To be honest, during my life I have had very little contact with poverty. I grew up in a very stable, middle-class home where I knew that I would have the necessities (such as food, clothes, and shelter) as well as some things that were luxuries (such as video games, family vacations, toys, etc.). This is not to say that my parents never had to stuggle with finances. I believe most middle-class families stuggle at times due to unexpected hospital visits or broken vehicles. Yet, poverty has not been part of my life. So, it would be difficult for me to understand some of the particular thought-patterns, stuggles, and concerns that people in poverty must deal with.
So what's my point? Over the last few years, I've realized that contextualization is a process that must take place everywhere, not just on foreign mission fields. This is being missional...living as a missionary in your own backyard. If we truly desire to bring the gospel to all people, then we must place ourselves in "someone else's shoes." We should seek to understand the various mindsets, struggles, and assumptions that other people bring with them. When missionaries travel to other places, they practice contexualization--not so that they can adapt or change the gospel--but so that they can overcome the obstacles (social, linguistic, etc) that unnecessarily hinder gospel proclaimation.
Recently, someone gave me the book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. In one of the chapter's Payne explains that there are hidden rules (i.e. unspoken cues and habits) that exist among the classes of poverty, middle class, and wealth. Unfortunatly, people within a particular class assume that everyone knows the hidden rules--the rules are presupposed. Simply put, we believe that everyone thinks like we do. Yet, as Payne demonstrates, we cannot assume that everyone carries the same presuppositions as we do. For example, in regard to food, the various classes focus on different key questions: 1) For those in poverty, the key question is "Did you have enough" (quanity important). 2) For those in the middle class, the key question is "Did you like it?" (Quality important). 3) For those in wealth the key question is "Was it presented well" (presentation important) (p.42-43). Of course, the lines will sometimes be blurred (and exceptions do exists). But the point is for us to step out of our circumstances, in order to see the world through someone else's eyes.
So, I encourage each of you to step into someone else's shoes this week. Learn about the various "cultures" that are found in your city or town. Step out into your backyard and live like a missionary.