Why I Don’t Believe in Making Tents

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I have a long rather adversarial history with tents.  They get dirty easily, leak and blow away.  Bugs and critters can access them with little to no effort.  They are not climate controlled.  They usually come without necessary accommodations. Starbucks are usually very, very far away.  I mean, need I say more?  When I was Girl Scout, I even refused to camp in one. I was about as good of a Girl Scout as I am a vegan. 😳

Early in the first decade of my missions career, I was introduced to the term “tent-making”.  It sounded like a good idea to my inexperienced ears.  The popular missions definition approximates as “doing a job or occupation in order to get into places in the world you could not go as a missionary”.  A way to access places you otherwise couldn’t sounded like a brilliant concept.  But throughout my next 20 years in missions I began to realize the concept of tent-making as a strategy was usually at best incomplete and at worst down right destructive to God’s Kingdom.

The term tent-making is a reference to the life of Paul. Paul was the most traveled missionary in the Bible.  He made tents.  So, it must be a great term to use for missions and if I take a job as an English teacher in order to get into a place I couldn’t otherwise, then that is like Paul making tents, right?  And tent-making is an awesome missions strategy, right?

Wrong.

Let’s look at Paul. Yes, Paul made tents.

After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.  Acts 18:1-4, NKJV

I have heard this taught so many times as Paul made tents to support himself while he was doing the real ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel.  That understanding demonstrates a deep and profound confusion as to what ministry and vocation actually are.  It also shows an unbiblical division between sacred and secular work steeped in centuries of broken understanding.

Paul believed in supporting himself, that he may not be a burden to those he was serving and to be a good example when such an example was needed.

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 2 Thess 3:7-9, NKJV

But he also believed in making his work, his business a channel of provision supporting the community around him beyond his own needs.

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:33-35, NKJV

Paul believed and taught it was right and appropriate for those who served in ministry to be compensated materially for their work in ministry (1 Co 9:11-14, Gal 6:6) and he, himself, received financial support from some of the churches (Ph 4:15-18).  However, Paul chose to lay down the “right” to receive compensation when that compensation could be counterproductive to the Gospel.

There are powerful things to take note of in these passages which stand in contrast to popular concepts of tent-making:

  • Paul wasn’t “tent-making” to sneak into a closed country. He owned his own business, while writing many of the letters in the New Testament and discipling the known world.  He was a Roman citizen with free and open access to virtually the entire known world of his day.
  • Paul was not working at a trade reluctantly to compensate for any lack of provision or in order to get on with his “real” work of ministry. Paul had the sense that everything he was and did WAS ministry, whether making tents or having discussions in the synagogues.  There was nothing in his life that was not part of serving Jesus.
  • Paul was not “bi-vocational”.  Vocation is about calling, not profession, occupation or employment.  As followers of Jesus we have one calling (everything we are and do is to be ministry), with multitudes of expressions for that calling (professions, forms of service, seasons, occupations and trades).

Some practical observations about “tent-making” from my time in the missions field:

  • When the occupation is authentically embraced as central to the calling, it can be powerful.  i.e. Someone goes to country x because they are called there and becomes an English teacher because they have calling and passion to be an English teacher and work at it with all their heart, and have a sensitivity to Jesus, it can open tremendous doors of real conversations and authentic relationships.
  • When the occupation is only a means to the end of gaining access, it more often than not unravels.  Someone feels called to country x and they find out they can get into the country by teaching English- but they hate teaching and could careless about English.  But they do it anyway because it will become a platform for their real work. Missions peeps please, please don’t do that.  People are really smart and can usually tell less than authentic a mile away coming.
  • If you go somewhere as an English teacher or business person or anything else, be the best darn Spirit-led committed trades person that you can.  Genuinely love and serve people, be authentic and wise and conversations will happen.  A less than genuine you makes folks wonder if the One you say you serve is also less than genuine.
  • When we befriend and build relationships with people for the solitary purpose of getting them to accept the gospel we present, we are actually being manipulative.  And folks feel manipulated.  It is one reason so many feel like Christians are duplicitous.  Be real.  Be a great friend with no other motive but to love like Jesus. Be honest and wise about your own faith journey when appropriate.  Stay aware of what God is doing in the moment and equally aware that no one wants to feel like a project or a new notch on someones wall of attainment.  No one.  Ever.

The design and branding company I have started is not in place of missions.  It is not to fund me so I can go do missions on the side.  It is missions at its most fundamental and genuine.  (Love God. Love people.)  And I’ve been called to invest in it the same fervency with which I planted the work in South Sudan, by simply doing each day what God puts before me, and trusting Him with the vision, the provision and the results.  Selah. (Pause and think on these things.)

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What You Really Need to Ring in the New Year

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I am so excited for a fresh start. And here comes 2017 all fresh and clean and ready to be written out one breath at a time.

Here we stand on the brink of a blank calendar slate and I’m peering over the edge of the cliff dive this new season mandates… and yes, I’m jumping.  For sure I’m jumping.  But jumping over this edge looks a tad different at 39 than it did at 29.

