On Tuesday, Erka directed an agency teaching English in Mongolia. She lost her job on Wednesday; was sentenced to jail on Thursday; and, the prison gates slammed behind her on Friday. Through sobs of discouragement, Erka cried out, “Prison! Great Lord, I am not a criminal. Why did you let them put me in jail?” No answer came that day, so she began preparing herself for two years of crowded, torturous, and inhumane living.
Mongolian prisons have a wretched reputation. Though improved from the days under communist rule — when guards stuffed prisoners into short rectangular boxes, fed them through six-inch holes, and washed away the waste occasionally — the system is still trapped in time. Erka had no idea what she would encounter in the country’s only women’s prison.
Serving others leads to a prison sentence
Erka accepted Christ as Lord while studying in the United States and attending the Washington Mongolian Church in Washington, DC. After she graduated, an organization in Mongolia hired her to prepare young adults who desired to study in the US. She established the Global Education Development Academy in 2018 and began helping 18 students fulfill their dreams.
Any non-English speaker thinking of studying in an English-speaking country usually takes a standardized test called TOEFL. It measures the mastery of the English language in an academic setting. Preparations for the test are given, tests administered, and applications to US colleges filed. Later, students interview with the consular officer for their student visas. These meetings require special tutoring because they are demanding and intimidating.
Unfortunately, in this case, the consular officer sent for Erka’s students before they were ready and did not inform Erka that the interviews were taking place. Five of her students did not appear due to their fear of the results. The Mongolian police concluded that Erka had misled government officials. Her job abruptly ended and she was behind bars. She lamented, “My life! I’m ruined, and my alcoholic husband won’t help! I don’t even have a Bible.”
Days later, another prisoner gave her a small gift. It was a Bible! While she was reading it one morning, the Lord spoke to Erka and said, “I have placed you here to serve these women and to tell them about Jesus Christ.” Despite the deplorable conditions, self-pity changed to joy after she realized God had a plan for her life.
Starting a church in prison
The next day, she scheduled an appointment with the prison warden and asked permission to form a small Bible-study group. He replied emphatically, “This is an illegal activity. The prison law forbids it. You do not have the freedom to do such a thing.” Erka prayed daily for her next step. A week later, she had a surprise visit from the social worker of the prison.
Small talk lasted 15 minutes, and then the worker reminded Erka that she was a teacher. As a teacher, she could conduct an educational class and name it “Ethics and Communication.” With such a name, the warden would not check to see what she was teaching. Erka talked among the women in her section and began the class with 20 curious souls. She told them about Jesus and conducted Bible studies. On Sundays, she organized a worship time.
News traveled fast to the more than 200 women in the facility, and more came to participate. They discovered the prison library had many Bibles. These were quickly checked out. When Erka finished her two-year term, 150 women had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior! Our God does not promise us an easy life, but surrendering to His ways brings life.
Erka’s last name means “Light.” Because of God’s plan, she certainly brought the light of Jesus into a dark place.