By Ruth Siemens
Marketable skills are golden keys that open the world’s locked doors to the gospel! About 80% of earth’s people live under governments that restrict the entry of foreign religious workers. Although regular missionaries cannot obtain visas, tentmakers with needed skills are welcomed.
We will consider the job market geographically in our rapidly changing world. Then we will note general options for tentmakers, vocations needed, requirements and terms of employment and how to start seeking God’s will.
Our rapidly changing world
Our turn-of-the-century world is more urban, more educated, more sophisticated, more nationalistic and with more religious fanaticism than ever before. There is more persecution in our age than in any previous period of history.
Decolonization after World War II resulted in 130 new countries. Africa, with only four in 1945, acquired more than 50! Many in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean gained independence. Another huge change occurred when Russia, the last of the European colonial powers, began decolonizing about 1990.
In the ex-Soviet world, countries that were hostile to the West are now friendly. Among them are the eighteen newly independent ex-Soviet republics, like the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The vast remaining part which is the republic of Russia still has over 100 ethnic groups, several of which are agitating for independence! Like Chechnya-Ingushetia and Tatarstan, and like Yakutia (now Sakha) and Buryatia, resource-rich peoples in eastern Siberia, who look not to Europe for trade but to the Pacific Rim.
Communism’s demise also made the eastern European satellites friendly to the West, like Hungary and Bulgaria, and Mongolia in Asia. All Russia’s former client states in the two-thirds world are looking west. With super-power polarization ended, and Soviet subsidies cut off, the idea of neutral countries is meaningless, and these mostly leftist governments on every continent now pursue multiparty politics, free market economics and improved human rights. It is the only way to qualify for scarce funds and technology. All this has mushroomed the job market.
The world was surprised to discover that much of ex-Soviet Eurasia is far less developed than most of the two-thirds world! It is our opportunity to help. About 5000 firms have already entered, in spite of economic and political chaos, and a desperate lack of infrastructure and housing. Without rapid economic improvement, fanatical communism could easily be replaced by fanatical fascism.
There are university, secondary and elementary school teaching openings. Some pay well; others require supplementary support. Help is needed with agriculture and small business development. Mission groups have been creative in arranging programs–with interagency cooperation. But floods of Christians go in to do their own thing without knowledge of the cultures, and are causing damage, which leads to government curbs.
The local people are disillusioned with the moral decadence resulting from nearly a century of militant atheism, and want a return to morality and religion. But resurgent Eastern Orthodoxy wants no competition from evangelical missionaries, and is getting laws passed to exclude them. But tentmakers will be needed.
Zaichenko, a leading Russian economist who found the Lord, says no amount of money or technology will help Russia until the Judeo-Christian work ethic, destroyed seventy years ago by Communism, is restored in the people, by Christian teaching and example.
Western Europe is self-sufficient, and each country gives jobs first to its own citizens, then to European Community members (at present, only a free trade bloc) and then to others. It is overrun with immigrants and illegals from former colonies and from eastern Europe.
But everywhere there are job openings! American government agencies and U.S. firms can hire some of their own citizens, and so can international schools. All over the world, native English speakers are sought for English teaching and translation. The same thing is true for other countries and other major languages, because of the globalization of business.
Few people know how spiritually needy the southern European countries are, where the Reformation was stamped out before it could take root. Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Greece and others–have a lower percentage of evangelicals than India or China!
Latin American countries which have struggled during more than a century of independence are suddenly prospering. Foreigners can get jobs, but need Spanish or Portuguese, even French or Dutch in the Caribbean.
Evangelical churches have been growing at three times the population rate, and now send their own missionaries! A third of Chile’s people are evangelicals. Least evangelized are secularized Uruguay and multi-ethnic Mexico.
Many Pacific island countries are well evangelized. But Mormons are making inroads. When people ask about serving in Australia or New Zealand we suspect they fear language learning. New Zealand is one of the most evangelized countries.
In sub-Sahara Africa widespread hunger continues because the continent has shallow topsoil, frequent droughts, locust plagues, and AIDS decimating its most productive age groups. Inadequate government is a problem. But the biggest cause of starvation and death is tribal warfare. The colonial powers carved up the continent with little regard for thousands of tribal units, each with its own language, customs and animosities.
