Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Soyolmaa from Mongolia

I was very excited to receive another submission for my series on Latter-day Saint Women Around the World (keep them coming!). This post is from Soyolmaa from Mongolia. I have heard from people who have been to Mongolia that the LDS Church is growing really quickly in that country and that they are some of the strongest saints in the world. After hearing Soyolmaa's testimony I sure can see why!

1. What is the dominate belief system in your country?

In 1921 Mongolia became a communist country. So, up until 1990 we were taught there was no God. If people were found believing in anything but a PARTY, they usually got in trouble. So, many people hid their beliefs. However, with the rise of a democracy in 1990 Mongolia became open to "foreign" religion. Mongolians consider Buddhism as the dominant and traditional religion of Mongolia. Christianity is very new, however it is taking its place among people nowadays. Many evangelical groups have established their centers throughout Mongolia. Catholics, Adventists and LDS are among newly established religions. LDS Church was officially registered in 1994 and has become one of the prominent Christian religions in Mongolia.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I joined the Church in 1994. I have attached an article that summarizes my conversion. :-) It was published in Ensign Magazine. (Here is the story the Ensign article shares)

“I was a hard kid,” U. Soyolmaa says, looking back on the period in high school after her parents died. She became involved in drinking and partying while at a university in Russia. After returning to Mongolia, she was surprised when a friend from those party days invited her to visit a church. Her friend seemed so changed.

Soyolmaa was not unfamiliar with teachings of Christianity, but at first she resisted her friend’s invitation. When she finally said yes, she felt excited but did not understand why. At the Church meetings, she was captivated immediately by feelings of peace, of belonging, of knowing where her life should go. Soyolmaa joined her friend’s church, and in 1995 they were the first two missionaries called from Mongolia. Soyolmaa served in Utah.

Currently, she is director of Materials Management for the Church in Mongolia. She is also public affairs director for the country, a counselor in the district Relief Society presidency, and a Gospel Doctrine teacher in her branch.

“It is a privilege to be a member of the Church,” she says. “Because I am in the Church, my life keeps climbing upward.”

The Church is not well-known in Mongolia, and there is more negative information available about Latter-day Saints than positive. There must be constant efforts to spread truth.

Members are the best ambassadors for the Church. They stand out, she explains, because of “that light, that happiness” seen in their faces. They feel a confidence, a joy through the gospel that many others do not have.

Like Latter-day Saints elsewhere, she says, Church members in Mongolia “have the same beliefs, so in the gospel we belong to one big family.”

3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area?

We have about 10,000 members. Every Sunday about 3,500 people attend sacrament meetings that are held throughout Mongolia. We have 1 stake, 1 mission and 2 districts. There are 6 wards in a stake, 12 branches in 2 districts and 3 mission branches. Majority of members are women. But we have many families and older members as well.

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

Mongolians are in Hong Kong Temple area.

Announcement: 3 October 1992
Groundbreaking and Site Dedication: 22 January 1994 by John K. Carmack
Public Open House: 7–21 May 1996
Dedication: 26–27 May 1996 by Gordon B. Hinckley

It takes about 3 days by train to get to Hong Kong. Everyone dreams about going to the Temple. We have around 4 temple groups every year and there are about 20-30 people in one group.

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

There is a general prejudice against Christians. People do not differentiate between any Christian denominations and many people also have heard anti-Mormon propaganda. There are many Korean evangelical groups in Mongolia whose sole purpose seems to preach against Mormons. :-) So, the first reaction we get from people when they learn we are Mormons is negative. Even people who know me well still ask if we are engaged in activities anti-Mormon literature says we do. I believe the best answer to their questions is the life style we lead. Often me asking "have you seen us do things like that" is a better answer than trying to explain that they are mistaken. However, people are becoming more aware of the Church and its activities as the Church grows and many Latter-day Saints serve as witnesses of our faith.

6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

Foreign missionaries are not allowed to proselyte. However, local missionaries can do almost anything to promote their religion except for knocking on doors. Many people come in because they see the example of other Latter-day Saints, many people come because they are fascinated by the meetinghouses we built, and many others still come in because they are searching for the truth. A few walk in because they are curious about the things others tell them about Mormons. The baptism rate is quite high. Last year we had about 380 baptisms.

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

Mongolians do believe in big families. However, the younger generation is not willing to have more than 2 children. In a church culture it is quite normal when a young family has three children. There are very few young families with 6 children. Older folks like us (heheh) usually come from bigger families. My husband has 7 brothers and sisters. My mom also has 7 siblings. Usually when you see a young family with more than 4 children, it does catch an attention. :-)

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

I visit teach 2 sisters. They do not live very far away. One of them is a completely inactive young woman. There were instances when my husband and I had to go fetch her from the hotel, absolutely drunk. :-) It is challenging, but deep down I believe she will come back one day. I remember a time I used to visit teach a young sister. Her husband was not a member; however I felt a very deep connection to her. When I visited her just after she had her second child, I spend some time with them. It was quite challenging because the baby cried non-stop. However, when I picked him up and held him for about 30 minutes he was quiet. Both father and the mother were very surprised. Apparently he always cried because of some medical challenges. They still talk about it. The boy is three now and he has a younger brother. The father joined the Church and they are quite active. I guess as long as we are visiting our sisters we experience special moments.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

I am a Stake Relief Society president. It breaks my heart when I see faithful sisters who are abused by their drunken husbands, when I see them miss the Church because they have to work on Sundays to provide for their families. There is a great pressure to be a member of the Church. Everywhere you go you are tempted by your family members, friends, co-workers and strangers. It breaks my heart when I see sisters fall away because they gave in to those temptations.

10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

Everything I have in my life is a blessing of the gospel. My husband, my life, my work. I am so much happier because I have the Gospel. There is no uncertainty. Things are clear. Even when I am faced with challenges I feel a sense of gratitude because I believe it is for my own good. I know that if I am true and faithful, the Lord will always help me. This is a sure knowledge, so I do not have any fear of what the life might present me with. I am grateful because the gospel changes me inside out. I am a better person because of it.

The opinions expressed in this are mine only and might nor represent the real situation in Mongolia. It is more my feelings than facts. :-)

Soyolmaa thank you so much for sharing your testimony. You have really inspired me to do a little better. I was espeically touched by your dedication as a visiting teacher, what incredible experiences you have had!

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