Many Christians have lived and worked overseas for years, but have never experienced the joy of helping a national come to an understanding of the Christian gospel. Perhaps they have had good intentions but just didn’t know how to begin. What kind of prior preparation might have helped them initiate discussion about spiritual things leading to a witness to the gospel? A would-be tentmaking must gain experience in this matter before attempting dialogue and witness with colleagues and contacts in an entirely different setting.
To be clear, a tentmaker is a person who accepts employment abroad for both income and for intentional Christian witness to fellow workers and acquaintances. An effective tentmaker has learned that Christian witness draws upon a range of abilities such as discovering another person’s thoughts on spiritual issues, spotting openings in ordinary conversation to insert a thought from Scripture, or being able to propose and guide a group or an individual into Bible study. Just the ability to raise timely thought-provoking but non-threatening questions can be a means of uncovering personal beliefs. All in all, this is a matter of knowing how to turn daily conversations and situations into occasions of Christian witness and testimony.
A tentmaker needs some extended association and interaction with peers in his or her own culture to be ready to do the same in a completely different cultural setting.
How can a person develop these basic skills for personal ministry? Books and seminars may be of some help, but there is no substitute for extended experience living among people with purely secular or non-Christian outlooks. Some gain this through several years of residence on the campus of a state university. Military service away from home offers the same, or, for American citizens, a two-year term with the Peace Corps program can give helpful experience. Certainly a few years of campus ministry under the auspices of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade), Navigators, or InterVarsity offers ample opportunity to develop many ministry skills. Undoubtedly, secular work experience in one’s own field of expertise in a secular setting of one’s own home culture prepares a person for Christian witness abroad as a tentmaker.
While a short-term mission trip experience abroad is valuable for opening a Christian’s eyes to the material and spiritual needs of the world, it is highly unlikely that a two-week trip to help refugees in Greece or to lay bricks for a school dormitory in Haiti will develop these particular skills. Rather, a tentmaker needs some extended association and interaction with peers in his or her own culture to be ready to do the same in a completely different cultural setting.