Debriefing a short term mission experience with students

The debrief is like dessert at the end of a really great meal with great people.
It invites everyone to stay a little longer and savour every bite of what just happened.
You might think dessert is not completely necessary, but the debrief is! You’ve just had a feast of an experience during your short term mission (STM) and it would not be complete without lingering a little longer for the debrief. The debrief is the needed cherry on top. Don’t go home without it.

I’m particularly thinking of the initial debrief at the end of a short term mission (STM). The initial debrief is best done before your STM ends and everyone starts to head home and back to their “regular” lives. I’m particularly thinking of the students and leaders I know wrapping up Tidal Impact this week. I’m praying they take an opportunity to debrief and not miss the cherry on top.

The debrief increases the impact of an STM…
It helps us notice what we could have missed.
It hits pause before we head back into our regular routines.
It helps us capture what God is highlighting to us.
It invites a team to be each other’s mirrors and encouragers.
It calls us to fresh action in our lives.
It invites us to reflect on the new characteristics of God we particularly experienced.

stop and think

I find it helpful to give each team member the debrief activities/questions in a handout to do on their own for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on your time frame, number of questions and group) and then call the group back together to discuss. I find, especially for the introverted team members, this allows time for everyone to be thoughtful about their experiences. If you only have a short time to debrief or a large team it would work just to choose either activity 1 or activity 2 listed below. Pick and choose the questions that work for your group and experience.

Here are some activities and questions to try in a debrief:

1. Choose one object from this room that represents what this STM was like for you. Explain. Honesty is encouraged! (or you could instead invite people to choose one animal/phrase/food that represents what this STM was like for you.)

2. This activity is stolen from “Deep Justice Journeys” By Kare E. Powell & Brad M. Griffen, which has a whole section on debriefs which is fantastic! For this activity we will draw. (Don’t worry if you are not a drawer, stick people are great!) Everyone gets a piece of payer and markers.
a. On one side draw a picture of the STM experience from an outside perspective e.g. what you saw, what you did, the people you met, the things that stand out to you.
b. On other side draw a picture of your experience from an internal perspective. e.g. how the experiences made you feel, the new things you learned, how God shaped or changed your heart.
c. Explain your drawings to the group.

3. Thumbs up: What was the best part of the STM for you? Thumbs Down: What was the worst part of the STM for you?

4. What new things did you try?

5. Was there any point where you felt you couldn’t keep going or couldn’t do what was asked of you? What was that point? What did you do?

6. During this STM, what was one thing you…
a. What was one thing you saw that you want to remember? Why?
b. What was one thing you heard that you want to remember? Why?
c. What was one thing you felt that you want to remember? Why?

7. Where did you see God during this STM?

8. What’s one thing you learned about God during this STM?

9. What do you think was your strongest contribution during this STM? How did God use you?

10. In what ways do you think you have changed (or will change) as a result of this experience?

11. What do you want to stick with you from this STM?

12. What award would you give each person from our team for this STM?

13. How do you apply your experiences from this week back in your regular life and home community?

14. Anything God is asking you to do to continue to support the people, projects and partnerships that you got to experience during this STM?

15. When you get back and someone asked you “how was your STM?” what can you tell them in 30-seconds that is more than saying “it was good”?

16. If this group could pray one word or phrase over you as you head back home (or to your “regular” life) what would you like that word/phrase to be?

May our times of debrief lead us closer to the heart of God.
May these times be a part of God transforming us to be more like Jesus.

What debrief activities or questions have you found helpful? Add them in the comments below.

-Renée @r_embree

Snippets and pictures from Tidal Impact can be found on the CABC Youth and Family Facebook Page or Twitter @cabcyf with the hashtag #TI2015

look back to look forward


What is the leader to do during a mission trip?

When you are the leader for a short term mission trip, what do you do during the actual trip?
Mission tour weeks are my favorite week with students. All the hard work of training, organizing and fundraising is done and now we get to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and go with it.
However, sometimes when I actually get on the trip with the students I get a little unsure of what my role exactly is now? I’m not one of the students, but I am a participant on this trip and I am the team leader – so what does that look like? I’ve seen other leaders struggle with this too on STMs – some I’ve seen putting their own feet up, others I’ve seen standing on the sidelines yelling orders or others I can’t tell if they are one of the students or a leader.
There can be this tension between being the leader but also being a guest and participant.

This one is a little hard to figure out and may look a little different depending on the context of your trip, but here’s some advice on walking this tension.
Advice for leaders on a mission tour:

1. Be an encouraging machine – you are the biggest cheerleader of both the locals and your own students during the STM. Notice what they are doing well, notice where they are stepping up, notice where God is at work and encourage, encourage, encourage. Pray for people, especially as they take on new tasks or share their joys/challenges in their local context and in this experience. Keep your home church connected and encouraged by what’s happening too.

2. Equip and empower others – give away opportunities to lead and serve to students and locals. This doesn’t mean you do nothing, but you come alongside them to help them go further. It’s so exciting to watch others step-up and be stretched to try new things.

