Canada Outtatown

Beauty in Brokenness

Everybody knows Outtatown’s mission: Knowing God, Knowing Yourself, Knowing the World. I’m going to share a story that exhibits all three of these.

At the beginning of November, I broke my foot and these past few months have consisted of many ups and downs as a result. Although it is so, so hard to walk around with crutches for hours, one of the biggest ups was the Vancouver Urban Plunge. One memorable day was when my small group went to volunteer at Union Gospel Mission.

I think my whole small group knew it was going to be a great day. We arrived at the building bright and early, and were warmly greeted by an energetic woman named Andrea. We served breakfast to anyone who came and had some unforgettable conversations throughout breakfast.

Afterwards, the staff at UGM asked us to prepare something to say later that morning in chapel. It had to be vulnerable and relatable. What could I possibly say that is relatable? I have very little life experience compared to the people I was speaking to! I ended up talking about rough patches; no matter how big or small they can be, we all have them. And in these patches, there are bound to be times when you feel completely alone, but even in those times, God is with you.

Sure, I was saying this to a room full of people, but I was really trying to convince myself of this as well. As I was walking out of the room, a man beside me tried to get my attention. He couldn’t speak, but he gestured to his broken foot. Same as mine! He and I had a good laugh over that.

After chapel, my small group retired to a room where there were a couple papers on each person’s chair, but there was an extra paper on my seat with my name on it. I was speechless when I read it the next day. It was a personal letter from Andrea. Inside were four Bible verses: Philippians 4:7; Ephesians 1:3; 1 John 1:9; and 1 Cor 12:20. Wow. I read those verses over and over and over again. And I will continue to read them over and over. After this, Andrea left me a message sharing how she had gone through something similar and encouraging me to honour God through this injury. Honouring God through the pain was the most beautiful thing she could have done and completely changed her mindset about her situation. She ended by saying, “There is beauty in EVERYTHING! Especially the brokenness. And in your case that is literal ;).”

I think about Andrea’s letter often and how she went out of her way to put her thoughts on paper and give it to me at just the time I needed it. These verses taught me that not only is my faith changing my circumstances, but my circumstances are changing my faith. I’ve found God in ways that I never would’ve even thought to look, and God has revealed God’s self to me in ways that I’m still trying to figure out. The people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have really impacted me. They have shown care and concern for me as I get around with my broken foot.

I have learned some very valuable lessons in this past month–many from people outside of my Outtatown community, but so many lessons from the people inside of it. They have done everything for me, plus more, and I could not be more grateful!

– Emma Martens, Site 2 South Africa 2017-18

Outtatown: Grad Reflections

We have traveled. From lakeside camps in Manitoba, across the open prairies and through the stunning mountains of Alberta and BC. We have experienced the open plains of South Africa, the blue water of Cape Point and the stunning green mountains of the Drakensberg. God is creative and we have seen beauty.

We have learned. We are all stamped with the image of God. We have been stilled by the beauty and pain of our world as Indigenous communities have shared their wisdom, as the Bible has been opened in new ways, as we encountered new perspectives on development, and as we learned just a little about how to serve others with joy.

We have received and we have given. We have given of ourselves within our Outtatown community. We have laughed and cried in sharing the lies we’ve believed about ourselves and encountering the brokenness we see in the world. We have felt anger in seeing the impact of residential schools, how addiction continues to destroy lives, and we’ve been shocked by how racism still exists in South Africa and Canada. We have also received so much hospitality and been inspired by people’s incredible stories of reconciliation and hope!

We leave knowing that life is anything but linear. Rather, life enfolds times of great doubt and questioning, and times of great passion and excitement. Through it all, this year on Outtatown has opened us profoundly to our faith and to a deep experience of God’s love in our lives.

– Chris Epp-Tiessen, Site 2 South Africa Site Leader, 2018-19. An excerpt from Chris's graduation address, appearing in Spring 2019 Blazer