We recently published the summary of a study by Kurt Ver Beek, assistant professor of sociology and third-world development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which questioned whether short-term missionaries and those served by such missionaries experienced long-term life changes from such missions. We have asked Ver Beek to discuss his work further with Robert Priest, associate professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. At the end of the discussion, Ver Beek and Priest will take readers' questions, which may be submitted via e-mail.
From: Robert Priest
To: Kurt Ver Beek
Greetings from Lima, Peru. Last week, at the departure gate of O'Hare airport, my sons pointed out that a third of our waiting area was taken by two short-term mission teams, identifiable by their T-shirts, traveling to the Dominican Republic and to Venezuela. The summer short-term mission season is in full swing!
Just how big is short-term missions (STM)? As a grass-roots, decentralized movement, its scope is difficult to determine. And yet your own estimate of between 1 million and 4 million North American short-term missionaries every year may well be a conservative estimate. The sociologist Christian Smith, based on national random survey data, reports that 29 percent of all 13- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. have "gone on a religious missions team or religious service project," with 10 percent having gone on such trips three or more times. That is, his data indicates that far more than 2 million 13- to 17-year-olds go on such trips every year.
This is an enormous phenomenon, and yet it has largely escaped the attention of scholars. ...