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Through the 1970s, the great missions fields were Latin America, where conservative Protestantism competed with Catholicism for the hearts of the poor, and (for the more daring) Africa and the Iron Curtain countries. Gradually, however, the focus shifted. A missions strategist named Ralph Winter suggested in 1974 that Christians turn their attention from areas already exposed to Christ to "unreached people groups" who had never heard the Gospel. The plan held special allure for those who read literally another verse in Matthew suggesting that when every nation is reached, the long-awaited end times can commence. In 1989 Argentine-born evangelist Luis Bush pointed out that 97% of the unevangelized lived in a "window" between the 10th and 40th latitudes. This immense global slice, he explained, was disproportionately poor; the majority of its inhabitants "enslaved" by Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and, ultimately, by Satan. In a later paper, Bush urged Christians, "Put on the full armor of God and fight with the weapons of spiritual warfare." (He has emphasized to TIME that he did not mean military action.) Of Islam specifically, he wrote, "From its center in the 10/40 Window, Islam is reaching out energetically to all parts of the globe; in a similar strategy, we must penetrate [its] heart with the liberating truth of the gospel." Many mustered themselves to the Window.
Only to find it closing. Of the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam is the most ferociously opposed to the straying of its flock. Shari'a law calls for the death penalty for those who convert to other religions, and although the penalty is not binding in most Muslim-majority states, persecution is common. This alone would not retard missions work. Most evangelists accept it as a cost of sharing faith. What did slow their efforts was a more prosaic measure: the gradual elimination by most Muslim countries of professional "religious worker" visas. Established organizations built around salaried missionary lifers found themselves hamstrung.
So they were supplemented with something more maneuverable. The approach was called tentmaking, after the Apostle Paul, who supported himself at that trade while spreading word of the risen Christ through the Mediterranean. Like Paul, the new missionaries did not hang up an evangelist's shingle. They took day jobs--often in aid and development or other areas in which the host country lacked expertise--and preached unofficially. The possibilities are endless--evangelical websites feature references to mechanical engineering in "a large Arab city," computer sales in "an Islamic country" and business teaching in Kyrgyzstan--and missionary-recruitment seminars can sound like job bazaars. At a small Tennessee Bible church, a mission facilitator assured his listeners that "if you're a native speaker and can fog up a mirror, you can teach" English abroad. He projected a cartoon on a screen to show the advantages of being unofficial: a man wearing a turban and dagger halts a standard-issue, briefcase-toting missionary at a striped barrier while another Westerner carrying a toolbox strolls blithely through, toward a mosque in the middle distance.