Great North Asia Adventure:
China, Russia, Mongolia, Hong Kong
This ministry is called to global outreach; so travel is nothing new. But going to a new, far away, and remote region does not happen everyday. It did in September. Call it the ‘Great North Asia Adventure.’
Genesis of An Adventure: The adventure began back in February 2007 during a two week intensive that I taught at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio, Philippines, a Pentecostal school that trains Christian leaders from across the continent and the isles of the Pacific. My subject was New Testament History and my 9 students were in the MA program. Most were Filipinos but one that caught my attention was Bayaraa (born 1978) from Mongolia. This soft-spoken young man had a sharp intellect and outstanding command of the English language, as does his wife Enkhee. Mongolians are hospitable people and Bayaraa and Enkhee were no exception. During a meal in their home it became clear that I was to be invited to teach in Mongolia. This was the fifth invitation I had received from APTS students to come visit their respective country. Bayaraa, however, was the only one to promptly and successfully follow up the invitation with action (NOTE: Open invitations rarely get fulfilled. Set a date!).
As I looked at the map of Mongolia, I was pleasantly surprised to see how close the great Siberian lake called Baikal was. Bayaraa said that ‘Baikal’ was a Mongolian word, along with the nearby cities of ‘Irkutsk’ and ‘Ulan Ude.’ In any case, the LORD was opening a great ‘Russo-Mongolian’ Adventure. Salvatore Quirino, a Teach All Nations board member, joined me.
We were strictly tourists in Beijing for 2 days and 2 nights. We saw the famous places, including the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall. The Chinese capital was in the afterglow of the 2008 Summer Olympics and evidence of the event was everywhere. The international airport is large and stunningly attractive. If the Chinese wanted their airport to impress, they succeeded. Here are some interesting statistics for you:
Ming Tombs: A cemetery of 13 emperors, 7 concubines, and various eunuchs of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Covering an area of 80 square kilometers, it’s about 50 kilometres away from Beijing city proper. The actual tombs are in a manmade hill, reach of depth of 27 meters, and are unmarked to prevent future robberies.
Great Wall: The body of the wall was the key part of the defensive system. It usually stood 21.3 feet (6.5 metres) wide at the base and 19 feet (5.8 metres) at the top, with an average height of 23 to 26 feet (7 to 8 metres), or a bit lower on steep hills. This massive fortification, one of the greatest in the world, stretched 6400 kilometers. It was commenced in the 3rd century BC to keep out the Mongols.
Forbidden City: This is China’s imperial headquarters. 24 Emperors, 72 hectares, moat is 52 meters by 3800 meters, Rooms: 9,999.5; Concubines: 3,000; Ladies in waiting: 9,000; Eunuchs: 15,000. It began with the 3rd Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1406. Only 25% of the place is open to the public. It was called ‘Forbidden’ to keep out the commoners.
Temple of Heaven: 273 hectares. The Chinese Emperor was considered the son of heaven and it was from this temple that he came to earth and returned again. Three times a year the lunar months have 15 days of prayer for good harvest, summer solstice is prayer for rain, and winter solstice is prayer to thank God
Summer Palace: 290 hectares of which 75% of the area is a lake. Built in 1750 and includes Longevity hill, the long corridor, and the white marble boat. It was a public park until 1888 when the ‘Dragon Lady’ rebuilt the Summer Palace and stayed there from May to October (the ‘Summer’ time). She died in 1903.
Chinese people are relatively easy to witness to, provided you both speak the same language. One guy named ‘Terry’ provided a good example; though raised an atheist, he said that someone had already shared with him the Gospel. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would believe in God, especially since the satellites in space have not found Him! Nevertheless, he listened patiently to the Good News.
When you hear the word ‘Siberia,’ what comes to mind? An vast white expanse, an ‘Arctic icebox,’ a gulag for political dissidents? You are in for a surprise. The Siberia we discovered is immensely beautiful, studded with tall trees, well-watered and green everywhere. The ‘jewel’ of the region clearly has to be Lake Baikal. The statistics of the lake are staggering:
Lake Baikal is the deepest continental body of water on earth, having a maximum depth of 5,315 feet (1,620 metres). Its area is some 31,500 square km, with a length of 636 km and an average width of 48 km. It is also the world's largest lake by volume, containing about one-fifth of the fresh water on the Earth's surface, some 5,500 cubic miles (23,000 cubic km). Into Lake Baikal flow more than 330 rivers and streams. Only one river, the Angara, flows out (and goes through Irkutsk). In essence, it is the ‘Grand Canyon’ with water in it!
