Why Not Tent-Making?

I think sometimes in our self-sufficient, independent culture we really struggle with the idea of missionaries raising support. 

“Why can’t they work?” we ask. 

“I work. Why should I give my hard-earned money so they don’t have to work?”

I’ve had those exact same thoughts. I’ve struggled with those exact same feelings. But as I’ve actually asked God what He thinks and what His will is, I’ve come to realize a few things.

First, missionaries ARE working. I truly believe that. But you may not, so hear me out here. Missionaries do many of the same tasks that pastors and staff of local churches do. In fact, they often wear many hats and play the role of pastor, administrator, evangelist, teacher, etc. Do we believe they are “working”? If we tithe our money to a local church, we must believe in what the pastors and staff are doing; we must believe their work is worthy of a wage if it’s worthy of our investment. 

Second, many missionaries can’t work for a wage in the country they’re serving in. Often, missionaries are allowed to be in the country they’re serving in on a missionary/church/volunteer visa, which prohibits them from actually earning any sort of wage (this is the case for us in Kenya). The reason for this is also so we’re not taking viable jobs away from natives. Just because we’re educated in the West and capable of earning a wage in Kenya doesn’t mean we should. Think about feelings that sometimes arise when jobs in your passport country go to foreigners instead of locals…Our aim is to share the gospel, make disciples, and make much of Jesus, and we must throw off anything that would hinder that.

That leads me to my third point. What about missionaries who are using the “Business as Mission” model? If you aren’t aware, there are missionaries out there who are earning a wage in the country they’re in. Most often, that’s because the countries they’re in don’t actually allow missionaries to move in and share the gospel. You literally cannot get a visa if you are a believer, even to come in as a volunteer. So, in order to share the gospel in these places, missionaries have to run their own business or work as doctors, teachers, etc. We think Business as Mission is an incredible model. Truly we do. Someday, we may be called to a closed country. Someday Kenya may become closed. So when there is no other option, we think this is an amazing way to share the gospel. But think about this - the Business as Mission model is essentially the same as asking the pastors and staff of our local churches to also run their own business, or work as doctors, teachers, etc - the focus now has to be split. There’s a business to run and a wage to be earned, which leaves less time for sharing the gospel and making disciples. 

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If you’ve read the new testament, then you probably know Paul as a tent-maker. That means he worked a job to support himself while he ministered in a few different places. He literally made tents. That was his job. But he didn’t do it all the time. He did it on three occasions in his thirty-plus years of ministry. The total time spent making tents was maybe one sixth of ministry career. Much more often, he didn’t make tents. He told people about Jesus. He planted churches and shared the gospel with countless individuals who he came into contact with. He made disciples. He was a pastor, shepherd, evangelist, and teacher. And many, many people supported his “work” along the way. 

We feel so incredibly blessed to walk in Paul’s footsteps as missionaries. And although at this point, we will not be tent-makers, we will no doubt be working constantly. Jordan will be using his gift of photography in a very tangible way everyday. Much of his work will be used to spur on African believers to be missionaries to their own people - just like we use media to spur one another on here. And I haven’t shared much about this yet, but I am actively seeking out opportunities to get involved with family-based orphan care in Nairobi. God’s word clearly calls us as believers to take care of the least of these, which most notably includes orphans and widows, and my heart is to see orphans grow up in nurturing, permanent families where they have the opportunity to know the love of our Heavenly Father. I do feel I’ve been given the gifts of administration and organization and it would be an absolute joy to me to do that kind of “work”!

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Who knows exactly what’s in store for us with all of this? Where do our kids fit in? What does our neighborhood look like? How will we spend our free time? There are literally SO MANY unknowns in this move. What we do know is that our Heavenly Father has called us to lay down our pride and ask others to join with us in this journey of following Him wherever He leads. Would we rather make tents? Honestly, yeah. But for us, at this point in the journey, we are certain He’s called us to partner with believers here to share the gospel and make disciples in Africa. If we did this on our own (as we did back in 2010) it would be a heck of a lot easier as independent, prideful Americans, but it would also be a heck of a lot lonelier. So, we’re holding on to the truth that He has called us to this, and we’re trusting that He will provide the partners we need to make this massive move. Partners who may not always agree or understand, but who still stand with us as co-laborers for Christ in our call to make disciples of all nations.