Here in The Location...
We are not the ones up in front leading things.
We do not run big ministry programs.
We do not build church buildings.
We do not pay preachers.
We do small discipleship rather than mass evangelism.
We do Business as Missions.
We set up National Tentmakers.
I always thought of working in "closed," "restricted access," or "creative access" countries as simply an obstacle to overcome. I wanted to work in such a place over an "open country" because I knew that many of the most unreached peoples are living in restricted access countries. So, for me, doing other things besides traditional missions was simply an "evil necessity" because of the political situation. That is, we do business or tentmaking or development projects because we have to do it just to get in, but if this country was open, we'd dispose of those other things and just do ministry.
I don't view it this way any longer.
I discovered that the things I felt I was "forced" to do because of restricted access were actually the best things that a place like The Location needs from someone like me--a missionary from the West. And so I also discovered that the other things I might be doing if this were an "open" country are sometimes NOT the best things to be doing. My situation caused me to "think outside the box" when I was mostly used to traditional missionary approaches I had seen in places like Mexico, Haiti and Latin America and heard about from places like India and Thailand.
Some of the things I learned:
- That as a foreigner I should not do things the nationals can do, but try to contribute in ways that are mostly impossible for the nationals to do without outside help.
- That building things like church buildings and Bible colleges tends to institutionalize Christianity as a religion rather than growing God's church as a living community.
- That for the most part we ignore the idea of "The Priesthood of All Believers" in our practices both at home and on "the mission field."
- That sustainability and reproducibility are definite and realizable goals and not just long-term hopes.
- That not only is discipleship a bigger need than evangelism (in our popular understanding of those two things), but that real evangelism is discipleship (in Jesus' understanding).
- That slow, deliberate growth is strong and ultimately more effective.
- That it is right for Christians to be deliberate about being in the world rather than isolating ourselves from the world, even though isolation is our pattern around the world.
So, for me, restricted access has become an opportunity to learn how to do things the right way. Another thing I have found myself saying often is that if The Location were to open up, begin offering missionary visas and inviting Christian workers, I would not change my approach to what we're doing here. It would basically stay the same.
Now I feel that even if God calls me to work in an open country (or in America) I would still do ministry in this fashion. That is a strong emphasis on discipleship and leadership training; indigenous leadership from the earliest stages of church planting; business as ministry that helps those who are poor to be able to feed and support themselves; setting up national tentmakers; and an emphasis on simple organic church communities that are easily reproducible and that live out the Priesthood of All Believers concept.
We should not view "tentmaking" or Business as Missions as a necessary evil for working in "closed" countries. Instead, we should consider how these approaches might work in more open places, too.