Lake Baikal, though inland, has big waves, storms, & freezes in the winter
We flew from Beijing to Irkutsk. At Irkutsk Airport my passport control officer was no fair-skinned ethnic Russian but an Asiatic Buryat, looking very smart in his crisp green uniform. Russia is a multi-ethnic country and this proved it.
A city of 700,000, Irkutsk is capital of the Irkutsk Oblast (region), a vast area to the west and north of Lake Baikal and at least 5,000 kilometers from Moscow to the West. The Angara River, Lake Baikal’s only outlet, flows through the city.
Irkutsk & Angarsk: We were met by the Bishop, who travelled 500 kilometers one way to pick us up! The local pastor spoke excellent English (he could preach in it) and shepherds a local church and a drug rehabilitation center at the same location. Later, we visited another bishop in the city of Angarsk, 30 km NW of Irkutsk. This man has a great facility, with a church that holds 600 (and is filled on Sundays), a Bible school, and guest accommodation.
Seventy churches have been planted already in the vast Irkutsk region (296,500 square miles or 767,900 square kilometers, west and north of Lake Baikal, with a population 2.9 million). Yet the bishop quietly wept as he described his passion to plant even more churches. Logistics are a problem: roads are poor and waterways are everywhere. He wants to purchase a boat to help reach the out-of-the-way villages.
Ulan Ude: Then we drove eastward 550 kilometers from Angarsk to Ulan Ude, going around the southern tip of Lake Baikal. Like Irkutsk, Ulan Ude is a capital city and pearl along the great necklace called the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Ulan Ude services the (autonomous) Buryatia Republic of Russia, on the eastern side of Baikal (135,600 square miles or 351,300 square kilometers). It contains 400,000 of the 1,000,000 people in the republic, of which only 25% are Buryat and the rest are mostly Russians. In the town’s square is the biggest head of Lenin you will ever see--rather unexpected in the middle of Siberia!
Pastors’ Meeting: The regional pastors gathered at the large church, where the Aussie team leader spoke from Genesis 35:1-7. In order to go forward, you need to go ‘back to Bethel.’ Many received prayer and prophecy. A few days later the Aussies met with a group of pastors from the local Ulan Ude minister’s fraternal and prayed with them.
Lake Baikal Visit: For the Russians, a visit to Lake Baikal is the same as an American visiting the Grand Canyon to the Americans—a legendary and massive natural wonder. The bishop, his team, and the Aussies traveled to Lake Baikal to spend a full day and night. It was over 320 kilometers of pot-holed strewn dirt roads.
Yet once we reached the lake, it was obvious that Baikal was worth every bump. Spreading out like a vast blue monarch, the waters of Baikal are numbingly cold all year round. There is little in the way of tourist infrastructure and there is apparently no road that totally encircles the 2,000 kilometers of coastline.
Apart from the ‘primitive’ and pristine nature is also the remoteness. I was dropped off by car along the shore to spend some time by the lake. It was the ‘loneliest’ 45 minutes of my life—I never felt so cut-off from the outside world. No one was around—just the lake, the sky, the shore, and me.
Amazingly for an inland body of water, Baikal has waves! So much so that Salvatore was ‘baptized by Baikal” as he sat on a rock by the shore having his photo taken. By October and November, storms will whip up Baikal and when winter arrives, the surface will be frozen. In theory, you could drive your car across the lake but there is no guarantee that it won’t fall through.
The remote Siberian villages along the shore of the lake consist of a cluster of unpainted wooden houses with the chimney always letting off smoke, hemmed in by mountains and forest. We visited two churches and one drug rehab centre. The people heard how to have the ‘joy of Philippians,’ ‘Nehemiah and A Mind to Work,’ and how to be a ‘John Mark Comeback Kid.’ These Siberians, including an Armenian missionary couple, have possibly never met people from Australia before.
The land of yaks, gers, and yoghurt, which gave the world Genghis Khan and ruled an empire that dominated much of Asia, Russia, and parts of Eastern Europe, is sandwiched between Russia and China. A land of steppes and the Gobi Desert, Mongolia is 1.5 million square kilometers, slightly smaller than the American state of Alaska (which is twice as big as Texas).
The Mongolians were the putative cause for building the Great Wall of China, having lived the nomadic life as the Chinese the peasant life. This is the nation who, through their much-revered leader Genghis Khan and his successors, swept through much of Asia and Eastern Europe, resulting in the largest empire at that time. The Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258 AD in a ghastly orgy that killed over 100,000 Iraqis in one week, turned the Tigris River to red, and ended the 500 year old Abbasid Islamic Empire. Mongol warriors terrorized Poland and Hungary. Their occupation set Russia back by two centuries.
