When I think of one story that stands out from the varying experiences our community has already had, the conversations with individuals experiencing homelessness at UGM (Union Gospel Mission) stands out. The whole Urban Plunge in Downtown Winnipeg was a very impactful and meaningful week for me. When my group arrived at UGM that morning, we met Barry who explained what the program was about and its mission. He gave us a goal for the afternoon when we met with everyone at the drop-in. The goal for us was to come back to him at the end of the day with names of the people we interacted with. He explained to us that asking someone for their name was significant because for many people on the streets, it is one thing that they can claim as their own. Their names give identity, they are gifts to them. With that in mind, the group was very intentional about having conversations with each person at the drop-in, seeking to build relationships and to share as much joy and love as we could.
Everyone in our group talked to different people as we served coffee, tea, and some desserts. The diversity of stories within the room was amazing to hear about and witness.
I was serving cinnamon buns at one point in the afternoon after having spent time sitting at tables with different people. An older woman, who I will call Mary, walked up to the counter and quietly asked for a cinnamon bun without lifting her head. I grabbed one from the tray and placed it in her hand, wishing her a great rest of her day. When I did this Mary held my hand and looked up at me, straight into my eyes, saying “God bless you.” At that moment my heart was filled with joy.
I experienced a similar situation later in the day with an older man, who I will call John. He was slowly drinking his coffee, while I sat and talked with him. He told me how he had been born in Serbia and came to Canada as a young man. As John rose to go to the clothing exchange, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much for your company.” Being able to participate in this kind of setting was a valuable experience for me.
Prior to going to UGM that morning, I didn’t know what to expect and I was a little nervous about initiating conversations with strangers. But by the end of the day, after my interactions with Mary, John, and others, I realized how significant and simple it is to sit down with somebody from a different walk of life, have a cup of coffee, and get to know each other. Although both these moments were small and many of our group members experienced God in crazy ways that week, those moments really stand out for me. These moments will stick with me beyond Outtatown, when I am back home.
It’s crazy how much we as a community and individually have grown in our friendships and in our relationships with God this past month. And we still have two more months to go in this semester! Thank you all for your prayers and support!
– Bethany Wall, Site One Guatemala student, 2018-19
An Invitation to Follow
Registration Day in September already feels like such a long time ago. In the world of Outtatown, days often feel like weeks, and yet they fly by at an incredible pace. Time is sometimes difficult to track on program, with so many activities and experiences packed into a full day. Lately I’ve been reflecting on time ‘flying by’ in Outtatown and some significant markers indicating God’s faithfulness have come to mind.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, as back in 1998, a group of conference and church leaders, as well as college administrators, made the courageous and bold decision to launch the “School of Discipleship”, now known as Outtatown.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of our relationship with the community of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation. In 2008, leaders from the program received word from Peter and Colleen that they would be willing to host the group of students in the fall for a four-day learning experience. What started as a nervous exchange of stories and many unknowns as to what these relationships would be, has developed into relationships of deep friendship and hospitality. Hearing their stories, learning about traditions, and experiencing ceremonies and festivals have all been a valuable part of the experience for our students, but we are most thankful for the opportunities to build relationships.
I’m grateful to God for the ways that God has been faithful in providing for the program, and for the many people who have been involved as leaders, instructors, and partners over the years.
On Registration Day, I invited our students and leaders to accept the invitation that Jesus extended to some guys who were fishing. As I mentioned to the students then, even more than the places they go, or the experiences and events planned – there is an invitation for them, for all of us. Much like the disciples who were out fishing, Jesus invites us to experience life to the full in following Him. He desires to give us new perspective, purpose, and a way of understanding and caring for those around us.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark we read stories of Jesus healing people, Jesus including people who others are running away from, and Jesus slowing down to ask what it is He can do for them. This is the invitation that Jesus extends to us as well, to stop and pay attention to the ways that God is being revealed around us: in the beauty of the mountains and lakes, in discovering more of who God created us to be, and in having the opportunity to hear someone share a piece of their story with us. I’m convinced that Jesus is continuing to invite us as a program to explore and discover what life is like when we follow Him. Thanks for your continued prayers and support along the way.
– Cam Priebe, Director of Outtatown