It’s a long way from sunny Palm Coast, Florida, to the rugged East Asian land of Mongolia, but there’s a connection between them—thanks to a visitor from the latter to the former. As a result, some deserving students at Mongolia’s Huree University will have meal scholarships to keep them going in their pursuit of higher education and better lives.
Dr. Soon Hoon Chung, president of the university, came with Dr. HiRho Park, executive director of Clergy Lifelong Learning of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), as a guest at Palm Coast UMC's Open Door Sunday School class and three church services earlier this year. Though Chung’s time was relatively short at the local church, his influence was strong, said Rev. Dr. Kevin James, Sr., pastor.
”Our church came up with a love offering that day of $1,300, which will help provide hot meals for students at the university,” said James. “This giving fits in with our missional goals, and as we have 40 countries represented in our multicultural congregation, this seemed a natural way of helping others.” Even though the recipients are far from Florida, the roots of the university’s mission grew from Korean Methodist missionaries who established the university in 2002.
Historically, only 10 percent of the students are Christians when they start school to pursue degrees in science and technology at Huree, one of the top 10 schools in Mongolia. By the time they graduate, the percentage of student Christians swells to 85 percent, according to the university’s website.
But there are many obstacles to student success, Chung explained at Palm Coast. He said that all 1,323 students, including 961 undergraduates, 42 masters candidates and 320 first to 12th-graders received scholarships. But many students cannot afford meals and usually go without breakfast and lunch. The love offering will go toward costs for those meals. A donation of $200 will feed a student for a year.
Park escorted Chung in the U.S. to make rounds of various UMC conferences, including Texas, Illinois and Florida. Park said that one of the goals of Huree University is to produce 10,000 Christian scientists through excellence in academic work. “The idea is to create global leaders for a global world,” she said.
But excellence in scholarship is difficult on an empty stomach, she explained, a fact Chung shared with his audiences. Some students pass out due to hunger, so the love offerings toward hot lunches will be a boon. “These young Christians will be able to spiritually and physically succeed,” Park said.
The relationship between the GBHEM and Mongolia started in 2016 when Park’s organization took e-readers to that country for educational purposes. Missions so far have built 12 United Methodist congregations in Mongolia, so the work is fruitful. She also led a group of chaplains and pastors to visit the university, and Chung, who is serving as university president without a salary. “He is really serious about helping these students,” she said.
Chung’s visit to the Open Door Sunday School class had a profound effect on its members. Palm Coast’s Hazel Edward’s report in the church’s newsletter cited one member describing Dr. Chung as “on fire for the mission” of sharing Christ.
Chung told the class that his own experience at Korean mission-supported schools influenced him to teach students in Mongolia.
--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.