In the barely accessible and seldom visited central hump of northern Mongolia, just west of Lake Khövsgöl, lies Darkhad Valley, the homeland of the Darkhad tribe. About sixteen thousand Darkhad, mostly herdsmen (though darkhad means craftsmen), cling to a difficult semi-nomadic existence in this harsh and wild environment that is considered remote and inaccessible even by Mongolian standards.
The religious worldview of the tribe is decidedly shamanistic. They rely on traditional spiritual healers to overcome illness and bad luck through ceremony, song, and communion with spiritual forces. Darkhads resisted Tibetan Buddhism when the rest of the Mongolian peoples embraced it during the 1700s, and finally the Buddhist leaders allowed them a very syncretistic form of the religion so that they could continue under the shamans unmolested. Darkhad shamans are considered “Black Shamans”, meaning they do not mix their ceremony with Buddhism at all. The population is suspicious of strangers and not particularly religious. A recently built Buddhist temple now stands empty and abandoned. The Lama (Buddhist priest) living there became angry and offended when not a single Darkhad visited the temple during the months he lived there, so he packed his idols and left. Mongolian Christians visiting Zuulun, Renchinlkhümbe, the tribal and provincial capital, were told they face the same destiny. “If we Darkhads are anything, we’re shamanist, and we don’t care for your Jesus,” people said to the team of young Mongol believers from YWAM Erdenet. They continued to inform them that they didn’t want their “foreign religion” and asked them to leave. Even the local government officials discouraged their presence. Some were downright hostile to them. The team hit their knees and began to pray and intercede for these lost tribesmen the Lamb had purchased with His blood.
Why were Mongolian missionaries in Darkhad territory in the first place?
Between 1993 and 1996, my family was part of a YWAM apostolic team – made up of young Swedes, Americans, and Russians – that pioneered a church among the Khalkha tribe (Mongolia’s dominant people group) in the city of Erdenet, Mongolia. The church they planted, “Jesus Assembly”, went on to plant numerous daughter churches, which in turn planted even more grand-daughter churches, and so on. After three and a half years, the foreign missionaries passed the baton of leadership to the Mongolian leaders and left the country. The movement was already well underway, but the Mongolian believers, wanting to be fully obedient to Jesus, invited the Swedish team leaders to return and pioneer a missionary training program, which became YWAM Erdenet. In 1999, I also briefly returned to Erdenet, privileged to teach church planting in their School of Frontier Missions. Among the young church planters I trained were a team headed for the Darkhad tribe – a completely unreached people group with no churches and few, if any, followers of Jesus Christ. When the school ended, they made the difficult journey into the Darkhad Valley and soon found themselves facing deportation and calling out to God on their knees.
“Father, we know that you want to welcome Darkhads into your forever family. You called us and sent us here. Now everyone wants us to leave, but we know that you have a plan for great blessing!” The team asked God for a strategy to reach this resistant group. The Lord gave them a strategy – go to the poorest of the poor!
While praying they had received a picture of a building they had noticed on their way into Zuulun. The local poorhouse was a spacious building on a large piece of land. Widows and poor families lived in it. The inhabitants were completely destitute, not just financially but spiritually too. They had zero hope for the future. One consequence was that their house and yard had not been cleaned for twelve years! For a number of years, the local government had tried everything from begging to threats to get them to clean up the mess, but to no avail. It was unbelievably filthy. Both house and grounds were covered in waste, both human and animal, and bones and carcasses, not to mention garbage. It reeked to the heavens and was the shame and eyesore of the entire region.
The team visited this cesspool and, taking care not to react to the stench, shared the Gospel in story form with the residents. Several of the poor gave their lives to Jesus. The atmosphere in the poorhouse changed suddenly and dramatically. Before long one of the new believers suggested that they clean the place up. “We’re new creations, children of the one true God. We can’t live like this!” All of them, including the missionaries, pitched in and completely cleaned the place. They even dug out the polluted soil in the compound and carted out twelve years of waste. This cleansing had a strong impact on the community. “This must be an incredibly powerful God! He did what no one, not even the government and the law, could do!” Some prostitutes came out and demanded to know what the team had told the poor to cause this transformation. By the time the team finished telling them the same Good News, they had become believers and changed their behavior so drastically that it caused others to first praise God and then believe in Him (see Matt. 5:16)! Even the Governor, who had earlier ordered the team to leave the region, paid the team a visit, asking them to share their message. When they had told him the Good News, he declared, “This is very good. I’m going to summon the whole population and command them to join you in your religion!” The team hastened to tell him that it would be better if they were simply given freedom to share, enabling the people to make up their own minds and be changed inside. The Governor agreed!
A view of Zuulun town in the Darkhad Valley of Mongolia
An initial fellowship of Jesus worshippers had been born in the Darkhad Valley. Praise God for this dramatic breakthrough among this unreached tribe! Imagine… a people that were completely unreached themselves just a decade ago… sent out as missionaries by a church just seven years old… planting the first-ever church among a tribe in one of the most remote corners of the planet! If that doesn’t stir your faith and imagination, I don’t know what will.
Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, purchased the Darkhad tribe with His precious blood and now, thanks to dedicated Mongolian disciples, receives Darkhad worship. Worthy is the Lamb!
Read the exciting story of the planting of the church that sent out this team in Brian Hogan’s There’s a Sheep in My Bathtub, available on Amazon.com.
BRIAN HOGAN earned his Master’s in Intercultural Studies/Ministry from Hope International University (Fullerton, CA), specializing in World Christian Foundations. He is sought after as a speaker, trainer, and coach. Brian serves full time with Church Planting Coaches, a global ministry of Youth With A Mission. He serves YWAM on the Frontier Missions Leadership Team. He enjoys being a catalyst, hanging out, reading books, traveling and trying anything new, novel, and different.
Brian has participated in, led, and started organic expressions of Jesus’ Body in the USA, Malta, and Mongolia both inside and outside the traditional wineskin. He coaches those involved in these movements on five continents, especially focusing on where the church isn’t.