Canada Outtatown Updates

Downtown Winnipeg and Bungee Jumping: Lessons from First Semester

What an amazing semester it has been! The first three months of Outtatown have flown by. It has been such an amazing time of learning and of growth, involving many challenges that have further shaped us into the people God has designed us to be. I’d like to reflect on ways we’ve been challenged and on some highlights.

Throughout the semester we were stretched by new settings and situations that took us outside our comfort zones. For some, being in the big city brought on fear and discomfort until we grew to embrace our surroundings and focus on the people we met through different organizations and experiences. For others, going to Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation brought on fear of a new environment and experiences, but after a week of being immersed in the culture and generous hospitality of our hosts, we walked away with newfound knowledge and understanding.

Another challenge we faced on our journey this semester is that of awareness. We’ve learned a lot about Indigenous peoples, their culture, and the effects settlers have had on them. In the inner city we learned about how people fall into poverty and the toll that experiencing homelessness can take on one’s life. A lot of us were surprised to learn just how many people are experiencing homelessness, poverty, are missing or abused right here in our own country. So much work needs to be done to bring healing and order.

We also learned how to love each other inside our own community, considering each of our strengths and weaknesses, and learning how to function well with each other and develop deep relationships.

Something that stood out to our group in these past few months is how we can’t help every single person we meet, but we can be presentwith them, which I think is one of the most important parts of learning to be a disciple of Christ. Learning to walk hand in hand with others in society, not in front or behind, is such a great value we can carry with us through second semester and beyond.

It’s so hard to narrow down just a few of the many highlights of this past semester, but one of the things that stood out to me was our bungee jumping experience. I’ve never seen such excitement and encouragement, from and for every single person in our group. We cheered and coached each other on until the last person jumped, leaving no one behind. Fears were faced individually that day and I think that helped to make us stronger as a group.

Another highlight was definitely the canoe trip! Although this was way back at the start of the semester, those few days out in nature, with what were strangers at the time, left so many lasting memories that will always bring smiles to our faces. “Surviving” with a new group of people and being stuck with them in close quarters for four days really forced us to climb out of our shells and get to know one another. For me, that trip will be something I’ll never forget because it was the best icebreaking experience I’ve ever had with such a wonderful group of people.

Sharing our stories at the end of the semester about what we’ve learned, seen, or gone through this semester really showed how we didn’t all share the same experience. Instead, there were 36 experiences (41 including our fearless leaders) that are intertwined to make one rich and diverse story of every perspective of our journey.

Overall, it has been both an amazing and stretching time with our Outtatown family over the past three months and I can’t wait to continue learning and growing together as we make our way down to Guatemala in January!

Thanks for reading!

– Kiera Wassink, Outtatown 2019-20

Wired for Belonging

On November 30, a couple of us from the Outtatown office stood outside as we awaited the arrival of the students and site leaders. This was the last day of their first semester which included three months filled with wild adventures such as bungee jumping and caving, lessons learned from wise instructors, and perhaps some nights sleeping in hammocks under the stars. We were excited to greet the students and hear their stories, alongside many parents who were also waiting.

Soon three vans rolled up and many groggy students climbed out. Though these young adults looked exhausted from their long drive and long semester, there was a hesitation to go home. The goodbye lasted for 45 minutes with countless hugs and promises to keep in contact. Parents stood patiently in the periphery to give their loved ones space. At one point, in the parting of this group, I heard one student say to another, “See you tomorrow!” Even after three long months of 41 people being crammed into three 15-passenger vans, they still wanted to spend time together on their break. They loved and would miss this community they had created.

On Outtatown, as students travel together in tight quarters for such a long distance, there is a strong bond. The students and leaders have come to know each other on both the good days and the bad. There is vulnerability in the everyday routine of Outtatown, such as brushing teeth alongside 20 people crammed into one bathroom and debriefing the day with others in the cabin. This group has experienced hard valley and exciting mountaintop moments together and have found a sense of belonging, evident as they parted. Each person of the 41 is loved, known, and has a place within the site.

Belonging to a community is different than being best friends with everyone. Sure, there are days when people do not get along or are tired of one another, but belonging transcends being best friends. It is the sense that one has a place and a purpose, that one is needed within that community. This is essential to being human, as we thrive when we are in relationship with one another. As Brene Brown says, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” Seeing this in the current Outtatown community, I was reminded of God’s invitation of belonging for us.

