Review: Working Abroad with Purpose

Working Abroad with Purpose, Glenn D. Deckert, Foreword by James Lundgren. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019.

Summary: A concise handbook on the practice of tentmaking, explaining the concept, offering practical tips on a number of aspects of working abroad, and recounting the author’s personal experiences.

The idea, indeed even the terminology of tentmaking, goes back to the apostle Paul, who supported his efforts to share the gospel in the Gentile world with his craft of making tents. Very simply, tentmaking may be defined as “using one’s professional skills to render products or services as a means of livelihood in a cross-cultural situation with the aim of sharing the gospel with others.” In more recent times, many of those seeking to share the Christian message in foreign countries would be sent by mission agencies after raising significant funds. Increasingly, such Christian workers are not welcomed in many countries, and if they are able to enter, it is often after a couple years of itinerating work, and nationals often wonder about these people living in their country without obvious employment.

Glenn Deckert, with several decades of tentmaking experience in a number of foreign countries, makes the case for why tentmaking offers great opportunities both to serve one’s host country and appropriately share the gospel. He shares an account of his own career working in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong for longer periods with shorter stints in several other countries. Much of his work was related to English language instruction.

The bulk of this slim book discusses a number of practical matters: finding employment abroad, obtaining prayer support (often reserved for supported workers), securing visas and permits, housing and schooling, discovering fellowship in the host country, seeing opportunities for outreach, language learning, relating to existing ministries, medical care, sources of income during home stays, material crises and retirement and other questions of logistics. The author shares wisdom won of experience. He intersperses these personal experiences with practicalities.

Several things come through in addition to the case for tentmaking and practicalities. Running through the personal experiences is a dependence on God and repeated stories of God’s providential faithfulness. Those who pursue tentmaking assignments need to be committed to professional excellence in their work combined with a collegiality with the nationals with whom one works. That and the practice of hospitality open up many opportunities for friendship and questions about one’s faith leading to opportunities to share that faith. Deckert writes:

“A tentmaker is more inclined to conceive of ministry as engagement in a society or sub-culture with a Christ-centered mindset and way of life. In the course of daily activities serving others, he/she seizes every timely opportunity for personal witness, informal discussion of biblical truth, and interaction on honest questions.”

People from many walks of life may have opportunities to work abroad for shorter or longer periods, often in countries closed to “Christian workers.” In a shrinking domestic academic market, teaching abroad may be an alternative career choice. The key question is whether one is already comfortable living a transparent and hospitable life of sharing one’s faith as people notice the difference in their lives. One doesn’t learn this in another culture. If tentmaking looks attractive to you, this is a great guidebook touching on every aspect of the tentmaker’s life.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

4 thoughts on “Review: Working Abroad with Purpose

  1. This looks like an excellent guide, one I’m sure many of my friends already engaged in these tentmaking ministries would have appreciated early on.
    One comment–would any of his guidance be useful for people staying here in the US but “tentmaking” in areas of academia and other career pursuits where the culture around them can sometimes be just as “alien” for Christians?

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: June 2021 | Bob on Books

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