Seven Years in Mongolia

Posted on April 9, 2013


By David Ettinger

To the question, “How do you say good-bye to a place you have given your life to for seven years?” The answer is, “With great difficulty.”

Caption: Penny Fairo during her years in Mongolia.

Such is the case for First Baptist Orlando missionary Penny Fairo, who faithfully served the people of Mongolia from 2002 to 2009. “The day I left [December of 2009], I cried and cried,” she said. “It was a very rough day. In fact, during that entire last week the reality that I was leaving was really setting in. A lot of tears and emotions.”

This type of emotion is only natural for someone who had been on numerous mission trips before deciding on a nation in which to permanently minister. “I heard about the group Samaritan’s Purse [an international relief organization run by Franklin Graham] and went online to find out about an internship. I applied and, along with seven other candidates, was accepted. We were given the choice of four countries: Sudan, El Salvador, Mozambique and Mongolia.”

Why Mongolia?

“They were working on the Children’s Heart Project,” Penny explained. “That’s where children in Mongolia with congenital heart defects can be sent to America and Canada to have surgery.”

Caption: Penny with Altantuya, her Mongolian “daughter.”

From the moment she arrived in Mongolia, Penny knew that this landlocked country surrounded by China and Russia was precisely where the Lord wanted her. “The first time I went, I connected right away. I had a love for the people and the passion to share the Gospel with them that I didn’t have for all the other countries I had been to.”

Penny started her own non-profit organization called Servant International, Inc. and moved full-time to Mongolia. She immediately got involved in the student ministry of Faith Fellowship church in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar. “At that time, there were four students; now there are about 40 strong disciples of Christ on fire for Him. Most of those original students are in college now.”

Besides her work with students, Penny also became heavily involved with The Children’s Place Orphanage, helping to find homes for parentless Mongolian children. “When I first arrived, there was a ministry [name withheld for security issues] for which I wanted to start an orphanage. I took on the responsibility of assisting in getting it started — I basically handled administrative issues and staff management.”

In addition, Penny worked with a pediatrician and an occupational therapist on medical outreaches in the Gobi Desert and in the countryside. “We planted churches in those areas, building relationships with the people by doing free medical clinics and then sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Caption: Penny with some of her students.

According to Penny, planting churches was perhaps the most crucial work she did in Mongolia.  “Sharing the Gospel is a command of Christ that we all must obey, but those who give their lives to Christ must be discipled. So, it’s all about planting churches to disciple new Christians.”

In all, nine churches were planted in Mongolia during Penny’s tenure. During that time, as mentioned above, the number of discipled student believers went from four to 40. That may not sound like large numbers by American standards, but in Mongolia, that 10-fold increase in salvations is huge. “While I was there, the president of the nation was a strict Buddhist and promoted Buddhism [Mongolia’s primary religion; Christianity represents about 1.5 percent of the population],” Penny said. “Though the government isn’t strict in what I would call ‘Christian persecution,’ it has its subtle ways of cutting down on reducing the number of people who share the Gospel.”

One way the government achieves this is by not renewing the visas of Christians in the land, hence reducing the witness for Christ. “The government doesn’t want foreign humanitarian-aid efforts to be mixed with religion. They want the aid, but not the religion. That’s why our organization is considered ‘humanitarian’ … medical clinics, orphans, special-needs children. But we are also Christian.”

And though the persecution does not approach the tragic proportions as such nations as North Korea, Sudan and China, there are still consequences for Mongolians who covert to Christianity. “Many of them are ostracized,” Penny said. “I once had a student who showed up at my door one night after his parents kicked him out of the house because they found out he was a believer.”

However, Penny said conditions for Christian ministry could be improving with the June 2009 election of Mongolia’s new president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj. “He was educated at Harvard and is more open to Christian activities in the country.”

But despite the restrictions of the past administration, Penny continued to work faithfully in Mongolia. However, after six years of effective ministry, she began to get her first inkling that somehow her time in Mongolia may be nearing an end. “In January of ’09 I started praying about it because I came to the place where I knew that the student ministry and other areas of the work must be turned over to the nationals,” she explained. “I knew that for them to step up, I needed to step out of the way. It was in May that the Lord confirmed it in my mind, and I announced it in June.”

Therefore, Penny began training those in the ministry who are now young adults to take over for after she was gone. “I knew it was time for this one particular young man to take the lead and become the student pastor. He now has a student leadership team of five.”

Caption: A Mongolian boy who was adopted from The Childen’s Place Orphanage.

This “stepping up” of the nationals has given Penny the assurance that she has left the ministry in good hands. She can also take comfort in the fact that her association with Mongolia isn’t completely severed. “I’ll still be involved with the orphanage regarding fundraising, and I’ll be administering their child-sponsorship program. I’m planning to visit this summer [2010], possibly bringing over a mission team from our church.”

For now though, Penny is in the midst of a six-month hiatus from overseas missionary work to determine what the Lord has for her next. She has no idea whether or not He will send her back to Mongolia fulltime, but she knows that the nation is heading in the right direction. “Christianity is definitely growing and on fire there. In fact, there’s a ‘20/10’ goal in Mongolia where we’re hoping to see 10 percent of the population become Christian by the year 2020. Evangelism is spreading in the country, and most of it is being done by nationals.”

Penny may or may not be a part of Mongolia’s future evangelistic efforts, but it is clear that she has already left her mark — and that Mongolia has left its mark on her. “It was such a blessing to be there and to see the growth of the ministry, the adoptions in the orphanage and the Lord’s hand at work in the lives of Mongolians. I’ll always remember the friendliness of the people and their openness to others and to the Gospel. The last seven years in Mongolia were the best years of my life.”