Seven hundred years ago, the Mongolian Khans had conquered most of Asia and extended their empire into parts of Europe. What started with the famous/infamous Genghis Khan ended with his grandson Kublai Khan, who started the Yuan Dynasty in China. Though their reign was relatively short, these Mongolian kings exerted a huge influence during their time of power.
Kublai Khan, like the other Khans, was open to the influence of different faiths, and he once sent the explorers Niccolo and Maffeo Polo (father and uncle of Marco Polo) to Pope Gregory X to ask him to send one hundred Christian missionaries to come minister to the people of Mongolia. Specifically, his request asked the Pope …
…to send 100 persons well skilled in your law, who being confronted with the idolaters (i.e. Buddhists) shall have power to coerce them, and showing that they themselves are endowed with similar art… When I am witness of this , I shall place them and myself to be baptized. Following my example, all my nobility will then in like manner receive baptism and this will be imitated by my subjects in general; so that the Christians of these parts will exceed in number those who inhabit your own countries.
It was an incredible and unprecedented request, but for whatever reasons, Pope Gregory X only sent two friars and some lamp oil. In fact, the friars never made it. Experiencing some warfare as they passed through Armenia, they turned back. Niccolo, Maffeo and Marco Polo continued on to deliver the oil, but it was an empty gesture.
Who knows what could have happened had Pope Gregory X sent the full 100 invited missionaries to win the hearts and minds of the Mongols. Christianity might have spread strongly throughout all of Asia.
Fast forward. Handfuls of missionaries and missionary groups tried to reach the Mongolian people over the centuries, but they experienced little lasting success. Mongolians were nomadic people, and it was difficult to reach them for Christ as they moved all around the vast country. Even today, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with 2.9 million people scattered over 1.5 million square kilometers.
The Communists eventually came into power in Mongolia and declared it an atheist nation. For approximately 65 years, the borders of Mongolia were closed to God and His followers….or so the government thought. Several seemingly unrelated events were taking place that would set the stage for massive spiritual change.
During the 1980’s, the government sent some party-loyal Mongolians to study at universities in other nations. During that time, several of these Mongolians heard about Jesus, and while they didn’t necessarily give their hearts to Christ at the time, seeds had been planted that would one day grow into faith.
At the same time, an Englishman by the name of John Gibbens was working on translating the New Testament into one of the Mongolian dialects. He was assisted by a woman named Altaa, a Mongolian university student, who later became Gibbens’ wife. They finished the translation in 1989, just as the walls of Communism were coming down. Then in July 1990, the first free elections took place in Mongolia, opening the door to religious freedom. Thirteen days later, the first 5,000 copies of the new Mongolian Bible were printed in Hong Kong, ready for immediate shipment.
Even the demographics of Mongolia were changing. More than one-third of the population of Mongolia had come over the years to reside in Ulaanbataar, the country’s capital city. With so many Mongolians so close together, it was much easier to establish churches and spread the Gospel.
The first Christian church (after Communism) started in Mongolia in 1991 with just a handful of believers. (Local Christians can name all four or five of them.) Since then, over 500 churches have been planted and over 60,000 people have given their lives to Christ. Mongolian Christians fan out over their large country taking the Gospel to its most remote places. Mongolian missionaries are even leaving their country to take the Good News into Russia, China, and the “-stan” countries (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan…). All this has happened in just seventeen short years. It’s nothing short of a miracle!
Centuries ago, Pope Gregory X missed an opportunity to join God in this great work, but God is not dependent on us to accomplish His purposes. He is working powerfully in Mongolia and through the Mongolian people. They may again be on a conquest of the magnitude of the conquests of the Khans, but this time they will be winning spiritual territory throughout Asia and into Europe. I’m excited to say that there is once again a Mongol King, and His name is Jesus Christ!
Worship in Ulaanbataar - March, 2008