Being 'Bi-Vocational' in Developing Countries Doesn't Look As Cool as it Does From A Privileged Perch

Heart_Of_Palm-4What do you do when you’re working full-time and receive a call into “full-time ministry?”  I know, you’re probably questioning the validity of “full-time ministry” as is commonly understood where a person gets a salaried position in a local church.  We can discuss that in the comment section if you’d like, but this post concerns another aspect.

It has become trendy to be bi-vocational.  Here in the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador, every “Church-Leader” that we work alongside of, is naturally bi-vocational.  They all work a “day job,” AND do mission.  The difference here, is that the language of “bi-vocation” is not about compensation for existing ministers, lack of compensation for existing ministers, or supplementing the compensation of existing ministers.  It’s about sacrificing the potential of more income for the sake of mission, for Christ’s cause, and for the Kingdom.  For most here, it’s not about answering a call to full-time ministry and then taking on additional more secular and more community integrated positions.  It’s certainly not about being hip or trendy or even about being able to identify with the “common”person or “laity” while saying “Look at me!  Even though I’m a Minister, I work just like you.” It’s about basic survival, hard work, sub-standard living conditions, AND wanting to do more mission.  It’s rooted in a genuine desire to see God’s message and Messenger made known in all of creation. (Mark 16:15)

Let me give you a real life example;

There’s a young man here, we’ll call him “Marco.” Marco cuts the small trees from which hearts of palm are made.  He gets 2 cents per cut tree. These trees have 2 inch long needles up and down the trunk and are laden with various molds and other contagions which can cause infection when poked by them.  It’s steady work and he’s glad for it.  A while back, over a period of time, we shared the gospel with Marco and he received Christ.  Since then, he’s been growing in the strength of the Lord and has demonstrated a gift for preaching and mission.  He sometimes works from 5 A.M. to 7 P.M.  Likewise, he sometimes cuts his work short to join us on our mission outings.  To put it another way, he sacrifices part of his income to answer his calling.  

Marco came to me and expressed that he’s sensing God is calling him to do even more mission and become more active in local missions.  I can clearly see that he and his call are genuine.  The problem is that here in this region, it’s very difficult for the local communities to sustain gospel workers as described in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18.  For now, Marco accepts his situation and does what he can do as to mission while he attends to what he is doing in his vocation.  He’s gracious and humble, but eager.  Marco doesn’t have the privilege of choosing to be bi-vocational, he just is.  He knows that his “work life” and “ministry life” are really just one life.  He knows that while cutting trees or preaching the gospel, while harvesting palm hearts or working the harvest of human hearts, his “service of worship” (Romans 12:1) is to and for God.

Marco has an eager expectation and prays that God will “free up” some time of being a machete chopper to be more of a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of human hearts through God’s Word.  It’s a noble aspiration.  Marco has demonstrated the faithfulness in little things.  

Marco is not frustrated.  I am.  We do what we can to make his hope a reality.  We join with him in prayer for him and his family.  We help financially where we can to free him up so that he can help set captives free.

So, you’ll have to excuse me if I think your radical

and cool bi-vocationality isn’t so cool after all.  

Marco makes under 300 dollars a month.  Here’s what I’d like to do:

I’d like to tell Marco to work part-time and do mission part-time. Specifically, I’d like get someone to sponsor Marco 51% of his current monthly income, or 153 dollars monthly, so that he could spend more than half of his time ministering the gospel in his own context.

Honestly, I have not convinced myself that this would be the right thing to do for Marco.  I’ve thought about it much and it has weighed on my heart.  So, for those of you who know a thing or two about working and ministering in developing countries, what would you do if you were in my shoes?  Would you help Marco go on mission?  Would you try to raise long-term committed support?  Yes, God will provide a way.  But I could be that way, you could be that way, and other congregations around the world could be that way.  What would you do?  What will you do?

I know of at least a dozen people in twice as many communities like Marco.  I don’t just know “of” them, I know them.  To see a passion for mission birthed in the heart of another stirs my soul.  To know that so many could easily help make it happen but don’t, disheartens me.  I can not let that stop me. I must pursue a solution.  I want to free them all up and give them the gift of bi-vocatioanlity.  Am I being unreasonable?  Is there a better way? Would you like to sponsor someone like Marco?  








0 thoughts on “Being 'Bi-Vocational' in Developing Countries Doesn't Look As Cool as it Does From A Privileged Perch

  1. Carlos says:

    Don’t know exactly what I would do in your situation to help guys like Marcos Miguel but if i can offer something to think about.

    Teach him to make a living online.

