Aug. 9, 2004
Sheperd (left) visits with Darkaanbataar (center) and his mother inside
their home at the site for the new United Methodist Center in
By Linda Worthington*
Mongolia (UMNS) -- The taxi bounced and bumped over the narrow potholed
and gullied streets in Ulaanbataar, taking Helen Sheperd to the Sharhad
section of the capitol city of Mongolia.
from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries completed
negotiations for a 900-meter parcel of land in early July, beginning the
process of building a United Methodist mission center there. It is
being funded in part by the Korean United Methodists, as a gift from
their 100th anniversary celebration last year.
the board’s missionary in Mongolia and a hospice nurse, uses
inexpensive taxis to take her where she needs to go -- usually in the
crowded “hashas,” where she visits her patients each week. “Not only are
cars too expensive to buy, but with the bad roads, they often need
repair. It’s just easier and cheaper to use taxis,” she said.
that the dream of a mission center in Mongolia, sometimes referred to
as ‘the end of the earth,’ is becoming a reality, she will be spending
time at the site, overseeing construction and working on the myriad
details to meet the country’s requirements for opening a Christian
was greeted by Darkhanbaatar, the caretaker, a small friendly dog and
the caretaker’s mother, who shares some of the 24-hour-a-day
responsibility for keeping the property safe. They invited Sheperd into
their ger (yurt), the felt igloo-shaped home that is the main housing
for thousands of Mongolians throughout the vast Gobi Desert, which
covers about a third of the country.
aren’t so common in the city, but many poorer people live in them.
Ulaanbataar, or UB as it is referred to, is a city of about 800,000
inhabitants, a third of the population of the country.
addition to the ger on the property, there is a small abandoned brick
restaurant building, which, once the roof is repaired and renovations
made, will serve as the offices and administration building for the
United Methodist center. It will also have a comfortable room for
worship, with a source of heat in one corner, a necessity in the long
winter months that last until April.
of the offices is for a new missionary, the Rev. Millie Kim, who will
join Sheperd this September. She will work with children and youth, and
perhaps begin a program with the thousands of street children in the
|A UMNS photo by Linda Worthington.
The new United Methodist Center in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, will serve people in this Gobi Desert area.
2002, Sheperd has worked as a hospice nurse in an overcrowded “ger
section” of the city, where thousands of Mongolians live. As the rural
population, made up primarily of nomadic camel, horse, yak, goat and
sheepherders, migrate into the city, they usually can’t afford city
prices. They bring their gers with them – a herder can dismantle his
whole home in a half hour and put it on camel back to move anywhere.
is not owned in Mongolia but the aimag (province) government issues
permits, at a cost, to the herder who wishes to move, whether into city
or from summer grazing grounds to winter grounds. The densely populated
city ger areas sometimes have no electricity. Water is scarce and must
be carried from a common source. “A ger district is where life is very
hard,” Sheperd said, “especially for hauling water.”
tends to sick patients in the end stages of life. She visits most of
her 30 patients at least twice a week. Most are dying from cancers;
about 75 percent have liver cancer, perhaps because of a high prevalence
of alcoholism. When a patient dies, there are many more to add to
United Methodist ministry in Mongolia, which cooperates closely with
the Korean Methodist Church and its presence in the city, also includes
two full-time doctors and a full-time nurse who work out of an apartment
office, with a Mongolian director. The staff is Korean and Mongolian.
Two chaplains visit patients once a week.
Sheperd, the cooperative spirit of working with the Koreans comes
naturally. She was a missionary in Korea before coming to Mongolia.
is a very small part of the Mongolian culture, which is predominantly
Tibetan Buddhist. The few temples and monasteries that remained after
the Soviet purges of the 1930s are filled with images of the Buddhist
deities in many forms. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early
1990s, Mongolians are expressing new interest in religion, and are
restoring many Buddhist monasteries.
has a long history of Nestorian Christianity, which came in the 8th
century. The great Chinggis Khaan (Mongolian spelling) who unified the
Mongol Empire in 1206, was married to a Christian woman, and several of
his descendents were Christian. During the Communist years, Christianity
was largely wiped out. As with Buddhism, there is an upsurge in
Christianity, largely from fundamentalist and Pentecostal groups, and UB
has a large new Catholic Center and Seventh Day Adventist headquarters.
small percent of the population is Muslim, largely in the northern and
western parts of the country. Shamanism and ancestor worship are also
strong religious components, especially in the countryside. Throughout
the Gobi Desert and Steppes, one sees piles of rocks draped with bright
blue or white scarves and other items. These are the ovoo, abode of the
local spirits, built by passersby to entice good spirits.
support the work of Helen Sheperd, the board’s Mongolian initiative and
the building of the United Methodist Center, send checks to Advance
GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068, and note on the check
that it is for “Helen Sheperd-Advance #011810-4.” To make a credit card
donation, call (888) 652-6174.
*Linda Worthington is on the communications staff of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She vacationed in Mongolia in July.
News media contact: Linda Bloom·(646)369-3759·New York· E-mail: email@example.com.