As we have recently passed through Advent, we were reminded that the Son of God was once incarnate on earth. Jesus became fully human (as well as being fully divine) and offered a message of love. He invited humanity into the presence of God, breaking down barriers of wealth and status, and offered a place at the table for both the sinner and the saint. Within Christ, we are offered a sense of belonging. We are wanted, known, and loved. Just as with the students on program, so we too can find a place of belonging within the church and within God’s Kingdom. In John 15. 9-12 Christ says; “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” As we enter the new year, our prayer is that we remember the love and belonging God offers, while reminding others of this same truth.

– Kari Miller, Current Outtatown Student Worker and Alumna, 2016-17

Canada Outtatown Updates

Caving and Christianity

This past month we had the opportunity to explore some caves near Hope, British Columbia, which was a highlight for many of us. It was a new opportunity and a chance to learn important lessons regarding the faith we share. Before the day arrived there were mixed feelings among many of the participants: excitement sprinkled with fear. For some, the anxiety of crawling through caves all day almost made them decide not to participate, however, in the end, all of us decided to face our fears and step into the dark, cool rocks.

We were instructed by Walden, who gave us basic information about how to maneuver through the tunnels and then gave us time to explore by ourselves in groups of four or five. We had to work together to discover the correct pathways to climb through.

Parts of the caves were only manageable with your back pressed against the top of the tunnel as you slide through on your stomach, hands in front, and feet pushing from behind. Other times it was necessary to lay on your back while attempting to wiggle through a small opening, hoping that it would lead somewhere. There were small drops in the caves where we needed to climb down, and some spaces that had to be climbed up. Through these many challenges we were stretched and grew.

At the end of the day we all gathered in a stone room to debrief and we sang a few worship songs. This was a favourite time for the group as the singing filled the whole space as and we worshiped the Creator. It was a beautiful time to come together and praise the one who made both us and the caves we had been exploring all day.

We talked about how caving is similar to following Jesus. There are parts when we feel stuck, and can’t go anywhere, but we trust in the Lord to see us through the tough times. There are times when we get hurt along the way—bruises, scrapes, and bumps—but still we make it through. Often in life, we aren’t sure where we are going but we trust that there’s a way out because God’s plan is good. It’s comforting because we read in the Bible how Jesus has walked in our shoes and experienced all that we are going through, just like how people went before us in the caves. We can know that He is there for us, aware of the temptations we face, the hurt we feel, and the hard things of life that we go through every day. So when we follow Jesus, we can know that He knows what He’s doing. It was comforting to go through the caves and know that people have gone before us and that these tunnels are completely safe.

We collaborated as a group to maneuver our way through the twisting pathways, and this can exemplify how, on our walk with the Lord, community is important to growing in faith. We can all push each other and hold each other accountable, which is very important to strengthen our relationship with God.

Another parallel between caving and Christianity is that of Jesus being the light of our lives. This is a truth that is expressed throughout the Bible and is an important part of the gospel. When Jesus, the light, is leading our lives, we can only see a portion of the way in front of us, but that is really all we need to see because God knows the big picture. We only need to see the one step that we are taking; Jesus will take care of the rest. And this is the most important aspect—imagine trying to journey through the cave without a head lamp; caving would be virtually impossible without it. Similarly, there is darkness in the world and Jesus is the light. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.

It was amazing to see how something that seemed so scary become so exciting, calm, and fascinating. And, in hindsight, it was an excellent metaphor for the Christian walk. It was so good to face our fears and learn lots through this experience.

– Erika Bosman,  Outtatown 2019-20

Remembering the Grand Story

Today marks the beginning of Advent. Starting today, and for the next three weeks, anticipation will build towards Christmas. Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation. We prepare to celebrate that God became human. We sit in the discomfort of this beautiful, yet broken world that awaits Christ’s return and the fullness of God’s reign.

Where does this story start for you? If you were telling the story of God-become-human and Jesus’ return where would you begin? In the little town of Bethlehem? In chapter one of Matthew’s Gospel? Perhaps with Isaiah or King David? Yesterday the last of our students arrived back home for the Christmas break. Try asking them where they would begin the story. I bet that I can guess their response.

Find the part of your Bible that talks about baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels, wise guys, a donkey, and the inn. Now turn back a few pages. And a few more. And a few more. Turn it all the way back to Genesis, back to the beginning. As our students were reminded again and again this semester, to make sense of the story we must start at the beginning.