Now devastated Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire (Dem. Rep. of Congo), Somalia and Sudan–are fighting genocidal civil wars, while Mozambique, Ethiopia and Eritrea have just emerged from years of internal strife. But South Africa has peacefully transferred power to the black majority. This rich country is the economic locomotive to stimulate neighboring states.
The church in sub-Sahara Africa is growing five times as fast as the population! But there are huge unreached tribal groups, not easily evangelized by their neighbors because of traditional enmities. Muslims from the north are investing their wealth to win Africans everywhere, especially the Sahara countries and the tier below them.
North African countries have more resources, and are solidly Muslim except for Egypt, which has a sizeable Coptic Orthodox population, a few Catholics and Protestants. All the governments are threatened by Muslim fundamentalists, and Algeria is fighting for its life. Many of its Europeans have fled to France.
In the seventies, countries in the Arab Gulf region became a bonanza for engineers and others, when a barrel of oil jumped from $2 to $3O! Almost overnight governments developed their countries from zero, with more petro-dollars than they could spend. They developed ultra-modern infrastructure and made cradle to the grave provision for their sparse populations, importing foreigners to do the work.
Seventy percent of United Arab Emirates residents are foreign workers, fifty percent of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others. With their infrastructure in place, they are shifting to maintenance and production of consumer goods.
But the Iraqi invasion and the halving of oil prices, have left superwealthy Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with huge debts. Because the invasion was facilitated by Palestinian guest workers, governments are wary of too many foreigners. Their own people are graduating and holding key positions. But openings for foreigners still abound, and generally pay better than anywhere else.
Middle East governments fear Muslim fundamentalist dissidents, except in Iran where they are influential, and in Iraq, where non-religious Saddam Hussein seems to be making opportunistic overtures to them.
No Middle Eastern country has more than a handful of converts from Islam. Small non-Arab congregations meet. In Saudi Arabia, clandestine house fellowships of tentmakers from many countries encourage each other.
Israel may survive as a two-nation federation, or give the Palestinians independence, or cede them to now friendly Jordan. The ethnic composition and character of Israel has been altered by the influx of Jewish secularists from Soviet Europe, who know little about Judaism, and mainly want peace.
Evangelism of Jews is illegal. Most local Christians are Arabs, who are perplexed by the pro-Jewish bias of many Christians, who teach strange eschatologies, based on questionable Bible interpretation.
Syria continues peace talks with Israel. Its satellite, Lebanon, rebuilds after years of devastation.
Turkey will probably not be admitted to the European Community, even if it improves its human rights record. But it is an important land bridge to the Asian ex-Soviet republics, which are Turkic, and look to Turkey rather than to their southern neighbors.
Afghan factions have damaged their capital more than the Russians ever did. About 80 tentmakers continued to serve, 25 of them in Kabul, which was bombed daily. But word is that more westerners have had to leave since the Taliban faction took over Kabul and 2/3 of the country and imposed Sharia law at gunpoint. Pakistan, now ruled by Islamic religious law, continues its dispute with India over Kashmir. India, long xenophobic, is turning to the West, and large U.S. firms have entered. Civil war continues in Sri Lanka. The Hindu kingdom of Nepal is finally allowing more freedom.
Most of the Pacific Rim countries of east and southeast Asia now thrive. Japan is in the Group of Seven leading world economies, but after a century of missions, is less than one percent Christian. South Korea’s eventual reunion with backward North Korea will be costly. But Buddhist South Korea is now 27% Protestant–22% evangelical! Thousands attend early morning prayer meetings! They send missionaries.
China has the world’s fastest growing economy, at about 12%! It acquired Hong Kong in July 1997, and will acquire Macao in 1999, and Taiwan at a later date. Tibet and China’s Muslim people groups want independence. Most of southeast Asia thrives. Thailand allows some missionaries, but even Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are accessible to tentmakers.
Roger Hedlund wrote in EMQ (1/95) that throughout much of Asia “the missionary era has for all practical purposes ended.” Yet Asia has 3 billion of the world’s 5.5 billion people! They are 92% unreached! (India alone has more people than Africa and South America combined.) What a task for tentmakers!
