by Barnabas Hope
They came by plane, train and private car from all parts of China. Bankers, an investment portfolio manager, global finance consultants. Multi-national businessmen trading large machinery, computers, and even commodities. They came for one purpose, to meet my dad! What is more they didn’t just want to meet him, they wanted to honor him!
My dad is a landscaper in Nebraska. He is a successful contractor and has built a lot of retaining walls; his daily work is all about dirt. He has built great walls but not the Great Wall. So why did twenty two influential international Chinese executives travel to honor my dad?
The answer. They came because this happy, clever 73 year old man, when age 50, changed their life and even their destiny.
So how exactly does someone armed with a backhoe change the destiny of people on the other side of the globe? The answer is by being a Tentmaker.
My father and mother responded to a call to be English Teachers in China. For 10 months they poured their lives into their International Affairs students. Their classroom was grey and cold with poured concrete walls. Students wore heavy coats in the classroom. The students lived in dorm rooms with 10 students each! The students were bright, their English poor. By all visible signs it was an expenditure of time that would never pay back. But investments of love are seeds that always bear fruit.
As Americans my folks asked different types of questions. They looked at the world differently. They challenged assumptions. And made these communist Chinese students think as they never had before. My parents taught the classes with role plays and skits. They told stories of life and traditions in America. My mother gave answers anchored to her faith and trust in Jesus. My dad discussed the U.S. constitution and its guaranteed freedoms. The classes were mind expanding far beyond simply improving language.
It so happened that this was the year of the U.S. election between Bush and Clinton. So my dad allowed the students to debate the candidates and then he held a mock election. He told the students that his own one U.S. citizen vote was up for the students to decide. So that year – these students got to really take part in a democracy. They voted for Bill Clinton and watched my dad as he filled out his proxy ballet with their vote. As it turned out Clinton won. It was a feeling they had never experienced before. hey had participated in that victory in a small way.
23 years later these professionals gathered, recognizing how that year had put them on the ladder of success. They now found themselves at the top. They had an advantage in the marketplace. My dad and mom had drawn back a curtain for them and opened wide the window called, “possibility”. Freeing their curiosity and imagination to fly.
Two months ago my sister I sat at a Chinese banquet table and watched the students enter and hug my dad. Honoring him with gifts, and words of praise. We heard the laughter as they retold their memories. I teared up. They greeted me as if I were their brother whom they never met. Mom and dad had treated them all as their children. My mom even had told the students to call her mom. Many had. They surprised me by reciting family stories that they had tucked away in their memory. No one else in the world knew them — but they did, because in their mind they were “family.”
At that special banquet one of the executives looked at me and said, “I remember your mother because she loved us so much.” And she did.
At the last of that school year, she had to go out to Hong Kong for an emergency medical situation. On her trip back she determined to smuggle in a box load of New Testaments one for each student. How she got them in is another story, but she succeeded and each student got a Bible. The students, now global business leaders spoke of this gift and have never forgotten. Times have changed and now they can buy a Bible anywhere. But not one like that one — it came with love and a relationship that changed their life.
Some ask me, “Do Tentmakers really make a difference?” Yes. Yes, they do.