Christianity in Post-Communist Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: An exploratory study of Christianity and Christian mission work
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Researching Christianity, Christian missions, and the general state of religion in Mongolia was certainly a joy, although not always simple. The research itself consisted of several stages, or sections: becoming somewhat familiar with the subject, gathering pertinent information and making appropriate plans for information gathering while in Mongolia prior to departure, attempting to collect data while 'in the field,' and researching books and journals upon return while attempting to 'make sense' of what was observed, noticed, conversed upon, and recorded. Indeed, not every step along the way was ideal and having it to do over again would certainly result in some wiser decisions; however, the study has provided further insight into the state of Christianity in Mongolia, which has experienced profound changes in the last ten years. The research project itself arose out of an opportunity to go to Mongolia as part of a Christian mission project through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My curiosity was spurred on by personal questions about the impact of short- and long-term missions, particularly Christian missions which often arise out of highly Westernized countries. There were certainly positive aspects to having the chance to participate in a short-term missions project while attempting to learn more about it. The chance to be working with fellow missionaries who have participated in short-term missions for many years, and to meet other missionaries who have had long-term experiences in Mongolia and other countries was certainly valuable. Before the endeavor commenced, I found out that I would be with 17 other Americans (one family of four with two parents, a fourteen-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old boy; an older staff worker; six students from Grove City, Pennsylvania; and five students from Pella, Iowa). There would be two main tasks for this group: to teach English to Mongolian students at three different colleges in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and to encourage/make contacts for a relatively new Christian student fellowship which had been started by Korean missionaries only one and a half years ago. The overall goal of the project, being the pilot experience for this particular project, was to establish bases for the establishment of Christian fellowships at schools other than Ulaanbaatar College, which was the only place in which the Christian student fellowship then existed. The implementation of this plan would consist of teaching students English in other schools and making connections with them both during and outside of class. These connections would then be transferred to the Christian students at Ulaanbaatar College. Within this framework, I received permission from the missions project director to conduct informal interviews with other missionaries and Mongolians, provided the questions were preceded by asking for permission, were kind, and were not invasive. The project director felt that contact with other missionaries was imminent. I decided, then, that, armed with the preliminary literature investigation, I would have a two-fold approach to the research: first, through involvement with the short-term missions team itself, I would be able to use a type of participant observation in a sort of case study of a short-term missions project in order to better understand the methods of the Christian missions movement; second, the use of informal interviews with Mongolians and Christian missionaries would allow me to ascertain the past and present of Christian involvement. Using both these approaches would allow me to better understand the self-explained purposes of seasoned missionaries, grasp the perspectives of Mongolians on Christianity and on Christian missionaries, as well as to experience first-hand the short-term missionary experience.
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