Some years ago an Adventist couple in Atlanta, Georgia, felt a growing burden to work for the thousands of people who lived in a low-income housing project. The conviction that they had to move there with their children became stronger and stronger.

But as they planned their move, the couple discovered that they earned too much money to live in the project’s government-subsidized housing. In a simple yet transparent way, that family’s answer to God’s call was a replication of the eternal mystery of Jesus’ own incarnation: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [literally, “tented” or “tabernacled”] among us” (John 1:14).

The family quit their well-paying jobs, took lower-paying positions, sold their middle-class house, and moved into the projects. They began visiting their neighbors, organizing community cookouts, arranging games and activities for neighborhood kids. They were tentmakers.

Definitions

Tentmaking is a ministry that may be understood both in practical human terms and in the most profoundly spiritual sense.

Tentmakers are those who commit to making a difference for Jesus, but aren't employed by the church. They typically move into areas where it is extremely difficult to plant the gospel and work for some company or business that not only provides for their living needs but also gives them access to people they would otherwise not be able to reach.

This young man accepted the new truths he was learning and was finally baptized. Today he is a pastor.

The life of Paul defines, and is our prime example of what it means to be a tentmaker: preacher Paul lived by literally making tents (Acts 18:3). Highly confident in both his evangelistic success and his tentmaker status, Paul gave up his right to be paid, and preached free of charge so that no one could say he did it for money.

Tentmakers cannot be accused of doing what the church tells them just so they can keep their job. In fact, in some parts of the world, what they are doing could jeopardize their jobs, even their lives. They aren’t witnessing from selfish motives of increasing their income.

I’m not a tentmaker. I work for the church. When I lived in Lebanon, my residency permit said “missionary” on it. If I applied for a visa to visit Algeria, its embassy in Lebanon would look at my residency permit and say, “Missionary? We don’t want you in Algeria!”

But a tentmaker doesn’t have that stamp in their passport. It may say “plumber,” “computer programmer,” “nurse,” “cell phone tower engineer,” “professor,” or “geologist.” And that would be true. Those individuals can go where I may not be allowed.

Tentmakers don’t cost the church anything. Someone else arranges their visas, ships their belongings, and pays their salaries. The church supports them socially and emotionally, but it doesn’t have to help financially, because they earn their own living.

The church back home can pray for them. The church where they live can pray with them (if there is a church in the new place). But the church’s resources are not required to support their ongoing physical needs.

Paying for the Privilege

Roger* lives in a country in which it is difficult to spread the gospel. A few years ago he traveled back to his country carrying a number of books we had given him. He had done this many times before. Each time he had witnessed small miracles as God helped the customs agents skip right over him, or even search his bags and not see the books.

But this time the customs agents saw the books. Their eyes narrowed. Their lips grew hard. Angrily they ordered him out of line and took him from one office to another, where he was roughly interrogated most of the night.

Finally, he was fined $800, which he had to pay on the spot. Then they released him saying they would be reading these books and get back to him.

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Roger left tired, frightened, and overwhelmed. Why had God let him down? These were God’s books. Why did God waste all this money and time?

Then a thought popped into his mind, almost as if God said to him, Roger, you’re right; these are My books. And the money is Mine. And you are Mine. And so are those customs officers.”

Roger told me about it later. “Think of it, Pastor,” he said. “For years I would have gladly paid $800 for the chance to give books like that to government officials, without knowing whether they would read them or just throw them into the trash. Now several of them have been assigned to read our books, and it only cost me $800.”

Roger was, and still is, a tentmaker. The church doesn’t pay him, but his witness is powerful.

Co-Ministry

“Pastor,” Janet said, “I’m a failure! For 17 years I have been working in this Middle Eastern country, and no one has been baptized, no one has come to church, no one is even taking Bible studies. Sometimes I think I’ve been wasting my time.”

A few days later Janet invited my wife and me to visit a friend with her. As we drove through town, I realized we were driving into more expensive areas. Finally, we turned a corner and pulled up to a massive mansion.