It’s in the beginning that we learn of God’s harmonious intention for all creation. We learn that the beauty and the brokenness experienced in this world, which Outtatown students have encountered throughout the semester, stems from God’s loving creation and humanity’s selfish bent. We also learn that God has a plan. Genesis 3 tells us that someone is coming who will undo this mess. 

Now, as you tell the story, move through the Bible; through Deuteronomy, Psalms, Jeremiah, and Malachi. Through Mark, Acts, Colossians, and Revelation. It’s a bit of an epic, as far as narratives go. But what a story it is! 

I was at a Christmas Eve service last year where the pastor forgot about the middle of the story. He jumped from Genesis 3 to the cross. Beyond the rest of the Old Testament, Jesus lived a lot of life before the cross. He proclaimed that the reign of God had arrived (Mt. 4:17). 

Remember these things as you move through Advent this year. Remember to start at the beginning, it’s where the good news concerning Jesus begins and opens our eyes to the beauty and brokenness of this God-breathed world. Remember that Jesus coming is about so much more than the cross, it’s about God’s reign. And remember to feel the discomfort of brokenness, even as we anticipate God’s renewal of all things (Rev. 21:5).

May you know the presence of God as you remember and celebrate that God entered creation this year

– Tim Cruickshank, Outtatown Co-Director

Canada Outtatown Updates

Becoming People of Reconciliation

A few weekends ago, I found myself back in the Outtatown vans with staff and program alumni taking a little road trip in Southern Manitoba. We were on our way to a celebratory BBQ; a time of sharing and laughter as we commemorated over 10 years of partnership and friendship with the Roseau River Anishinabe community. We spent the evening roasting hot dogs, eating venison burgers, sitting around the fire, and chatting.

At one point towards the end of the evening our host and an elder in the community, Peter Atkinson, invited the group to come into a sharing circle, to speak out the things they had learned from the community. One by one, we went around the circle, speaking softly as the fire crackled before us; naming the moments that had encouraged, inspired, and challenged us. Current students spoke about the eye-opening and inspiring lessons they learned during the previous week. Alumni reflected on the ways their own time spent with the Roseau community has continued to impact both their studies and the ways they think about and interact with the world around them. As I listened to these voices, I was struck by the incredible privilege it was to be there—at the home of friends and partners, who for over a decade now have been committed to teaching and sharing their culture with Outtatown students. Generously, they pass along wisdom, knowledge, and the experience of some of their cultural practices. We do not take this for granted; it would be perfectly reasonable for them not to welcome the loud, exuberant groups of Outtatown students, most of whom are settler peoples, onto their land and into their homes. Yet year after year they welcome us, and as we sat around the fire, I was overwhelmed by the weight and generosity of that commitment.

As both a Christian in the Anabaptist faith tradition and someone deeply involved in Outtatown for the last number of years, I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to be people of reconciliation. My natural inclination is to want to do something, to make things right—and there are good arguments for this! There is so much to be done in repairing our relationship as Canadians with our Indigenous neighbours. But I have also heard it said that we cannot have reconciliation without first hearing truth. Outtatown students over the years have had the joy of sitting around the fire, learning from wise elders who love to teach about their people and their ways. As I sat around the fire that Saturday night, I saw a small spark of what this means: we come, we listen, we learn, we share. Year after year, we do it all over again, each year growing a little bit more in our understanding of what it means to be neighbours, and people of reconciliation. There is still so much to learn, but perhaps joining together around the fire, sharing a meal, and listening to story is a good place to start.

– Renee Willms, Outtatown Co-Director

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

Canada Outtatown

The 10 Lepers, Tim Hortons, and a Notebook

Before I tell the story that had the biggest impact on me this month, I first want to retell the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. To summarize, in Luke 17:11-19, 10 men who suffered from leprosy came to Jesus asking for healing. Jesus cleansed all 10, but only one turned back to give praise to God. Jesus asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other 9? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

This Bible story is a great illustration of what I experienced on our last Urban Plunge day in Vancouver. We were divided into groups of three and given various amounts of money to make an impact in any way we could think of. I believe the biggest impact of the day was actually the one I experienced.

