Petrus Handoyo, serving in Cambodia and Mongolia with Mennonite Mission Network for nearly two decades, names a concern for safety and a lack of contextualization as barriers to sharing the gospel.
GOSHEN, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — Petrus Eko Handoyo wonders what kind of country Mongolia would be today if the good news of Jesus Christ had arrived in the 13th century. He asks this question in his chapter in the Mennonite World Conference's 2018 publication, God's People in Mission: An Anabaptist Perspective.
Handoyo recounts the history of Khubilai Khaan who ruled from 1260-1294. Khann's mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, was a Nestorian Christian. Her influence moved Khaan to request that the Roman Catholic pope send 100 Christian missionaries to his court. In 1271, Pope Gregory X responded by appointing two Dominican missionaries to accompany brothers, Matteo and Niccolò Polo, and Matteo's teen-age son, Marco, on their travels to Asia. The pope provided his missionaries with jewels and other gifts for Khaan. However, along the eastern Mediterranean coast in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, the caravan was threatened by the Egyptian sultan. Concerned for their safety, the two missionaries returned to Rome. The Polos, however, continued their journey.
"If there had been a Christian influence on the Mongol empire since the 13th century, how might the country be different today?" asks Handoyo.
Petrus and Yuliana Handoyo, jointly sent by GKMI Semarang, Muria Christian Church of Indonesia, and Mennonite Mission Network, began serving in Mongolia in 2001. In 2012, the Handoyos transferred from Mongolia to their current assignment in Cambodia where they are involved in education and pastoral ministries — Petrus as a university professor of ethics and literature, and Yuliana with Moriah Learning Center, a community tutoring program.
Petrus Handoyo compares the itinerant way of life of Jesus' first disciples with the nomadic Mongolian culture. This second emphasis in Handoyo's chapter is that "God wants us to give from what we have, not from what we do not have."
"When the [Mongolian people] lose contact with their nomadic lifestyle, they may also lose their true identity," Handoyo writes.
Nearly 2 percent of Mongolia's people are Christian. Many of them declared their faith after a peaceful democratic revolution overthrew the communist government in 1990. From four professing Christians in 1989, there are now more than 50,000.
Handoyo appreciates the Mongolian Christians he knows who sacrificially share Jesus' redeeming love in ways that both transform their culture and are shaped by it. He writes that this kind of contextualization helps the gospel to be understood as good news in the nomadic culture.
One such person is Jaal, a 73-year-old grandmother, who leads a small congregation in Ikhkhet. (In Mongolia, people are known by a single name.) This town of 2,000 people is located in the southeastern part of the Gobi Desert. Zalbirliin Orgoo (Palace of Prayer) is a house church that gathers in a ger, a round, Mongolian felt tent. Because many of the men spend most of their time with livestock out in the steppe-desert, Jaal took on pastoral responsibilities. She felt inadequate due to her lack of formal schooling, her gender, and her age. Yet "she and the congregation had great courage to preach the good news of salvation to their community and beyond as the transforming power of the Holy Spirit enabled them," Handoyo writes.
The Palace of Prayer congregation trained and encouraged four teenage Sunday school teachers to reach out to other kids in surrounding districts. Those kids became active participants in evening prayer meetings and the Sunday service. On Easter Sunday, aided by some older church members, the teenage leaders held a celebration for kids who didn't regularly attend church. The ger overflowed with the 60 youth who showed up.
"It became an outdoor Easter service in the desert town. It was so lovely and blessed!" writes Handoyo. "Above them, the sky was blue and clear. The desert wind blew gently. The congregation wanted to share their Christian values as well as life experiences with people in their communities from what they had despite the limitations they encountered."
Handoyo believes that through Jaal's leap of faith in the Spirit of Jesus, which makes it possible for committed followers to be transformed, her congregation was able to show their neighbors more about God's wonderful work.
"God does not redeem humanity by bringing us back together into a single language or culture," Handoyo writes. "Instead, God blesses cultural diversity by sending the gospel out in the diverse languages of the world. Diversity is not a curse, but a blessing to be encouraged, embraced and enjoyed … [empowering us to] serve the … peoples in many different contexts around the world."