The global job market, which has mushroomed since the early 1950’s, has grown even more since 1990–in spite of widespread recession! This job market is a unique phenomenon in history, and is not an accident, but God’s provision to help us finish world evangelization. We dare not ignore these avenues, while cults and non-Christian religions make use of them.
There is no country where tentmakers cannot go. In North Korea, Iran and Cuba, where Americans are not welcome, tentmakers from other lands are serving.
Today’s global job market is a fruit basket upset. For many countries, labor, the invisible export, is their largest source of income, and resolves the problem of joblessness at home. People from every country work outside their borders. Is God speeding up evangelism, because we are too slow to leave the comforts of home and go to the unreached? Everyone must hear the good news!
So many non-Western Christians now work in the Middle East, that Muslims can no longer label Christianity a western religion! The center of gravity of Christianity is now in the two-thirds world. God chose to enter human history on a little strip of Asia, which he designed to join the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe, to facilitate the spread of the gospel!
Deciding where to go
The large number of countries can make this a difficult question. Need is not the only criterion, but need matters. Since 64 countries have less than one percent evangelicals, it makes little sense to add to the 3400 missionaries already working in Brazil which is 18% evangelical–26 million believers! Such countries need only missionary specialists with unique contributions for churches.
High priority countries are those in the 10-40 window, the strip between 10 and 40 degrees, that stretches from northern Africa and southern Europe across the Middle East and central Asia to the Pacific. See Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World for the status of Christianity in every country.
Christians wait for a spectacular, mysterious “call.” I like SIM’s leaflet, “What if God hasn’t called me?” The answer: “Go anyway.” The call was given to all by Jesus (Mt. 28:18-20). You only need his direction.
The call is never to a piece of geography or a ministry, but only to Jesus Christ, who decides your assignments and when to change them (Mk. 3:13-15). Christian leaders who insist on a “call” mean a strong conviction from God that can keep you steady when things get difficult. But this conviction rarely comes until you are moving out in faith toward what you believe is his will. He then confirms, or redirects you. (See G.O.’s paper on Guidance: Understanding God’s Will.)
In seeking employment, you take into account also your abilities, spiritual gifts, education, experience, and ministry goals. God guides largely through data that you prayerfully consider, so you investigate mission agency and tentmaker openings. How much effort Christians make is a test of their desire for God’s will. Step One is becoming informed!
You consider terms of employment. Salary matters. There is nothing spiritual about a low salary if a high one is available for the same work! Tentmakers often take lower paying jobs, if those jobs are more conducive to the ministry they envision.
Tentmaker openings divide into several general categories.
Options for tentmakers
The main general option is the the secular salaried position. Most are for people in mid-career, but we have found good entry level openings and many possibilities for full-time or part-time work for retired people.
Another option is study abroad–undergraduate, post-graduate and advanced. There are paid internships for students and graduates. We recommend au pair jobs for young people willing to combine study with child care. There are modestly paid vacation jobs. They allow for ministry and are valuable on future resumes. They give young people an excellent introduction to working abroad and can lead to longer employment.
Another option is entrepreneurship. Starting a business usually requires training, experience and capital. Some countries require a minimum of funds to avert phantom businesses. Tentmakers are sometimes disappointed to find that being an employer takes more time and effort than being an employee, and that the governments require local hiring. Businesses must show a profit. Many businesses are proving valuable for witness, but phony fronts for missionary work bring dishonor to the Lord. (See G.O. paper, Starting a Business Abroad.)
With so many possibilities, what are best skills to acquire?
The biggest field is education–all kinds, every level. We have helped many university faculty go abroad. Thousands of elementary and secondary schools each year hire people in teaching, special education, library science, nursing, educational and media technology, curriculum development and English teaching.
Health care of every kind is needed. Some countries hire many foreign doctors and nurses. Others have stiff revalidation requirements.
All kinds of science, engineering and technology are needed, including also architecture, urban planning, etc., and technicians in these fields.
Agriculture, and all plant and animal science vocations are important, like agronomy, horticulture, entomology, food science, nutrition, beekeeping, ag econ and marketing, soil science, veterinary medicine, forestry, ag machines.
