Reproduced in its entirety from Tentmaking Briefs: A Monthly eJournal for Business People and Professionals in Tentmaking Ministry, December 2013 (http://www.globalopps.org/tmbriefs/)
No countries are closed to people, including Christians, who bring needed skills and products. They welcome anyone who can provide the products and skills they need.
If you told your secular neighbor or colleague, “Saudi Arabia is a closed country,” or “China is closed,” they would say, “What do you mean? I know about lots who go there and who work there. What do you mean, ‘They are closed?’”
Closed is very limited insider missions language. No one else uses the word this way outside the missions-aware population of the church. It makes no sense to nonbelievers and even to most Christians. If you said, “North Korea is closed,” people would understand. North Korea’s paranoid, despotic ruler, Kim Jong-un, severely limits outsiders entering the country, though even he still allows access for vital trade and expertise. If you said, “Cuba is closed to Americans,” people would also understand.
In reality, every nation needs and welcomes outside trade and expertise, at least to some extent. But many do not issue visas for professional religious workers—not just Christian, but all religious professionals except of the state religion. Seventy to eighty percent severely restrict any missionary visas, but welcome other professionals whatever their religion.
The world is wide open to Christian non-religious professionals with needed skills or products. They can enter legally. Global Opportunities-Tent knows of no country where tentmakers cannot enter including North Korea.
Words impact thinking. The word closed distorts our thinking about “closed” countries. We perceive “closed” countries as evil and totally closed to the gospel. But this is skewed. These nations reject not just Christianity, but any foreign religion. Further, rejecting Christianity is not the same as rejecting the gospel.
People have no other way of understanding Christ’s message except as a foreign religion until they see it demonstrated and communicated through living witnesses. This is why tentmakers are crucial. Even if missionaries were allowed, their testimony is always undercut as paid religious professionals. As one Taiwanese responded when asked what they thought of missionaries’ work in Taiwan, “Oh, they get paid to make converts.” Only tentmakers can demonstrate the reality and power of the gospel in everyday life.
All nations are “closed” to outside politics, culture, and religion being imposed upon them. They want to decide their own destiny and to develop themselves in their own right. Yes, evil motives of greed, self-gratification, power, and status greatly corrupt and shackle them. And totalitarian nations are often the most oppressive, corrupt, and underdeveloped. But people’s desire to determine their own destiny and to create real worth is an expression of God’s likeness in us. We, as Christians, should understand this better than anyone. We should stop thinking of these nations as totally closed to the gospel.
Two more negatives accompany the closed country view—that to spread the gospel missionaries must be the ones to go, and that, similarly, we must develop full-time, donor-supported workers to continue its spread. Nowhere does the Bible teach this. In fact, the great expansion of the gospel beyond Judea and Samaria recorded in the second half of Acts was carried out by tentmakers, i.e., self-supporting workers who integrated work and witness. (See New Millennium Missions and/or Why Did Paul Make Tents for the Biblical evidence.)
Tentmaking adds power and credibility to the gospel. It multiples evangelism by activation “lay” disciple makers. And it creates a pattern of “lay” leadership and pastoring without waiting to raise support and get professional ministry training. Godly “lay” leaders provide powerful examples of discipleship as unpaid, real world subjects of the Lord of lords. And the tentmaking approach provides a vastly larger pool of leaders for the church and for missions.
So let’s stop calling countries “closed” or “restricted access” or other terms which see them through a colored lens of “full-time” workers. Let’s recognize the tremendous calling and capacity of “lay” workers, both sent and indigenous. And, finally, let’s grasp the reality that countries are wide open to Christians with needed skills and products.