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Missionary Debriefing – Part I by Tim Olson

Apr 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Missions Coaching - Guest Posts

This series of four articles is based on a Mission Coaches Network teleconference with guest speaker Ruth Maxwell. Ruth is a career missionary with SIM and has served in Liberia, Kenya, Canada, and presently, in South Africa. Ruth coaches extensively both within the mission and through outreach programs in South Africa.  She is a strong advocate and skilled practitioner of debriefing.

A missionary comes home from the field with a load of issues in their baggage and asks to talk. Returning missionaries need to process this “baggage” and their asking to talk with you is an open door.  They don’t want counseling or answers or fixing – at least not yet. They want to talk. They want someone to listen. They want someone to care and to be interested in their story – even if they don’t realize it.

How do you recover from ‘reverse culture shock’, the disorientation, lack of sleep and energy and mild depression, fitting in again, finding work, lack of money and accommodations? Then there are the hurtful situations, difficult transitions and unresolved relationships. Where do you begin? How do you begin?

What they are asking for is what we call debriefing. In many ways, debriefing is similar to transition coaching and to exit interviews. If we know this and are familiar with the process, we will be ready to meaningfully help. You’ve likely been through it yourself. Think about it. When in your life was debriefing helpful or when might it have been helpful? From that perspective, what would you have wanted out of that session or from the person who debriefed you?

Here are some possibilities:

  • Assurance that what one is experiencing is normal
  • Empathy
  • Making meaning out of the experience
  • Helping with processing and ways to move forward
  • Maintaining relationships from the past and engaging new ones for the future
  • Perspective
  • To be heard
  • To feel understood
  • To be validated
  • Help in seeing that God can use even the difficult things that one is going through
  • Help in taking the experience to a new level of growth

These ideas may prompt you to develop both the process and questions that you can use to guide a person through debriefing. We’ll take a look at other specifics in Parts II, III and IV of this series.


Located in New Hope, Minnesota, Tim Olson has his own business as a personal life coach after years as a pastor, teacher, school principal, business owner and missionary. In addition, he serves as a leadership coach for the National Fathering Ministry staff both in the US and in Ukraine. He is also a presenter for, helping corporations reduce turnover and keep their best people through identifying employee’s passions for work and applying them to their current jobs. Tim received his training in the Christian track of Institute for Life Coach Training and co-founded Mission Coaches Network. For more, see

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