This article is by Rev. Matthew Heise and is a reflection on his time teaching a class in Mongolia during the month of November. Rev. Heise is a theological educator for The Lutheran Church—Missiouri Synod (LCMS) and travels to Russia, Mongolia, and other countries in the region to teach classes to pastors, seminarians, and lay people in order to strengthen the theological education in our partner churches.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2, ESV).
Mongolia. The very name elicited wonder as I poured over maps of the world as a child, wondering how people carried on their daily lives in that exotic, distant land. But since the fall of communism in the early 1990’s, this once mysterious country has been opened to Westerners like myself, and more advantageously, to Christianity. When Rev. Dr. Brent Smith and I traveled there about 8 years ago to scout out prospects for future mission work, the reborn Christian Church was still in its infancy. Now it is growing and a Lutheran Bible School has been in operation for three years.
Getting to Mongolia is not an easy path, but when I arrive it seems that all of the burdens of travel dissipate. I have rarely received more encouragement in missions than when I experience the childlike enthusiasm expressed by Mongolians who have come to faith in Christ. This spiritual “shot-in-the-arm” was evident again during my last teaching stint this past month. Students questioned the wisdom of taking breaks (yes, we had them and they soon questioned it less as time went on), all the while avidly pouring over the texts of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy with me.
While many have come out of Buddhist or Communist backgrounds, I was surprised to learn that one of my younger students named Enkhmanlai (22 years old) was a 4th generation Christian! The faith was passed down from his great-grandmother, and assuming the general age for giving birth, I calculated that she must have been born somewhere in the vicinity of 1910! He himself was eager to ask whether he could use sports in order to gather youth. I encouraged him in this prospect, recalling how in my home congregation in Michigan I played basketball and baseball as a youth. Sports helps young men to view Christianity as not strictly a “woman’s religion,” a big problem overseas. And since basketball is big in Mongolia, one of my other students told me that Tayshaun Prince was his favorite basketball player, one of my old favorites from my hometown Detroit Pistons! So by all means, preach the Gospel, even by basketball if need be!
The spiritual darkness that Isaiah 9:2 (quoted above) speaks of is frequently highlighted during the season of Advent. The physical darkness of the approaching winter only compounds the hopelessness seen in the effects of alcoholism written upon the faces of many Mongolians. They have walked in the darkness of superstition and Buddhism for centuries, basing their hope upon a works righteousness that can save no one. But as the Holy Spirit shines the light of the Gospel upon them and they realize that Christ is the One for whom they have been waiting, spiritual light dawns in their hearts and they share a desire to “Go, tell it on the mountain.” As we enter Advent may the grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Nations who has come and will come again, fill you with His peace.
- Pray for Rev. Heise’s students, that their faith continues to be strengthened and that they continue to grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
- Pray for those in Mongolia who are still struggling in the darkness, that the light would dawn for them very soon.
- Learn more about Rev. Matthew Heise’s work.
- Learn more about the work of the LCMS in Mongolia.
- Stay tuned later this week for Rev. Heise’s Missionary Profile (you can read the previous profiles by clicking on the hyperlink)!