Debriefing Process - Coming Back from your Mission Trip

Remember when you were on your trip, your leader spoke to you about the three “Fs"…flexibility, flexibility, flexibility?
Now that you’re home, it’s all about the three “G”s…grace, grace, grace…with yourself especially.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,1 Corinthians 1:4
Mission Trips all over the world or close to home and ministry options to fit your team and the host.

Re-Entry – Adjusting Back to Normal

You’ve done a tremendous job of ministering in a different culture and have survived all the rigors of travel and a hectic schedule. Just as you anticipate slowing down from warp speed, guess what? It’s time to deal with all the feelings and emotions that we refer to as re-entry stress and go through the debriefing process.

You may have expected to adjust to a new environment on your trip, but it may feel surprising that you will have to re-adjust to your home environment. This can cause stress and shock. We will unpack this experience and give some helpful tips to help you deal with it.

Returning from a mission trip impacts every person on the team, both leaders and team members alike. In fact, coming home may be even more difficult than leaving for your mission adventure. There are many adjustments that need to be made. Knowing about the effects of re-entry stress can prepare you for that remaining five percent of your adventure–coming home.

Those who have never been on a short-term mission trip may have been exposed to things they never experienced before such as poverty, a foreign language, and a vastly different culture. Since there are so many changes when going to a differing culture, it seems silly to think there would be any kind of adjustment needed to return to your own home.

Silly or not, it’s true. It only takes a period of 14-21 days to create a new habit, so it isn’t surprising that “normal” is being immersed in a different culture. Adjustments have to be made as you return home since it’s very common to deal with re-entry stress or culture shock.

Normalcy, or so You Thought

Thinking about normal, day to day things, like your favorite drink

The prospect of returning home brings visions of having your favorite Starbucks drink, or familiar go-to snack that you’ve been craving since the first day of your adventure. Family and friends are proud of you and are eagerly awaiting your return. It’s only natural to experience a high level of stress upon re-entry. You may feel like a “spiritual giant” that has conquered what was unknown and now should be the center of much talk and attention. Soon after returning, reality sets in quickly and sometimes severely. Re-entry shock can occur suddenly and without warning, similar to a grieving process. You have invested your heart and emotions at full throttle into something that is no longer a part of your daily life. You will definitely feel that a part of you is missing.

Unfortunately, the very people who sacrificed to send you to the mission field haven’t been blessed with the same adventures you have; they may very well be seeing life just as you did before you went on your mission trip. You come home on fire for God and ready to change the entire world. How might they see you? You may seem like a snooty, self-righteous character they don’t even know any more; your eyes now opened to the wanton waste, materialism, complacency, and bigotry of your home country. Some team members will be tempted to crusade against all the wrongs they can now identify in their home country.

This particular reaction to a change in values is known as the “sure-fire way to lose friends and alienate acquaintances.” Resist the temptation to speak without consulting the Lord first.

The greatest hurt from re-entry may come from the expectations you might place on family and friends. You may feel confident that at least your family and friends will be interested in every aspect of your trip. In most cases they are. Family and friends may even feel deeply hurt and rejected if you don’t share everything about your mission trip.

But guess what? Life didn’t just stop for family and friends while you were traveling the world. They had life-changing, life-numbing, or simply memory-making experiences. While they may be willing to listen, they will want to share what has been happening in their lives as well. This apparent lack of interest may cause much hurt and reinforce the opinion that hometown Christians are selfish and uncaring.

If this attitude isn’t dealt with inside you, you may become resentful toward your own family and friends and harbor disillusioned with your home church.

Re-Entry Tips


One question that every short-term worker will ask themselves is, “How have I changed?”

The life-changing experiences of being on a mission adventure create a need to re-evaluate who you are in light of what has just happened. Question after question may erupt.

You may wonder if you are called to full-time ministry. You may promise yourself to never leave home again; may feel dissatisfied in returning to being your same old self; or have no idea how to avoid being “just you”. In fact, you may find yourself in a state of introspection.

All of these thoughts and feelings are necessary and normal, but asking too many questions, which don’t have easy or immediate answers, may cause additional, unnecessary stress. Give yourself grace and time to process what you’ve just been through and how you’ve changed.

Sometimes, a question doesn’t have to have an answer right now.

Tips for Handling Periods of Questioning


You may have daydreamed about what your trip would be like. You may have set realistic goals or may have just had delightful fantasies about the extraordinary way God was going to use you. You may even have daydreamed of places you were going to see, foods you wanted to try, or even miracles that might occur.

What you didn’t dream about, most likely, was what life would be like when you return home. You may now be feeling like an alien in your own country.

When you travel to different cultures, you learn to be flexible. The joys of travel may include paying for toilet paper that feels closer to sandpaper, eating monkey brains–and smiling, asking where the bathroom is but discovering you don’t know how to operate the novelty referred to as a toilet. As you look around, you may see abject poverty and a living standard so low that even the street people back home seem to be wealthy by comparison.

These observations and adjustments will broaden your thinking and change the value you place on people versus material items. It isn’t unusual to develop a whole new perspective on life and its values.

Part of the problem may have been caused by home-sickness, believe it or not. When you are away from home, everyone back home seems wonderful. No food is as good as what you are accustomed to. The best prankster and joke-teller of the world just happens to be one of your friends at home. In fact, everyone you know at home is glossed over with a glorified image.

Interestingly enough, it also happens the same way when you return home from a mission trip. Nobody is as thoughtful as your host family. The pastor at that sweet little church was a man of unsurpassable brilliance. Once again, the people you miss become larger than life.

