So you’re home from a spectacular mission trip. Now what? This blog series breaks down the what, why, and how of a post-mission debrief. For both great memories and stressful experiences, a thorough debrief is perhaps one of the most important parts of the trip. It helps solidify in individual hearts all the things God was pouring into each team member. It can also redirect a fixated memory from stressful situations by recalling the stories and events where God was working extraordinarily.
Part 2: Planning a Daily Debrief In-Country
When leading teams on mission trips, I usually lead an evening or next-morning mini-debrief every day. We talk about what things are standing out in our experience, what it feels like God is doing or wants to do. We talk because talking as a group helps some team members process their feelings and it will help everyone take a wider view and catch up on things they might have missed because God had them focused elsewhere.
A good daily debrief includes the following features which will be further explained below. One of the simplest questions I use to get things started is, “Where did you see God at work today?”
They are conducted in a closed environment without the host nation represented
Everybody gets a chance to talk
People are asked to share their experience, opinions, and observations (no right or wrong answers)
Team members are encouraged to request prayer and pray for others so we are in this together, growing, learning and supporting, and building relationships that will continue at home.
Tough or awkward experiences are shared so they are not repeated by other team members or the person can know what to do.
Bad situations or experiences are shared to keep them from festering under the surface and in the dark. A debriefer skilled in using questions can help a team member begin to re-write their memories of difficult circumstances to bring out the good things God is doing even in the worst situations.
Miracles and kindnesses are celebrated and become expected more every day as they are shared.
Debriefing on a daily basis while in-country helps team members begin to organize their experience to pull as much learning and positive experiences out of their time away as possible. They begin to learn how to view people, including themselves, through God-lenses that they can take back to their every-day views of life back at home. They learn to find the praise in more situations. They learn revision of a bad situation. By “revision” I mean both “to look at something again” and “to change things” for the next time around, like learning from a mistake. And even the most well-prepared and easy-to-get-along-with teams will make mistakes, commit cultural faux pas, or generally behave like rowdy Americans at some point or another.
The reason we suggest a closed, team-only environment is for personal freedom to speak in terms that are familiar to the home culture of the team and not have the team worried about offending the host culture by using words with comparison language, nuances, meanings, and connotations that might not be readily understood. Many times part of processing, especially for first timers is comparing the new culture to their known culture. Even when not meant as derogatory, the new culture can sound like it is coming up short by comparison. By keeping the mini-debrief to team-only participation, it avoids the host feeling slighted and it keeps the team members from feeling like they have to speak too carefully and in so doing are not able to express their feelings and therefore are unable to process well.
Everybody Gets a Chance to Talk
Most teams will have one or two people who may tend toward dominating a conversation because they are talkers or verbal processors. Using direct questions, or pre-written questions that each member chooses, will offer each person a dedicated chance to interact with the group without interruption. If your verbal processors are just not getting enough talk-time for them to process, I’ve found--as crazy as it sounds--putting two of them together and just letting them go at it, and spend their words with each other, actually works.
Experience, Opinions, and Observations
In a debrief there are no right or wrong answers. The leader is asking about people’s experiences and what they think or feel about them. Questions toward that end increase a team’s ability to open up and share.
In the Vineyard, we know the power of prayer, but there are added benefits that we can forget besides God intervening and answering our prayers. Team members are encouraged to request prayer and pray for others on the team so strong relationship is built. They quickly come to recognize “we are in this together.” When a team bonds over open, honest prayer everyone grows, learns, and supports each other. This relationship building will have positive outcomes, not only as they minister together on the field, but also continue back in the home congregation. Team bonding over missions can be some of the richest, fastest-forming relationships a person experiences.
Sharing Tough or Awkward Experiences
These—usually embarrassing—experiences should be shared so they are not repeated by other team members or so the person can know what to do. Even if the team leader observed the difficult situation, it might be helpful to explain in the mini-debrief that it helps to share a burden with others who love and care for you. Perhaps use a question to make it easier to open up, “Did anyone have an awkward moment today?” Keeping something embarrassing a secret or hidden allows the enemy to use the experience to torment. The sooner a tough or awkward experience is shared the sooner a person can laugh at their cultural faux pas or ineptitude and move on. As previously mentioned in part 1, a skilled debriefer using questions can help a team member begin to re-write memories of difficult circumstances to bring out the good things God is doing even in the worst situations.
Celebrating Miracles and Kindnesses
We celebrate daily the good things God is doing. Mostly because He is at work all around us; He deserves to be noticed and He is worthy of our praise! Secondarily, the more people talk about the miraculous things they are seeing happen around them, the more “normal” God’s intervention becomes. We come to expect miracles, then because of our increased level of faith, we do see more miracles. This is the kind of neurological pathway we want to invest in and build. When a team comes home pumped up with this faith and sharing their stories, it has a tendency to stir faith in the friends and congregation listening to them, then that faith activates more miracles and kindnesses. God receives more glory and honor.
Are there other practices you have found effective for daily mini-debriefs (even if you didn’t call it that)? We would love to hear from you! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Sharing those God stories and processing all that was experienced in the end-of-trip debrief is discussed in Part 3 of this series.
The Debrief For Missions Teams
Kim Frolander, Vineyard Missions Blogger
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.