When everyone around you looks, dresses, talks, eats, and shops like you, you feel like an insider. I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, and we lived in a sort of culture bubble. Though our city was ethnically diverse, it was culturally homogeneous. I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but it wasn't until I was 17 years old that I ever truly felt like an outsider.
The summer after my Senior year in high school, I worked at an urban mission center in San Francisco. For three months, I lived in the parsonage apartment of a small Baptist church in a particularly rough part of the city. I was surrounded by Asian immigrants, Hispanic migrants, and low-income black people. For the most part, people were friendly and accepting, but I remember feeling so... different.
When you're an outsider, you behave differently. You keep your guard up. You don't assume you understand what's going on, what people are thinking. You have to work a bit harder to understand and to be understood. You quickly learn to find someone on the inside to help you navigate it all.
We Christians tend to do better when we're in the minority. Our rightful place in this world is as outsiders. After all, we are "called-out-ones" (ekklesia). When we're outsiders, we study culture, rather than consume it. We recognize the significance of cultural barriers and we're pressed to rely on God to overcome them.
If you've not spent a good deal of time as an outsider, I encourage you to intentionally put yourself in that position. Explore a new neighborhood. Visit a cultural center. Attend an ethnic festival. Eat strange food. This is the best way to re-orient your perspective on your relationship to the world around you.
Until we recognize that in Christ, we are necessarily outsiders, we really cannot know what it means to be sent into the world on God's global mission. Our citizenship is of a heavenly kingdom, and we've been sent here as God's ambassadors.