Despite suffering and chaos, spiritual revival spread among young people across China during WWII and the Civil War that followed. Brave bands of evangelists felt called to reach the poverty-stricken Northwest. Without knowledge of each other, they went out from Shanghai, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong and Shaanxi.
China’s Back To Jerusalem (BTJ) missionaries in the 1940s were tentmakers by necessity, unaware perhaps of the legacy of tentmakers before them.
“You go to church because the foreigners pay you!”
“You’re a pastor because you receive money from America!”
These are common accusations from Muslims against Christian converts and pastors in Central Asia.
Every day we read disturbing headlines from around the world: radical factions escalating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from both sides; IS jihadists massacring Christians in Iraq; Islamic terrorists kidnapping school girls in Nigeria; militant Buddhists persecuting Muslims in Myanmar; the government taking down crosses from church buildings in China … and the list goes on.
Is tentmaking missions just about being a self-supporting missionary like Paul, who financed his pioneering work at Corinth through his trade? Is it just about having a work visa so you can stay and serve in a certain country?
Even though traditional missionaries cannot go into most of the 10/40 Window countries where the gospel is most needed today, tentmakers can.
At the 2010 Lausanne III, Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church made a case that if Christians want to reach the world, they must reach the cities. Christianity won the 1st century Greco-Roman world because it won the cities. Today, half the world’s population is urban.
In the old days, “going overseas to save the lost” might simply mean putting our careers “on the altar” and going to seminary to study the Bible so we could preach to the heathens.
If career is an integral part of a tentmaker’s life and witness, and not just a “passport” to get to the field or a “platform” for ministry, then getting the right job is important. But what constitutes the right job? How do you find that job overseas?
The current global economic malaise has made it more challenging for donor-dependent missionaries and job-dependent tentmakers to stay on the field. While there is a place for short-termers, the work of missions to impact lives and transform culture requires long-term investment. There is no short cut to building relationships and gaining influence. So it is important to consider what it would take for workers to serve on the field beyond a few short years.