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The adolescent boys sat sober-faced, holding their three-stringed "horse fiddles”, making no eye contact with the white visitors who had just invaded their ger — the traditional Mongolian nomadic tent dwelling — which serves as their church building. We had made a relatively short drive across the roadless Gobi desert in our four-wheel drive truck and arrived in the small village of Khan-hongor sum. A collection ger, a few simple block houses, a school, a medical clinic, a couple of very simple shops and a police station. It is grim relic of Communist-era “organization” of Mongolian of society from a prior time known only to the parents and grandparents of these boys. To say it feels remote is polite understatement -- if the earth were flat, you’d fall off the edge just outside of town.
Getting the cue from Gundmaa, the church leader, the boys briefly cast off their reticence and the fiddles come to life. (see bit of them playing in this video.) The traditional music school is part of the church’s contribution to the community. Chuck-E-Cheese and Disneyland are only things they might have seen on bootleg DVDs that filter in from China. You make your own fun here, in between the hardness of life of helping gather dung or scraps of wood to burn in the stove and keep the ger warm over the long Gobi winter, or helping tend the family herd (camels, horses, goats — the type and quantity determines family prosperity). After a brief performance, and then a bit of trickery by the “lead fiddle”, mimicking a horse with a deft combination of string, bow and fingers, we asked about the church.
“How did you first hear about Jesus in this place?”
Gundmaa answered without hesitation. Pastor Purvee walked from Daladzagdan and told us the Good News. I looked at Pastor Purvee — quiet, expressionless, unassuming. You won’t see him on tv, find his books on the reading list of any theology course or even see clever pronouncements from him on twitter. In fact, you might not even agree with his church polity. He’s too busy for that — he’s got deserts to walk across to tell people about Jesus. And when a guy walks 25 kilometers (15 miles) across the Gobi to tell you something, you listen, as the church still does when he makes his rounds to teach, encourage and care for them. Reprising Hebrews 11 in my mind, “the world is not worthy of these", I thought.
Pastor Purvee cares for 22 tiny churches around Mongolia, based out of a church in Dalanzagdad, which he leads. Most of the churches meet together in gers in the Gobi Desert. If you would like regular updates from Pastor Purvee and the Gobi churches, click here.