I knew that just inside the door would be an ornate visiting room. Men are not allowed into a house unless they are part of the family, so we would be taken there and would visit with the men of the family. Women would slip in only occasionally (veiled, of course) to serve us.

But when the door opened and the people saw Janet, the family welcomed us all in and took us right upstairs to the living room. Obviously, this family felt really close to Janet; and because we were with her, we were also treated as family.

We sat in the family room and talked—with the whole family. The women and girls didn’t slip in and out; they weren’t even wearing veils. They were in jeans and T-shirts and sat and visited with us as though we were extended family.

Soon the men excused themselves to go to the mosque. After a few minutes the women went to the other room to pray. This was a devout Middle Eastern family.

As they left the room, Janet stood up and whispered, “Look, Pastor.”

She walked to the massive entertainment system on the wall with the big-screen TV and pushed the start button on the remote. Instantly up popped the last thing they had been watching: an Adventist TV program. I gasped and whispered, “Janet, is this family watching Adventist TV?”

“Yes,” she said, “they watch it a lot.”

“How did that happen,” I asked?

Janet laughed, “I tried to get them to watch one of our Adventist cooking schools, but they just never got around to it. So one day I asked if I could program it into their favorites. They let me, and I put it right on top. They started watching a little of it—just to humor me, I think. But they liked it and watched more and more. Soon they started watching a little of what came before and after. Now they watch all our Adventist programs. They know Mark Finley, Doug Batchelor, Dwight Nelson, and all the others.”

“Janet,” I asked, feeling sure I already knew the answer, “have you done this with anyone else?”

“Yes,” she replied thoughtfully. “I guess I’ve done it with most of my friends and coworkers.”

As we left that home I said, “Janet, don’t tell me you’ve been wasting your time here. These people may not be taking Bible studies from you or sitting in church with you, but all across this city are people who are watching Adventist TV. Some of them will be on streets of gold in heaven as a result of your time being here with them.”

Janet was a tentmaker. She worked as a nurse and was paid by a local hospital.
But she worked closely with the organized church. Her work was effective because there were also employees working for the church producing TV programs. And their work was effective because she was there on the ground making friends.

One Size Does Not Fit All

An Adventist from Africa was working in a bank in one of the countries of the Middle East/North Africa region. One day she stopped by a shop and began visiting with the young cashier. During the conversation a topic came up, and she said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

She smiled and left, but the young clerk couldn’t get that comment out of his mind. God answered the prayer. So when she came back a few days later, he excitedly told her about it and asked if she was a Christian.

Our Adventist tentmaker wasn’t sure how to answer this young man. He saw her hesitation and whispered, “I’m a believer, too.”

A friendship began to develop. One day this Adventist bank employee invited the young man to church. Little by little this young man accepted the new truths he was learning, quit smoking, and was finally baptized. Today he is a pastor in that region.

But it would never have happened if an Adventist woman hadn’t gone there to work, live, and love the people. It would never have happened if a pastor (a paid employee) hadn’t been sent to that country to work. It is because a tentmaker and a pastor worked together that that young man is an Adventist pastor today.

Think of the Future

Being a tentmaker isn’t always safe and easy work. People won’t always notice what’s being accomplished. But in heaven the results will be clearly seen. I’m praying that God will lay a burden on the hearts of many dedicated Seventh-day Adventists to become tentmakers.

For more information about being a tentmaker, visit te.adventistmission.org.


* Names used in this story are pseudonyms.


Homer Trecartin directs Global Mission Centers and Tentmakers programs at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

I was probably 7 or 8 years old the night Dad called home from a meeting and said he didn’t think he would make it in time to milk Elma, our cow. It turned out to be a life-defining night for the rest of my childhood and youth.

Milking Cows

My brother and I had helped Dad for a year or two with the milking, but it was never for long. We would milk a few squirts, then go play in the hay or chase the cats or stick our hands way down deep in the grain bin and inhale the wonderful smell of grain. But this night Mom took my brother and me out to the barn, and we sat down and started: squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.

For a few minutes things went fine, and we felt pretty good. Mom had tried first and failed. We were doing something Mommy couldn’t. But then our hands started to hurt, and we wanted to quit: just try making a fist and opening your hand; then repeat the action, maybe 500 times, and you will know how we felt.

