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Young Christians see volunteering as a means to be closer to God, not closer to an employer


Short-term volunteering overseas is seen by young people as an opportunity to become more knowledgeable about their Christian faith and more confident in practicing and discussing it, researchers at Newcastle University have concluded.

Their research showed that the main motivation among young people for taking part in faith-based overseas volunteering was a desire to develop their faith rather than to enhance their CVs. Even though many of them recognised that working overseas had increased their confidence and had helped them develop various skills, including leadership traits, they were more likely to use these in a non-competitive way such as taking on more responsibility within their local church or community.

The study, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, was carried out with 22 young people for whom Christianity is already an important part of their life and who spent time in four South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Ecuador, working in local communities on building projects, youth work and drama and music projects.

The research set out to assess the impact of short-term faith-based volunteer missions on young people’s transition to adulthood.  Participants were interviewed before and after their trips, and kept diaries during their time away. Following their mission trips, many of them commented that they were more self-assured and secure about practising their religion, in contrast to how they felt before they left, when many – though not all – had said they felt self-conscious, shy and uncertain about expressing their religion openly.

In the pre-departure interviews, participants also talked of themselves as no longer being a child but not yet being an adult. When they returned from their trip, many of them commented that they were more likely to be respected and treated as adults in the setting of a faith-based volunteering scheme in their destination country than in their home community.

Peter Hopkins, (pictured), Professor of Social Geography in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, said: “Our participants were eager to use their trips as a way to test the strength of their faith and identify areas for personal growth. They were also interested in developing a global understanding of what it means to be a Christian, by comparing faith in their host country with that of ‘back home’. 

“In the case of religious volunteering, we previously knew relatively little about how young people regard these experiences in the context of their overall life course and transition into adulthood. This study has shown that alongside significant life changes such as attending University, leaving the family home and starting work, this type of short-term mission trip can have a marked impact on how young people view themselves and their place in the world.”

One organisation which organises faith-based missions overseas is Reading-based Latin Link. Alan Tower, International Team Leader, said: “Young people now volunteering with us want to address justice issues in the world, and they want to serve God. What they find is that the world is bigger and more welcoming as well as more challenging than they could ever have imagined. This helps them transition to a more adult response to meeting global needs, responsible living and living out their Christian faith practically. On return they are able to better inform and challenge friends, family and their churches. Our short term teams programme helps the face the challenges and process learning together with others and in a guided context.”

The research paper can be found at:

published on: 26 March 2015