Business and finance are important– including management, marketing, human resources, accounting, banking, systems analysis, computer services.
The social sciences are less in demand, but we have found openings in anthropology, sociology, social work, archaeology, political science, psychology, law, etc.
The fine arts are needed–performing music, art history, graphic arts, photography, creative writing, etc.
Communications is important. There are jobs in radio and TV and film-making, and now in new areas of electronic media.
Athletics and recreation have job openings. A Christian wrote from Papua New Guinea that Muslims are going after physical education jobs in order to win young people to Islam.
Industries of almost every kind offer possibilities, like petroleum and refining, manufacturing, travel, tourism, publishing, housing construction–the list could be long.
There are more jobs on the global job market now than every before, and we have easier access to the information than ever before. We can access 70,000 current overseas job openings on any day! But many Christians are unqualified, or unwilling to go!
But we can never guarantee an applicant that the right job will appear in the right location at the right time. There are so many variables! One is whether it is God’s will for you to go. We are grateful God has enabled us to help several hundred to go abroad!
But who hires foreigner workers?
About forty kinds of organizations are potential employers, like U.N. agencies, U.S. government agencies, foreign government agencies, U.S. firms with their affiliates and subsidiaries (about 30,000), local firms in the target country, third country firms (Japanese hiring English teachers for their oil companies in China), educational institutions (all kinds, all levels), health care and social service agencies, voluntary agencies, fellowship and professional exchange programs, study abroad and internships.
About four million Americans work on other continents! There is constant turnover and new openings appear. Millions of people from other countries also work abroad–each with a different kind of job possibilities.
What are the qualifications needed, the terms of the contract, and how much do these jobs pay?
Terms of employment
Most positions require degrees and work experience, or then considerable experience in place of the degree. Governments protect their job markets for their own people, and hire only the expertise they lack.
Some Arab countries are so sparsely populated that foreigners are hired even for menial work. But any westerner applying for such work would be highly suspect. Saudi Arabia hires street sweepers, but from Pakistan. (Some are believers–tentmakers! God zeroes in on every social class!)
Often the work can be done in English, the world’s trade language. But tentmakers should get to work on the language of their target country, to gain the confidence and respect of the local people. They also need it for their own cultural adjustment and for sensitive sharing of the Gospel.
Most positions are family or single status, but some are open only to singles, only to men or only to women. Men patients in Saudi Arabian hospitals are cared for by male nurses. Small families are no problem, but employers are reluctant to pay for schooling for many children. (Schools are good but costly. Several Christian families may share home schooling.)
Contracts are signed in the home country, and are usually for one to three years, and renewable, although one year contracts exist. Some tentmakers have served in the same position for decades. Serious tentmakers commit themselves to one part of the world as long as God provides work.
Round trip travel is paid for the whole family. Salaries range from modest but adequate, to high, with benefits, like housing, car, schooling, paid vacation travel, health insurance. Americans abroad have a $75,000 income tax exemption.
But if people go abroad to do their job hunting, they are usually hired for local pay, without benefits or travel funds. If they have been unemployed for some time in their field, they are also suspect. They wonder why this person couldn’t get a job in his own country. They should do this only if they have not been able to obtain overseas employment from home.
With so much information available, how should a new tentmaker begin?
Any motivated Christian can do his own research and find his own position abroad. But it can be time-consuming and costly. This is why Global Opportunities exists to help provide this service for you. The effort we make to research web sites for jobs in any one geographical or career area can just as well serve a hundred applicants as just one.
If you wish to serve God abroad, please request an application form to become a GO Associate. The application forms help us to help you evaluate your readiness to go, and maybe to recommend additional preparation. We also welcome phone calls, letters, FAXes and personal visits.
One engineer was able to find a job just two weeks after he applied to us! But you should normally allow a year for your job search. Contracts signed in advance give time for culture-specific preparation. We can help applicants enlist prayer support, and find a team or agency for overseas fellowship and accountability.
God cares more about you and how you serve him than you do! You can count on him to guide. He may lead through intermediate steps, or move your target. Let us help you find his place of service for you!
@copy; Copyright 1995, Ruth E. Siemens