To start the day off, my group members and I decided we would go to the Westside (the higher-end part of Vancouver), to see where our money could best be used to make an impact. A short time later we were buying markers, notebooks, and big jugs of Tim Hortons coffee. The outcome of these purchases was three girls standing in the rain on a busy shopping street intersection with a sign that said “FREE COFFEE” and a notebook that invited people to write down something they were thankful for.

As our jug of coffee started to empty, our gratitude journal started to fill with a few things people were thankful for. In between the several people who gave thanks for things such as free coffee, their moms, sisters, music, and legalizing weed, there were the people who walked by us with their shopping bags scoffing at us or pretending to be on their phones so they didn’t have to acknowledge our existence.

We ran out of coffee and decided we should head to the Eastside (the “needy” part of Vancouver), to do the same thing. This time we bought double the coffee, stood in the rain on the busiest intersection and held our free coffee sign. Immediately, the people on the streets swarmed us with grateful attitudes and were almost more excited to write in our gratitude journal than to get a free cup of coffee. After serving over sixty people of the Downtown Eastside, we rejoined the rest of our site to debrief the day.

As I read through the gratitude journal and saw all that people were thankful for, I was reminded of the story of the 10 lepers and the importance of giving thanks. Along with many other, more privileged people on the Westside, I often forget to give thanks to God for the things I have been blessed with. However, for those living on the Downtown Eastside who don’t have very much, they are like the foreigner in the story who turned back to Jesus and gave thanks for everything; like “ Jesus being here”, “salvation”, “good health”, “shelters”, “being alive”, and “food”. That day reminded me to always have an attitude of gratitude.

– Kaitlyn Shuart, Site Two South Africa student, 2018-19

On Hope

Jan 2019 - Renee photo

It’s January and I’ve been thinking about hope. I love the Advent season we’ve just been through, in part because it’s festive, but also because the reality of God becoming a human is enough to knock me down and lift me back up again. British poet Malcolm Guite writes, “It’s just as well he dared to be, dared to come out of the invulnerable realm of ideas and into the bloody theatre of history, that he might change and redeem it from within.” That God comes and encounters us in our very particular, very human situations is stunning to me. But it's January now, with all of its busyness and resolutions and self-help mantras, and I am quick to forget that this is who God is.

Towards the end of December, I moved into a new neighbourhood. There’s a lot of good about this place—a more central location, friends who live within walking distance, new shops and cafes to discover. But there is also a lot of brokenness and heartache in the neighbourhood, and it makes me wonder where hope resides. I’m reminded of the tensions our Outtatown students wrestle with throughout the program: how do we reconcile the world’s beauty and diversity with its pain?

I love the way the Message phrases John 1:14, “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” I wonder if part of the answer is found in the hope of a God who enters our reality and dwells with us in our circumstances; a God who moves into the neighbourhood. I’m not the only one building a new sense of home this year—Outtatown students will soon be arriving in their international locations, and will discover the extraordinary beauty and diversity of South Africa and Guatemala. But they will also encounter each country’s pain. My prayer is that, as we all enter the New Year, we hold onto this hope: that God became flesh and blood, and entered into our reality, wherever we may find ourselves, so that he might “redeem it from within”. 

– Renee Willms, Outtatown Program Manager

Canada Outtatown Updates

A Day of Silence

This past month we had Steve Klassen, Director of the MARK Centre, come and spend four days teaching us about listening to God. We learned about many different ways we can hear God speak and how God is working in our everyday lives. We were taught that one of the most important things to do if you want to hear God speak is to simply listen. Which led us to a day of silence.

Starting from about 9:30 in the morning until 7:30 that evening, our energetic and noisy group was challenged to not talk to anyone. People took the day to rest, enjoy nature, go for hikes, read their Bibles, talk to God, and just listen. Many people heard something from God, whether it was through a Bible verse that came to mind, words and images, or through the environment around them. Some people also felt as if they didn’t hear God, but that doesn’t mean He was any less present to them.

I really enjoyed the silent day. While I am not too sure what God said to me on that day, I know He was there watching over me. Near the end of the silent day I wrote a short story reflecting on an image. This is what I wrote:

“The little girl dances through the forest without a care in the world. Free as ever, filled with uncontainable joy, spinning with her arms spread wide, her hair flowing behind her. Curious and overflowing with excitement, she has so much to look forward to. She doesn’t know what the future holds. Right now she is just focused on the present, looking at all the amazing beauty around her. Soaking everything in, she doesn’t want to forget one second of this moment.

