Few would choose to live at the end of the earth. Leave behind running water, electricity and — heaven forbid — WiFi? No, thank you.
Yet cross-cultural service senior Jaazaniah Cofer’s family chose to leave behind the comforts of home in Ohio when he was four years old and move to one of the most remote locations on Earth: Outer Mongolia. Cofer’s parents had felt the call to bring the love of God to these unreached people since hearing an evangelist challenge the congregation on not moving from their comfort zones to reach remote locations with the Gospel. The family made the move to one of the harshest climates on the planet not long after.
The Cofers lived in the capital Ulaanbaatar for several months before his parents decided to move. “My dad and mom were praying about where they needed to end up as far as in the countryside. They knew they wanted to go to the countryside somewhere,” said Cofer. “As they sought the Lord, the Lord put Hatgal on their heart.”
Hatgal is a village of fewer than 3,000 people bordering Siberian Russia. Like the rest of Mongolia, it was a part of the USSR until its collapse in 1991. Religion was affected as a result. Over half of Mongolians have turned to Buddhism, while greater than a third claim no religion. The remaining few are split between Islam, shamanism (the traditional religion of Mongolia) and Christianity.
“(Dad) was one of the pretty early missionaries,” Cofer said. “My parents were over there in 2003, so 10 years after (the country opened).” They brought with them three young children and a heart to serve the Mongolian people.
A Nontraditional Childhood
Cofer had an unconventional childhood by modern American standards. “For the first year, we lived in a ger. All six of us were in a Mongolian ger,” he said. A ger, also called a yurt, is a tent used by the traditionally nomadic Mongolian people. Cofer’s family eventually moved into a cabin, but they still own the ger and sometimes pull it out for visitors.
“My jobs growing up were cutting wood and carrying wood and starting fires,” he said. “It would take my brothers probably two minutes to cut what for me took an hour because I was five with this huge ax trying to cut wood.” He would also break through the ice on the lake for water. “I remember we had a satellite phone that we could call once a month to our grandma in the States. So there really wasn’t any outside contact,” he said.
Meeting His Complement
After attending Grace International School in Thailand for his junior and senior years of high school — playing basketball against other schools in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Malaysia — Cofer moved back to the U.S. He took a gap year to work as a part-time basketball coach and to participate in a discipleship training course before applying to BJU in May 2018.
It was in fall 2019 when he met Kaitlin DalPorto, a 2018 international studies graduate.
“(The Wilds of New England was) recruiting college students for camps, and so she was one of the recruiters,” Cofer said. Though both families knew each other because Kaitlin’s family works at The Wilds in North Carolina and Cofer’s dad grew up in Rosman, North Carolina, next door to the camp, neither Cofer nor Kaitlin had met until he visited The Wilds of New England’s booth.
Like Cofer, Kaitlin also desired to serve in missions. As a BJU student, she traveled on the Southeast Asia mission team in 2017. She also lived with the Wagner family in Myanmar for nine months after graduation, homeschooling their children and ministering with the family.
“I had thought about (going into missions) a lot during college, but after being able to go on that short-term mission trip, it was something that I really wanted to be open to,” she said. “It might be what the Lord had, especially business missions or something more creative access.”
Cofer and Kaitlin were married in May 2021.
An Internship with Purpose
The newlyweds left at the end of September for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where Cofer will be doing his missions internship under Campus Crusade for Christ director Uuganaa. Though the internship is only required to be eight weeks long, the couple plans to minister with Uuganaa for three months.
Each day will be spent under Uuganaa’s mentorship. “It’s about learning the language, learning the culture,” said Cofer. “So I’m trying to come under him and learn all that I can. Soak all of it in.
“One nice thing is that I speak the language … but I also have to grow in a lot of ways as well. And so part of the training is that everything that we’re doing is in Mongolian. I’m completely immersed, and I’m trying to learn how to really have gospel-centered conversations in the Mongolian language to grow my speaking ability.”
Cofer will be helping with sports camps and working with college students and youth. “Pretty much anything he wants me to do, I’m going to do,” he said.
Typically, the missions internship is completed between students’ junior and senior years. Cofer, however, waited to do his internship until he was married. “A huge reason I wanted to do it while being married is because obviously Kaitlin now has got the biggest part of my ministry,” he said.
Cofer said he wanted to dedicate the first year of their marriage to serving together as they grow closer. “I wanted her to get her feet wet, as well, and get adjusted to the culture and the language and the people, and this three-month internship — actually, for us, we wanted to turn it into a year because we wanted it to be a long-term survey trip in some ways.”
Three Months and Beyond
Once the Cofers complete the three months in Ulaanbaatar, they plan to head to Hatgal and spend time with Cofer’s parents.
“The reason I chose Mongolia (for my internship) is because I felt like, if I’m coming here full time, I might as well try to build relationships now early on, and build connections, build relationships and continue to learn the Mongolian language,” Cofer said.
Cofer looks forward to returning to his parents’ ministry. His family not only ministers the Gospel publicly and privately, but they also print translations of the Bible and discipleship material in addition to serving the community practically.
“They’re starting a school — (that’s) the plan; hopefully launching it this next year — of just training Mongolian pastors and missionaries to reach their own country and hopefully go into the different -stan countries and Russia and China,” Cofer said.
Though the internship in Ulaanbaatar is set for three months, the total time the Cofers plan to spend in Mongolia, though tentatively set for a year, is indefinite. Said Cofer: “We only got a one-way ticket.”