A banner hangs on the wall in Christ Our Shepherd Church that reads, “My House will be called a House of Prayer for all Nations” (Mark 11:17). This is a commitment that this 300-person congregation in Southeast Washington, DC takes very seriously. So when members of the congregation came to the church in 2009 and informed us about the needs in Mongolia and work of Light of the World Church, we could not help but pay attention. We began a relationship of support and prayer that has seen the some of the most vulnerable families strengthened to care for their children in a very challenging environment.
In the early 2000s UNICEF published a report on social conditions in Mongolia recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse have been rising since the fall of the Soviet Union. This has led to increased domestic violence, which has resulted in more children on the street, some living with a single family member and some alone.
The elements in northern Mongolia are severe and unforgiving. Life on the street is wrought with difficulty. The extreme cold requires those who are trying to survive on the street to take extreme measures to survive. Many make the dangerous decision to set up a bed next to the hot water pipes that run through town, pipes that burn and scald those who are unfortunate enough to be near them when they leak or burst. Others find shelter under staircases in apartment buildings, leaving them susceptible to the cold. Food is also hard to come by in the winter in Mongolia. Lack of resources leads many of these street children to steal food, landing them in prison.
Russian missionary couple Ruslan and Svetlana traveled 150 kilometers across the Mongolian border with Siberia to the mining town of Erdenet, Mongolia, and opened Light of the World Church in 2003. They saw the needs of the community around them. Their church building was nothing but a giant yurt-like tent in those days, but they realized that offering people food would make a big difference for the children and families living on the streets. In 2004, they opened their doors to anyone and everyone in the community offering two hot meals every day. They wanted to reach the city of Erdenet with the love of Jesus, so they started their ministry by doing what Jesus did: feeding the hungry.
As time went on, and the church grew, they were able to put up a more permanent structure with electricity and running water. As they were building they realized that the majority of the people that they were trying to reach were living in yurts or homes without running water and electricity. They increased their family-strengthening efforts and built into their church large bathrooms with several shower stalls so that the community could access better hygiene options. They built rooms into the church for single parents to stay with their children so that they could get out from under the staircases and into a place with consistent heat. The priority was always the community as they sought to develop the next step in their church. The result: they began to see families thrive.
During a visit to the church, I sat with a young man we will call Evan. He shared with me about how Light of the World Church had impacted his life. He was living under a staircase with his grandmother when he first started coming to eat at the church. When they began coming, it was just because they were hungry. He saw many of his friends and other children his age stealing food and getting sent to prison. He expressed how thankful he was that he never had to steal food. He was given the food that he needed at the church. “I’m sure I would be in prison today, like many of my friends, if I did not have Light of the World Church to come to,” he explained. Evan is now following Jesus and working as one of the leaders in the children’s ministry. His grandmother also faithfully attends church, and they are no longer living on the street. Evan is currently finishing trade school and hopes to work as an electrician.
This young man might have been separated from his family and be living in desperation without the ministry of Light of the World Church. He and dozens of others have been direct recipients of the teaching of Christ that says when His people see the hungry and feed them, see the stranger and welcome them, see the naked and clothe them, see the imprisoned and visit them, it is like doing that very ministry for Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:35–40). When God’s people come alongside the practical needs of the community with something as simple as a hot meal, lives are impacted and the community itself changes. Families who are helped turn around and become the helpers. Progress happens when we look at the needs around us and offer what we can to bring a solution.
When Christ Our Shepherd Church made a commitment to support this work, we committed to not just send money—we committed to a relationship. We are able to financially come alongside Light of the World Church, but we have spent time on the ground hearing the stories and understanding the needs. We connect over email and chat on a monthly basis. We are committed to seeing families strengthened in Mongolia and are delighted to stand with Light of the World Church in their ministry.
Written by Brittany Seig
Brittany spent five years living abroad and working with vulnerable people groups in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She is currently the Executive Director of The Antioch Group, which serves as the missional arm of Christ Our Shepherd Church in Washington, DC. Since 2014, through her work at The Antioch Group, she has been able to engage family care in Mongolia, Uganda, Kenya, Togo, and with refugee communities in Spain. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two sons.