I’ve watched this process now for some time. A tentmaker-observer has a special vantage point to notice the shape of the tentmaker's life--the conviction that drives the vision, the lifestyle that frames every waking hour of the day.
I believe I live 24/7 for God like my husband does. But I’m not the teacher “out there” wrestling students, communicating to a different way of thinking, searching constantly for bridges, staying sensitive to every spiritual potential, building on every conversation. Every day, all day long.
I’m not the one who made that first, startling declaration: “I want to be a tentmaker!”
I didn’t have to write a resume or search the internet for teaching jobs across Middle East and North Africa—yes, that’s where we felt called. But I did pray as he wrote a cover letter to his applications stating that as a creationist he needed the freedom to be able to teach intelligent design in his classes. I knew it would severely limit our opportunities.
I watched as the responses came in, some with possibility, some without. Then two open doors. One was working at a school that provided a generous salary that impressed us both; we could travel, save, live on one income. The contingencies were unnerving, though; he would be required to teach evolution as a scientific fact. The other was at a school that appeared perfectly comfortable—even pleased—at his desire to teach creation. They would give him the freedom to present God as the Creator of our world! At one-third the salary.
I noticed how quickly he made the decision. I realized he had a very specific reason for becoming a tentmaker, and it wasn’t for a job. So yesterday, as a tentmaker observor, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I had to wait at his school for most of the day and, of course, I saw the biggest reason he had made His decision. He knows why he is here.
The students came in with a wave of stories after a long weekend—a cousin’s wedding, a neighbor’s new baby, an accident they’d heard about, a new skateboard. He listened to each one, thoroughly involved with what was happening in their lives.
A parent-teacher conference with a mother and an energetic 7th grader brought on stories of his own troubled year in 7th grade. And the end of the conference he looked directly at the fidgeting kid and assured him that God could help him focus his abundant energy in a very positive direction.
A few minutes later a student intern stepped into the classroom. After listening to some of the challenges they were meeting, I overheard the conclusion of the discussion: “I’ve learned that I can praise God in all circumstances, because God is so very good.” Then there was a quiet conversation where a young, fellow teacher was reminded that God has special plans for his life. Before the day ended, another colleague stopped in for advice. He left with the assurance that someone was praying for him. And as a stack of papers were being stuffed into a bulging briefcase, I noticed the worksheets for the NEWSTART health curriculum that had been adapted for a restless group of 8th graders. Knowing the way young minds handle new information, I’m pretty sure a few health principles were going to be “taught” at home as well.
But this tentmaking thing doesn’t stop at the school door. It goes to the organic garden plot behind our house, where produce is flourishing for the local market. That makes spinach, which isn’t usually available in our region, an ideal opener for curious neighbors, hired garden workers, and colleagues who find free bagfulls on their desks. Of course I hear them each getting health snippets along the way. And the old farmer, harvesting his wheat down the road, is delighted to get the helping hand of the spinach grower and a good deal of affirmation on the benefits of wheat.
Tentmaking embraces everything I see happening around me. The Arabic guitar teacher needs encouragement for his dialysis treatments and learns more ways to fight his battle with diabetes. The guard who manages the property we rent is encouraged to leave the chores around our house for another day, because Sabbath is a beautiful time of rest. And the colleague who delivers the message that our repaired car will be ready late Friday night returns to the mechanic with an explanation of our Sabbath day. The car is ready Friday afternoon. The messenger quietly asks if we could visit and explain the Sabbath to him.
A tentmaker-observor doesn’t see everything--especially the most important things God is doing beyond anything we can detect, in the heart of every listener. But what I can see reminds me that the tentmaker’s witness is constant, purposeful, always thoughtfully engaging, and disarmingly genuine. I may not be the tentmaker, but I’m enriched with the never-ending blessings of a never-off-duty mission of living on purpose for God's purposes. --MW