Kurt Ver Beek, assistant professor of sociology and third-world development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently published a study that questioned whether short-term missionaries and those served by such missionaries experienced long-term life changes from such missions. We summarized that study and 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.
I agree that we have too easily accepted claims about the benefits of short-term missions (STM), and that research has sometimes failed to support such claims. But I see the implications differently than you do. I remain convinced, for example, that if young people are taken out of their wealthy suburban settings to work in the slums of Tijuana, this encounter creates tremendous potential for reconsidering one's fundamental assumptions and values.
But the encounter, by itself, does not guarantee the desired results. Rather than assume the benefit comes through the sheer fact of an STM trip, the positive results come through a merger of the experiential and the pedagogical. If a person encounters cultural difference for two weeks, without anyone helping them to understand the culture concept and grasp the inner meaning, value, and coherence of another culture, they are more likely to ethnocentrically judge the other culture than to understand and appreciate it. But if an interpreter of the culture guides the encounter and frames the cultural dimensions of it, ...1