Short-Term Mission is an in-depth examination of how short-term missions (STMs) create their own distinct narratives in the minds' of those who participate.
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.
Brian M. Howell is associate professor of anthropology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is also the author of several books including .
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.
associate professor, Seattle Pacific University, and teaching fellow, Regent College, author of Daughters of Islam and Kingdom Without Borders
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.
-Jenell Williams Paris,
professor of anthropology, Messiah College
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.
-Todd M. Johnson,
associate professor of global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
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!
dean of the College of Intercultural Studies, Columbia International University
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.
program director, Urbana Student Missions Conference, coeditor, More Than Serving Tea
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.
co-director, Haiti Partners, author, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle and After Shock
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.
-Kersten Bayt Priest,
Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, Indiana Wesleyan University
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.
-Robert J. Priest,
professor of mission and anthropology, G. W. Aldeen Professor of International Studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
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.
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.
-Charles E. Farhadian,
associate professor of world religions and Christian mission, Westmont College
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