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