I can still remember that long evening: taking turns milking, then sitting in the door of the barn crying and holding our aching hands. Dad came in after we were through and said he was proud of us. So proud that from then on, milking, morning and night, was part of our daily chores till we moved from that farm.

Milking College Cows

Going off to college ensured I’d never be milking again. Or so I thought, until the business manager called me into his office to give me my work assignment: “Homer, I am going to send you to the farm to be one of the morning milkers.”

Every morning I was up at 3:30, over to the barn at 4:00, begrudging the hard, dirty, dairy work, milking the 50 to 100 cows that we milked each day. Sure, there were milking machines; but it was still a lot of smelly work with ungrateful cows. Sometimes one of them would slap my face with her wet, soggy tail or kick me into the gutter. By graduation I was [something of] a cow authority.

Catching Fish

I knew about milking cows, and Peter knew about catching fish. Which is why it must have been awkward for him that morning by Lake Gennesaret, when Jesus instructed him, and whoever else was involved, to “put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

Peter and his colleagues were already exhausted. They had fished all night and caught nothing; they had pulled their nets out onto the shore and were cleaning them; the long night of work had them feeling down that morning.

Besides, Jesus’ recent behavior had puzzled, perplexed, and maybe even frustrated them. Luke 4:38-44 shows that the work was just getting started in Capernaum: lots of new interests; many people right there to work with. Why would Jesus leave now? It didn’t make sense.

Sometimes launching out can look quite pointless, certainly very unpromising. In the Middle East, Adventist members are located mostly in a few communities—one little strip of Cairo; two or three little groups in Istanbul; Sabtieh in Lebanon; a few groups in the Gulf countries, etc. And even in those localities Adventism is such a tiny minority with so much work to do that we struggle at the thought of branching out into new areas.

I knew about milking cows, and Peter knew about catching fish.

In Jamaica, where there is one Adventist for every nine people, 89 percent of the people have still not accepted God’s final message. There is so much to do right where we live. Why leave and go to some place new?

Jesus, and later Paul, focused much attention on unentered areas and people groups. I certainly am not saying to ignore where we are already working, or to start something, drop it, and move on to something else. That kind of work can do its own share of harm.

But it does help to remember that while we keep going with what has already been started, we must keep looking for places and ways to launch out again. Current success or previous failure need not be proof against branching out into new areas.

Leaving Capernaum

Grudgingly, perhaps, the disciples have followed Jesus out of Capernaum. Still having their boats allows that they may have sailed to their new location. Jesus, in character, probably spent the night praying. The disciples, in keeping with their trade, spent their night fishing.

The next morning people started to gather, and Jesus began to preach while the disciples sat nearby working on their nets. Disgruntlement notwithstanding, their hearts still burned within them as they heard Jesus’ words. More and more people kept arriving, until it became almost impossible for Jesus to be seen or heard by all. So He stepped into Peter’s boat and asked him to push out from shore a little bit. From that pulpit He preached the rest of His sermon.

Whatever He said was powerful. Peter may have absorbed it all while standing in the water holding the boat so it wouldn’t drift away; or while sitting in the boat holding a pole wedged between some rocks on the shallow bottom. Whatever he was doing, his mind was on Jesus and His powerful words.

Then he realized that Jesus was done preaching and was talking to him. “Peter,” the Master said softly, “let’s push out to where it is deep and do some fishing.”

It was the kind of remark that unknowing farmers or shopkeepers could make—tourists down by the seaside for a holiday; intrigued by Peter and his companions, so quaint out in their little boats; capturing all the memories in their cameras, and wanting to feel the nets and see the fish; even wanting a ride and asking Peter to “just push out a little ways and show our boys how you fish.”

Ignorant tourists. It was like trying to tell me how to milk cows. If you wanted to catch fish on Galilee, you didn’t sleep in, then saunter down to your boat after a late and leisurely breakfast. You had to be there at evening; you’d fish through the night. Then you could sleep a little during the day.