    Lots of people in other countries like the Philippines and India work over the Internet to provide a service to people in richer countries like the US and get paid a whole lot more to do so than the peanut wages they could make in the local economy.

    If Marcos is a man of of average intelligence and dependable and he could be given reliable Internet access along with a cheap laptop he could be taught to make money online by offering services through places like Odesk and the like.

    My own venture at making money online is nothing to speak of but if I, as a homeless man literally living in a tent and at times sleeping on sidewalks, have been able to make several thousand dollars online…he can too!

    All I’ve had is a laptop and Internet access. To be sure my ability to write helped a lot and I am a native speaker of English but still my point is that it can be done.

    I also want to emphasize that the Lord helped me greatly by granting me favor in the eyes of clients and strengthening my heart at various points in time but Marcos has the same in that regard.

    I haven’t made enough to be considered a living by any stretch of imagination but the money I have made sure beats getting 2 cents per tree!


    • Claudia says:

      That’s awesome Carlos, and great advice… except in rural Ecuador, currently, internet is scarce.

  2. Jason Dillingham says:

    These issues are reality for people all over the world. And I have yet to see a one size fits all approach. Questions that come to mind: Can Marcos be trained to perform a higher waged skill in his community? Can he be employed by a Christian business owner (locally or not) who would see Marcos’ time in “ministry” as bringing value to the business thus compensate him when he is “working” or “ministering”? ( I use quotes to mean the basic definition of the words, knowing there may be no distinction in God”s kingdom.)

    Just some thoughts…anxious to hear others.

    • Miguel says:


      Thanks for participating in the conversation.

      You raise a good question: “Can Marcos be trained to perform a higher waged skill in his community?” Labor is scarce, training for labor even more so. Too many people living in an area with not enough work. This is our harvest field. Workers for land owners, caretakers of cattle, and the like. Competition for the little that can be gained is fierce. Marco has the job because he’s already demonstrated a stronger work ethic and commitment than others who wanted to do the same.

      There’s really no minimum wage here. To get him trained somewhere else would mean to uproot him and his family and dislocate them from their community. This would leave the area without a strong indigenous leader with the potential to ignite a disciple making movement in the region.

      I too am anxious to hear from others.

  3. Marshall says:

    Miguel, through a few years I have been noting how the Holy Spirit reliably matures saints (His faithful children-servants) in ekklesia toward what might be called “unintentional community”, having an ideal result in a consolidation (overall reduction) of expenses and in strengthening of resources (material & spiritual) similar to the effect recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. And, certainly this aspect of koinonia extends beyond each local ekklesia, unfolding and sustained by the wisdom & prudence of God. Seeing also when we’re made ready by God to sacrifice our private living arrangements for the Love of God in Christ, the world cannot help but take notice of the unmatched Love we have received for one another. We have lost the desire to ever be apart; so shall we always be together in Christ! Out of motive (of love) rather than a model/pattern, our freedom in Christ to care for one another (we are, after all, Family in the grandest way!) has the effect of strengthening the members of the Body of Christ.
    Regarding “Marco”, what are his true living expenses? Together with us, in Ecuador, his material needs would be much less than of $300 or even $153? Not sharing life with one another tends to be expensive, especially here in the USA where single-family living (being apart from one another in a privately-maintained space) is commonly idolized, and much wage slavery being the usual means to maintain it. Saddly, some men at times have attempted to use the Bible to justify avoiding life together. Nevertheless, I cannot help but observe what an extraordinary thing the Spirit accomplished among those whose hearts are fully turned to love God and to love our associate/neighbor.

  4. wbmoore says:

    Would having others support him from an external source set him up to always be the missionary supported by people from another culture and not the indigious pastor?

  5. Dennis Hesselbarth says:

    I wonder about the danger of squelching local initiative and fostering dependency by creating a situation where it seems the gospel can only expand with outside assistance, but it’s easy for me to imagine that while sitting far away. At least in our urban setting, the “normal” of regularly soliciting outside funds has the effect of making folks from the ‘hood think they can’t take initiative on their own. We’re created a model of ministry that isn’t reproducible by the community. Much of what we are doing now is “undoing” that by seeking simple forms of discipleship that can be reproduced and multiplied by the locals without needing outside resources.

    What if every person in the local network of believers each gave a small amount that combined allowed Marco more time to serve, because they saw God’s apostolic call on Marco’s life? It seems like that was something that occurred in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. That would be reproducible.

    But maybe that’s a tall order. I don’t know.

  6. Interesting question, Miguel. I don’t have experience ministering in a developing nation so I don’t have much to offer, but I’m interested in the opinion of others on this.

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