It's really important to process your thoughts before, during, and after a short-term missions experience. I find that it's often in these thoughts that God teaches us.
To help with this, we gave each of our team-members a journal several months before the trip and challenged them to record some thoughts. Many of them have come back again and again to say "thanks" for encouraging them to do so.
I have several "lists" in my journal from the trip:
BEFORE THE TRIP:
"Goals" - this was a list that was created long before the trip, but also had things added along the way. Having these in front of me helped to keep me focused as a team leader and even helped in making decisions about our time while we were there.
"Prayer lists" - in the months before the trip, I made several different lists of things to be praying for. One list focused on team members. One list focused on our planned schedule. One list focused on all the people we'd have the opportunity to interact with while on our trip. And one list focused on different emotions and feelings we'd experience - praying that God would help us in each of those circumstances.
DURING THE TRIP:
"God-things" - this is several pages where I recorded events and conversations that were totally orchestrated by God. When I remember this trip, I want to see the fingerprints of God all over it.
Bible study reflections - these focused on answering questions based on the Bible studies we had asked each team member to do.
General journaling - these were tidbits of things I simply wanted to write about. I try to focus less on "what we did" and focus more on "what God is doing" and the feelings and emotions that I'm experiencing, as well as the stories I don't ever want to forget.
DEBRIEFING AND PREPARING TO GO HOME:
"So What?" - whenever I teach, I end with this question - challenging people to consider how they might apply what they have learned or experienced to their daily living. Each team member was encouraged to begin a list of "So what's" for the trip in three categories: 1. Immediately applicable; 2. Applicable in the next 1-6 months; 3. Applicable for the long-term.
"How was your trip?" - another portion of our debriefing focused a lot on this question - because this question gets asked about a million times within the first week of returning home. I challenged students, again, to make bullet points for answering this question in 3 ways: 1. 30 second answer; 2. 10-minute answer; 3. Long answer. Sharing about the trip and how God worked is vital. Every time you remember the details and re-live them, God has another opportunity to remind you of the lessons he wants you to learn. It is also important that the "senders" see how their investments have returned.
As a matter of chat...
Do you journal? Do you think there is value to recording your thoughts? Are there certain seasons where journaling is more important or relevant? How do you process situations? How do you bridge knowledge, learning or experiences to everyday life application?