In our ministry, we call our overseas Missions experience our IMPACT Trip.  After every IMPACT trip, we take 2 to 2 1/2 days to get somewhere between “here and there”. As we prepare the kids for re-entry to consumerism, hometown, and their cell phones, we want them to take time to breathe, then process the multiple lessons learned “there” (in country) and next steps to take in order to bring those things back here (home).

It’s an extensive, intense, and emotionally exhausting experience. Yet, I am convinced this debriefing process has been foundational in making our Short Term Missions Trips more than an emotional or “there” experience.

The process works like this:

Starting with the right Questions: We have five questions for the students to respond to in order to take them back to the beginning of it all. This is key to helping them get in the mindset of how they got to where they are now.

Snapshots: This is the lengthy part. Students go through the entire process and recount every moment, lesson, person, and experience that got them through the process. These are called “Snapshots”. If they take time to ask if something is a snapshot, they are encouraged to write it down. Many do this by doing a chronological bullet list. This section is why we place so much emphasis on the students journaling through the entire experience.

Top 10 Snapshots: After they’ve written out every snapshot, students go back through and select the 10 most significant snapshots.
Top 3 Snapshots: Looking at their 10 snapshots, students dwindle it down to 3. They may simply take 3 of their 10. They may also see a connection between several of their top 10, and turn that “theme” into one of their three.

ONE SENTENCE: After nailing out the Top 3 Snapshots, the students are asked to sum up those three snapshots with on clear, concise sentence that they can easily remember and share. Here’s some actual examples of past students’ sentences…
Katie: My IMPACT trip was awesome because God taught me the importance of investing in lives, a good attitude, and immediate obedience. 
Hannah Warstler (Ana): In Mexico I really saw God’s transforming power, I gained confidence in God and in myself, and I realized the extreme importance of relationships.
Brant 9 (Luis): Seeing people come to Christ as we fed and baptized families taught me that showing love for a week can change lives forever.
At this point, the students are at a spot where they can effectively share their experience to varying levels with those who ask about the trip.

When some ask, “How was the trip?” they simply want to hear the sentence. Others may want to here the top 3 snapshots. Still others may want more, and want to hear the top 10.
If anyone wants to hear more and it’s not their parents, students are encouraged to run away because that person is a creepy stalker!

There are still two very important parts left to the debrief that students do…

Next Steps: The key. Students look through their Snapshots and sentence. They consider the commitments, situations, and environments they are returning to. They write out the next steps they need to take immediately (within 48 hours), short term (30 and 90 days), and longterm (years to come) in order to make sure they bring this experience home.

Vision Statements: During the IMPACT experience, God has no doubt placed burdens and passions in the students for themselves, the people of Mexico, and their teammates. In this section, the students take time to consider those burden, passions, and dreams in “I see” statements.

We consistently get hesitation and pushback from parents and students wondering the value of taking such extensive time for debriefing.  We also consistently hear back deep appreciation and understanding after the debrief is over.  I believe it is possible to accomplish this debrief process by cutting it down to one day, doing it on the flight home or even pulling together a week after returning home.  What I think is very dangerous is taking no time at all to help students process how to take the “there” experience back “here.”

Derry Prenkert is Student Ministries Pastor at Nappanee Missionary Church in Indiana and has released some incredible resources on DYM we well. Be sure to check them out!