When Honoring God Makes You An Outcast

Jason Weimer and Liz Hartwell

A dozen players filed beneath the distinctive curved roofs of the Buddhist temple to begin their customary pregame prayers. Ariunbold followed but stood off to the side, silently, as his teammates bowed and chanted before a statue of Buddha. Some glanced at him, pointing and laughing, eager to see how he’d react to their ridicule.

The mockery is familiar to Ariunbold Erdene. The demographics of his basketball team reflect those of Mongolia itself: Buddhism is the predominant religion, and evangelical Christians comprise less than 2 percent of the population. Ariunbold is mocked because of his adherence to this “foreign” religion.

Ariunbold’s team plays in a university student league. Now in his fourth year, he serves as a team captain – a recognized leader.

After two trips to the temple and the accompanying taunts, Ariunbold’s coach consulted him.

“You are a team leader. Will you go to the temple with your team?”

Ariunbold faced a critical decision. He could choose to fit in with the rest of the team, perhaps strengthening his leadership, and put an end to the mocking. Or he could stand firm as a Christian, rejecting idolatry but potentially alienating himself further.

“No,” Ariunbold said, without hesitation.

“Okay,” his coach responded. “You are really a Christian. You don’t need to join them.”

Ariunbold’s strong conviction earned his coach’s respect. His coach and teammates no longer pushed him toward the temple, and the teasing ceased.

Ariunbold came to Christ nine years ago, alongside his entire family. His faith was nurtured in the growing Mongolian church and through Athletes in Action®, Cru®’s sports ministry, which he joined in college. Now he attends a basketball Bible study and meets weekly with Suhay, a staff member with LeaderImpact, a Cru ministry which oversees AIA in Mongolia. These anchor points provide growth, as well as the courage needed to represent Christ with integrity.

God has used this character trait, as well as Ariunbold’s boldness, to soften the hearts of other players.

“I think they’re interested in learning who Christ really is,” Ariunbold says. “They used to say, ‘It’s a foreign religion.’ Now they have interest and some want to go to church.”

There are a few new believers as well.

LeaderImpact’s goal is to reach and equip a society’s leaders, so that they can use their God-given platforms to reach entire cities and cultures for Christ.

Basketball is gaining popularity rapidly in Mongolia, and Ariunbold was just invited to join a team in the country’s top league. This, coupled with the degree he will earn in human resources management, will likely position him as an influential leader within Mongolian society.

Next Steps:

Where do you face the temptation to compromise your faith in order to “fit in” and avoid potential ridicule?

Who might be able to come alongside you for growth and encouragement to represent Christ?

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