Supporting Article

Debriefing before the Final Goodbye


If a woman is pregnant and I encourage her to receive prenatal care, you would not give me much pushback. In fact, you are probably in favor of prenatal care and would do all you could to encourage a friend who is reluctant to go to a doctor to schedule an appointment. Why? Because you believe something is wrong with the mom or baby? Of course not. Instead, your motivation is prevention and monitoring so that a doctor can catch changes or distress to either the mother or baby. We know that in China prenatal care is not available to all, but we wish it were because we have come to see the value of preventative and on-going care during this season in a woman’s life. 

Recently, I was in a meeting with others who are interested in member care for people living and serving around the world. One of the participants was Mission Training International’s (MTI) director of their debriefing and renewal program or DAR. A recent trend they have noticed is that people come for debriefings primarily at the end of their service time instead of at the end of a term. Unlike prenatal care, debriefing is not seen as a wellness check; rather, it is viewed more like an appendectomy—appropriate and necessary but only under specific conditions.

Stop and ask yourself about the annual transitions you experience working and serving in China, do you debrief them? If not, is it because you view debriefing like an appendectomy rather than as prenatal care? However, here is where the analogy falls apart when it comes to transitions: transitions in life are common; pregnancies and appendectomies are not.

This article advocates for debriefing to become a part of your wellness routine regarding transitions. As with other parts of healthcare, sometimes a professional is needed; other times a bit of common sense and knowledge is sufficient. In your annual budget, build in attendance at a debriefing week every four or five years. If you save for this monthly or annually, then you will have the money available when you need it. In addition, incorporate annual personal and team (or group) debriefings.

Why is this so important? Debriefing creates space to reflect, remember, and name both gains and losses. It allows time to acknowledge and grieve the end of a year in your life.

The following is adapted from material I used every year when I worked with over 200 people in China who served on about 50 teams. We were on an academic calendar so the “end of the year” was in June. Early in the spring we would email a “Year End Packet” to all team members and ask them to schedule a time during their last month when they would debrief. Just like going to the doctor needs to be a priority and scheduled, so does debriefing. A few of the teams even planned a time away in a nearby city to go over the packet.

The material was divided into three parts: personal reflections (that would not be shared), team/group experiences, (most of which would be shared), and team/group experiences related to work and culture.

Personal: Questions to Ask Yourself

The following list can be overwhelming if done all at once. You may want to tackle a few questions at a time. If talking to someone helps you to actually answer them (not all of us like to journal!), set up a video chat appointment with a friend and talk out your answers.

  • What were my expectations coming into this year?
  • What happened that I really didn’t expect to happen?
  • How was this year different than other years? (If not your first year in China.)
  • In retrospect, what were some of the funny things that happened this year?
  • How did I succeed? What were the ways I failed this year? How have I responded to my successes and failures? What lessons have I learned through them?
  • What were my first impressions of my teammate(s)?
  • How has each team member changed/developed over the course of the year? How have they developed positively because of their experiences?
  • Who are the people I know now that I value the most? Why?
  • Did I hurt someone this year? Have I asked their forgiveness, and made restitution? Was I faithful in serving my teammates? My students? If not, what should I do?
  • Was I hurt this year by someone else? Have I found a way to forgive that person, and apply grace to the hurts I have received? If not, what should I do? Do I need help from someone else in order to resolve this? Can I/should I leave the country with the situation as it stands now? (The answer can be “yes.”)
  • How have I changed—physically, socially, emotionally, etc.? Will any of these changes be difficult for my friends and family to accept? 
  • In light of these changes, how should I adjust my former goals—or how have my goals changed? Will this be difficult for my family and friends to accept? What can I/should I do in order to present these changes to my loved ones in the wisest manner?
  • What has changed at home that I know of from the news I have received from home? 
  • What lessons have I been learning this year?
  • What will I gain with this upcoming transition?
  • What will I lose in this upcoming transition?
  • As I reflect over my gains and losses, this is what I notice:

Team Experience: What Happened to Us This Year?

This section is to be done as a team/group. If you have children on your team, find times for them to be a part of the debriefing and other times for the adults to debrief.

  • Take a few minutes to write at least three positive things about each member of your team. Share them with each other, concentrating on each member of the team in turn.
  • What is the funniest thing your teammate(s) has done or said this year?
  • What is a personal favorite memory of a team experience?
  • What was the worst experience you had as a team together?
  • Take five minutes to write down some of what you learned because of your team relationships. Discuss these things.
  • What would you—or will you—do differently because of what you have learned this year?
  • Take five minutes to write down those things you are thankful for about your team, things that reflect both the individuals and the unit. Discuss together your various thanksgivings.  Express to each person one or two things for which you are thankful.

Team Experience: Work, Culture, Relationships

Work

  • Identify a few of your most satisfying work moments.
  • Identify a few of your most frustrating work moments.
  • What were favorable aspects of your job this year?
  • What were difficult aspects of your job this year?
  • What have you learned about yourself from working here? About the people you serve?

Culture

  • How did Chinese culture influence you this year?
  • What has been the hardest part of adjusting to the culture this year?
  • How do you see Chinese culture changing?
  • What has Chinese culture taught you this year about your home culture?

Relationships

Your relationship with God.

  • In what ways has this relationship been nurtured?
  • What has hindered your relationship with God?
  • In what ways have you received mercy, love, grace, and his presence?
  • In what ways have you felt neglected, overlooked, and abandoned by God?

What have your relationships with locals been like?

  • What has been rewarding in your relationships with them?
  • What has been difficult?

How have your relationships been with people at home?

  • Communication to family and friends.
  • Communication from them.

Ministry

  • How would you describe your ministry context this year?
  • Share a few highlights.
  • Share a few challenges.
  • What changes or adjustments might be made for future ministry?

Now that you have had a taste of what debriefing could look like, what do you think? Does it sound like a lot of work for you or your team? My goal was not to overwhelm you with list upon list; it was, however, to equip you. Debriefing does not happen without intention and scheduling.

Change is coming. Again. The question is, are you going to approach it like a woman who knows she is getting ready to give birth to new life? Or, do you see it as someone who hopes the appendix pain will go away? Whether labor pains or stabbing pains on the right side of your body, something is coming out soon. You may be tired of the “T” word (transition), you may be eager about what is around the corner, or you may not like all this mumbo jumbo, touchy-feely approach to life.

Here is what I know for sure: there comes a point where your feelings about change do not matter. But I also know this: finishing reading this article and moving on to the next one will not make change and transition go away. Instead, this year, and over time, many years, will build up. If you do not process your experiences through debriefing, at some point, like an appendectomy, the choice to deal with them on your own time will be taken from you.

Debriefing individually and as a team allows you to process without too much cumulative damage. It is a way to mark, remember, validate, and release the year you have just lived. Through debriefing, space is created for you to be ready for the next season that God has for you. 

While prenatal care may not be available to all, debriefing is. Use this article and other resources to build wellness checks into your life and ministry.

Amy Young

Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you, and watermelon. Today she blogs regularly at The Messy Middle  and is the director of global operations for Velvet Ashes. She has also authored two books written to help those who live and serve in... View Full Bio