“Debrief” can sound like a technical or intimidating conversation. According the dictionary a debriefing is only “a series of questions about a completed mission or undertaking.”
What does that mean? It means, after a significant experience, like serving as a missionary overseas, (a) you ask a series of intentional questions around a key subject, (b) listen well, and (c) look for ways you can be supportive in the processing of that experience. Hopefully that is less intimidating.An essential, but often neglected, part of being an effective sending church is caring well for missionaries when they return. Click To Tweet
Below we want to offer you a series of “debriefing conversation outlines.” We put this phrase in quotes, because these outlines should be held with loose hands. Know the big idea of what each conversation is seeking to accomplish. Have an idea of the kind of questions that prompt these conversations. Then allow your friend’s need, your compassion, and the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation.
We want our missionaries who return (permanently or on furlough) to feel “cared for” not “walked through a program” after having had a conversation with you. This document contains five debriefing conversation guides; two for when your friend is one the field and three for when your friend is stateside.
On the Field Debrief (1 of 2):
Big Idea: You want to get an update on how your friend is doing physically, emotionally, and spiritually with their transition to a new culture and new responsibilities. If you are talking to your friend monthly, then bring up two or three of the questions below in a given conversation based on which seem relevant to recent events in their life, but making sure all are asked in any 3 month interval.
- How are you doing physically adjusting to jetlag, food, climate, etc. ?
- What words would you use to describe your new role (i.e., exciting, overwhelming, boring, uncertain, etc.)?
- How are doing socially; both with your team and with the culture?
- How is your language study going?
- What is going on in the news there (politically, socially, etc.)? How does that affect you and your work?
- (If applicable) How are your kids doing? How is their school going? Are they making friends well?
- How is your spiritual walk? What is it like to be a part of a church in another culture as your home church? How is your prayer life and time with God?
- What is the most frequent unpleasant emotion(s) that you’re experiencing? How have you been responding to that emotion(s)?
- To help your friend feel less alone with their experience; celebrating good things and grieving hard things together.
- Identifying ways that you can be an ongoing encouragement to your friend and rallying other members of their support team to do the same.
- Encouraging them to reach out for support before things get “that bad” on any areas of emotional, familial, team, or spiritual challenge.
On the Field Debrief (2 of 2):
Ministry Joy and Effectiveness
Big Idea: You want to get an update on what your friend is most excited about and biggest challenges he/she is facing in their current ministry context. Getting to talk about things that are “good” and things that are “hard” with people who care about you is important for ministry longevity and satisfaction.
Report of the Work
- What are the highlights and biggest opportunities of your ministry?
- What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you’re facing?
- Is there anything about which you feel defeated and overwhelmed?
- What are the most pivotal points I can be praying for in your ministry?
- What is the coolest thing you’ve seem God do recently?
- What do you anticipate the lasting fruit or legacy of this season of your ministry will be?
- What do you think might be “next” for you work you’re doing?
- When people we care about show that they care about what we’re doing it adds motivation to our work.
- Allows for intentional and timely follow up and encouragement about key ministry events; knowing that people know when you’re doing things that are important to you also helps with morale.
- Encouraging them to reach out for support before things get “that bad” with regards to areas of ministry discouragement or burnout.
Stateside Debrief (1 of 3):
Hearing Your Story
Big Idea: Too often missionaries come home and only get platform opportunities (from a stage) to talk about their time serving overseas; few people take the time to have extended conversations in one-on-one settings. It can create doubt about how much their church really cared about what they were doing. Getting to tell their story is an important part of your friend knowing that what they did was significant.
- What were the highlights of your ministry?
- Who are the friends you keep up with and how are they still involved in the ministry?
- What was the greatest fulfillment of your time overseas?
- What was the greatest hardship you encountered?
- What are your friends or churches facing that I can pray for?
- What is your greatest burden for the people and churches in [location you served]?
- What are the best ways we can support and encourage the church in [location you served]?
- What have you learned from this time overseas that has helped you understand God’s future plan for your life?
- Do you have any dreams/goals for your life that you did not have when you left?
- That your friend knows their “friends and church here” care about their “friends and church there.”
- Leaving a ministry context is a reason for grief. Verbal processing is part of grieving.
- Listening is a way that place value on things. By listening you are placing value your friend’s service overseas.
Stateside Debrief (2 of 3):
Reverse Culture Shock
Big Idea: You want to get to know how “coming back” has been as hard as “going.” Too often the culture shock experienced on return is harder because it is less expected. These conversations allow the experience of reverse culture shock to be an acceptable struggle that receives attention and care.
- What has it been like moving back to the United States? What have been the most welcomed and most difficult parts of being back in American culture?
- What do you miss about living in [location you served]?
- How is the experience of church different here? What did you like better there? What could we learn from the churches you planted and were apart of?
- How has our church changed since you were gone? Being away for # months/years, I bet you have a unique perspective on our church.
- What things have people said or asked about your time overseas that was hurtful or disappointing?
- How did people in [location you served] view America and American culture?
- To allow your friend, if needed, to saying the moving to America was as hard a moving away from America.
- To learn what is good about how church is done in other cultures and for your friend to get to affirm those things without feeling like their criticizing your church (which is how it feels when their thoughts are not prompted by a question).
- To discern if the transition has been hard enough that it would be wise for friend to seek additional counseling.
Stateside Debrief (3 of 3):
Re-Engaging New Life
Big Idea: You want to find out how your friend is doing at establishing relationships, occupation, and life rhythms necessary to thrive again in a stateside context. When you’ve been a missionary for months or years, it can be difficult – both emotionally and logistically – to be something else again.
- Do you feel like you’re starting to establish a “new normal” again now that you’re stateside?
- How is your job search going and how can I help? OR How satisfying/challenging is your new job?
- How satisfied are you with your friendships here compared to those you had in a house church in [location]?
- What life rhythm has been most difficult to re-establish since you moved back stateside?
- Have you adjusted back to stateside living enough to begin making a 3-5-10 year plan? What would that be?
- Does living missionally in the States feel “less than” planting church amongst unreached peoples? If so, where do you sense the greatest resistance to fully engaging your life here?
- What are the ministry opportunities you’re most excited about here?
- You want your friend to know that you understand that a geographic move to their native culture isn’t necessarily the same thing as “feeling at home.”
- You want to be an outlet for and provide assistance with any challenges that may be interfering with fully engaging life stateside.
- You want to be a part of God’s provision for helping your friend think through what God desires to do through them in this next season of life.
If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.