A friend of ours lives in Milan, Italy. She moved there a few years ago with a missions organization. They paid for her to stay in Milan for two years. When her “term” was completed, she could not continue in the same city with the same missions organization. But, instead of returning to the United States or moving to another place with the missions organization, she decided to get a job and stay in Milan.
Recently, she was interviewed about her experiences. She shared the interview with us via email, and she allowed me to post parts of the interview here.
In this first part, she explains the struggles she originally had with “contextualization”:
For the first six months of my term, I mostly just observed and learned from them. One of my observations was the ease they had in building relationships. Even though I was on a “platform” I still found some difficulty in that I didn’t live life exactly as they did. I did not have to leave my house and get onto a crowded metro at 7:30 in the morning. I didn’t feel the same level of stress and work fatigue they felt. I wasn’t on their rhythm. As a result, even though I loved them and was all about “contextualization,” it only went so far as I did not completely and authentically live like them. I also saw that they were able to express a deeper incarnational testimony and model what a normal life “on mission” looks like.
In the next part of the interview, she explains how this all changed once she got a job and begin working to support herself:
I have loved my life as a “normal person.” It has changed everything both for me personally and in my ministry. For me personally, being legitimately and authentically on the same “rhythm” as everyone else has completely changed my view of “contextualization.” Contextualization is no longer something that I have to be intentional in doing — I AM part of the context. I feel their pain and joy. I am one of them — not just pretending to be or trying to be.
I feel like it has been an answer to prayer for me spiritually as well. Though I do see a place for vocational ministry and know that God calls us to different things, I noticed in my personal walk with Christ as a missionary that the gospel became my job. It tragically became something I “sold.” If I were a banana salesmen who focused all day on selling bananas, the last thing I would want to do at night would be to sit down and eat a plate of bananas. Though I knew it should not be like this for a missionary — and with many I know it is not — I found that the lines between my categories of work and the truth that changed everything in me often got blurred. Now I live in Milan, Italy as a person who has been radically changed and transformed by the gospel of Christ, placed in community with others, and has the privilege of being part of God’s mission to glorify himself on the earth. I cannot help but testify, NOT because it is my job, but because it is my life. People don’t distrust me when I do because I am a normal person and this is what I believe. They don’t see me as someone with a “hidden agenda” to convert them. Of course knowing they do not see me that way makes me even more bold in my testifying!
I love that one part: “Contextualization is no longer something that I have to be intentional in doing — I AM part of the context. I feel their pain and joy. I am one of them — not just pretending to be or trying to be.”
Do you know that for many church leaders, the same problem exists. They are not really part of the context. They are not “one of them.” They know it, and the people know it.
I wonder if all church leaders would find the same freedom and acceptance that my friend has found if they stepped away from “vocational ministry,” began working for their own support, and continued ministering to the people that God brings into their life… as one of them.