Alumni Guatemala Outtatown

Alumni Profile: Ally Siebert (Guatemala 2011-12)

Ally Siebert says Outtatown helped her lay strong foundations in key human skills, placing her ahead of the curve now that she's training for medicine.

What does it take to be a professional healer? Medical student Ally Siebert, a graduate of CMU's Outtatown program, is entering clerkship at University of Waterloo. The Ottawa native says that while much depends on your specialization, human skills can make or break your efficacy as a care provider.

"I don't think most people understand what it really takes to be in this profession. It's not all about the science. For some people it will be—nephrologists, you know, that's chemistry—but family medicine? When is a patient ever going to want to know the mathematical formula that tells them their kidneys aren't working? They want to know how long they're going to live. It's a very different skill set to answer those two questions," Siebert says.

Participating in CMU's Outtatown program helped Siebert expand her mind and horizons early, she says. By exposing her to a wider variety of contexts, people, and experiences than she would otherwise have encountered, Outtatown prompted her to lay strong foundations in human skills she now relies on every day: sensitivity to narrative, self-awareness, capacity for rigorous ethical analysis (both short- and long-term), versatile or resourceful communication, empathy, humility, and open-mindedness.

Siebert, who completed an undergraduate degree in English literature at Conrad Grebel University College following Outtatown, says good listening in a medical context includes all of these elements, but is especially bound up in sensitivity to narrative, or story:

"People are stories! Stories have climaxes and low points and character development. When somebody's telling you about their symptoms, you listen for that plot and character development, the order in which they tell things, what details they hold back or push forward—all those things that help you bring together a fuller picture of illness or wellness. It's about finding the big picture that gives meaning to the central goal."

"In exams, what I have to do as a student is take the information I get from a patient, organize it for myself and discern its significance, then translated it and deliver it to my supervisor in the most meaningful and effective way possible. There are specific rules and criteria governing that step. Then, I go back into the examination room and I have the same conversation (diagnosis) with the patient, but it has to be delivered completely differently, which means translating again. I have to jump between those genres of communication in order to make information mean, in the most useful way, to different audiences—and I can do it."

Siebert has just begun her clerkship, one of the last stages of a medical degree entailing hands-on practise with supervision. She will graduate just ahead of her Outtatown class's 10-year anniversary. Plans for a reunion, right here in Winnipeg, are already underway.

This story was originally posted on June 24, 2020 at

Guatemala Outtatown


One afternoon, I was sitting with a student in a café in Antigua, Guatemala in the midst of a conversation about life after Outtatown. I asked them what they were hoping to walk away from Outtatown with and they respond saying, “I’m not really sure…I have noticed lots of [students] talking about wanting to have figured out their theology or their career path; but it doesn’t seem likely to have everything figured out by the end, does it?”

Recently, I have been pondering the word arrive. The primary definition, according to Merriam Webster, is “to reach a destination”. When I hear this word it feels seemingly finite, even the colloquial use “to achieve success” sounds like it is describing the end of a journey. During Outtatown we use this word quite practically as we communicate with our students and partners; when we are travelling, when we will arrive at Spanish class, when we will return to Canada, etc. 

When I think back to the conversation with the student in the café there is another use for the word arrive that rolls around in the minds of the Outtatown community—arriving at the “right” conclusions. There’s a temptation to think we need to arrive at the end of Outtatown having arrived at the “right” conclusions related to theology, about knowing ourselves, understanding the world, or determining the “right” plan for after program. However, as I think of the ways we use the word arrive I realized that it not only describes an end, but also implies a beginning. When we arrived in Guatemala, it ended our time at home in Canada, but then our semester began in a new place. When we arrive back in Canada it will mean that Outtatown is over, but also means the start of something new for each person in our community.

In light of all this, I don’t think the desire to arrive in our thoughts, feelings, or decisions is wrong, but there is a call to reorient ourselves to what it means to arrive. Instead of marking a finish line or conclusion we should see these arrivals as Ebenezer moments. In 1 Samuel 7 we find Samuel, a prophet and leader of Israel, who is about to set up an altar after the people of Israel were victorious over the Philistines. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12). Samuel marked this place to remember how God had helped them arrive at this point and how the Lord would continue to be faithful on their journey. 

