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My husband and I spent 9 years on a mission field doing church planting work. It was a wonderful experience for the most part. However, toward the last year, tension had built up between fellow missionaries. Church members began to take sides; my husband and I felt it was time for us to move on.
When the decision was made, there was such peace. We believed it was God’s timing and way to move us on. Yet, we left the field feeling heart broken and had a lot of unfinished explanations that we were not able to give to our church friends because we didn’t want to divide the church. That was 20 years ago.
Our mission agency didn’t have a Member Care department at the time. Debriefing was kind of like having a brief chat over lunch with the director. We never thought much about it. In another words, my husband and I were never debriefed to share our stories.
I remember years later when I was talking about those experiences with a friend, tears streamed down my face as if I was telling about something that had just happened. I was caught by surprise by the impact.
Now I believe in the value of debriefing; I wish every missionary who has come home from his/her missionary assignment would have the opportunity to tell their stories to someone who cares to listen.
A good debriefing time helps to validate what is done well and what needs to change. It is amazing how talking through our stories with a “debriefer” can sometimes help to make sense of the confusion that might be experienced. It also allows us to grieve the losses as we say goodbye to the experiences (good and bad) we left behind. It helps to see God’s presence in our stories and that He is still interested in guiding us forward. It may give us new energy and direction to follow God’s next plan and assignment.
Healing is possible and comforting; and the outcome can give us reasons to celebrate what God is doing in and through us.
I resonate with Ruth Ann Graybill as she states, “Debriefing is a relational process in which the realities of the past and their impact are expressed and understood for the purpose of release, renewal, and moving forward.” It took me years to work through my experiences. I often wonder if my husband and I had an opportunity to be debriefed in those earlier days, how we would have been able to thrive better in our later ministries.
Oi‑Wah Whitbourne and her husband have been missionaries with Action International Ministries for 34 years. Oi‑Wah, along with her husband, worked in the Philippines (9 years) and India (5 years); she is now the member care worker for their mission agency. Oi‑Wah is also a pastor’s wife, a counsellor (Crossroad Counselling), and a chaplain with Corporate Chaplains (Outreach Canada). Her passion is working with people and walking alongside those who need healing. She believes Christ is the Wonderful Counsellor and she is leaning on His guidance. She considers it a privilege to walk alongside missionaries in their debriefing process.