Sunday, November 16, 2008

Student Visits Abroad Influence Future Plans!

Here are my initial reactions to the survey of intercultural studies students as reported in the previous post entitled “IWU Students Go Global.”

Short Term Visits Strongly Influence Students’ Future Plans

To begin, short term visits definitely influence our students’ inclinations to live and serve abroad. Statistical analyses show a very strong direct relationship between where students have previously visited and where they say they are most likely to live abroad after graduation. This finding is true for those who have visited Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin and South America, and the Middle East. (Note that statistical tests were not appropriate for the Pacific area because there was only one student for this area.)

Something Else is Going on in Africa

At first glance, findings from the Africa area represent a puzzling exception to the findings from the other areas as reported in the previous paragraph. In fact, more students indicated that they are most likely to live abroad in Africa (n=19) than those that have previously ever visited there (n=13). This inclination is especially noteworthy given that many areas in Sub Saharan Africa are rapidly becoming Christian, more so in fact than in Europe and North America.

This finding suggests that other influences may be at work, perhaps including strong compassionate responses to the many humanitarian crises on this hurting continent. It would wonderful if some of our students could help in this area, especially if they assume a servant role in partnership with our African churches and their leaders.

At the same time, let’s not forget that countless peoples in Northern Africa still have not heard of our Lord Jesus Christ. As awareness about these needs grows, perhaps God will draw the hearts of some of our students to this northern region.

Fewer Students Are Inclined to Live in the Least Christian Areas

Also note that fewer students say they are most likely to live abroad in the least reached areas of the world (approximately only 40%) than those in areas more strongly Christian (approximately 60%). Even as I write these words, my heart is breaking. Here is the breakdown of the percentages:

Approximately 40% in the least reached areas:
o Asia (14.0%)
o Europe (22.8%)
o The Middle East (1.8%)
o The Pacific (1.8%)

Approximately 60% in increasingly Christian areas:
o Africa (33.3%)
o The Caribbean (8.8%)
o Latin and South America (15.8%)

Variety of Ministries Represents Potential for the Least Reached Areas

Finally, the variety of ministries to which our students aspire holds great potential for Christian outreach. Those inclined toward compassionate ministries, and community relief and development, represent just over 50% of our intercultural studies students. Plus an additional 35% are interested in other areas of service, such as teaching English, medical ministries, primary and secondary education, and other entrepreneurial initiatives. This is very encouraging, given that these ministries can provide wonderful outreach opportunities in the least reached areas of the world. Furthermore, those interested in church planting and leadership training include another 14%.

So what should be our responses to these findings, as students, as missions training programs, as mission agencies and as local churches? I will continue to reflect on these observations in future postings. In the meantime, your input is welcomed.


::athada:: said...

If we are promoting a Int'l Com. Dev. major as distinct from Intercultural Studies and even Christian Ministries (although there is obvious overlap), what would their particular "field" look like? From your comments regarding reached and unreached categories, it sounds more like traditional church-planting missionaries you are talking about wanting to send to these areas. However, these do not overlap completely with what we might call the more humanitarian fields, which would be more ICD-oriented.

I am convinced we need "both, and" instead of "either, or". But are you talking about sending folks that are theologically trained in issues of church governance, planting, etc. OR folks in the business / poverty / environmental end, which (though related) could be a quite different skill set and ministry model.

I write this as an ICD major moving towards a ecumenical community in Latin America who works with women in prostitution (not church planting).

Norman Wilson said...

I agree that our approach ought not be viewed as “either/or,” but rather “both/and,” and both programs are designed for this kind of integrated preparation. The liberal arts core of both programs also contributes to this approach.

On one hand, many of the courses in the intercultural studies program have served as the broader foundation, and it is really a more generalized major.

On the other hand, the international and community development major is more specialized and conforms to the growing field of studies in this area.

For both programs, and especially for the intercultural studies major, we encourage students to consider double-majoring in another discipline, often with the idea of acquiring a “passport skill.” This is increasingly important, especially for entry in “creative access” countries, that is those biased against missionary work.

Majoring in either area is primarily a choice to specialize, and we encourage people to sense God’s leading, believing that a diversity of skills and emphases are needed to accomplish the work to which God is calling us. I envision a mix of such specializations in missions around the world.