“God is looking down at this little girl, watching her. He sees her face glowing in the sun and hearing the laughter echo through the trees. He is happy, He is proud, He loves her SO much.

"What if I told you that God thinks this when He looks at you? It’s true, God knows you are beautiful, He knows you are special, He cares for you so much and He loves you unconditionally. If God knows it’s true, why is it so hard to believe ourselves?

“The world is moving so fast. What if we just stopped and took a step back? Why can’t we just go back to being like a child? Why do we need to worry and stress? God is our Heavenly Father and He will take care of everything we need. God loves us no matter where we are in our faith journey, we don’t have to be perfect like society tells us. Jesus said to come as you are."

I want to be like the little girl that I pictured that day, without a care in the world, laughing and dancing, just enjoying the presence of God. WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN and He loves us all so much! I think we should all strive to be like that child in the forest, filled with God’s love, glowing with His goodness and joy.

“How great is the love the Father has given us so freely! Now we can be called children of God. And that's what we really are! The world doesn't know us because it didn't know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God. He still hasn't let us know what we will be. But we know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him. We will see him as he really is.” 1 John 3:1-2

– Makenna Olson, Site Two South Africa student, 2018-19


December 2018 Joyce

I’ve been shopping lately. Yes, Christmas is coming and I get a bit excited about that! I love the sparkle of the glitter in a Christmas wreath, the twinkle of lights, thinking about the people that I can buy a gift for, and the aroma of turkey and stuffing roasting in preparation for the gathering of friends and family. These things I really look forward to.

The countdown is definitely on! In my wandering through many stores, I was impacted by how many different versions of Advent calendars I saw. All the way from a rustic barn board with a star that tracks along a zig zag edge following days 1-25 to a board with intriguing little doors filled with Lindt chocolate….it’s all there! The biggest chocolate surprise, of course, is on December 25!

What is all this Advent anticipation about? For many years, I made my living in the retail sales and floral industry helping people like you to get into the frenzied whirlwind of gift buying and making sure that your homes were beautifully decorated. I still design beautiful things, but I have come to realize that we have more important things to expectantly wait and prepare for. I look forward to celebrating that Christ has come with Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy and is the Light for this world that is not always beautiful.

As of December 1, Semester 1 has come to an end for the Outtatown Program. What are the students preparing for and looking forward to? I’m sure the comforts of home, seeing friends and family, and a favorite meal or two is appealing. Will what the students have learned and been introduced to cause them to pause? And what are the hopes and expectations for the next part of the journey as the learning continues into different cultures and geography?

Wherever we are this Christmas season and whatever we are anticipating, may we reflect on our God of perfect Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. Let’s celebrate that Jesus, the Light of the World, has come.

– Joyce Friesen, Outtatown Program Assistant

Canada Outtatown Updates

Impact of the Inner City

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

Canada Guatemala Outtatown

Connecting While Canoeing

The second day of the Guatemala site’s canoe trip began with a delicious meal of granola and powdered milk in a plastic cup. We were fuelling up for canoeing a total of 25 kilometres. Despite our arms still feeling sore from the day before, we set out on the lake. Thankfully, I got to sit in the ‘princess seat’ of the canoe, which meant no paddling for me. It wasn’t hard to tell that the energy of my newfound friends was dwindling after only about a quarter of the trip. The elements were certainly not on our side as we fought the wind, nearly being tossed over in the waves.

Suddenly, above the sounds of crashing waves and howling wind, one voice sung out above it all. The first couple lyrics of ‘All Star’ by Smashmouth rang out over the lake, giving all of us a hope we never knew we could have. Without any cue, we all began to sing out the song, creating joy within our hearts and strength within our arms. By that point I had switched positions with the bow paddler to give her a rest. I was paddling to the beat of the song, not realizing how far we had already gone.

After Smashmouth came Journey, and then our favourite Disney songs. Finally ending on the classic High School Musical that we all know and love. This singing not only got us through an extremely tiring day of paddling, but it also bonded us as a team. Whether their voice cracked or they sung off key, all participants were welcome in the chorus. It definitely proved how much music can bring people together.

Throughout the canoe trip we quickly became family, despite only meeting a couple days before. The experience of being thrown fully out of your comfort zone with people you barely know is disorienting, but it also creates opportunity for growth and depth in new friendships. We had many moments of singing, dancing, and laughing. Personally, I was able to be myself around this new group, an experience that is uncommon coming out of high school. Similar to the singing, everyone was brave enough to share their unique personalities without fear of being judged.

