Over the past few decades, short-term mission trips have exploded in popularity. With easy access to affordable air travel, millions of American Christians have journeyed internationally for ministry, service and evangelism. Short-term trips are praised for involving many in global mission but also critiqued for their limitations.
Despite the diversity of destinations, certain universal commonalities emerge in how mission trip participants describe their experiences: "My eyes were opened to the world's needs." "They ministered to us more than we ministered to them." "It changed my life."
Anthropologist Brian Howell explores the narrative shape of short-term mission (STM). Drawing on the anthropology of tourism and pilgrimage, he shows how STM combines these elements with Christian purposes of mission to create its own distinct narrative. He provides a careful historical survey of the development of STM and then offers an in-depth ethnographic study of a particular mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He explores how participants remember and interpret their experiences, and he unpacks the implications for how North American churches understand mission, grapple with poverty and relate to the larger global church.
A groundbreaking book for all who want to understand how and why American Christians undertake short-term mission.
"Christian colonialism, sanctified vacations, or life-transforming service--short-term missions (STM) has evoked positive and negative comments from supporters and naysayers alike. Getting behind the photos, theologies and histories of the STM movement, Howell offers engaging anthropological insight into the narratives that shape and sustain the experience of STM. Bringing a keen ethnographic eye to his subject of STM narratives, Howell's book is lucid and accessible, striking a helpful balance between constructive criticism and affirmation. If you are at all interested in short-term missions, this book is for you."
"Short-Term Mission is a fascinating look at the effects of short-term missions trips. Why is it that when students or adults return from a missions experiences they all seem to share the same story? Have we romanticized the experiences so much that we can't learn what God wants to teach us? Brian Howell explores how the pretrip narrative is driving the experience. Brian also exams how the culture of short-term missions gets in the way of experiencing and learning from the culture we are going to serve. If you are leading short-term mission trips, you need to read this book. The research that Brian has done clearly points to the need for rethinking and adjusting our short-term missions experiences."
"Anthropologist Brian Howell brings rich research skills in participant observation and expertise in social theory to this fascinating project. His book is at the cutting edge of emerging scholarship on the topic of short-term missions. Scholars, students and participants in short-term mission trips will all find this book educational, insightful and provocative."
"With scholarly sophistication and insider humor, Brian Howell offers invaluable critique of the popular international short-term mission trip. He tracks the history and treks along with church groups. Most importantly, Howell scrutinizes the unhelpful narratives evangelicals tell themselves about what they are doing--and calls us all to greater self-awareness, crosscultural respectfulness and justice-informed engagement. A 'must-read' for leaders of our global generation."
"Brian Howell's insight into the overarching narrative of short-term trips is thought-provoking and practical. I hope many pastors and trip leaders read this book. Everyone involved in these trips--those going and those being visited--deserves a more thoughtful, eyes-wide-open approach like Howell advocates for here."
"A fascinating study on how language inadvertently undermines the best-laid plans. Howell's insights and practical suggestions provide great recommendations for thoughtful mission leaders. Whether your sphere is a church mission program, young adults, high schoolers, mission agency or in missions mobilizing, Short-Term Mission can help cultivate lasting impact. Giving voice to our majority world partners, revealing invisible aspects like structure and power, this book is surprising in its scope."
"Howell's intercultural anthropological study of the dynamics and impact of Christian travel narrative on short-term mission (STM) is fascinating. This interdisciplinary study served as a warning for me that the lore of STM needs scrutiny. On the other hand, the narratives of God's mission have intrinsic value in and of themselves. A surprisingly intriguing yet academic read!"
"Howell's careful ethnographic research helps to fill a significant gap in understanding the underlying motivations of short-term missionaries from the Global North. In addition, as STMs increasingly originate from Brazil, Nigeria, China and the Global South, his research provides a framework for analyzing additional motivating forces such as migration and trade."
"Short-Term Mission is an essential resource for short-term missionaries, leaders and supporters. Brian Howell is an expert guide, offering the wisdom of a devout Christian, the education of an anthropologist and the experience of a short-term missionary. This book shows as well as tells; the reader accompanies Brian on his own short-term mission, from preparation and the trip itself to post-trip reflection. He is both participant and observer, using his anthropological skills to interpret the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary approaches to short-term mission. He breaks down any simple notion of 'helping,' 'rescuing,' 'befriending' and even 'evangelizing,' and offers both critical and spiritual wisdom that can help short-term missionaries plan and conduct their projects in the best way possible. This book will help churches and groups do short-term mission with strong preparation, realistic and respectful cross-cultural relationships, spiritual reflection and follow-up, and most importantly, faithfulness to the Great Commission. Every short-term missionary comes back with a story to tell. Listen to Brian's narrative, and let it shape how you plan, experience and tell your own story of short-term mission."
"This book could change the world. Or at least make a big difference for a lot of people. Millions of short termers travel overseas. If they applied the good sense in this book--the theology, social science and practical applications--what reverberations would echo around the globe. Not least would be the maturing of the American church."
"Howell causes us to reconsider our own cultural narrative as part of the learning process as we engage in STM cross-culturally."
Well-researched, engaging, and insightful, Short-Term Mission is an essential resource for STM leaders and participants alike. Filled with thought-provoking case studies and narratives, the conclusions of Howell's research have the potential to significantly redirect the conversation surrounding STM. As such, this text is ideal for church leaders and members, scholars and students, and others interested in the development, impact and future of STM."
"Howell's book would be an excellent catalyst for conversation in a college class or among members of a missions committee."
"Full of surprises in practical wisdom, provoking insights and giving voice to the majority world, Brian Howell's book challenges evangelicals to a new self-awareness of cross-cultural sensitivity and compassionate involvement in short-term missions."
Preface and Acknowledgments
Part One: Introducing Narratives
1. "It Changed my Life": Short-Term Mission and Christian Narratives of Travel
2. "Are You for Them or Against Them"? Defining Short-Term Mission
Part Two: The History of a Narrative
3. "That's No Missionary!": Redefining Mission and the Missionary Establishment
4. "Youth Try the Impossible!": Youth Movements and Short Term Mission
5. "It Will Change Your Life": Short-Term Mission and Central Wheaton Church
Part Three: Traveling Narratives
6. "Remember, These Are Real Missions": Embodying a Missionary Narrative at Central Wheaton Church
7. "Pour Out Your Soul": Living the Narrative of Short-Term Mission
8. "Of Course You Always Grow Close to God on a Mission Trip": (Re)narrating a Short-Term Mission Trip
Part Four: The Future of a Narrative
9. "Just Bring Greetings": Creating a New Narrative for Short-Term Mission
10. "And What Does the Lord Require of You?": Suggestions and an Encouraging Postscript
Notes on Transcription