Christian international volunteering
: unpacking motivations and engagements with poverty, injustice and inequality

  • Beth Saunders

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


International volunteering has become an increasingly common activity where gap year students, diaspora communities, retirees and faith groups travel oversees to experience another culture and play a role in addressing global poverty. A growing number of academic, practioner and public audiences are analysing this practice, yet despite the notable exceptions of Baillie-Smith et al (2013) and Hopkins et al (2015), Christian international volunteering has received less attention than its nonfaith counterparts. This thesis addresses the knowledge gaps of how faith motivates individuals to participate in international volunteering programmes and how these programmes influence understandings of, and commitments to address, poverty, injustice and inequality. During a threemonth fieldwork placement in Tanzania, I volunteered with a Christian international development organisation and collected data through ethnographic observations and semi-structured interviews with international volunteers, host organisations and local missionaries. Volunteers feel called by God to help other Christians overseas and desire to grow in their faith; whereas host organisations hope to build relationships, develop their skills and secure financial support. Volunteers understand poverty holistically, having both religious and material dimensions. The shared faith of the hosts and volunteers create genuine friendships that transcend cultural differences and the volunteers reassess their own internal biases and stereotypes of Africa as poor, barren and homogenous. The volunteers develop global citizen and cosmopolitan tendencies and become active in addressing global poverty and inequality through prayer. Yet, some volunteers overlook the material poverty in the host communities due to a perceived spiritual richness. Further, some fail to acknowledge their privileges, attributing these to luck and blessings from God and remaining unaware of the systems of oppression that have caused global poverty and inequality. This thesis shows the need for Christian international volunteers to develop a greater understanding of the root causes of global poverty and inequality in order to shape their own values, lifestyles and social advocacy, on and beyond the volunteer programmes.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMichael Woods (Supervisor) & Jesse Heley (Supervisor)

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