Spreading the Gospel Through Tentmaking
By Rae Burnett, Africa Director
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:14
This is Paul’s principle. But when necessary, Paul worked to support himself.
AFTER THIS Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla . . . because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. Acts 18:1-3
Today there are multiple reasons why some native African missionary ministries are involved in “tentmaking.” They certainly desire to be financially independent, but extreme poverty in their countries makes it impossible, especially as the ministry grows. With every spiritual success comes more financial need. For instance, when evangelistic outreach and preaching produces converts, support for a new base and workers is needed. Tentmaking can help, but capital is needed for startups.
Christian Aid makes indigenous ministry work and vision known to get support for those who need small businesses both to support the work and to provide cover for workers in dangerous areas.
Many remote villages do not readily receive strangers into their midst. If a missionary or missionary family enters a village with no visible means of income, they are usually thought to be thieves. Otherwise, where do they get support for living? Missionaries trained in needed vocations not usually located in rural areas, such as welding or carpentry, are easily welcomed and integrated into village life. Warriors for Christ in Togo is one Christian Aid assisted ministry that uses this strategy to target unreached tribes in closed areas. About $4000 is needed for startup materials and equipment.
In Africa, a small store or booth selling simple staple items is one of the best ways for missionaries to forge relationships. Some shops in Islamic Senegal have cell groups which meet several times per week, formed from customers who have responded to the gospel.
Prisoners for Christ, a native ministry in Togo, provides vocational and discipleship training for released converted prisoners. PFC opens shops when possible, which double as evangelistic centers. This is a tremendous witness to the power of the gospel to change lives. $2500+ enables a ministry to rent and stock a small space.
Selling homemade baked goods
Shoemaking and repair
Another West African ministry leader sends workers directly to homes with items for sale and also with the gospel. "We use this strategy in many towns, especially where Muslim women are kept in seclusion and not allowed to leave their houses. We are surprised to find that many are tired of their religion and are now following the Lord. We need help with training and equipping more workers. Thank God for Christian Aid Mission and the tentmaking projects you have enabled us to start."
Most Africans buy clothes from market stalls, such as this (above), which sell both new and used clothing. It is a very good way for native missionaries to make friends, as well as provide income for living expenses and ministry support.
More prosperous Africans use tailors, who often become good friends with their longtime customers. One indigenous West African ministry in an Islamic country wants to launch newly-converted experienced tailors in a high-end shop, which will also train other believers in tailoring. The head seamstress has dedicated customers from the Muslim business where she worked for many years before becoming a believer. The ministry needs $8000 to begin. They expect the business to be a support for the work, as well as an open door to wealthier men and women not reachable by conventional evangelism.
Agricultural projects help make ministries self-sustaining by feeding families and providing extra fruits and vegetables to sell in the marketplace. City streets are lined with food vendors, but not all are reliable. Good, clean, inexpensive food brings return customers, who hear the gospel from missionaries who are fishing for men.
A disaster recently occurred in one native ministry helped by Christian Aid in secular Islamic Niger, where Christians suffer persecution. Niger is one of the five poorest countries in the world. In the hope of becoming self-sustaining, Life of the Cross Ministries encouraged church members to support their families and LCM missionary work through small businesses. Most of them had open stalls in the Central Market, which burned to the ground. There is no insurance, and LCM is praying for financial help to replace goods and rebuild stalls in another location.
Christian Aid enabled Redeeming Children’s Destinies to renovate a school when its owner became a believer and gave it to the ministry. It is the only Christian school in the country, which is Islamic. Besides educating children of native missionaries, the school is attracting Muslim families who would never otherwise hear the gospel. RCD expects it to be self-supporting in three years. Funds are still needed to finish the high school/discipleship boarding section.
Christian Aid has provided donkeys and carts to give missionary families the means to sell firewood, water, etc., providing easy contact with villagers and townspeople who need these necessities.
Many North Africans drink tea six times a day. Tea shops can be profitable and offer wonderful opportunity for relationship-building and discreet witnessing. One Western Saharan brother combines his shop with a library, which includes Bibles, leading to lively discussions with intellectuals.
Some ministries request poultry, goats and cows, if they have the land and know how to raise them
This Moroccan woman (right) has suffered for the sake of the gospel. Vadia was deserted by her husband and rejected by her brothers and sisters when she became a believer. She responded with tears of joy and incredulity when I gave her the funds to start her own beauty shop. It has enabled her to care for her asthmatic daughter and quietly reach out to neighborhood women with the gospel.
Let us commit to use every resource possible to enable our African brothers and sisters to make the Lord known throughout this vast continent.
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