Deep in the heart of the South, arguably the most “‘Merica!” part of the country, pulses a melting pot community called Clarkston– latched onto the much broader (and still diverse) area of Decatur, just one of many communities that ripple out from downtown in the ever-expanding metropolis of Atlanta.

My first experience with Clarkston was visiting and praying with a believer named Daniel (mentioned in a previous post), then eating lunch at a Somalian restaurant, where our group contained the only Caucasians in the building… and the only women. Our friend Claude told us about the community– how it is a government-selected city for refugee relocation. We realized we literally have the nations of the world living right down the road from us.

A few weeks later (this week), Claude and some other friends took some of us to an expansive Clarkston apartment complex. Basically, they transported us into a new world.

Run-down apartments lined streets with more puddles and potholes than pavement. Some doors were flung wide open, others boarded shut. Clothes were laid on bushes to dry. Adults milled in and out of their homes. Cars drove through, honking at children to get out of the street.

And they had to, because the children were everywhere on the streets. Somalian, Ethiopian, Thai, Burmese, and African American kids raced up and down or sat talking and drawing on each other’s arms. At least three separate soccer games were taking place simultaneously. Some Thai children played high rope (jumping over… you guessed it… a high rope). Young boys engaged in mud wars in the sludge that substituted for yards between the apartments.

We found the playground, and as the stench sidled up to my nose, I realized it was no wonder there were scores of kids in the streets and none on the mildly dilapidated playground equipment– it was right next to the extremely ripe dumpster. Not to mention the random mattresses chilling on the slide and bridge.

Some Burmese girls really warmed up to us. In fact, I still have their blue ink pen flower tatoos on my hands and arms. We talked and played Simon Says and made jokes. And I knew I would have to come back to this place.

One of my teammates was able to engage several of the older teenagers in the area in some deep discussion of the gospel, and they were eager to learn more! A definite prayer request is that we will be able to encounter these people again and that God will use us to teach them about his truth and love.

I’ve been reading in one of our assigned books for the internship, Center Church by Tim Keller, and in one section he writes about contextualization. This trip to Clarkston was probably the most illuminating experiences that I’ve had about the need for contextualization when it comes to living out my faith.

What does biblical contextualization mean? It means adapting how you minister and share the gospel in a way that stays true to the content of the gospel, yet explains and expresses it in ways that best fit that culture.

In Clarkston, we scrape street asphalt under our shoes as we play with kids, instead of crunching the grass or mulch of a playground. We chat with people outside their homes, not in a coffee shop or Chick-fil-A. We play high rope and a hand-clap version of Rock Paper Scissors and soccer instead of Halo and Angry Birds and American football. We let the residents share their culture and we don’t try to force ours on them. We think tactfully, observe thoughtfully, and act carefully. And we let the Holy Spirit drive.

Which, if we’re honest, is what we should be doing in every cultural context.

I see so much need in Clarkston– physical, emotional, spiritual. But I also see much opportunity. More openness than I would imagine. More beautiful diversity in the ethnic tapestry than I’d ever attribute to good-ol’-boy Georgia. So, as little girls drew flowers on my arms, my soul drew a heart around Clarkston.


COMMENT: When have you contextualized your ministry to an individual or community? Where have you seen a need for contextualization?

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