Canada South Africa

December: I will hold your hand

A few weeks ago, I heard from God. It happened during our week learning about listening to God and finding Him in the still, small whispers of life. The focal point of the week was an almost 10-hour silent day, something that proved to be quite the challenge for our chatty, social group. I hate to admit it, but I was really skeptical going into it. A full day of listening to God? Would He really speak? If I heard something would it just be me trying to compensate and make myself feel more “religious?”

Despite my doubts, the day arrived. I went down to the docks to listen to the quiet sound of the rain falling on the lake. I quickly became aware of how scared I was to try to pick out God’s soft voice amongst the clamor of my own mind. I began to pray and ask God to make whatever he wanted to say as loud as possible—I wanted a fog horn in my ear. I also asked God to guide me for the upcoming year, as I don’t really know what my next chapter of life holds—hold my hand and guide me.

After leaving the docks, the thought of reading my Bible came to mind. In the back of my Bible there are different recommendations for verses during different times throughout life. One section was titled, “verses for when I am seeking God’s guidance.” The verse that stood out to me was Isaiah 42:5-9: “This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.’” As soon as I read, “I will take hold of your hand,” everything stopped. It felt obvious that this was God’s voice speaking to me, but God was not done there. Throughout the rest of the day, although we were not to try to communicate with or touch each other, people would randomly reach out and grab my hand for no reason. This happened multiple times! After this day, I knew this to be true: that God does still speak and He does answer our prayers, taking our hand and guiding us through the twists and turns of life.

Although I am still not sure what next year holds, I will walk forward in faith, not knowing where I am going but knowing the One who is holding my hand the entire way. God has an amazing plan for me, something full of life and joy. I only need to accept the invitation to take His hand and follow. 

Maddie Neufeld, South Africa student, 2017-18

Canada Guatemala

November: First Rains

The fire grabbed hold of the strips of birch bark on the pile of wood. Slowly, the small flame wrapped itself around the logs, and around the 15 stones that we had lain inside. The stones, referred to as the grandfathers, turned red-hot.

I stepped around the sweat lodge and crawled in on my hands and knees. In order to fit all of the enthused group members, our guide, Colleen, gestured a few closer to the recessed centre of the lodge. We were all pressed tightly against each other’s sides.

With antlers, two of our members guided the first four fragile, glittering stones to the centre of the sweat lodge. Colleen threw the first herbs on the stones, and I tried to breathe but my nose was scalded. Truly I had thoughts of doubt—I would be driven out by the heat. Colleen reminded us in the same tone as before the sweat, “Don’t focus on the heat. Keep thinking about the people in your life. Just pray in whatever way you can.”

The first water was ladled onto the stones and steam poured from the rocks to the air surrounding our heads. The rocks did not change colour like I had expected. They remained the same dragon eggs as before.

When Colleen invited each of us to share, I racked my brain for an honest reason for being there. A few minutes prior, I wasn’t aware I was seeking a purpose—seeking a direction—for my newly independent life. Nonetheless that’s what I shared with the group, slowly, taking full breaths when I needed them. Wouldn’t it be better if we all held our words in our hands and looked at them a while before we said them?

Colleen had the door opened for a few members to crawl out, and I snuck in some resolve regeneration. Even with more stones added, the sweat lodge cooled down significantly. I embraced the momentary comfort of the open door, and the task seemed manageable.

Then, unexpectedly, it still seemed manageable when the door closed again and the last grandfathers were brought in. I thought to myself what a glorious discomfort. I was in Canada, struck by the depth of the Anishinabe culture. I was invited to this experience.

After the sweat officially came to a close, I stayed to sing some songs, including one of my own: “I Wonder as I Wander.” Then I left spiritually satisfied.

Upon exiting, I saw my brothers and sisters near the doorway and a wide smile burst on my face. They asked me how it was with me and without cognitive reason I spoke my feelings. For God wove the threads of life and existence into these surroundings, this nature, and these people. Our Heavenly Father included me in this beautiful cloth.

After a few good hugs and exclamations of joy, I headed into the house to change out of my cold, wet clothes. There was a line up. How beautifully trivial it seemed to me. I didn’t need to sit down; I wasn’t in a hurry. I saw the people around me as children of God, and I respected them as such.

I did drink a lot of water, though. No matter how much I drank my body soaked it up like the red Kenyan soil at the first rains.

– Ezra Enns, Guatemala student, 2017-18

Canada Outtatown South Africa

June: Learning about Diversity

This past year on Outtatown I learned that there can be so much diversity within one country, let alone the world. It would be easy for me to talk about the diversity and racial struggles in South Africa, but I’m going to talk about my own country instead.

Travelling across western Canada, I saw how many different groups that our nation beholds. Growing up in coastal British Columbia, I’ve always seen the beauty of Aboriginal culture, especially in artwork. While in Manitoba on Outtatown, we learned so much immersed in life on the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation community, through experiencing traditional practices like the sweat lodge, hearing from elders, and watching one man make carvings out of deer bones. All of this was incredible.

We also had a day of learning about their past and the struggles and the pain that they’ve gone through. I had learned about residential schools and how reservations came into existence, but never as in depth as I did in Winnipeg during our blanket exercise. Hearing just how excruciating and horrific my European ancestors made it for the Anishinabe and other Indigenous peoples brought me guilt and anger. That being said, I am very happy to see how strong and resilient this group is, and I hope that we can continue to show them the love and respect that they truly deserve.

Canada is a huge country filled with people from all corners of the Earth. It was really special to enter into others’ holy spaces and learn about faiths different from our own. As Christians, we are called to love everyone and we cannot let a difference in faith or religion stop us from doing that. I have loved having the opportunity to experience so many cultures within Canada and South Africa, and Outtatown is definitely to thank for that.

– Cole Stewart, South Africa student 2016-17