The canoe trip was a foundational experience for our team, one that gave us common ground to build off of. It was beautiful to witness what can happen when you put aside technology, rely on God’s creation, and dive into new relationships.

– Kyla Willms, Site One Guatemala student, 2018-19

Canada Guatemala Outtatown

June: Meeting Lou, Address Unknown

Heading into the Vancouver Urban Plunge, I was quite nervous. Being from a small town of 700 people, wandering the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside scared me a lot and I was anxious about the week. My leader, Rachel, prayed for me and encouraged me to go in with an open mind, knowing that God went with me. She encouraged me to see the people of the Downtown Eastside as fellow children of God. Like many other times this semester, I had to realize that every single person we come in contact with has a story, and we should not come to any conclusion about them without understanding their background. I went to bed that night feeling much more optimistic about the week, but still a bit nervous.

On Monday we were in small groups and participated in a “learning tour” to gain a better understanding of the city. We spent the morning walking around and my group met Lou, a middle-aged man who was currently experiencing homelessness. Lou touched our hearts very deeply as he openly shared part of his story with us. He also made us think with his perspective. Lou was particularly upset about how people immediately think that he is abusing drugs because he is Aboriginal and presently on the streets. He told us over and over again to not assume anything about anyone without knowing who they are, a concept we have been learning a lot about this year with Outtatown.

Another thing Lou spoke about that really made us think was about the mission organizations throughout Vancouver. Most of the places where he was able to stay had bed bugs and no one else would want to stay there. Why would he? It was really interesting to gain that new perspective, while also keeping in mind that some organizations do offer great things. Though most of what Lou had to say to us was negative, he impacted my life and made me want to be part of creating change in this corruptive cycle.

Those four days we spent in the Downtown Eastside talking with many people and hearing their stories totally opened my eyes and changed my perspective of that area. Most people there LOVE to talk with you and hear about your family, where you come from, where you've been, where you are going, and anything else you are willing to tell them. Most of the people there care a lot about you and would protect you from harm.

That week, I saw the people of the Downtown Eastside as beloved children of God who are made in His image, just like me and the rest of my team. It was a blessing to be amongst a group of people who challenged me to face my fears and who continually encouraged me while I did that.


Tana Thiessen, Guatemala student, 2017-18


Canada Guatemala Outtatown

January: The Beauty of Trust

Exploring the Talus Caves was an experience that inspired a plethora of life and spirituality-related metaphors. This particular cave system near Hope, BC took us into the heart of the boulders that surrounded the base of a mountain and carried us into spaces that put our waterslide-related claustrophobic experiences into perspective. The caves were damp and dark – yet with these seemingly adverse characteristics came a certain mystery and desire to explore the possibility for beauty and meaning. It was an opportune time to think more abstractly about the concepts we have been discussing this semester – particularly those pertaining to community, vulnerability, and trust.

While some were eager to test the limits of the caves— and their bodies— as they wormed their way through spaces far too small to be a logical path, I was far more hesitant, fearful and claustrophobic. For me, caving was less an exploratory exercise than it was a beautiful experience of surrender and trust. To clarify, using the word beautiful to describe this experience does not preclude tears or even imply it was pleasant. This was a raw experience for me— there was no pretending to be above fear or in any way immune to the seemingly ‘all in your head’ experience of claustrophobia. It was a unique experience of letting others hold you in a raw state and simply trust— trust those around you to meet you where you are at, trust that this will not be the moment that age old rock will shift, and trust that sunlight and blue sky will, in fact, still exist when you exit. As some groups explored beauty in darkness through pictographs, I explored the beauty of being pushed to explore fears and areas of darkness within.

With the physical exploration of the caves came a powerful metaphor relating to one’s path in life. As I felt completely unable to decipher all the possible routes, the importance of surrounding yourself with those who will not only walk the straightforward path with you but will also take the detours and the dead ends was reiterated and powerfully shown. Along with this, the beauty of trust within community was exemplified. I saw the immense importance of being able to articulate the things I struggle with and then seek out a guide— someone to take my hand, walk with me and remind me of the importance of taking the next step even when tunnel vision prevents me from seeing the greater picture.

– Abby Willms, Guatemala student, 2017-18