Before becoming an Outtatown Site Leader, I had heard many stories from close friends and peers who had been students or Site Leaders. In their recollections and in my own experience, it is evident that Outtatown is a not a means to an end but rather a significant Ebenezer moment for all alumni. It is not arriving at any conclusion or finish line, but a marker in the greater journey of knowing God, yourself, and the world. So as we have arrived at the half way point in our final semester, I hope we can continue to trust God in the greater journey and not focus on the anxiety of needing to figure out the future before landing in Canada. May we be able to hold these Ebenezer moments not as finish lines, rather as expectations of growth, challenges, joys, and sufferings in this journey that will continue to push us forward past each point of arrival. 

– Karissa Durant, Guatemala Site Leader, 2019-2020

Meeting Christ in the Struggle 

On a Wednesday evening a few weeks ago, I found myself riding the bus from Antigua to San Juan del Obispo—a tiny village on the side of a volcano that Outtatown students call home for six weeks. Earlier in the week, I had watched students bravely meet their host families. As their names were called, each student collected their bags and then left their community behind. Now it was time for me to step into the world of host families, learn the Spanish language, and linger over long dinners. The difference was, I wasn’t heading to San Juan to meet a new family. In a sense, I was returning home. 

Years prior, I had the opportunity to be a Site Leader and live with a local family. Near the entrance of San Juan sits a family home that has housed every female Outtatown Site Leader since the start of the Guatemala program. Its quiet garden and courtyard have been a gracious retreat from the hustle and bustle of a busy semester, year-after-year. The real heart of this home is its kitchen. Outfitted with a table large enough to seat at least 10 and the steady presence of family members making tea, preparing dinner, chatting and laughing together, the kitchen is where this home comes to life. On that cool Wednesday evening this past January, I felt the same sense of relief and security I had felt as I sank down into a seat around the table. It was good to be back. 

Of course, it didn’t always feel this way. During the evening, I was reminded of the sheer exhaustion of communicating across a language barrier; the frustration of having your vocabulary reduced to that of a small child; the uncertainty of never being confident what the conversation is about. I was reminded of the challenge of not being able to fully express myself to those around me. I was reminded that these challenges ebb and flow. They are not linear and they don’t resolve themselves in timely, tidy fashion. 

That evening as we ate, chatted, stumbled, and laughed, I was reminded of the frustration, challenge, and sheer joy of being in the company of people who embrace me. Despite the language barrier making it difficult for them to know many details about me, they listen, are patient, and care for me anyway. The work of cross-cultural learning takes courage and heart, and a lot of grace.   

Bravery on Outtatown takes a lot of different forms. Sometimes it looks like squeezing through a tight cave by lamplight, or jumping off a bridge with a cord strapped to your feet. But sometimes it looks like a clumsy Spanish sentence tumbling out of your mouth, even after you’ve rehearsed it perfectly. Sometimes it is being honest that things are hard, and making space for others to say, “Hey, me too!” The following evening, I had the joy of joining the site for a worship evening. After we sang, students took time to share things that had been challenging, but also where they had seen Christ that week. I was reminded that even when things can be hard, it is here that we meet Christ. 

– Renee Willms, Outtatown Co-Director


Guatemala Outtatown

Gringos Meet Carnaval

The day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is usually celebrated as Pancake/Fat Tuesday in Canada, but the Guatemalans like to celebrate it a little differently. Site 1 had the chance to take part in a bit of Carnaval festivities. The day started at Spanish school, like any regular day for us in San Juan del Obispo, but this school day was different as our leaders surprised us with pica picas. Pica picas are dried out eggshells that have been painted and filled with confetti. The goal is to smash them on people’s heads.

It is tradition in Guatemala that Carnaval is the last day to celebrate with pica picas before Lent begins. Many students will testify to being attacked by host moms, siblings, and even grandparents with pica picas that day. It’s a very fun tradition to be part of, with everyone laughing and colourful by the end. It’s a pretty beautiful sight seeing people of all ages with confetti in their hair and smiles on their faces.

Two members of our site, Ada Krahn and Aaron Johnston, really enjoyed the pica pica game so much that they decided to buy a bag of pica picas to attack different Outtatowners at the central park of San Juan del Obispo. What they weren’t expecting, is for another group of Guatemalan high school students to be doing the exact same thing to their friends in the park. Ada and Aaron took a chance and decided to get the group of Guatemalans with some of the pica picas they had bought.

