Plymouth Wayzata Free Church Volunteers Make a Difference in Mongolia

Members of Plymouth’s Wayzata Free Church are agents of change in the city of Sühbaatar, Mongolia.
The entire Wayzata Free Church team looks out over the Mongolia/Siberia border.

The first thing you should know about Wayzata Free Church (WFC) in Plymouth is that its members have served the community of Sühbaatar, a city 60 miles north of Ulaanbaatar (and just south of Russia’s Siberia) in Mongolia for more than a decade. The second is how important it is to each volunteer who contributed to the church’s most recent Mongolian mission (June 2013) to speak well of others on the team and of the Mongolian people they served.

Volunteer Mike Murray, his wife, Dayna, and 15 other WFC missionaries traveled to Sühbaatar two years ago on a dual assignment: to help build a medical clinic and to provide medical services. Murray was on the building team, headed by Devon Ecklund, “an operations person at our church,” Murray says. “He gave the orders, and we did it.” What they did, in two weeks’ time, was dig and lay the concrete foundation for a medical clinic, the full construction of which has since been completed.

While Mongolian government regulations and red tape occasionally held them up, Murray says nothing would have gotten done without the groundwork laid by fellow missionary George Kenworthy. During the summer before the clinic itself was fully constructed, medical services were provided in the school previously built under Kenworthy’s direction.

Kenworthy is an associate pastor at WFC. He and his wife lived and worked in Sühbaataar from 2004 to 2014, with forays back to the United States for the births of their two children. Their 10-year plan when they started was simple: Build a school, and build a medical clinic. “It was important to us to have a phase-out plan,” says Kenworthy, who now lives in Orono with his family, “to work in conjunction with local schools and hospitals, and to transition to an all-Mongolian workforce.” It’s this hard-earned collaboration with local people and government that has allowed the WFC volunteers to continue to make a difference in Sühbaatar.

“We were called to be excellent,” Kenworthy says. “We wanted, above all, to serve the community.” As a result, while some other faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) disturbed local Mongolians’ strict sense of separation of church and state, WFC and Kenworthy forged partnerships based on trust, respect and a clear delineation between religion and work.

Carol Amis is a nurse at Methodist Hospital, with 27 years experience in the Intensive Care Unit. She was one of four medical professionals (three nurses and one physician) on the June 2013 mission. “We held a five-day medical clinic at the school,” Amis says. “We saw 45–50 people per day.”

The last day, she says, they did home visits. Many of these visits were to people living nomadically in their customary tent-like homes called gers. The most common conditions identified and treated, says Amis, are directly related to the harsh conditions under which local people live and work. Stomach ulcers and gastro-esophageal reflux disease are a result of poor nutrition (Mongolia is a frigid, landlocked country where many fresh fruits and vegetables don’t grow and are expensive to import), and there’s also sometimes alcohol abuse. Depression and stress are a reflection, Amis says, of a general lack of upward mobility.

Which brings us back to Kenworthy. “We did a lot of good in the clinic,” Amis says, “but George’s work in building, staffing and supporting the school offers people hope.” Through Kenworthy’s partnership-building efforts, WFC’s school in Sühbaatar is considered the best college preparatory in the province. Six students are sent each year to colleges in the United States, no small accomplishment in a country that places a high value on public education. Likewise, the now fully constructed medical clinic is set to receive donations, including tables, surgical supplies, x-ray machines and wheelchairs, from Minnesota-based Hope for the City.