The Clergy Lifelong Learning Office at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) recently traveled to Mongolia with six church leaders to connect with the Southeast Asia and Mongolia Provisional Central Conference and the faculty and students at Huree University. As the agency focused on leadership development and formation, the educational mission trip helped to enhance the global connections which are an integral part of the work of GBHEM.
Led by HiRho Park, Ph.D., executive director of Clergy Lifelong Learning at GBHEM, the group visited Mongolia for seven days with the goals of:
- Raising awareness about the new provisional conference
- Identifying and creating a plan to help address the educational and ministerial needs of the conference
- Exploring ways to collaborate with Huree University
- Connecting with the mission of the Mongolian United Methodist Church
- Experiencing the rich heritage, culture, and people of Southeast Asia.
Participants included Chiyona Bourne (Indiana), Heidi Lou Campbell-Robinson (North Carolina), Barbara Jackson Davis (Florida), Donna Marie Hughes (Iowa), Ronald Ray Robinson (North Carolina) and Holli Vining (Alabama).
“The trip to Mongolia was a life-changing experience. Mongolia is a vast mission field, and I am proud that GBHEM is on the frontline of a mission to Mongolia through higher education right after the General Conference decision in 2016 to approve the Southeast Asia and Mongolia Provisional Central Conference,” said Park.
“Removing myself from the United States and joining the journey to connect with the people of Mongolia … walking where they walk, sleeping in the conditions they do, worshipping with them. This experience has re-awakened me to life’s simplicity. I have new fodder for my year in ministry—new perspectives, new ideas, themes and even hopes,” explained Chiyona Bourne, a deacon with Memorial United Methodist Church in Indiana.
“This trip presented us with a great opportunity to see how God is at work evangelically in Mongolia through the church and Huree University,” said Barbara Jackson Davis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Religion at Bethune-Cookman University. “Through this trip, we learned how we could offer our support as well as create partnerships in Southeast Asia. I look forward to the connection I can help create with Bethune and Huree.”
“Huree University is providing its students with an education that combines academic study and professional preparation with the ability to work wisely and effectively in the 21st Century. The dedication of the faculty is compelling, and the students are delightful young people who are fashioning meaningful and productive lives that will impact their families, their country and the world for years to come,” said Ron Robinson, D.Min., Perkins-Prothro chaplain, professor of Religion and director of Interfaith Programs at Wofford College. “In a word, Huree University is inspirational.”
GBHEM began its connection with Huree, a Methodist-related school and a member of the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU), years ago. In February 2016, the university was a recipient of e-readers to expand access to books and educational materials through the E-Reader Project.
“Our Hurree University hosts were gracious and planned a wonderful itinerary for us,” said Rev. Heidi Campbell-Robinson, president of WaterRock Institute. “United Methodists throughout the world can be proud of this young university and the education and values it is bringing to the youth of Mongolia.
“I believe the impact of our visit on the students at Huree University was significant. We were able to connect culture to culture across a meal, which is a great way to begin breaking barriers,” said Bourne. “We were limited in our language, but, slowly, we broke barriers and began to connect.”
“Young people in Mongolia want to know Jesus Christ and have opportunities to learn and succeed in life. I was moved by the dedication and commitment of faithful Christian educators at Huree University, especially their goal to produce 10,000 Christian scientists in Mongolia,” said Park.
In addition to their time at Huree, the group met with the leaders of the Southeast Asia and Mongolia Central Conference. Davis described this time as “truly enjoyable. The hospitality of the conference and churches was amazing. We felt at home everywhere we went.”
The group was immersed in the Mongolian culture throughout the journey as the trip fell during the Naadam Festival or “the three games of men.” The festival features Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery events around the country, and honors the history and culture. “Though I’ve seen crowds before, the crowds for these events were different than any I had ever seen,” exclaimed Bourne.
“The time we spent at Gerelt, first in worship, then visiting the shoe shop where they make cashmere house shoes and broaches, was another great way we broke barriers,” said Bourne. Davis added, “The shop serves as a way to generate income for women and their families—it’s women-owned and operated. It gave us all a good feeling to support their work and efforts to help impact lives.”
Following the trip, the group convened to discuss ways in which they can support Huree University, its faculty and its students. Each participant took away a task for follow-up, including but not limited to, identifying English speaking teaching resources, creating scholarships, establishing study abroad connections for students and faculty, and more.
“I am proud and excited that we were able to begin working toward a memorandum of understanding for student and faculty exchanges with Huree,” said Davis. “Huree is creating global leaders for a global world, it’s a goal we share. A partnership will help to strengthen and further our success.”
When asked what each took away from the journey, Donna Hughes, director of the Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice, Dickinson College, replied, “I loved my time in Mongolia and connecting with the work that the Methodist Church is doing at Huree University and through the local churches. I am excited to be part of the global Methodist community and see how our Methodist brand of Christianity is lived out in Mongolia. I can’t wait to go back.”
Holli Vining, University of South Alabama Wesley Foundation, added, “Being in Mongolia was one of the most special blessings of my life thus far. One of the greatest blessings of this trip was to share in learning about such a magical and fascinating place with people from all types of ministries. Mongolia’s rich culture and history are captivating and draw anyone who goes there into a great lifelong relationship of dreaming about the hope for the future of Mongolia and the world.”
“The experience of worshiping with people from another culture was great. We didn’t speak the same language but the presence of God was there as we worshiped together,” said Davis. “I formed great connections spiritually with the university team as well as with my fellow travelers. It affirmed that God is at work everywhere.”
Bourne echoed Davis’ comments on her connection to the group, “I am amazed, awed, and humbled at my travel mates. We met at the airport in Seoul, yet it was as if we have traveled together before and known one another for decades. I am grateful to have experienced such a journey with wonderful spirit-beings so connected to God and God’s world.”
“GBHEM’s trip to Mongolia was life-changing and faith-enhancing,” remarked Campbell-Robinson. “I loved the vast beauty of the country, but what I most cherished was the authenticity and purity of the worship that we experienced at the mission churches. God is moving in Mongolia. I am grateful to Rev. Dr. HiRho Park for making this opportunity available.”
About Huree University
Huree University was established in 2002 as a Christian mission school by Korean Methodists. When students start school, only 10 percent are Christians. However, 85 percent of the students become Christians by the time they graduate. A science and technology school, Huree is one of the top 10 schools in Mongolia among 66 colleges and universities. All of the students (1,323 students—961 undergraduates, 42 master candidates, 320 1st to 12th graders) receive scholarships. Many students at Huree University cannot afford meals and usually go without breakfast and lunch. With your generosity, students will be able to have access to a hot lunch. The cost of lunch per individual student is $100 per semester. A donation of $200 will feed a student and keep them healthy for a year. If you would like to contribute, please contact email@example.com.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.