It was a pretty wild scene to watch, with everyone screaming and running around until they were all covered in shells and confetti. But the group of high schoolers weren’t done yet and, before Ada could stop her, one of the girls whipped out a raw egg and smashed it on his head! Ada relentlessly chased her through the park to try to break even more pica picas on her head. A little while later, Ada got his revenge by smashing a raw egg on her head as well. The battle ended in lots of laughter.

That day was a unique experience that I’ve never seen in Canada. One thing I have taken from Guatemalan culture is the strong sense of community encompassing the country. You can sit on a park bench and be unsurprised if a local woman sits down next to you and chats about the weather. And it is custom to constantly acknowledge anyone you pass on the street with a “¡Buenos Dias!” in the morning. The interactions I’ve had within such a broad community will be a huge part of what I will miss when I go back home, but it’s also something our whole site wants to challenge ourselves to bring home as well. Overall, having fun with pica picas was an awesome way to experience a part of the culture and to get into the spirit of Carnaval, even if we are still a bunch of clueless gringos.

– Kyla Willms, Site 1 Guatemala student, 2018-19

Doing Life and Discipleship Together

Cam Priebe has been Director of Outtatown, CMU’s discipleship school, for the past eight years. June 1 marks a big transition for him and the program, as he leaves his position and becomes the Provincial Director for the Manitoba Brethren Church of Manitoba. Cam recently reflected on his journey with Outtatown:


What impact has Outtatown had on your life?

The first thing that comes to mind is relationships. I’ve worked with almost 60 site leaders over the course of my time and I’ve been inspired by being around these people who are committed to their faith, to loving those they’re leading, but also loving those they’re working together with. Sometimes you couldn’t find a group of leaders more different than one another, and to watch them work together in a spirit of unity has been inspirational. The other thing I think of involves the many partners I’ve gotten to know. I think of Luis Carlos in Guatemala, who’s involved in after school youth ministry, recently started a church, and has a big love for his neighbours. Another is Stefans, who has been the bus driver for our South Africa site for over eight years and is with each group for three months. The way he serves and genuinely cares for our students is amazing. He refers to them as his kids.


What will you take with you from this experience to your next position?

The importance of doing life and discipleship together. We never designed this discipleship journey to be an isolated thing. When I’m thinking of the churches I’ll be working with, I’m thinking of the remarkable example of these student communities doing life together as they journey. Forgiveness is essential to community, and I’ve seen it played out time and again on as students seek out reconciliation with one another. I hope that this picture of what it is to share in forgiveness together will stay with me.


Where have you witnessed Outtatown changing lives?

Watching the faith formation experience of leaders has been profound. To watch leaders grow in the knowledge of what it means to walk in faith, and know that doesn’t mean that everything’s going to turn out right. It means rather to recognize that God will be faithful and be with us. This is one of the transformational experiences I witness and am part of. Another way I see this is in students having the profound experience of learning to understand people who are different than themselves. To watch students embrace that and sit down with people and listen, whether it be a person living on the streets in Vancouver or our friend Peter from Roseau River First Nation or a Guatemalan host family, is pretty exciting.


What are your thoughts about the transitions coming up for Outtatown?

When I think about Outtatown and what we’ve been trying to live out, I think of our mission statement: to inspire and nurture students in their life of discipleship with Jesus Christ. There are going to be some changes, but that commitment isn’t changing and that has me filled with hope, because that’s the key to who we are and where we’re headed.

– Cam Priebe interviewed by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe, appearing in Spring 2019 Blazer

Guatemala Outtatown Updates

Who Are We Serving?

While working alongside Solomon’s Porch, a Christian café and humanitarian aid organization in Panajachel, we were encouraged to think about what it means to lead with a servant’s heart. For most Christians, this is not a new concept, as Jesus makes reference to living this way many times throughout the Gospels. God’s call to servanthood takes on great significance when we realize that God first became a servant for us. Philippians 2:6-7 states, “[Jesus,] who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness” (NIV). When we arrived on the worksite each day, our minds and hearts were ready to turn away from ourselves and towards those we were serving.

