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Debriefing retreats in Finland

An elderly missionary lady came to the first pilot debriefing retreat and she was welcomed by a young lady. She was really shocked and wondered in her mind, is this young people’s retreat and if so, what is she doing there. She nearly turned around, but luckily decided to stay anyway. And it was good for her, because in the end she was very happy and thankful for everything in the retreat. She received more than she had expected.

She is not the only one who has come to the retreat a bit suspicious, hesitant, reserved, tired, not knowing what to expect, but who has left relieved, joyful, and refreshed. We can often see a big change in participants in five days only. They look different when they leave: relieved, burdens have been lifted, new perspective to life, past experiences and hardships has been achieved. Often the first night when we all introduce ourselves relaxes atmosphere. You can nearly hear a sigh of relief when they find out that all debriefers are professionals and experienced.

Another helpful thing is that we all, both debriefers and participants, represent different mission organisations. It is comforting to see that missionaries have same kind of problems and burdens regardless of organisation. Peer support is another factor that helps a lot. There is mutual sharing between younger and older missionaries. Groups are different every year because participants are different.

It all began some years back, in 2014, when Erik Spruyt from Le Rucher Ministries, France, came to Finland to give training for member care people about debriefing retreat. Next year he came back with Catherine Fröhlich who gave training for child debriefing. Altogether they trained 32 debriefers for adults and children. About half of them are actively involved with retreat ministry team.

At that time, we did not know how successful debriefing retreats would become. Some of us who were involved with member care were very excited, some were a bit hesitant and sceptical wondering how it would work out financially and practically. However, we decided to organise a pilot retreat in 2015 and 13 missionaries came. Since then, we have had once a year a debriefing retreat and twice we have organised a family retreat. We have had 13-19 participants and 7-9 debriefers at a time. Altogether there have been 103 participants, among them 33 men, 70 women, 27 married couples and 14 children. They represent 18 mission organisations.

We are following the international Le Rucher Ministries model which is based on the Bible and psychological knowledge. It is neither a silent retreat nor a study seminar, but it is a combination of plenary sessions, personal times of reflection, and one-to-one sessions with a debriefer. The purpose is to facilitate the process of dealing with various issues of participants. Trained debriefers give plenary sessions and serve on one-to-one sessions. Retreats are held in the countryside by a lake, which is beautiful and peaceful surroundings. And there is a sauna as well, which is very important for relaxing and sharing for Finns.

All debriefers have one way or the other mission experience, which helps them to understand missionaries and especially cross-cultural issues. They are also professionals like medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, and pastors. Some of them are working with a mission organisation, some have a secular work, some are retired. We come together as a team 4-5 times a year for discussion, planning and developing the ministry.

We are working under the umbrella of Finnish Mission Council (FMC) and its Member care working group. FMC consists of 30 member organisations and churches. FMC is a member of European Evangelical Missionary Association (EEMA) and the European Ecumenical Mission Council (EEMC). FMC celebrated its history of 100 years in 2019.

This month’s blogger is Pirjo Alajoki, psychologist and author, who was Chair of Member Care working group in Finland 2002-2016 and Member Care Europe board member 2005-2016

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