If you have ever been on any kind of a special assignment, whether it is for the military or even in the business world, you have heard of the concept of the “debriefing” at the end of the task. When astronauts come back to earth, there is always a debriefing with NASA. When a special military op returns after a mission, there is always a debriefing of the unit. Even in business, when a company sends a group of employees on an assignment to explore new opportunities, there is always a debriefing upon their return.
These debriefing sessions are conducted to glean what knowledge can be gained from those who were involved with the mission, either the mission into outer space, the mission into enemy territory, or the mission to explore untapped potential for business. It helps in the training, the planning, and the preparation for what might be the following steps.
But the debriefing is also very important for those who actually were involved with the assignment itself. It is important for the astronauts, it is important for the soldiers, and it is important for the business people. During the actual performance or the execution of the task, the busyness of what must be done while involved with the project often takes up all of the time for the people involved, and all of their mental and emotional energies. They have little time to self-assess—little time for thought at all. They are just trying to get things done! Often it is mostly their training that determines their actions, not that they necessarily had time to think things through.
Debriefing in the Church
Although we do not often think of the concept of debriefing in relation to the church, it is also important in many of the tasks that we do. Since I have been involved with the work of the church mostly in terms of foreign missions, I think of the debriefing concept in relation to this type of work when returning from other countries.
When Vivian and I led teams of youths on short-term mission trips, we always had a day or two of debriefing at the end. We wanted to know what the team members thought of their summer in this work. We wanted to know how they had benefited from the work, and how they thought it might have been better.
As their leaders, it was important for us to learn these thoughts that they had, but it was also important for them as team members. They needed time to step back from the daily tasks that they had been given, and assess their own impressions and feelings about the summer.
Debriefing from the Kenya Trip
Larry, Vivian and I have just returned from what we could call a “special mission op” to Kenya. It was a very meaningful trip for all of us, and I think especially for my “butler” Larry and for “Mum Vivian.” For both of them, it was their first trip to Kenya and their first time in Africa. It was also a very meaningful trip for me.
During our time in Kenya, we were very involved in what we were given to do. Speaking personally, even my “down time” at the hotel was mostly taken up with tasks involved with the trip. I was simply trying to get everything done in the short time that I had there.
Our journey home was long. My mind was a little bleary when I figured out how many days or hours it was from the time we left our hotel until we stepped onto our front porch, but if my counting is correct, it was about a 68-70 hour journey. Thankfully, Vivian and I both slept pretty well on our flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, and we had one nice night of sleep in St. Paul at the house of Vivian’s sister and her husband, so we were able to arrive home a bit rested.
But as I write this, it is Thursday morning. We arrived home last evening. Even with many down hours on the plane and waiting in airports, I am still going through a bit of a personal debriefing period.
What was it on the trip that was most beneficial? Was there anything that I wish I would have done that I did not? What could have been better? Did I do anything that was not necessary or even anything that was hurtful? Are there any regrets about any particular way that we planned our visit and how we carried it out? Now, after returning home, what is the next step in the development of this work in Kisii at the orphanage?
The questions keep coming, but from experience, I know that if they do not get answered soon after returning home, they tend to be forgotten. Events and responsibilities at home soon take up any extra time. I immediately am surrounded with many responsibilities.
Mission trips are not vacations. They are not a “get-away” from daily life and for rest. On any mission trip in which I have been involved, and even in my trips for the work that I did for most of my career in missions, my trips to other countries were more work for me than when I am home.
It is when I return home that I can rest. It is when I am home that I can afford to take time to consider all that has happened. It is then when I do my debriefing.
The First Short-Term Mission Trip
In the book of Mark, chapter six and beginning with verse seven, we read the following account:
Then Jesus called the Twelve to Him and began to send them out two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing but a staff for the journey—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— and to wear sandals, but not a second tunic.
And He told them, “When you enter a house, stay there until you leave that area. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that place, as a testimony against them.”
So they set out and preached that the people should repent. They also drove out many demons and healed many of the sick, anointing them with oil.
If we look at this experience of the disciples as what we in these days would call a “mission trip,” we might learn something about our own idea of what a mission trip should be. This experience of the disciples was not a trip for the benefit of “seeing new things,” or having some kind of “exciting experience.”
The account of this trip is also given in the book of Matthew, chapter ten. In that account, we read more about the instructions that Jesus gave the twelve before they went off on their trip:
“Behold,” Jesus said to them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will hand you over to their councils and flog you in their synagogues.”
Jesus then continued:
So do not be afraid of them. For there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Verses 16-17, 26-28 BSB)
Jesus told them many other things as well. If you read all that Jesus told them in the Matthew account, you will see that this was not a “get-away” for the disciples. It was not a time for some relaxation.
“When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next,” Jesus warned them.
