Debriefing a short term mission experience with students
The debrief is like dessert at the end of a really great meal with great people.It invites everyone to stay a little longer and savour every bite of what just happened. You might think dessert is not completely necessary, but the debrief is! You’ve just had a feast of an experience during your short term mission (STM) and it would not be complete without lingering a little longer for the debrief. The debrief is the needed cherry on top. Don’t go home without it.
I’m particularly thinking of the initial debrief at the end of a short term mission (STM). The initial debrief is best done before your STM ends and everyone starts to head home and back to their “regular” lives. I’m particularly thinking of the students and leaders I know wrapping up Tidal Impact this week. I’m praying they take an opportunity to debrief and not miss the cherry on top.
The debrief increases the impact of an STM… It helps us notice what we could have missed. It hits pause before we head back into our regular routines. It helps us capture what God is highlighting to us. It invites a team to be each other’s mirrors and encouragers. It calls us to fresh action in our lives. It invites us to reflect on the new characteristics of God we particularly experienced.
I find it helpful to give each team member the debrief activities/questions in a handout to do on their own for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on your time frame, number of questions and group) and then call the group back together to discuss. I find, especially for the introverted team members, this allows time for everyone to be thoughtful about their experiences. If you only have a short time to debrief or a large team it would work just to choose either activity 1 or activity 2 listed below. Pick and choose the questions that work for your group and experience.
Here are some activities and questions to try in a debrief:
1. Choose one object from this room that represents what this STM was like for you. Explain. Honesty is encouraged! (or you could instead invite people to choose one animal/phrase/food that represents what this STM was like for you.)
2. This activity is stolen from “Deep Justice Journeys” By Kare E. Powell & Brad M. Griffen, which has a whole section on debriefs which is fantastic! For this activity we will draw. (Don’t worry if you are not a drawer, stick people are great!) Everyone gets a piece of payer and markers. a. On one side draw a picture of the STM experience from an outside perspective e.g. what you saw, what you did, the people you met, the things that stand out to you. b. On other side draw a picture of your experience from an internal perspective. e.g. how the experiences made you feel, the new things you learned, how God shaped or changed your heart. c. Explain your drawings to the group.
3. Thumbs up: What was the best part of the STM for you? Thumbs Down: What was the worst part of the STM for you?
4. What new things did you try?
5. Was there any point where you felt you couldn’t keep going or couldn’t do what was asked of you? What was that point? What did you do?
6. During this STM, what was one thing you… a. What was one thing you saw that you want to remember? Why? b. What was one thing you heard that you want to remember? Why? c. What was one thing you felt that you want to remember? Why?
7. Where did you see God during this STM?
8. What’s one thing you learned about God during this STM?
9. What do you think was your strongest contribution during this STM? How did God use you?
10. In what ways do you think you have changed (or will change) as a result of this experience?
11. What do you want to stick with you from this STM?
12. What award would you give each person from our team for this STM?
13. How do you apply your experiences from this week back in your regular life and home community?
14. Anything God is asking you to do to continue to support the people, projects and partnerships that you got to experience during this STM?
15. When you get back and someone asked you “how was your STM?” what can you tell them in 30-seconds that is more than saying “it was good”?
16. If this group could pray one word or phrase over you as you head back home (or to your “regular” life) what would you like that word/phrase to be?
May our times of debrief lead us closer to the heart of God. May these times be a part of God transforming us to be more like Jesus.
What debrief activities or questions have you found helpful? Add them in the comments below.