Rectifying the ‘Greatest Missed Opportunity in Christian History’

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra | August 7, 2017


“Send me 100 men skilled in your religion,” Kublai Khan wrote to the pope about 700 years ago. If they were convincing, he said, “I shall be baptized, and then all my barons and great men, and then their subjects. And so there will be more Christians here than there are in your parts.”

But Pope Gregory X, unable to see the future, only sent two. Neither made it Khan, whose territory at that point stretched over one-fifth of the globe’s inhabited land.

That was the “greatest missed opportunity in Christian history,” David Barrett and Todd Johnson wrote in World Christian Trends.

Khan was also interested in Buddhism, and Tibet was a lot closer than Rome. By the end of the 13th century, Khan had translated Buddhist teachings into Mongolian, restored and built Buddhist monasteries, and appointed a Buddhist to the new position of “state preacher.”

Today, Buddhism is Mongolia’s most-practiced religion (55 percent, according to Pew Research Center), followed by the unaffiliated (36 percent) and a smattering of Muslims and folk religions.

About 2 percent of the country’s nearly 3 million people are Christian, which seems small until you consider that when Mongolia opened up after…


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