But then, what do tourists know about fishing? Even carpenter tourists who were good at preaching?

Living a Miracle

Now the tourists who heard the preacher’s words want to see what Peter does next. And Peter himself doesn’t know. Does he embarrass this wonderful Leader with an informed explanation? The nontourists knew people don’t fish during the day. If Peter does push out, he could become the laughingstock of the whole local community.

Peter tries hard to be tactful, very un-Peter. He doesn’t tell Jesus He is ignorant. He just says that he and his friends have already tried all night; they’re tired now; it’s time to quit and . . . . The look in Jesus’ eyes stops him.

“OK, Lord. Because You have asked me to, I will do it.”

The miracle most celebrated in this story is the netful of fish. But there is another: the one that took place just before Peter obediently pushed out his boat; the miracle that made Peter say, in effect, “Lord, what You suggest makes no sense at all to me. You are a carpenter-preacher from Nazareth. I am the Galilean fisherman. But because You say to, I will launch out into the deep.”

This was the miracle of a heart so affected by Jesus that Peter was willing to let go of everything that made sense to him—all the built-up traditions of ancestors, all the established practices of his own ample experience—and do what might make him the laughingstock of his Galilean world.

Letting Down the Net

Peter’s “deep” will not be everyone’s deep. But his miracle is replicated a thousand times as men and women agree to serve because they choose to follow God’s voice (see Rom. 8:14): maybe in an overseas assignment; or perhaps, in apartments downtown. Or else, making a financial sacrifice as you have done before; or attempting a share-your-faith venture yet again where you feel you have failed before.

Letting down your net may mean investing your next six years in a needy community, taking years to get to know its people so you might find appropriate ways to reach their hearts. Launching out may get you lockups, stonings, cat-o’-nine-tails, shipwrecks, and journeys in a basket flung over a wall (2 Cor. 11:23-33). For Waldensian youth, launching out meant infiltrating the heart of the enemy’s territory with the Word of God, knowing full well that many of them would never return home.

Early Adventist missionaries traveled by donkey cart for months into areas where there was no possibility of medical care. They were pushing out into the deep, whether the deep of the South American jungle or the perilous shallows and rapids of the Amazon. And many of those who launched out at God’s command have fallen and been buried in the lands of their sacrifice.

In the 1800s Lilias Trotter, a wealthy young woman and gifted artist, fell in love with Jesus, dedicated her life to Him, and launched out into the deep. Leading art critics were hailing her as probably destined to become the best British artist of the nineteenth century. But leaving wealth, power, and prestige behind, Trotter moved to North Africa to spend the next 40 years sharing the gospel with the people of Algeria. She learned Arabic, started schools, wrote books and tracts, helped with Bible translation, and took long journeys into the desert by camel train to visit scattered communities. She served until her death, and they buried her in Algiers.

On the shores of Galilee, Peter surrendered his expertise and launched out into the deep because Jesus said so. In England, Trotter set aside a brilliant-looking future and went to North Africa because Jesus said, “Go.”

The miracle God means to do in and through us needs neither our judgment nor our competence. It just needs the prior miracle of obedient conformity to Him that mirrors Peter saying, “Lord, I’ll go because You say so.”


Homer Trecartin is director of Global Mission Centers and Total Employment at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

I have not been able to confirm whether this narrative reports an actual event or not. I do know that when I heard it recounted by a mission president to a group of newly baptized members high in the mountains of Lesotho, they identified well with the story.

New Convert

Once upon a time a new Christian was just about to be baptized. He had given his heart to Jesus, his life had changed, and his former friends were furious. One of them determined to do anything he could to get him somehow to come back to his old ways.

The friend knew that the new member’s favorite food used to be crow. He liked it boiled, baked, fried; he just loved crow. But now he didn’t eat it anymore. He didn’t hunt crows. And he didn’t go to the bar with the guys after a good day’s hunt. So the friend came up with a plan, one he was certain would work.

