings, but were restricted from open proselytizing. Students such as Lamjav Purevsuren and Tsendkhuu Bat-Ulzii were curious. They attended meetings and were soon baptized, the first Mongolian converts.
From these simple beginnings has grown a significant missionary force.
Several hundred young men and women from Mongolia have now served full-time missions about half within the country. Local missionaries comprise about half the missionary force today. Many go on to earn an education at BYU-Hawaii.
"The development of the Church in Mongolia is nothing less than miraculous," said Paul Hyer, professor of Asian Studies at BYU who was instrumental in obtaining Mongolian government approval.
E-mail to: [email protected]