What Missionaries Ought to Know about Debriefing

  • Approximate Time Commitment: 15 minutes

What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but rather what missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During the author’s 35 years of college teaching, he learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing—and if two people ask, it was certainly a topic that others need to know about. These are things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

To read more from the What Missionaries Ought to Know series


Resource Description


You may say, “I already know about debriefing because I’ve been through it several times. As I left for home, the field director asked me to rate the adequacy of my housing, whether or not I felt overworked, how my kids got along in school, how many people came to Christ under my ministry…” Then I did nearly the same thing again at headquarters with someone there.

That is one kind of debrief, an organizational debrief. That is necessary for the agency to gather information, and it is done primarily for the good of the agency. However, even more important is a personal debrief, one done primarily for your own good. This debrief may be done individually or as part of a group of people who have been through similar experiences, such as a traumatic experience or returning to your passport country. It is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of personal experiences as well as changes within yourself and your family.

Jonah, an early cross-cultural missionary, had just been part of a city-wide revival in Nineveh, but he was filled with anger. God himself debriefed Jonah, asking him, “Do you have a right to be angry?” Jonah apparently did not reply but went off to sulk a while. After more things went wrong, God again asked, “Do you have a right to be angry?” This time Jonah finally let all his anger out so that God and he could deal with it together.

Of course, debriefing is also good after a great experience. When the 72 returned from their evangelistic campaign (Luke 10:17), they were filled with joy and enthusiastic that even the demons had submitted. At this point, Jesus cautioned them not to get carried way with the power they had experienced, but with the fact that their names were written in heaven.

Why Debrief?

This personal debrief is particularly helpful in times of crisis or transition to help bring closure to an earlier chapter in your life and to help you leave behind any emotional “baggage” that accumulated during that time. The debriefing time helps you do three things.

Verbalize. Expressing your thoughts and feelings verbally clarifies both. As you talk with others, you may find that you do not like what you hear yourself saying

Normalize. Whether in a group or with someone who understands your situation, you are likely to find that you are not alone in what you think and feel. You will come to realize that such thoughts and feelings are normal, that others have the same ones.

Contextualize. A good debrief helps you put your experiences into the context of your life. You can relate those experiences to earlier events in your life and see how God is using them to prepare you for the future.

You may not be angry like Jonah was, but your experience may have left you frightened, discouraged, exhausted, emotionally drained, or any number of things. Here are several questions that will help.


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