A Failure at Relief Work?

By Jeremy Fields, serving in Mongolia

Jeremy was a member of an assessment team that traveled to Hovd (in western Mongolia) March 23-30 on behalf of Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA), the relief and development arm of the C&MA. He and Dawaa (a Mongolian pastor/CAMA worker in Darhan) had planned to coordinate relief efforts in the area to address the aftermath of Mongolia’s worst winter in some 20 years. The following is an adapted excerpt from Jeremy’s trip report.

It seems as though I am a complete failure at relief work!

Here’s what has happened this past week . . . First, we met with a well-respected government official who helped us to understand the current conditions of a large ethnic group in Mongolia that has thousands of members in Hovd province. We were able to discuss some of the broader issues this struggling people group faces and decided to focus on the nearest town in which a great majority of inhabitants belong to this group.

I was hesitant to suggest forming an association to provide some unity and leadership. However, this leader is already attempting to resurrect a previously operational association to preserve the group’s culture and traditions and promote long-term economic development. I truly hope that he was encouraged by our interest. And I pray that he will have the time and wisdom to prepare more ethnic leaders here in the Hovd center to implement such a structure.

After our visit, Dawaa (a Mongolian pastor/CAMA worker in Darhan) and I left for the town of Hovd (not to be confused with the city of Hovd) with our good friend and dear brother, Zorigoo. We met with two key town officials, who called in leaders of local groups. Dawaa explained our organization, our reasons for coming to Hovd, and our desire to learn about the issues they are facing in their respective areas (he got really good at it, too!).

Here are some of the various leaders’ felt needs and concerns:

  • Herders-organization, rural road repairs, additional wells and water preservation, enforced pasture rotation, and hay reserves
  • Vegetable growers-improved irrigation, a greenhouse, a canning operation
  • Women-a needed bakery, sewing shop, and cooperative to make and market ethnic handicrafts
  • Teachers-a clean town, cultural lessons
  • Youth-sports activities, computers (no Internet in the town), a basketball court

No Handouts Wanted

Interestingly, even though we started out by saying that we came to help by distributing some aid-none of them fell for it. They ALL wanted to do something long-term for the development of their town! Needless to say, it was rather refreshing.

The women and growers seem ready to begin savings groups to prepare for future business activities. The young men are organized and eager to start. Everyone agreed-even local officials-that the greatest need was to build a basketball court near the school, surrounded by rock benches, new trees, and a protective fence (we hope to even work with the elders’ group to build a gazebo).

Small Development, Hoped-For Returns

Together, we took measurements and then they drew up the plans. The young people will prepare the ground, build the fence and benches, and plant the trees. We will assist by delivering the cement and backboards; they will build the court.

Even though this seems like a fairly small development project-and perhaps not all that important to peoples’ well-being-it will demand quite a bit from these young men, who will coordinate this project and sweat over it! Do you think you could build benches out of rocks and pour a large slab by hand?

A lot of people will be watching them, in their own town as well as here in the city of Hovd. I pray that God will give them unity, a vision for their town, and opportunities throughout this project to know and praise the One who will establish His heavenly city.

“Never Heard About Jesus”

We also stayed with a man who is trying to organize the town’s herders. Needless to say, it is quite a challenge to unify these solitary, spread-out fellows!  But it is important since they have many serious issues related to roads, water access, and pastureland. We spent the afternoon driving with him to a mountain pass where the road is nearly impassible for herders to get to their winter pastures.

We hope that this will turn into the first obstacle to unite the local herders, so that we can work together in the future. He had a lovely ger (a felt, round house similar to a Native American teepee in which about 30 percent of Mongolians, typically herders, live) and a wife who fed us much more than we could eat.

What’s more, they had never heard about Jesus from another person (only from a book in high school)! They were very open to prayer, for their family and work, as well as Dawaa’s eager explanations. It was another confirmation that this is where God is calling us.

Opportunities Abound

Of course, we met and spent time with many other people in great need (in my six days here I stayed in four different homes!). The women’s groups, here in the city as well as in the countryside, are desperate to get started with a sewing cooperative and handicraft business.  We have encouraged them to begin regular meetings to discuss saving and planning.

The newly established men’s ministry among the Hovd churches is also desperate to organize men and pursue small businesses . . . they are also actively reaching out to alcoholics (a serious social problem in Mongolia). We met with the provincial social officer who is eager to partner on the issues of alcoholism and unemployment intervention. Perhaps we can develop a “Food for Work” program with her later this fall.

Several local ethnic youth are also interested in fitness and sports competitions. There are a host of opportunities that could be started with the help of a few experts able to come here short-term (6-18 months). For example: there is a need for an English outreach coordinator, a furniture maker, a recovery program facilitator, an irrigation “expert,” and a variety of small business folks (handicrafts, coffee shop management, marketing, etc). We have established local contacts in Hovd for all of these endeavors!

Our goal on this trip was to begin building relationships and opening doors for ministry once we move to Hovd later this summer. I may not be good at relief work, but God is certainly amazing at bringing people together and filling our hearts with hope. All praise to His name and glory through Jesus Christ!

What You Can Do

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Learn More

  • Read the article “Mongolian Winter Worst in Two Decades,” for more about the dire situation in Mongolia and the needs of the poor.
  • Check out CAMA.
  • Jeremy asks prayer for “favor and God-appointed relationships with a few ethnic leaders in Hovd as we begin to plan our move and long-term ministries there.”


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