Indeed, after hearing all the warnings that Jesus gave them about what they might experience and endure on the trip, I wonder if any of the disciples may have had second thoughts about going.
If they did, it did not keep them from obeying their teacher and master. They all departed, two-by-two, on their separate journeys.
“So they set out,” we are told, “And they preached that the people should repent. They also drove out many demons and healed many of the sick, anointing them with oil” (Mark 6:12-13).
When the disciples returned back home, they may have been excited about the experiences that they had, but I am sure that during their journeys, they had had little time to assess their time away—little time to think about all that was transpiring.
We continue to read, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and brought Him news of all they had done and taught.”
What was the response of Jesus to all that they reported? He said to them, “Come with Me privately to a solitary place, and let us rest for a while.”
What Happened to John the Baptist
Jesus saw the need for a time of debriefing for these disciples of his—a time of quiet to consider all that had happened. Actually, Jesus himself needed some time alone, for not all had been peaceful during the absence of the disciples. Controversy was continually building concerning all that he had been doing.
King Herod also heard about what the disciples of Jesus were doing. He heard of the growing fame of Jesus. He had heard that some of the people were saying that they believed that Jesus was actually Elijah, returned from the dead. Others were saying that Jesus was a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.
But what seemed to especially worry Herod was the fact that many believed that Jesus was none other than John the Baptist who had risen from the dead. That was why, they said, Jesus had such miraculous powers.
This idea that Jesus was actually a reincarnation of John the Baptist especially bothered Herod, because he was the one who had given the order to have John beheaded. He gave this order, because at the time, he had flippantly given his oath to his young step-daughter to grant any wish that she had. Because the girl’s mother hated John the Baptist, she told her daughter to request John’s head delivered to her on a platter.
The king was grieved because of this request, and filled with great sorrow. He himself had been offended by John, but he did not necessarily hate him. But because he was ashamed to go back on his word in front of his guests, he ordered that the deed be done, just as the girl had requested.
And now King Herod was hearing the rumors that many believed Jesus was actually John risen from the dead. This worried the king, as well as again bothering his conscience because of the evil deed that he had allowed. Controversy around Jesus had been steadily on the increase, and now it seemed to be accelerating.
Besides that, people were increasingly coming to Jesus with their requests for healing or for other provision. “Jesus did not even have time to eat,” the writer Mark tells us.
The Call to a Quiet Place
When the disciples returned from their mission trip, they were filled with many stories. They reported to Jesus all that they had seen and what they had done, and what they had taught the people.
“Come with Me privately to a solitary place,” Jesus told them. “Let us rest for a while.”
Jesus saw the need for debriefing. He saw the need to move beyond the simple reporting of the facts of the mission trip, but saw the need to learn what the impacts were of those actions, and what affects. He practiced it in his own life.
After the feeding of the 5,000 for instance, Jesus did not quickly move on to the next activity. After he sent the disciples away by boat, he himself went up on a mountain alone to pray (Matthew 14:23).
We are also told of one specific evening when Jesus was in the house of Peter. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. Jesus went to the house, took her by the hand and helped her up. Her fever left her.
After the mother-in-law was healed, people began to bring to Jesus all of the village who were sick and demon-possessed. In fact, the whole town gathered at the door. He must have been occupied for hours, healing many who were ill with various diseases and drove out many demons.
But the next morning, after what must have been a very tiring evening, Jesus did not decide to sleep in. Rather, early the next day, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:32-35). He saw the need to be alone.
Also, when Jesus was preparing for the important decisions of choosing his inner circle of twelve disciples, he went alone up on the mountain and spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12).
In fact, the writer Luke tells us that Jesus would “often” go off by himself to pray (Luke 5:16).
We today live in a day of distractions. Never are we far from our cellphone, in fact, our phone is almost always in our pockets. It is impossible to allow yourself to go into any kind of deep thought when the phone is continually awakening you with someone trying to call you, or notices of something coming in, or something else to catch your attention.
When we do sit down alone, it is often to watch something on TV or to play some mindless game on our computers or scroll endlessly through some social media site. We have learned to pack our lives with activities and distractions, but we have forgotten how to sit in silence with ourselves and with God.
Probably most of you can remember as a child, lying on your back on the lawn and looking up at the sky as the clouds formed shifting shapes of animals as they lazily passed overhead.
Perhaps you remember sitting by a lake or a stream and quietly tossing pebbles into the water and watching the ripples.
We would not classify any of these quiet activities as “debriefing sessions” after a difficult task, but they were practices in enjoying the quietness of life in the midst of many activities.
It is a practice that would do all of us good to remember.
Regain the beauty of quiet moments. Learn to listen for the voice of God.
Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. (Psalm 116:7-8).
The work of righteousness will be peace; the service of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful place, in safe and secure places of rest (Isaiah 32:17-18).
In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15).