I feel like those 10 years hold ten lifetimes of living between their book ends.  Ten lifetimes of costly decisions, of beautiful triumphs, of painful betrayals, of God’s goodness and faithfulness even in the darkest corner and deepest pit of their terrain.

It has been a decade of growing up into holy disillusionment, where God allows life to dis – illusion us.  I’m not talking about cynicism or bitterness or resentment.  I’m talking about the peeling back of our illusions until our vision is clearer, the cost of following more evident and the choices we make to continue to give Him our yes way more intentional.

We have to be disillusioned from the things that distract and distort in order to see more clearly with His eyes.  He holds no illusions.  But yet He loves completely.  His eyes are clear and His heart is infinite. His love is a choice.

And that’s what 2017 requires, what every new year needs…  To be loved by Him into an even greater and deeper yes.

This time my yes is not taking me across the world geographically speaking.  But it is sending me out into a new journey with the potential to affect even more places and people than I have been able to before.  It is still missions.  It is still ministry.  But the vehicle isn’t a flatbed truck in Africa.  Now the vehicle is my own design company in America.

January 2nd I am doing a full-scale launch of Michele Perry Design Co. I’ve dabbled and freelanced and wondered and pondered and job hunted and waited and in early December this year I finally got the OK.  I don’t just run off to start something, even if it feels like it is bursting from within.  I wait till I know His yes is on the time, as well as the what and the how.  12.08.16 He said to go forward with this with the same fervency and passion as I had 10 years ago establishing in South Sudan. Gulp. That is a lot of fervency.

I don’t fully understand the why yet.  And that is OK. I don’t have to.  When God says it, that settles it.

I am not pioneering this creative business for the sake of a simple paycheck (although that is reeeeeally needed and will be so very nice). I am pioneering it to be a channel of provision for God’s purposes far beyond me.  I pray it will also be a platform to get to know and encourage many I would have never met otherwise.  I’m pretty excited about that bit!  And in its first year, a minimum of 10% of all profits will go to support my family back in Africa as they re-establish in a neighboring region due to ongoing instability where they were originally based.  They are all safe and that is what matters.

Truly, this new “suddenly” has been years in the forming.  Now it is 3 days from launch. Deep breath.

I’ll be sharing the journey of God packaging missions in a different container right here as often as I am able to. I’ve spoken on this many times, but God wants to use the skills and passion He has put within you to see His heart advanced.  He put it there after all, right?  You have a passion for underwater basket weaving.  There is probably a whole community of underwater weavers who need to be loved and served.  It is so easy to limit God to the constraints of the way we have always seen things done. No more. 2017, you will be different.

I’ll be writing the business/creative perspective of this journey on a new blog called #CourageousCreativity, which is associated with my design company.  I’ll share links once it launches so you who have a heart for creativity/business can join in the journey there as well.

Don’t discount the dreams God has given you because they look different.  They may be just the thing a hungry world is waiting for.

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Sunday Morning Christmas

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So did any of you all catch the kerfuffle on social media about churches cancelling their regularly scheduled Sunday morning services so people could play hooky and spend time loving their families instead?  {Yes, that is said tongue-in-cheek with a twinkly smile.}

Well, my heavens it provoked some pretty strong sentiments.  On all sides.  It got more tangled than last year’s light strands.  I made some comments and some folks found them helpful, so here’s a remix of them in case you might find them helpful as well.  For the next time Christmas comes on a Sunday or there is another such tangle:

“I see loads of people getting upset on Facebook about the fact some churches are cancelling services today because of Christmas. Um a few thoughts for friends here this situation is relevant to.

  1. You can’t cancel what you are.
  2. Nowhere in Scripture is a Sunday service mandated (gathering with other believers yes, but not the specific format we in the West have adopted).
  3. A gathering to celebrate Jesus might happen really nicely around your dinner table.
  4. Christmas may be the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth on the calendar year, but if you really want to throw Him a Birthday bash it is likely more accurate to do so in September.😉

Maybe a more productive discussion would be to talk honestly about what church and faith should look like 24-7-365 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year) not one day a week or one day a year.

So to you who want to worship with friends and family in a building called church, go for it. It will be beautiful. To those who want to worship Him in PJ pants with your family and pancakes, be free, snuggle in. You are loved and here’s to an incredible blessed Christmas near and far.

Personally, my favorite place ever to celebrate is under a mango tree 7611 miles away 🎄 or with my family here in Florida a tad bit closer … Wishing every one of you a wonderful holiday season filled with grace and wonder.”

How To Find Gold In Broken Places

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These last few years.  My heavens.  They have been cracked through with loss. With searing pain and heart ache so deep it felt like my heart itself would rip at times.  Years filled with doctor visits and emergency room trips and there was the small thing of an antibiotic messing with my vision a few weeks ago, because it was starting to cause pressure on my brain.   Minor detail, it is one of the few antibiotics remaining I am, ahem was, not allergic to.  My doctor looks at me and says she sincerely hopes I do not catch an infection. Me too.

