Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience

Article excerpt

Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience. By Brian M. Howell. Downers Grove, III: PVP Academic, 2012. Pp. 256. Paperback $20.

Among recent scholars who are turning their attention to the exploding phenomenon of short-term missions (STM), Brian Howell is the first to provide a full-length ethnography exploring "what these trips mean for those who participate, how they reflect or refashion the practices and beliefs of participants and how they contribute to particular understandings of the world beyond those of the STM travelers" (29). A professor of anthropology at Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois, Howell gathered and analyzed data from two trips he took with local church members to the Dominican Republic. Rather than orient his writing to anthropologists, Howell chose InterVarsity Press, using his theological training and evangelical membership to speak to short-term travelers, leaders, and informed Christian readers.

Drawing on the Billy Graham Center archives, his own field notes, and followup interviews, he examines the narratives evangelicals tell themselves about what they are doing. With accessible scholarly sophistication and insider humor, he analyzes the unhelpful nature of narratives that obscure global material realities while encouraging suburbanites to be thankful for their social location, even while taking "lessons" from the poor "happy" nationals they encounter (especially cute brown children). …