3. Learn from other leaders and their context – this is a great opportunity for you to build friendships with other leaders and learn from them. Figure out where you are facing similar challenges and opportunities, talk about resources and talk about where God is at work. Build relationships with partners near and far.

4. Serve too – get your hands dirty. Pitch in with the team wherever you can. Take the nature of a servant.

5. Ask great questions – invite the students and others around you into deeper conversation and reflection with great questions. Help others recognize what God is revealing to them and teaching them. Help others see the roots of what is happening where you are, not just the symptoms or Band-Aid solutions.

6. Set the example – model what it looks like to have attitude of humility, learning, service, dedication and graciousness. Model what it looks like to keep close to Jesus during the week. Model how to react when difficulties come-up. Model a spirit of curiosity and not judgment.

7. Lead a debrief – make sure you take time for the team to debrief together. Give them time to reflect and articulate what they learned during this experience, what God seemed to be highlighting, what they need to apply back home, what gifts they saw in each teammate etc.

Have an amazing time of seeing and experiencing God’s work in our world! We love to hear your stories from STMs this year.

-Renée @r_embree

Start Here – 5 reasons you need to be involved in local mission

We’ve been using one question to challenge leaders, youth groups, camps and churches.
That question is: will you join God in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time?
If you don’t live in Atlantic Canada, it still works – how are you joining God in changing your neighbourhood?
We truly believe God is at work all around you. We truly believe God wants you to join Him in His work around you in the neighbourhoods where you go to youth group, go to church, go to work, go to study, go to shop and go to play.
We believe churches and the people that overflow from them are to be hubs of God’s activity in neighbourhoods and communities.

Here are just a few stories I’ve heard in the last two weeks of how people are taking up this challenge:
• A Mom told me how she heard other Mom’s talking about how they wished there was a soccer night for their preschoolers. This Mom thought, “I could do that!” And realized it was an opportunity to be an answer to her prayer to be good news to her neighbourhood and get to know her neighbourhood better.
• A church with a school just across the street from them decided to approach the school and see if they’d let them throw a “School’s Out Party” for all the students and staff on the last day of school. The school was thrilled. So the church partnered with a camp to offer all kinds of fun activities and snacks. In the process they built all kinds of connections and creditability with the school and community.
• A group of high school students told me over this last semester some of their friends, who don’t know much about Christianity, started asking them questions about Jesus and the Bible. So they asked them if they wanted to start meeting once a week, during lunch hour at school, to explore Christianity together. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing!
• A number of groups are finding creative ways to be involved in Tidal Impact. Tidal Impact is a local mission trip where youth groups will be joining forces for the week of July 11 to 18 to impact the cities of Saint John and Moncton with the goodness and good news of Jesus. One creative ministry I’ve heard will be happening is an outdoor mission to bless those struggling in their neighbourhood. Through partnerships they already have this group will be setting up services outside in a low income, struggling part of the city. Together they will prepare food, providing foot care, offer a blood pressure clinic, invite a hair school to offer haircuts, invite a dental school to come, offer a prayer station and simply seeking to be God’s presence to those they meet.

I love hearing these stories! God is changing neighbourhoods in Atlantic Canada! God is living and active here. God is inviting us to be a part of what He is doing in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time.

I am a very firm believer that we need to be involved in local mission.
We are missionaries here and now.
Individual Christians, leaders, youth groups, children’s ministries, camps, churches need to be involved in local mission.

Here are 5 reasons I’m such a firm believer that we need to be involved in local mission:

1. Authentic – Those around us have a right to be skeptical if we talk about our faith, or come and go from the church, but there is little evidence our faith is impacting our lives and world. People, inside and outside the church, need to see Christianity is more than being at youth group for two hours a week or being at church for an hour on Sunday. Christianity, from its very beginning, has been a movement. It is a movement that cannot be contain in walls, it is a movement happening all over the world, as people join God in changing hearts and communities. Christianity is a movement of joining God in renewing all things – of allowing God to renew my heart, my life, but also joining God in renewing others’ lives, communities, churches, camps and systems. This generation of young people in particular long to see a faith that is making a significant difference in the world. It’s got to be more than talk, more than a club and more than an institution.

2. Makes us students of our context and cultural – as we seek to become local missionaries, it invites us to ask all the best missionary questions. Questions like: Where is God already at work in my community? If I were planted here as a new missionary – where would I go, who would I talk to, to learn about the local culture? What are the values of this culture? What do people care about here? Where do people naturally gather? Where can I/we build connections and friendships? What skills and gifts do I/we have to offer this community? Who can I invite to help me? What do I still need to learn about this culture? Who is an insider and friend who can help me as I get to know this particular community? Where do I already have connections and relationships that God wants to use? The best missionaries are learners. Engaging in local mission makes me a better learner and a better student of my culture.

3. We are the best missionaries for our context – you are the locals. You really do know your community best, better than anyone who drops in from the outside. As Mother Teresa (Founder of the Missionaries of Charity) says “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are – in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
God uses His people as His missionaries in the places where they already live, work, study and play.

