Six couple missionaries, at the invitation of the Mongolian government, will be sent to the country to help improve Mongolia's higher education system, said Elder Monte J. Brough, a member of the Seventy and Asia Area president.
"As far as we know, they will be the first missionaries to enter Mongolia," Elder Brough commented. "They are going to Mongolia as missionaries in full identity and it is understood that they will be teaching others about our faith and holding Church meetings."The couples, chosen because of their experience and educational preparation, will assist the government and leaders of the nation's five universities and other professional and technical institutes with policy development and planning, curriculum development and other related concerns.
The Mongolian government sought help after the fall of the Soviet Union, Elder Brough said, because the fall left Mongolia without many services that the Soviets had previously provided including the knowledge of how to run a higher education system.
"They now want to move to a market economy and want to completely restructure higher education after western models," Elder Brough explained. "We have proposed to help them do that."
Mongolia has declared religious freedom (atheism has been prominent in the country for the past 60 years) and has authorized multi-party elections. It is within this context that the Church has been invited to send volunteers who can assist them.
"These couples who are going have great experience in education," Elder Brough said.
The couples include a former business college president, a medical doctor who has been responsible for post-graduate studies at a university medical center, a computer science professor, a business professor, a professor of curriculum development and administration, and an educational administrator. The wives are also trained educators and will help in elementary or secondary education reform. They will all teach English classes as well.
"We do not know what the Lord has in store for these courageous, hardy people," said Kenneth H. Beesley, former president of LDS Business College who will serve as one of the missionaries to Mongolia. "We do know that what can be of most value to them will be an understanding of who God is and their relationship to Him; the purpose of their lives and who Jesus the Christ is."
The first couples were scheduled to arrive Sept. 16. All couples will be based in Ulaanbaatar, the country's capital, and will work as missionaries under the direction of the Asia Area presidency.
Elder Brough met with top government officials and the directors of five Mongolian universities in May and August and "the welcome mat has been well established," he said.
"There is already interest in the Church. After we met with the minister of education and explained to him what the Church was willing to do, he said, `Tell me more about your Church. I must know more about why people are willing to do such a wonderful thing.' This kind of question and comment is not infrequent."
Elder Brough also met with an adviser to one of the country's major universities - a former ambassador to England, Egypt and Japan - who had heard of the Church and was thrilled that missionaries would be willing to come and help with their education system. He was also interested in attending Church meetings.
Elder Brough's first contact with Mongolia came in 1984 when he traveled there with his two sons. "I wondered then if these people would ever hear the words of Jesus Christ. Now with this tremendous change of world political situations our people are going to be among the first to let them hear the word."
Many Mongolians live in round tents or yerts instead of constructed homes, Elder Brough explained. And many are still nomadic, moving as their herds change feeding grounds.
Mongolia, about the size of Alaska, has a population of 2.1 million people. About half of the population is under 18 years of age. About one fourth of the total population, more than one-half million live in Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia also has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with 90 percent literacy, Elder Brough said.
With the changes in the country, Elder Beesley related, Mongolia now faces serious financial problems with shortages of goods, particularly vegetables and fruits, fuel, housing and spare parts for vehicles. Distribution problems are also acute, he said.
Hospitals lack basic medicine, supplies and equipment and infant mortality has more than doubled in the past year, Elder Beesley explained. Children are experiencing scurvy because of the lack of citrus fruits.
The shortages together with the country's harsh climate will make the work of missionary couples that much more challenging, but Elder Brough said: "This represents one of the finest opportunities for us to serve a whole nation. We have an opportunity to assist in a magnificent way.
"These couples are wonderful examples of Latter-day Saints who have reached the end of their careers and are willing to give 18 months of their life to serve mankind. We've been very grateful to them and wish many, many more people were willing to accept these kinds of assignments."