It was baptism day, and the new convert was on his way to the baptism joyfully humming various hymns to himself as he walked along. His friend gleefully sneaked along in the bushes not far away until he quietly slipped ahead and around a corner where the candidate had to pass. He pulled a fat, beautiful crow out of his coat and dropped it by the edge of the road. Then he slipped back into the bushes to hide.

The new member came humming and singing along the road. He rounded the corner, saw the crow, and kept on going without even a backward glance or a pause in his singing. But in his mind he thought, Look how God has changed me. I used to like those things.

Determined Friendship

The friend was disappointed but not discouraged. He followed along in the bushes, watched the baptism from the bushes, and decided he would try again on the way home.

After the baptism, the new member was happily walking along with his new church family. They were all talking, singing, and praising God.

All is ours because He knows that we need help.

The friend had to be really careful this time. But he rushed on ahead in the bushes and bravely dropped the crow again. This time the new member glanced twice at it and kept going. In his mind he thought, This is strange. I never could get those things before, and now that I don’t eat them I have seen two real beauties.

The friend in the bushes noticed the second glance and quietly slapped his knee. “I will do it again. I’m going to get him yet.”

Sure enough, as he rounded the next corner, there was another fat crow. This time the new convert poked at it with his foot. His salivary glands were working now. He thought, Crow sure did taste good. I wonder why God says they are unclean, anyway?

He started to lag behind the group. The next time he saw a fat crow by the road, he stopped, looked both ways, and quickly picked it up and put it under his coat. His face flushed, he was nervous. Suddenly his friend came out of the woods grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe Not a Crow

My crow story may disgust you much more than it amuses you, since you have never thought of eating fat crows as either a privilege or even a necessity. Nevertheless, some other bird, a prettier one for sure, may sing your song. I know, too, that even more faithfully than that friend sneaking in the bushes, Satan is doing everything he can to get you to fall since your baptism. Peter calls him a roaring lion going around looking for whomever he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could guarantee that suddenly everything will be easy for us until Jesus comes? I wouldn’t mind such a guarantee myself. But you and I both know that it will not be. Commenting on earth’s most exciting day for Christianity since Jesus ascended to heaven, Ellen White wrote: “Those who at Pentecost were endued with power from on high were not thereby freed from further temptation and trial. As they witnessed for truth and righteousness they were repeatedly assailed by the enemy of all truth, who sought to rob them of their Christian experience.”* And it’s no different for us. I’m no prophet. But humanity’s sad experience is that humans fail. That means us. Falling is now ordinary for humans. Mistakes will be made. We will sin. Then what?

When a toddler falls, do you turn away and yell, “Don’t you ever do that again. Why, I’m so embarrassed. I won’t have a child who can’t stand up and walk properly. If you can’t walk, then don’t bother trying anymore!”

Is that how it is with you? I sincerely doubt it. And that isn’t the way it is with God, either. Besides His assurance that He will never leave us alone to the end of everything (Matt. 28:20) is His wonderfully thoughtful promise just for us when we fail: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

Whatever else we may know about Him, remember that our God is our help (Ps. 46:1). The insults and agonies of Christ’s incarnation and passion, His ongoing intercession, the unwavering company of the Spirit our Comforter, the might and glory of angels that excel in strength, and the testimony of His Word—all of these are ours because He knows that we need help. The splendors and glories of the place Jesus has gone to prepare for us are their own proof that He means to see us through and take us there.

Hear Him speaking: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). What a question! What an assurance! What a Father! What a God! Our God is our help.

Focus on Jesus

And what of us, privileged as we are? Shouldn’t we do just as much as we can to help each other? That sneaking enemy called friend is dropping all the fat crows he can on our road, and on our friend’s road too. So the next time you see one of your sisters or brothers, new or old, eyeing a fat crow, try distracting them from crows by attracting their eyes back to Jesus.

Better still: try keeping them on pace so that they don’t fall behind and fall out. It’s so much better than running around telling everyone what you saw. God is our help. We know the answer to Cain’s question: we are each other’s keepers (Gen. 4:9). Let’s keep our fellow believers from the crows. Leave those crows behind on the road.


* Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 49.


At the time of writing this, Homer Trecartin was president of the Middle East and North Africa Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists.