Post-trip activities, including debriefing and mobilising team members for ongoing action, are critical aspects of short-term missions (STM) programs that are often overlooked or under-utilised.

Debriefing sessions, when done effectively, can encourage team members to process, consolidate and integrate their learning back into their everyday lives

This equips teams to engage with positive behaviour change and  empowers them to engage in ongoing action and advocacy. It also prevents teams from experiencing the frustration and disconnect of not knowing how to reconcile their experiences with their own community and lives, or harness them for the good of others. 

“Our best ambassadors have not been the pastors of churches but the members of STM teams. It’s not about what the teams do in Vietnam but about what they do when they return home. They provide and propel the much-needed prayer, awareness, support, advocacy and funds
upon their return to keep this program alive and keep families from being separated.”
— Paul Hilton, Country Coordinator, AOG World Relief Vietnam

Debriefing- what to include

Reflect on the lessons learnt throughout the trip

Ask basic questions to stimulate reflection and encourage the team members to process their experience and consolidate their learning.

For example, ask the following types of questions with respect to the various social, cultural or ministry issues they were exposed to:

  • What was your understanding of __________________ before the trip?
  • What things did you learn through the trip?
  • What is your understanding of __________________ after the trip?
  • How has your perspective changed? How will that affect how you respond moving forward? 

Allow time for team members to process any difficult or challenging experiences

Some team members can find aspects of the STM trip quite confronting and struggle to reconcile the situation of children and families overseas (extreme poverty or child vulnerability) with their own relative privilege and affluence. It's a good idea to create space for returning team members to discuss this, with guidance from the team leader.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo can be a positive thing that, when appropriately channelled, leads to change and justice but it can also be unhealthy and express itself as a blanket rejection and condemnation of one's own culture. This rarely lasts long but is something to watch out for and proactively address. 

Direct the team to ongoing advocacy and action

Once the team or volunteer returns from the trip, it's important to facilitate discussion on how the team members will steward the STM trip experience well. Post-trip actions will vary depending on the type of trip. 

Post -trip actions could include:

  • Facilitating team members to continue to provide ongoing technical support, mentoring or follow-up training  to those who they went over to equip. For example, a volunteer may have gone over to help set up IT systems for a local organisation and may continue to provide remote support after the trip. 

Skills-based volunteer and exchange trips

Post-trip actions could include:

  • Sharing stories of the people and communities they met and worked alongside, including stories of amazing resilience and strength.

By sharing these stories, we can be part of breaking down stereotypes and broad generalisations which paint communities living in poverty as helpless and us as their 'saviours'. Changing common messaging can have long-term impact on the way people choose to respond to issues of poverty and disadvantage. 

Asset-based community development trips

Post-trip actions could include:

  • Helping team members reflect on their experience and determine through careful thought and pray if long-term missions is something they feel they should further explore.  
  • If 'yes', then they may need guidance regarding what next steps to take towards this goal, including linking them to missions agencies and/or further training.

Exposure trips

For advocacy trips, these post-trips actions are the key purpose of the trip itself. Team members will need guidance and support when they return to know how to utilise their firsthand knowledge to raise awareness and advocate for change within their  personal sphere of influence: among family, friends, workplace, church, and community.

Post-trip actions could include:

  • Hosting awareness-raising and fundraising events.
  • Looking at ways their own culture is complicit in causing issues of exploitation or poverty in the country they have visited and advocating for change.
  • Sharing stories and experiences of the people they met, as a way of giving voice to local people who want their story to be heard and used to catalyse change. 

Advocacy trips

Provide feedback to sending/receiving organisation

It's also really helpful to share feedback with the partner organisation, including trip highlights, key lessons learnt and any challenges faced along the way. This will ensure that both parties can continue to strengthen relationships and improve the STM program. 

For receiving organisations, it's also important you provide opportunities for teams and sending organisations to give you honest feedback regarding the trip or visit and incorporate this feedback into future STM trips. You could do this prior to the team's return over a meal, during the debrief, or by utilising an online tool, such as Survey Monkey, to collate feedback.  


“Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
— Matt 10:16 (NKJV)

These instructions, given to the disciples as they prepared to go into all the world, are as relevant to those of us who engage in contemporary missions as they were to the disciples.

Jesus is instructing us to be wise, strategic and thoughtful in our engagement in the Great Commission. He knew that it would take wisdom to effectively navigate the often complex issues we interact with in the course of STM trips and bear fruit. He knew it would take wisdom to know how to show love and how to be light in cultural contexts vastly different to our own. Jesus also knew that it takes more than good intentions to avoid doing harm; it takes wisdom.

An ethical STM program is one built by wisdom.

While this can amount to considerable effort, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that we have done our utmost to uphold the best interests of communities and contribute to positive outcomes for children, families and whole communities, makes it well worth the effort.

    “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counsellors there is victory.”
    — Proverbs 24:3-7 (ESV)

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