It’s been a shattering, and a gathering, and a becoming all wrapped into three years of hard-won decisions to trust when I could not see.  The broken pieces of dreams lay strewn throughout my soul. Sharp fragments that cut deep.

But in the middle of these broken heart pieces, He walked and gathered the shards of my dreams that once were.  He didn’t crush them.  He didn’t toss them aside. He held them in His hands scarred with nails, pierced with the shards of broken humanity.  He gathered my fragments and arranged them in ways they could have never fit together if they had not been broken. Then he fused them with gold. There is gold in His healing of our broken places. 

The shards of shattered dreams are now a masterpiece, a mosaic filled full of His molten love, defined by His promises, struck through with gold, stronger and more beautiful than they ever were before.

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Photo Credit: Unknown

The Japanese have a practice called kintsukuroi, which means to repair with gold. It’s the art form of repairing broken pottery with gold based on the belief that the vessel is more beautiful for having been broken.  The act of cherishing a pot’s history, knowing that the repair, the process, the mending is what makes that pot even more valuable. That healing itself is an art.

When our dreams are broken or start to fall apart from decay, it is easy to give up and want to walk away.  But if we hang on to grace in the waiting and don’t throw away the pieces, as painful as they may be, the Master Potter is on His way.  He will come to gather, to infuse them with gold and make them into a work of art we can not now imagine.

In a season that is joyful for so many, I know there are many of you that see Christmas coming and there is a pit of dread that forms deep in your gut.  Someone you love is not there.  Something happened that marred the holidays with piercing loss.  You are not alone.  He is waiting to take the gift that was given Him so long ago in the stable at Bethlehem and fuse those pieces that still cut and make your heart bleed into a work of His art.

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This is the painting I was working on up above.  It is going to headline a whole parade of new products and offerings come Jan 2, 2017 when micheleperrydesignco.com goes live.  What will unfold there is the outworking of Him reframing pieces of dreams I thought were left in the red dirt a world away.

Please know I treasure the fact you would take time to be with these words.  Tonight I am very, very grateful.  For you.  For Him.  For gold transforming broken places and scarred hearts into His work of art.  You are loved. Always.

My Christmas Will Never Be the Same

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2011 Yei, South Sudan | Photo Credit: Anna Betty Photo

Ten years ago I struck out on the greatest adventure of my life.  I moved site unseen clear across the world to found Iris Global’s presence in what is now South Sudan.  It was a war-torn patch of earth, with some of the most beautiful people I have ever met and had the privilege to share life with.

I got to call their nation home for seven years.  And over a hundred children still remain forever in my heart loved as my own.  On Christmas day 2006, we flung wide the gates of a temporary rented compound with structures falling down from damage from the war. We fed over 1000 people Christmas dinner and welcomed our first 12 children to come to live with us.  On a day that celebrated the birth of Jesus where there was no room for Him, we wanted to open wide our doors to all whom He brought us.

These years were filled with beauty and heartache, joy and radical decisions to trust in the face of seeming impossibilities. Miraculous healing grew up along side devastating loss.  I dealt with overcoming odds I’d never knew I’d face (the business end of Ak-47s for example) and eventually seeing the collapse of my health after 18 grueling infections of cerebral malaria (and that’s not counting likely typhoid and other crazy tropical bugs).  It cost me everything in the end and I would do it over 1000 times without hesitation.  I got to see a new nation be born and thousands of lives impacted with what started with a simple yes.  There is no end to what Jesus can do with our yes. No end.

In a few days, my family in Africa will celebrate 10 years of God’s provision and faithfulness.  It seems like yesterday and forever ago at the same time.  I was hoping to join them in person (and prayerfully still will as soon as I am strong enough and the timing is right), but I am there in heart and spirit and could not be prouder of how they have grown and love each other, as well as their whole community.  They are beacons of God’s heart, an outpost for heaven and His Kingdom.

My Christmas will never be the same because He’s allowed me to hold a nation in my heart.

Because of instability currently in South Sudan, they had to move unexpectedly to a community in a neighboring nation.  This means they are having to rebuild from scratch. If by chance you’d like to give and help them start again in a new place, please go to their giving page and give hilariously from your heart.  I know the leadership well and can tell you every penny goes directly to help the children.

Things have been mostly quiet here for the last 3 years.  Honestly, it has taken that long to even begin to get back to a very fragile state of minimal health.  There is still a potentially long road ahead for me.  And I didn’t think you’d be all that intrigued with a running monologue of all my medical craziness or chronicles of me feeling like a pin cushion.

2017 is a huge year.  I finally have the go ahead from Jesus to start diving in again with the things He has called me to.  I have so so so much to share about that.  Finally.  I have the release to do the only thing I really know how to do in the face of crazy obstacles: dive deeper into God’s heart and GO for it with all I am. I can’t wait to take any of you who want to come along with me.  You are so loved!