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Missionary Debriefing – Part III by Tim Olson

Jul 7th, 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.

In Part I of this series we identified what a missionary might need or be looking for through debriefing. In Part II, we addressed where debriefing fits and when it is needed.  Part III is a summary of the 10 steps used in debriefing upon a missionary’s return from the field. This summary and other thoughts for this article come from  Debriefing Aid Workers and Missionaries: A Comprehensive Manual prepared by Debbie Lovell-Hawker of InterHealth for People In Aid/2009

1. Introductions

Tell who you are in your role as debriefer: your experience of debriefing & work overseas, the purpose of debriefing, how long it will last (usually about 2-3 hours).  To client: Describe a bit of your background for me, how you got into missions, where you have been, what you have been doing, your family, etc., for how long, when you returned.

2. Identifying what was most troubling

Identify for me 3 or 4 events or issues which were most stressful, upsetting or troubling – the worst parts.  For example: Tell me about a particular incident or disturbing sight; What was it about a relationship or communication that was difficult?; Can you give me an example of a difficulty you had with the job or the agency, overwork, boredom, the culture or living conditions, being far from friends and family or a health problem?

3. Facts, thoughts and feelings

Take each of the troubling events or stresses in turn, and ask about the facts; then the thoughts; then the feelings. DON’T RUSH! It is essential to separate the facts from the thoughts and feelings so ask questions to clarify and stay objective.

4. Any other aspects you want to talk about?

5. Symptoms

Did you experience any stress-related symptoms at any point while overseas? What about now? (such as tiredness; sleeping problems; concentration or memory difficulties; guilt; anger; inability to relax; difficulty making decisions; tearful or unable to cry, etc.).

6. Normalizing and teaching

Symptoms are normal in the circumstances – you’re not over-reacting.  What methods can you use to reduce stress?  What support is available to you/who can you talk to?

7. Anything that was positive?

Was there anything good or meaningful about your time overseas? What was best? What did you learn? What would be your basis for being glad you went?

8. Return ‘home’

How has the return ‘home’ been?  Talk about normal ‘reverse culture shock’, and adjustment).

9. The future

What about future plans?  Tell them where they can get further help if they want it and offer to make referral if appropriate.  Do they have any questions or anything else they want to say?  Offer a follow-up session if appropriate. Otherwise arrange to follow-up in about 3 weeks (such as by phone or e-mail) to see how they are.

10. Closing

What stands out to them as they think back over the debriefing dialogue? What will you take away from this? What is their next step? Summarize the session, and ask how they are feeling now. Thank them for their sacrifice, their work, their service to the Lord, the church, the people they served.

Debriefer: What take-away do you have from seeing a summary like this? I highly recommend the manual described above for more information. In Part IV we’ll take a closer look at you, the coach, in the role of debriefer.


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 non-profits 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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