Steppe by Step

“Why didn’t anyone tell us this before?” asked a Mongolian Christian, after Hugh Kemp spoke on the history of Christianity amongst the Mongols at a church in Ulaanbaatar in 1992.

This question prompted a seventeen year journey to June 2009, when Tuukheen Balarkhai Jimeer was published in Mongolia. “It’s the Mongolian translation of a book I published in 2000 called Steppe by Step,” says Hugh. “There were Christians on the Mongol steppe before Chinggis Khan, and long before any Buddhists or Communists were in Mongolia. The new church needed to know its own story.”

Hugh and Karen Kemp were Interserve Partners in Ulaanbaatar from 1992 until 1996, with ongoing involvement to 2002. “I realised early in our time in Mongolia that the Mongols are proud of their history. In the 1990s they were regaining their sense of place in the world, and it was a time of huge transition. Researching and correctly telling the Christian threads to their story was crucial,” says Hugh. “It was always my goal to respond to that original question, and publish their Christian story in their own language”.

While in Mongolia, the Kemps had a broad cross-section of supporters – from Invercargill to Whangarei, and right across the denominational spectrum. “Many people have followed this project with interest and prayers over the years” says Hugh. Tuukheen Balarkhai Jimeer – translated roughly as “by ways of ancient faded pathways” – was published as a textbook for a Christian history course in Mongolia.

“It has much wider potential though,” says Hugh. “It will serve pastoral and evangelistic purposes as well. Mongolian Christians can demonstrate that they have a legitimate place in Mongolian history, and hence a place of influence today.”

The initial response from Mongolian pastors has been encouraging. Pastor Tugulder is representative in this: “The thing that has encouraged me greatly [from this book] is to see the big picture of how greatly God loves the Mongolian people. Because He has been sending His envoys to this nation over the past many hundred years. I felt very strongly that He did not want to abandon us.”

One of the publisher’s aims was to put the book into the hands of every parliamentarian: the leader of the Democratic Party has already acknowledged it. “And it has already had some profile here in New Zealand,” says Hugh. “I’ve given a copy to a Mongolian public servant on a study scholarship here in New Zealand. He responded with, ‘These are my people. This is my tribe. But I never knew this!’”