The apostle Paul carried on his trade as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3) on some of his missionary journeys, and many people since have followed this example, taking their businesses and professions to other cultures and countries.
"Tentmakers are men and women of integrity, employed in real jobs, who share their faith by living out the good news of Jesus in a foreign culture"
Paul provides a good model. His primary motive was to preach the Gospel, whether in lecture hall, matted living room or smelly backstreet. But his workbench was also his 'platform' and he was able to demonstrate his faith through hard work, integrity and business ethics.
My first contact with a tentmaker was as a junior administrator in Afghanistan in 1972. I met Dr Christy Wilson, who went there as a teacher, and is sometimes called the father of modern tentmaking in that he later articulated in his books the concept and challenge for today. He encouraged me to live for Christ a life of integrity and quality service. In some countries this has to speak louder than our words.
Later in my career I placed agriculturalists, road builders, lecturers, engineers and others in British aid projects and well understood the difficulties and challenges of their assignments. Little did I realise then that on early retirement I would find myself running TASK, which seeks to give advice on placement, preparation and training for Christian professionals going to these kinds of positions. Since we started in 1994, a new trend has been the many opportunities for those called to set up and run Kingdom businesses - sometimes in amazing places.
Since TASK began it has helped about 350 people to such service, or at least pointed them in the right direction. Some of these have been young people, some families, but increasingly people retired or made redundant. In some places eg China, the older generations are particularly valued for their experience. At exhibitions and other places I have often presented the challenge and encouraged people to think through the possibility of God leading in this way. Sometimes TASK 'chivvies' to remind of previous conversations! Thoughts of overseas service sometimes take time to mature. But our aim is essentially to link with those that God is calling, to give advice and counsel, to warn where necessary, and just to be available.
TASK seeks to work in partnership with local and international churches. It keeps contact with UK agencies, and as the UK affiliate of Tentmakers International works with others to establish work in other countries (there are about 50 contact points so far). Much to TIE's work is in West Africa at present, where there is a new wave of enthusiasm. The Far East provides many of the world's tentmakers, particularly India, Philippines, Singapore and Korea.
A major effort is being made at present to raise the profile both of tentmaking and TASK. We have appointed eight mentors in different parts of the UK to meet up with TASK enquirers and take forward their preparation and training. Christian Vocations have adapted their website to channel guidance to those who seek this. Of key importance is the 'Consultation on Business and Professionals in Mission' that will be held on Wednesday 28th June at Global Connections, Whitefield House in London. There have been huge changes in our world in the past 15 years that impact on overseas mission and we hope that this meeting will enable us to chart a way forward.
Roger Wells is Director of TASK, and also Chair of the Business and Professionals Forum in Global Connections.