The world is changing and more so with the COVID pandemic. What would missions look like post-COVID? Moving from face to face to virtual interactions was much easier for countries with internet access. Now that the borders are re-opened, what does face to face interaction look like as we venture into the frontiers of closed countries?
Today, there are fewer and fewer countries that will process missionary visas. Hence, we look to creative – access platforms; they are God-given means for providing workers in the field the opportunity and relational basis to effectively carry out the Great Commission.
Far from a “cover” for covert activities, these platforms are a basis for living among, interacting with and communicating the gospel to those around us with a sense of integrity. Paul’s “tentmaking” model has survived throughout the ages of missions. He was a tourist, philosopher, lecturer, fund-raiser, prisoner and tentmaker, and in 1 Cor. 9:22 he said: “[we] become all things to all men so that by all possible means [we] might save some”.
How are we to be God’s ambassadors in the different parts of the world, especially where Christians are persecuted for their faith? How can we continue to do kingdom work in these “creative – access” nations?
Churches need to get out of their “professional missionary” mindset and enter the real world of marketplace witness — the modern-day version of the Apostle Paul’s world. In my recent trip to a creative – access nation, I witness the persistent tension between time spent on “work” versus time spent in “ministry.”
Tentmakers must be convinced that their work in the company is an act of worship to God as well as a witness to the people. While they should strive to do well in their work, they do not forget that their purpose there is ministry in the marketplace. There must be an intentional effort to develop authentic friendships and through their conversations and deeds of kindness, they can point others to Jesus. What tentmakers do in the mission field should not be very different from what we do back home in our own offices.
Some seek out overseas jobs or positions as a strategic means to provide a legitimate reason for living and working among a particular people group. More often than not, this approach is less favourable as the tentmakers may be seen as taking over the rice-bowls of the locals.
The better option would be to enter the country as an “entrepreneurial tentmaker” who through the conduct of business will value add both economically and socially to the local community. Here’s where the missionaries can provide employment to the locals and at the same time serve as a witness for the gospel in the way they manage and lead the company. These strategically viable platforms can lead to life-changing relationships.
While a closed country is not necessarily closed to other interests like tourism or business, official missionary activity is off-limits. For this reason, missionaries will go to these places as tourists, humanitarian workers, business entrepreneurs, but not officially as missionaries. “Closed countries” does not mean they have no place for the advancement of God’s kingdom. God is still very much at work in those countries. We continue to send missionaries in the capacity of tentmakers to closed countries because men, women, and families are still in need of the gospel. Even though the official government says “closed”, by the power of the Spirit, the hearts of the people will remain open to the gospel.
It is estimated that there are at least sixty countries in the category of “Creative – Access Nations”. So when there is an opportunity for missionaries to enter these places, they must be “creative” in using their training and expertise to contribute in the areas of medicine, education, or business.
In addition, God has given many of us opportunities to reach people from traditionally closed countries because they are right in our own backyard due to globalisation and migration. Our world has become more connected and people are more transitory. If we cannot easily go to the nations, then God brings the nations to us.
If you happen to be a business owner, or have a specialised degree or possess a certain type of training, consider serving in a “creative – access nation” where it is difficult for traditional missionaries to do so. Should you be interested, I suggest you contact Ps Edwin or members of the mission committee to find out more about such opportunities.