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Due to recent changes in Mongolia's visa laws, some Mormon missionaries from the United States who were called to that Asian country and 10 others already serving there have been reassigned, at least temporarily.

Effective next week, the LDS Church still will have 26 full-time foreign missionaries serving in Mongolia, LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Wednesday. "No new foreign missionaries have entered Mongolia since the new laws took effect about eight months ago."

Mongolian visas now are governed by a quota system based on the type of organization and the number of its local employees. The LDS Church is limited by the fact that it has no paid clergy and few employees in the country.

Still, the mission remains well staffed, Trotter said, by at least 110 missionaries who are Mongolian nationals and can freely proselytize without visas. There also are Mongolian members serving full-time missions in the United States, Australia, Japan, Korea, the Czech Republic and New Zealand.

This latest development is nothing to worry about, said Malin Jackson, Mongolia's honorary consul for Utah who was instrumental in setting up an exchange program between Utah Valley University and Mongolian students in the early 1990s.

"The government has decided they want to be more cautious in the number of foreigners they allow into the country," said Jackson, retired director of UVU's Center for International Studies who lives in Springville. "It's not just aimed at Mormons, but all kinds of businessmen, teachers, attorneys, etc."

Since the fall of Mongolia's Communist-led government in the 1990s, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found some success finding converts. The country got its first LDS stake last June, with a country-wide membership of nearly 9,000.

"All of the stake leaders are Mongolian," Jackson said. "When I was there, we baptized an average of 25 people a week. I assume that is continuing. It's one of the most fantastic places I've ever lived. The people are wonderful."

Mongolian nationals returning from two-year LDS missions have been the linchpin of the LDS Church's development there, according to a forthcoming international Mormon almanac compiled by Las Vegas physician David Stewart.

As of the summer of 2009, there were a total of 660 known returned Mongolian missionaries, 402 of whom were living in the Asian nation, the almanac reports. But only 59 percent of them remained active in the church, an improvement from before senior missionaries were tasked with keeping them involved in the faith.

"This still is an incredible feat," Stewart writes. "There is likely no other nation that has as high of a number of returned missionaries as Mongolia, with around 5 percent of the membership of the church having served a mission."

In addition, the church has ongoing humanitarian efforts in the Asian country, managed by senior couples associated with Deseret International Charities, the faith's service arm for such endeavors.

"We worked with government and non-government organizations to offer projects that fit within our guidelines," said Taylorsville resident Ralph Boren, a retired University of Utah registrar who served an LDS mission there with his wife from September 2006 to March 2008. "We built water wells, distributed wheelchairs and worked with vision clinics."

Jackson's wife, Linda, set up a Family History Clinic in Ulaanbaatar, the capital, working with scholars at the National Archives to help people trace their genealogy to the various tribes that existed before the Russians took over and changed people's names.

LDS officials in Mongolia are confident that the current visa problem soon will be solved.

"Our discussions with the immigration department have been cordial and open," Trotter said. "We have not sensed any animosity towards the church or foreigners and are hopeful these discussions will make it possible for our missionaries to receive visas and residential permits in the future."

LDS Church in Mongolia

» 8,900 members

» 1 mission

» 1 stake

» 2 districts

» 21 branches

» First Mormon couple arrived in 1992

» First young missionaries arrived in August 1993

» Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission established July 1, 1995

Source: 2010 LDS Church Almanac