“When I was three months old, my parents brought me to an orphanage,” Saikhnaa explained about her childhood in Mongolia. “I was the third daughter in my family. They didn’t want me.”
Two years later, Saikhnaa’s aunt came to the orphanage and adopted her. So Saikhnaa grew up with her cousins and didn’t know she was adopted until she was ten years old. But her second family had its own share of problems and dysfunctions. By the time she was fourteen, Saikhnaa’s adopted father was killed, along with her oldest brother, both in alcohol-related deaths. Shortly after, her adopted mother suffered from a mental breakdown.
“I had to quit school and go to work to support my family,” Saikhnaa continued. “I loved school, but I needed to work.” She was only in grade six.
Her adopted sister was cleaning for a foreign family in the city, so she asked if she knew anyone else who needed house help. Her sister immediately thought about a Canadian family.
That same day, Robert and Marlene Baerg were praying around their breakfast table. They were new long-term workers with MB Mission who had recently arrived in Mongolia from Canada. The lady who was previously helping in their home had just broken her ankle, so they were asking God to send them someone else, not only to employ, but to share their lives with and love into God’s kingdom.
The next day, Saikhnaa knocked on their door.
“When I met Rob, I was scared,” she recalled from their first meeting. “Here was this tall man with a long beard. And Marlene was so friendly. I thought to myself, ‘Who are these people?’”
Saikhnaa lied to the Baergs, telling them she was sixteen instead of fourteen so they would hire her. She worked for them in the mornings, and worked in a bar in the evenings. Most days, she was cleaning at the bar until 2 a.m. and was at the Baergs by 8 a.m.
In the beginning, Saikhnaa did odd jobs like sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, and ironing. She spoke no English and the Baergs spoke very little Mongolian. But they were learning the language, and she helped them with that too.
“The more time I spent at their house, the more I was overwhelmed by their love and kindness.” Saikhnaa had never seen a family interact with each other like that. She was amazed by the love that they shared for one another.
“Then, one day, while I was ironing clothes, they invited me to join them for lunch. It was a huge thing for me. They were having corn chowder – I remember that.” “I felt very honoured and loved by them,” Saikhnaa recalled. “So I went and joined them at their table, and they asked me if they could pray before the meal. I didn’t know about Jesus but, of course, I agreed that they should pray. So we stood, held hands, bowed our heads and they prayed in English. I couldn’t understand, but I was very touched by their genuine faith. When everyone had their eyes closed, I looked around and I said to myself, ‘I want what they have.’”
That was the beginning of Saikhnaa’s journey to faith in Jesus. After that, she was more and more curious about the faith of the Baergs. And she opened up more and more to Marlene about the challenges she faced, and her family background.
“Still, sometimes I was so shocked by their kindness that I couldn’t take it anymore. While I was working in their home, I would often become overwhelmed. I would lock myself in the bathroom and just take a deep breath and tell myself that this was real. It wasn’t a dream. I would ask myself, ‘Why are they so different? Why are they so loving?’”
During that time, Saikhnaa received a random call from her birth sister who had recently become a follower of Jesus. She invited her to a church where they were doing the Alpha course.
“When I heard them talk about God and explain it in Mongolian, I realized that that’s what the Baergs had. At Alpha, I learned about what I had seen lived out in the Baerg’s home. In my own language, I was taught about God’s love, the Holy Spirit and what it meant to follow Jesus.”
Shortly after embracing Jesus herself, the Baergs offered to sponsor Saikhnaa to attend a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in another part of Mongolia. Initially, she turned down their offer, because her family depended on her earnings in order to keep food on the table. But they said they would also keep paying her salary.
At the same time, her adopted mother became more unstable and ended up forcing Saikhnaa out of her home. “So I took my things and went to DTS, and in many ways, that’s where I truly met Jesus. It was an amazing experience.”
The first thing she did when she came back from YWAM was confess to the Baergs that she was actually sixteen and not eighteen. They gladly forgave her and continued to mentor her, and to invite her into their family.
“It was during that time that they really became my parents. Sometimes, they would introduce me as their Mongolian daughter. I started call them, Mom and Dad, and their children became my siblings.”
Eventually, Robert and Marlene gave Saikhnaa an opportunity to go back to school. She was thrilled. They arranged for another job so she could still provide for her adopted family as well as earn money to finish her education. She started at sixth grade and, within a few years, graduated from high school. Saikhnaa went on to study with YWAM in several different locations around the world and finished her Bachelor’s degree in Primary Health Care and Counselling. Afterward, she returned to Mongolia to work alongside the Baergs in their new ministry, Trees of Life Restoration, a community development project in rural Mongolia. In March 2017, Saikhnaa was married to Travis Armstrong, an American who had also served with YWAM and had recently moved to Mongolia to work with Trees of Life. Together, they began to serve alongside Robert and Marlene in their efforts to develop community and share the Gospel with the people of the Selenge Province in northern Mongolia.
Recently, as Marlene was reflecting on their relationship with Saikhnaa and their fifteen-year journey in Mongolia, she said, “It’s a miracle, really, how Saikhnaa became a part of our family, and how much God changed her. And now, through her, he is changing her family and so many others in Mongolia. Even if God brought us all the way to Mongolia to change one life – it was worth it.”