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Doctoral student researches impact of mission trips

Published January 03, 2014

Courage Mudzongo’s life changed on a mission trip.

He traveled to Nicaragua with a Fargo church group to build a school. The experience affected the NDSU doctoral student in developmental science so deeply that he plans to participate in mission trips for the rest of his life. When he was unable to return to Nicaragua this year, he was devastated.

“This is part of my life now,” said Mudzongo, who is from Zimbabwe. “It’s in my DNA. I was exceptionally disappointed I was not going to be able to go again. But it made me think of other ways I could contribute to the work that’s being done in Latin America.”

Mudzongo turned to his talent for research and data collection to become part of the trip without ever stepping foot in Nicaragua. He is conducting a research project on the impact of short-term mission trips on missionaries. Mudzongo hopes the results of the study will help lead to a better understanding of what techniques and practices work best when American groups take on projects around the world. Successful missions leave a positive imprint on the communities they serve and on the missionaries who participate, Mudzongo said.

The research project fits perfectly with Mudzongo’s interest in the study of human development. Studies have shown that spirituality can play an important part in human development because it helps shape values and self worth, and often positively affects how a person lives his or her life.

“Courage’s research is helping to fill an important gap in our knowledge base,” said Brandy Randall, NDSU associate professor of human development and family science, associate dean of the College of Graduate and Interdisciplinary Studies and Mudzongo’s faculty adviser. “Ultimately, information about what kinds of behaviors support the positive aspects of development can help enrich all our lives. Research such as this can help demonstrate the true value of this particular approach to global engagement.”

Mudzongo said he recognized how his church’s mission trip enriched his life, and that other missionaries may be affected the same way. He also knew there were no studies of the church’s mission trips and only a few recent studies of the impact by churches in the Midwest. That became the catalyst for the research project.

Mudzongo surveyed members of the mission group prior to their 12-day trip in February 2013. The missionaries completed the survey again when they returned. Mudzongo also interviewed several of the trip’s participants to help determine the mission’s impact on the missionaries.

The research showed the lives of missionaries were significantly affected by the face-to-face interaction with the people of Somotillo.

Mudzongo’s research also found that the missionaries were more compassionate, open and connected to the church and community after the mission trip. Missionaries participated more in their church, attended church services more regularly, continued to give generously to their church and to fund other mission trips, and volunteered for more projects in the community.

Mudzongo plans to follow up with a second research project to determine the impact of mission trips on the Nicaraguan people. The project would call for Mudzongo to return to the country that started this journey for surveys and interviews. He also hopes to do research with other churches in the area to learn their experiences on mission trips.

“All of what I am doing is contributing to human development,” Mudzongo said. “Developmental science is all about improving people’s lives through understanding their development processes from birth to death. These projects are looking to contribute to the spiritual well-being and physical improvement. They are a value addition to their human capital. All of those are important pieces of the human development puzzle.”


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