Short-term mission trips are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can be highly impactful for both the participants and those they serve. However, coming home after such an intense foreign experience is often a difficult process to navigate.
You’re likely to experience reverse culture shock, and accepting the realities of being back home may take longer than you anticipate. That’s why having a plan to debrief your short-term mission trip is so important.
If you’ve recently returned from a short-term mission trip, here are five practical tips for a healthy and productive debriefing process:
1. Share your experience with others.
People want to know about your trip, but they often only think to ask vague questions, such as, “How was your trip?” or “What was it like over there?”
Where do you begin? One of the easiest ways is to come up with a 30-second highlight reel.
Anything longer will most likely be overwhelming for you and too long for whoever is listening. Coming up with 30 seconds of things you want to emphasize from the trip is a good way to keep the big picture fresh in your mind and offer others important information in digestible chunks.
Another fun way to share your experience with others is to host an international night with friends and family members who weren’t able to join you on the trip. Prepare dishes from your host country, tell funny stories about cultural blunders you made and turn up the foreign music!
“When a dear friend of mine returned from Italy, she made espresso for her family from the moka pot she purchased in Italy, because one of her favorite memories from Italy was drinking espresso and praying for the ministry every afternoon,” says TEAM missions coach Kristin Schambach. This is a great example of sharing your experience with loved ones in a tangible way.
2. Keep your zeal for missions fresh!
Don’t lose the passion for what God’s placed in your heart when it comes to global missions! Stay in touch with fellow team members as well as with the missionaries and locals you met abroad.
Ask to be put on the missionaries’ newsletter email lists, write them letters and assure them of your consistent prayer for them. You might even consider supporting them financially as a way of investing in their long-term vision.
It’s also important for you and fellow team members to remind each other of the experiences you shared while abroad and express how God has been using those experiences to shape your life since you returned.
On your own, read about new organizations and ministries as often as you can, and stay up-to-date on missional efforts.
3. Continue growing.
TEAM’s manager of short-term ministry advises jotting down three areas in which you want to keep growing after you return home. These can be anything ranging from something personal, like becoming a better friend, to something more spiritual, like developing a more consistent prayer life.
Be sure to dedicate yourself in these three areas over the next 12 months.
Then, when you hit the one-year anniversary of your short-term mission trip, look back and pay attention to how the Lord has grown and stretched you in those three specific areas.
Remember: If you haven’t left for your trip yet, ask that the Lord will open your eyes to exactly which three areas He wants you to focus on. He will make it clear.
4. Reconnect with your home church.
Re-entering church life is often an unexpected difficulty. You may feel like fellow church members can’t understand what you’ve experienced or who you’ve become. You may even find yourself missing the worship style you experienced in your host country.
But it’s important to be intentional about reconnecting with your home church after your short-term mission trip. This will help you not only to debrief after your foreign experience but also to stay alert to what God is doing around your community, even though that work may look different than what you experienced abroad.
A couple of easy steps for reconnecting with your home church include finding a mentor to meet with on a regular basis or joining a small group, where you can explore what God has done — and what He is doing now.
You can also help facilitate or even head-up local mission efforts. This will let you spread your excitement while you personally stay missional in both your actions and mindset. It will also help you channel the momentum of passion and energy that often accompanies a mission trip into something positive, rather than allowing yourself to become discouraged by differences in your home church.
5. Lean into the Lord.
One of the Enemy’s favorite times to attack us is after we’ve recently experienced a spiritual high point, which often happens during and after a mission trip.
Prepare yourself for spiritual warfare by surrounding yourself with people who will encourage and uplift you.
Most importantly, be sure to carve out daily time for prayer and scripture reading. Strengthening yourself spiritually during this time is essential for a successful debriefing process.
As you follow each of these steps, consider taking some time to be alone and reflect on your experience. Record your emotions verbally, keep a journal of your thoughts or create a scrapbook of pictures you took while abroad. Not only will this help you cement what you’re learning in your memory, but it will also be a reminder of God’s faithfulness for years to come!
For further resources on debriefing, check out TEAM’s Debriefing Journal!