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 3: The End-of-Trip Debrief
We’ve previously talked briefly about building healthy and positive neurological pathways of learning in our brains after new experiences. For team members to get as much learning and personal growth and change out of a missions trip investment of time and money, they may need guidance. After all, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some of them.
That guidance takes place first on the field in daily mini-debriefs and then at the end-of-trip debrief. It is helpful to give about two weeks between the flight home and this meeting, which should ideally happen over dinner or a Saturday brunch (church-provided or pot-luck-style meals work equally well). Have team members block off at least three hours and turn off their phones. This may be the most important three hours of their missionary journey, and the time should feel unhurried.
Here are two resource books we have used successfully:
Coming Home: Reentry Devotions for a Successful Return by Howard and Bonnie Lisech - This is a 2-week devotional that I order for each family, and they start it the day after they come home. It is unfortunately not available new on Amazon (as of this writing), but you can contact the authors directly through their ministry website: Visit DeeperRoots.com to order.
And Returning Well by Melissa Chaplin - A really thorough book that covers almost any eventuality, and it is especially helpful for long-term missionaries returning home to go through the whole book. But I love this resource to grab questions for helping with specific things that come up with short-term teams.
I have used three different questioning techniques, though I am sure there are others.
Spontaneous Questions. When using this technique, I usually come prepared with a handful of questions (written down for my own reference) to ask each person in the group. They each either go in a circle to answer or can volunteer their order on each different question. They all answer the same questions, and I offer individual follow up questions for clarity or to help emphasize a pattern I see the Holy Spirit drawing attention to for that individual.
Index Card Questions. With this option I pre-write questions on cards in different categories and scatter each category on a table for the group to read and choose 1-3 questions per category. I do have multiple copies of the same question available of the particularly good questions. You never know what questions a person will have prick their heart as to what they want to answer on your Debrief Day. I offer to let them take home any questions they answered or any leftovers that interest them. It requires more preparation work and a few feedback questions for clarity during the session, but for the most part this style of debrief is team-member directed, as the questions just go around the circle by category 1, then 2 etc.
Written Questionnaire. This style of offering questions still offers categories of questions and provides 1-3 pages of sometimes light, sometimes detailed questions for team members to work through at home in the week before the Debrief. They arrive with thought-out answers they are willing to share. Not every question is answered by every person. They can choose which ones to answer in writing and which answers they would like to share. This technique works well in at least two cases, 1. If you have deep thinkers within your team and 2. If they have had a longer trip or have a lot of experiences to process, especially if there were multiple locations visited.
Optional Spouse Debrief
An additional debrief to consider with time and resources on your hands is to interact in a similar style with the spouses who were left at home. These spouses picked up slack and took care of children 24/7 while the other was serving in an exciting overseas trip. The care and attention shown through a dinner debrief with them will also help them process all that happened while they were solo at home. God never wastes an opportunity to interact with us and help us grow. A debrief can help spouses identify what they learned about themselves, about God, and about their spouse while their spouse was on the field. A good question to insert for this group is, “What do you now appreciate more than ever about doing life with your spouse?” I suggest having all couples present for this, if possible, so the ones who traveled can more fully appreciate what the spouses left at home handled and what they experienced while they were away.
Providing categories of questions during a debrief will help team members focus on one particular area of their life in relation to the questions. It provides some boundaries and a sense of direction since they will know which categories are yet to come and not feel like they have to cram everything into one answer.
Some samples of actually used category options and question include:
Before and After for the Inner Self: Before you left what were your highest priorities in life and what did you value most? Where has God made some shifts?
On the Homefront: How, if at all, did others try to dissuade you from going? Did you feel adequately prepared for ministry and cultural adjustment?
Identify: Identify 1-5, if any, cultural adaptations (new tools, skills, or habits you employed) you made in your lifestyle while away that you plan to maintain.
First Impressions: What are the emotions and impressions you experienced upon first setting eyes on our host country?
Themes of Change: Which prophetic acts, prayer times, or encounters with Jesus did you find most meaningful and impactful while away? Why?
Re-entry Procedure: What truths are the Holy Spirit drawing to your attention during your re-entry? Do you find yourself dealing with offense against your home culture? Over what? Why do you think that is?
The Experience: What stories do you find yourself sharing over and over again? What do you wish you could accurately convey to people about how you feel, about your experience in your host country?
Spouses: What did you appreciate most about the other while apart or on this trip together?
Integration: What sacrifices or changes has God been developing in His vision for you since your return?
Leaving your Host Culture: If you were to capture both the delightful and the painful in leaving your host culture in ONE picture, what would it look like?
Facing personal wellness challenges (if there was sickness on the trip): How did you deal with tummy trouble? How did it feel to be praying for others and still not feel well and have to take medicine yourself?
A few generalized feedback question examples:
What did you learn about God in such and such situation?
What did you learn about yourself or your own cultural expectation related to______?
My favorite question of all time is “Where did you see God at work extraordinarily?” Leaders can use this one often, in-country and at home, and in relation to just about any topic or category. When introduced early in-country or even in pre-trip team meetings, this question gets team members watching every day for God at work in themselves, in team members, in indigenous leaders, and in congregations or marketplaces. It really gets people’s minds working toward seeing God in every situation, but they notice different levels of intervention, and it is fun to watch God develop an attentiveness toward Him in others (and ourselves).
The wonderful thing about debriefing is that not only are you as the leader helping the team process the events of preparation and going and ministry, but you have a chance to receive feedback for preparing and training the next team, for planning the itinerary and travel plans for your next group.
Part 4 will offer some trouble-shooting advice for during your at-home debrief
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.