A hospitable yet hot-headed people, it is not uncommon to see fist-fights and wrestling matches on the street. I actually witnessed one young man talking on his mobile phone when, upon hearing some bad news, gave a loud scream of anguish and then smashed the phone on the pavement! One Mongolian Prime Minister named Genden was noted for slapping Josef Stalin in 1936—just in time for Stalin’s Great Purge--and paid for it with his life.
Mongolia became the 2nd country in the world to become ‘communist’ and became a virtual satellite state of the Soviet Union. Only after World War II did China formally recognize Mongolian independence. Around the time when the Soviet Union disintegrated, Mongolia also threw off its communist mantle and adopted democracy. This gave a golden opportunity for missionary outreach.
Today Mongolia has approximately 400 churches and 40,000 Christians in a population of 2.9 million of which 25% are Charismatic/Pentecostal. There are 13 Assembly of God churches and a Bible college. Half the population belong to Lamaist Buddhism from Tibet and about 40% claim no religion at all.
The distance from Ulan Ude in Russia to Ulaanbataar, Mongolia is less than 500 kilometres. Yet it took around 18 hours to make the train journey. The reason is that it took 7 hours to go through the Russian-Mongolian border (5 hours with the Russians, 2 hours with the Mongolians).
MAOGBC: The centerpiece of the entire adventure was teaching at the books of Daniel and Revelation at the Mongolian Assemblies of God Bible College (MAOGBC). There were 21 bright students who took copious amounts of notes and could recite the answer to any question that was asked. Salvatore, who does building maintenance and repair in Melbourne, spent the two weeks doing repairs to the Mongolian church building.
Prophetic Seminar: In addition, the nearby Hope Church (400 members) hosted the Aussies for preaching and a prophetic seminar. The pastors are all in their early 30’s and all speak English, including their wives. The actual seminar was well-attended and there were visitors from other churches and Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), a great university outreach worldwide but not noted for their affinity to the Baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues.
Night One was about world trends, with powerpoint. Like the aborigines at Halls Creek, Western Australia a month before, the Mongolians sat in rapped attention as they learned of what was happening in the world and the hand of God upon it all. The next night was the prophetic. But one cannot move in this realm without the Baptism in the Spirit, so we had a night of ‘Mongol Pentecost,’ just like we did on the Sunday morning. Many received the Spirit Baptism, including CCC workers. In both the school and church, prophecy flowed freely.
Out and About: Ulaanbataar, the Mongolian capital, has around one million people. The Lonely Planet Guide, which itself is ultra-worldly and ‘street-smart,’ speaks of the city as ‘sinful;’ a place that shocks as much as it excites. Plentiful bars, public drunkenness, sex shops, legal prostitution, public fights and wrestling matches, help explain this assessment. During the communist regime, things were both tighter and tidier, but under democracy a lack of restraint and nepotism has been released. The church has a massive job but the LORD is more than up to the task.
We did play tourist for a day, where we road a yak, viewed Turtle Rock, and visited the enormous titanium statue of Genghis Khan, which is around 70 kilometers from the capital. We visited the Persecution Museum, where we saw the literal office of the ill-fated, Stalin-slapping prime minister Genden. Salvatore spent one night in a ‘ger,’ the Mongols round tent. He slept with his clothes on, found the bed as hard as a rock, risked his safety by going outside to the toilet without a torch, and failed to sleep a wink because of the night-long barking of the dogs. Yet he was glad he went!
Future of the Church: Under democracy, the Mongolian church was ‘reborn,’ since Christianity had come to Mongolia centuries earlier under the Nestorians. It is a young, vibrant, and dynamic church. Despite its seeming remote location, Mongolia has been on the main boulevard of the westernized global popular culture and every church fad, wind of doctrine, and cult. That’s why the antidote for these excesses is right doctrine and Spirit-filled living. Just like the Mongol warriors of old, the Lord is raising up in our day a new type of Mongolian warrior, who will go forth across their nation and the world, not on horseback with spear, but with the everlasting Gospel. This is something to watch and pray for.
We topped off the trip with two days in Hong Kong. This vibrant city never fails to dazzle, even if some of its economic primacy has been challenged by China’s largest city, Shanghai.
Our host is essentially a 40 year old Chinese version of Rodney Howard-Browne, whom he spent a week with in the 1990’s. He periodically conducts revival meetings and regularly visits China. I spoke in 3 services about ‘Caleb: Leaving the Wilderness Behind and Making Tracks to the Promised Land.’ The congregation responded wholeheartedly to the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
All in all, our great North Asian Adventure was as wonderful and life-changing as could be expected. We hope to see our new friends again within 12-24 months as we go and ‘teach all nations.’