This glorifying of people and places can only lead to mega-disappointment unless you deal with it correctly.

Tips for Handling Expectations

Physical Changes

The rigors of a missionary journey take their toll on the entire person. There has been continuous exertion mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It should come as no surprise that the long hours, change of diet, and irregular sleep schedule lead to fatigue. In fact, the body may respond to these lengthy demands with decreased circulation and lower blood pressure. That may not seem like a big deal, but it will increase the sense of weariness and may contribute to the feeling of being “brain-dead.”

Exhaustion is a real thing, and unless there is a scheduled time for rest and recuperation, irritability and poor communication skills may be a problem.

We also suggest some bounce-back time after a trip. This let’s your body adjust from a long leg of international travel and foods that you haven’t eaten in a week and a half. This is also very important because it can be really easy to get some sort of low level sickness that you’re body doesn’t have an immunity for. What you catch might not be all that big a deal but since you’ve never had that ‘bug’ it may take a bit longer for you to recover back to 100%. Compound this with your general fatigue level, you may be spent for quite a few days.

Tips for Managing the Physical Changes

Spiritual Battle

“Now that your mission trip is over, the intense warfare will surely come to a screeching halt.”

It’s a great thought, but not true.

Every reference to spiritual warfare in the Bible refers to the battle that takes place in our minds. You’ve had a great experience on your mission trip, God has used you, you’ve been stretched, and other people have been impacted because of your gift of time spent on the mission field. Now home again, you are back to the normal routine of your life. This normal routine may seem very dull, insignificant and even depressing. The battle in your mind will be the challenge you will face going forward.

Tips for Enduring the Spiritual Battle

Change of Pace

to be seen and lovedThe past week or two has been filled with an intensity that may not be a part of your everyday life at home. You have had one single focus: to minister and to work together as a team, accomplishing a planned project (i.e. meals were planned, schedule was set, you participated without making many decisions, etc.).

When you arrive home, you must once again pick up the duties and responsibilities that are yours in your family, work, or school life. Your focus is now somewhat split as you work and live with various people. Although this has previously been normal life for you, it may feel disjointed and overwhelming after a couple weeks of intense single-focused ministry.

Tips for adjusting back to your normal pace:

  • Understand that you are readjusting to what was once familiar and give yourself some grace. You will feel right-side-up soon enough.
  • If you are feeling not busy enough, refer to the tip under “Questions” about stepping into the new you.

Re-establishing Relationships

There are basically four types of relationships to connect back into when you come home: Family, close friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Each one has varying degrees of importance and will require unique handling.


Your family may have been cheering you on, or they may have been resisting your part in a mission adventure. Their faith may have joined with yours as you trusted God for finances, making sacrifices of time and money just to get you on the mission field. They may have given nothing toward your trip, and you may have felt alone in your endeavor. They may have faithfully prayed for you, released you to fulfill the call of God on your life, and sent you out as a missionary.


  • It’s very important to show your appreciation of their support. Try the following ideas:
  • Write a letter to them expressing your love, give verbal thanks, or buy an inexpensive souvenir for them.
  • For those family members who were not the supportive type, spend some time praying and asking God how to love them well, acknowledging the importance of their relationship to you, treating them with grace whatever their feelings are toward your experience.

Close Friends

Close friends have missed you during your absence and may be plagued with insecurities about your friendship. They may question if you still like them, if they are still important to you, if you’ve found better friends on your mission team, or even if you are “too good” for them now. You may also be asking yourself the same questions in regard to them.

Be brave and mature; take the first step and set their minds at rest. Let them know how highly you value their friendship.


  • Be brave and mature; take the first steps to set their minds at rest.
  • Let them know how highly you value their friendship.

Colleagues and Work/School Relationships

IMLT Training Whiteboard Session for mission trip trainingYour colleagues may or may not know you went on this mission adventure. They may ask, “how was your vacation?,” as you see each other in the break room. They may think you were brave and amazing or give you a sarcastic comment about how you use vacation time. Your dorm roommate may ask how your Spring Break went and want to tell you how theirs was.


  • Take each one as an individual, asking God how to love them well as you speak life into them in a way they can receive. This does not mean spouting your exploits, but only telling stories to the ones who are truly interested in hearing of the great impact you have just experienced.
  • Having a casual answer to the “how was your trip?” question is often enough. If they really want to know more, they will give you opportunity to share your heart.


Acquaintances may have heard that you went to an exotic place and ask you questions out of curiosity. They also may not know a thing about what you did or if they did, they might not be connected with you enough to care up front. You don’t have to tell everyone what you did the previous week but then again it may bring up interesting ‘witnessing’ opportunities.


  • Ask the Lord how to love them well with the answers their hearts are ready to receive. These conversations can sometimes lead into life-changing moments, or sometimes they may just plant seeds for future interaction.

Final thoughts on Re-Entry

You are on your way to re-integrating as the new you into the life you left a short time ago. We at In Motion not only understand all the things discussed here but have experienced them as well.

Please feel free to reach out to your leader or the staff at any time as you process your recent grand adventure. The impact you have faced is not to just be filed away as a memory. It’s an impact that continues to be life-giving and life-altering. You will find, as you look back on it, this experience will speak into many situations in your future.

Thank you for taking the next step deeper into your walk with God, serving others and being a part of the  #lovegoesthere movement. Grace, grace, and more grace!

With Every Blessing,

The Staff and Leaders of In Motion Ministries

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