Guest / Limited Access /

It's a relatively common sight at the airport: the conclusion of a short-term mission trip. A dozen suburban teenagers wearing matching yellow T-shirts talk about two weeks of manual labor at an orphanage and share iPhone photos of their trip to the jungle. Wheaton College anthropologist Brian M. Howell has puzzled over this phenomenon. Is it about service, tourism, personal pilgrimage, or something else completely? Are short-term missions even missions at all? Freelance writer Jeff Haanen spoke with Howell, author of Short-term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience (IVP Academic), about how Christians justify short-term mission trips, the problem with these stories, and how churches can do short-term missions better.

As an anthropologist, why write a book on short-term missions?

When I started teaching in the 1990s, I asked students about their cross-cultural experiences. Some hadn't done anything, or some maybe had taken a cruise. But when I came to Wheaton College and asked the same questions, I would get stories about northern Ghana, Mongolia, the Czech Republic—places people don't normally go on vacation. Short-term missions had exploded, and all these students had gone on short-term mission trips.

I was curious not just about the experiences, but the fact that they talked about them so similarly. They seemed to have this really well-developed narrative and vocabulary about what these trips were for and what they were like. It didn't matter whether they went to Mexico or to South Africa, it was all similar. I was interested in how these trips affected them culturally and made them think about their faith.

What was the common story you uncovered?

The common ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueCatholics and Baptists Together
Subscriber Access Only Catholics and Baptists Together
The recent synod of bishops sounded notes Protestants can sing.
RecommendedA Timeline of Black Christianity Before the Civil War
Subscriber Access Only A Timeline of Black Christianity Before the Civil War
The first black pastor to lead a white congregation, the start of the AME, and slavery splits American denominations.
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
%%var.bookTitle%%
Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience
IVP Academic
2012-10-07
256 pp., $22.43
Buy %%var.bookTitle%% from Amazon
Christianity Today
How Can Short-Term Missions Best Advance God's Mission?
hide thisJanuary/February January/February

In the Magazine

January/February 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.