Drawing on his study of one hundred evangelical missionaries in Ecuador, Jeffrey Swanson explores the lives of missionaries as sociological "strangers." The work begins with the author's interpretation of how his own experience as a child of missionaries shaped the viewpoint of estrangement from which the book is written. Swanson renders the formation of a missionary identity as the rhetorical composition of a personal testimony, in which life stories of separation, loss, conflict, and conversion are melded symbolically with historical mission themes of sacrifice, heroism, spiritual militancy, and divine calling. Relying on his subjects' own narratives, the author traces the missionaries' personal journeys as their sense of calling first emerges, and then as it must be reinterpreted to account for unexpected, ambiguous, and often disillusioning experiences in their host country. Swanson argues that missionaries are marginal individuals who use their vocation creatively to produce a meaningful social world, and who use rhetoric effectively to maintain that world, for themselves and for supporters in their home country.
An intriguing and nuanced study, this book is a significant contribution to present sociological literature concerning missionaries and American evangelicals.