4. Training – engaging in local mission is one of the best training and discipleship tools. As we and our community step out to connect with our community and be the words, hands and feet of Jesus, we stretch our own faith. It wakes up your faith! Rather than it just being a passive faith – where it is mostly about listening to sermons, reading devotionals, it invites you to an active faith, to join God’s work all around you. Stepping out into our community stirs up more questions, reveals our rough edges and challenges us in new ways. Plus, local mission is the best training for global mission. Until we show our missionary heart here, I don’t think we should be trusted to show it in another context. This is where God has planted you and your Christian community, this is where He is at work around you. This is where you are needed. When we join God in more global partnerships, our involvement in local mission has prepared us to better understand how to approach such a global partnership. Hopefully we’ve learned humility, the importance of partnership and gained an understanding that the locals are the ones who really know best how to minister in their context and they are the ones who will continue on in the relationships in their neighbourhood after we are gone.

5. Shows us God’s at work here and now – Unfortunately some folks have gotten the impression from churches and Christians that God only works in other places far away or that God only worked a long time ago. When we join God in what He is doing to change lives and neighbours we start seeing how God is working here and now. We start helping each other to spot God’s activity – places of need where we can join in, places where we see His goodness breaking through and we can join, opportunities to show and tell the Gospel, places where God is still at work inside me… Engaging in local mission shows our faith is living and active today. Our God is living and active today!

If you want to explore this more, here are some resource suggestions…

  • “Neighborhood Mapping – How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community” By Dr. John Fuder
  • “When Helping Hurts – How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself” By Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert
  • “Deep Justice In a Broken World” By Chap Clark & Kara E. Powell
  • “Deep Justice Journeys – Moving from Mission Trips to Misisonal Living” – Leader’s Guide & Student Journal By Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin
  • “Missional Youth Ministry – Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples” By Brian Kirk & Jacob Thorne

Plus, I’d recommend you:

We are excited watching what’s happening as people say yes to joining God in changing Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time. We truly believe we are going to see neighborhoods change as we join in God’s mission here and now.

Comments, stories, and questions are welcomed!

-Renée @r_embree

25 before 25

25 missional experiences everyone should have before they are 25 years old

*If you try any of these out let us know on twitter #1neighbourhood

By the time you are 5 years old:
1. Know the names and interests of your neighbours.
2. Choose 3 to 5 of your books to give away to someone.
3. Bake cookies (with adult help) to give to someone who could use a cheer up, visit with them and share the cookies.
4. Play with children from different cultures and try food from different cultures.
5. Visit a nursing home and give out hugs or homemade drawings.

By the time you are 10 years old
6. Go through your closet and give away clothing in good condition to someone that would like or use them.
7. On garbage day in your neighbourhood, pull everyones garbage cans/compost bins back to their houses.
8. Have a lemonade stand outside your house to get to know your neighbours, give the money you raise to a church or charity of your choice.
9. Participate in a food or clothing driving for a local food bank or shelter. Visit the food band or shelter and get to know a few folks.
10. Take a handful of quarters and a roll of tape and stick the quarters on gumball machines all over town. You will make a child’s day!

By the time you are 15 years old
11. Show intentional kindness to your school and teachers. E.g. When your school has a Parent-Teacher conference night, rally fellow students & families to provide a great meal for the staff to enjoy in their breaks. Serve and clean up!
12. Apologize to someone you treated poorly in middle school.
13. Experience being on mission for a week somewhere in your home region! More and more churches and camps are having Service Camps. Our favourite happens to be:
14. Volunteer at a meal being served for the homeless or under-resourced – serve food, cleanup, visit with people.
15. Take extra school supplies with you to school and generously share them with your fellow students.

By the time you are 20 years old
16. Take an opportunity to explain your faith in Jesus to a friend at work, school or on a team.
17. Give a gift from the CBM Hopeful Gifts for Change Catalogue:
18. Buy baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula…) and take them to a Pregnancy Resource Centre. While you are there learn about the place, what they offer and who works there.
19. Find a need and meet it. Spot the needs on social media or around you – is someone sick? Take a meal. Someone have a flooded basement? Go & help and take a care package. Someone raking their leaves? Pick up a rake.
20. Experience an international mission trip (Opportunities can be found here or with the Springforth Team that will be put together to go to Kamp Tumaini in 2017!!!

By the time you are 25 years old
21. Cook a meal (or order pizza) for your neighbours and have them in.
22. Volunteer or contribute financially, regularly, somewhere locally (your community) and globally.
23. Sit with the dying.
24. Eat your lunch with others at your work or school and get to know their story. Bring a treat, now and then, to share during lunch.
25. Lead something missional. Rally your friends, a group of youth, a small group or a church around meeting a need in your community or world.

  •  If you are older than 25 (don’t worry, we won’t ask your age) it is never too late to go back and experience these things, and move towards making missional living a part of your everyday life and being.

Send us your ideas for tweaking this list and for new lists to come, by leaving comments on the blog or tweet @r_embree or #1neighbourhood. This list was created with the help of Andrew Glidden (@PastorWolf), Louise Knowles, Adrian Gardner (@AdrianDGardner) & Jacqueline Derrah.

*If you try any of these out let us know on twitter #1neighbourhood