Serving with a servant’s heart is about our actions, but, perhaps more importantly, it is about the intentions behind those actions. Yes, putting others before ourselves is what Jesus says to do, but he calls us to more than that—he challenges what’s in our hearts. During this week, I quickly learned that it’s easy to fall into a mindset of pride. Especially with the reputation that “mission work” sometimes receives, serving others can become more about the image you project than the work that is done and the relationships that are formed.

There were a few times during this week where my intentions strayed off-course. I sometimes found myself comparing how hard I was working to others, and feeling better or worse about myself depending on how I measured up. I needed to remind myself that I can’t prove myself to God. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). With each day we learned better how to humble ourselves before God.

2 Corinthians 4:5: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (ESV). It is not for our glory that we serve others, but for God’s.

It became clear to me as the week progressed that, when one leads with a servant’s heart, joy and gratitude come naturally. Even amid the sunburns, aching muscles, and dripping sweat, a sense of joy pervaded our group. When someone’s step faltered, a friend was there with a high five and an encouraging word. When the people passing bricks down the assembly line needed cheering up, someone at the front sent down amusing messages, like the game telephone. I noticed myself thanking God for the little things during these four days. I don’t think any of us have been more grateful for peanut butter sandwiches and Pringles than we were during that week.

One of my favourite memories of that week was Thursday afternoon. The foundation of the house had been set and the hollow bricks needed to be filled with cement. Laura, another from our group, and I chattered about the uncomfortable sound that the sloshing cement made while trying to avoid pouring it all onto the ground. As hard and messy as the work was, my heart was singing joyful praises to God and those around me.

It was a blessing to work alongside Solomon’s Porch as they provide humanitarian relief to indigenous families. As the week concluded, we began to ask ourselves how we can be servants for Jesus not just when building a house, but in our everyday lives back home.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as we continue to explore and learn in this wonderful country.


– Katarina Dyck Steinmann, Site 1 Guatemala student, 2018-19

Flowers of the Jacaranda

March 2019 - Renee photo

This past January, I joined our site in Guatemala during their first few weeks in country. After students have settled in with their host families and life in San Juan del Obispo, one of the first things we do is take a tour of Antigua led by one of our country partners. Any Outtatown Guatemala alumni will know this exact moment—the warmth of the sun under blue skies, the way the cobblestone roads feel under foot, and the absolute exhilaration and exhaustion of being spoken to and quizzed in Spanish (what is the word for chicken bus again?). In between the colourful new sights and sounds of the old colonial city that will soon feel like home for the students, there is a moment when our partner will pause to point out a tree.

It’s an easy moment to miss, thrown in between the stop at the world’s most beautiful McDonalds and the bustling Central Park. It is after all, simply referring to a tree. But oh, what a sight it is. Jacaranda trees typically flower between January and April, but will come into their fullness in February and March, covering the city in a stunning canopy of violet. As a result, the flowering of the jacaranda trees is thought to mark the start of Lent, a visual reminder to pay attention to the season we are entering. Much like the unassuming stop on a tour, the jacaranda, when noticed, invites us to pause and consider where we are. While it may just be popular lore, I’m drawn to the idea of a tree whose sole purpose and design is to call our attention back to the seasons we find ourselves in.

On Outtatown, we often refer to five principles for engaging with cross cultural experiences: be curious; walk in expectancy; suspend judgement; foster dignity; and be a learner. It strikes me, however, that these principles apply far beyond the context of international travel. While I don’t have a jacaranda tree flowering outside my house to visually remind me to pay attention, these principles function in the same waycalling me back to notice the way the Lord is at work around me. As we prepare for the upcoming season of Lent, my prayer for the Outtatown community is that we have greater capacity to pay attention to what God is doing around us. What season of life do you find yourself in? How can we be curious, be expectant, suspend judgement, foster dignity in those around us, and always, always be a learner?

– Renee Willms, Outtatown Program Manager

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

Guatemala Outtatown

Sunrise on Acatenango: Lessons and Memories from the Challenge

After months of hearing about the ultimate challenge of hiking Volcan Acatenango, an optional overnight hike in Guatemala, the true test began on the morning of March 9. Many of us had been preparing for weeks with morning workout sessions, strengthening our quads and calves for the infamous inclines of this dormant volcano. I had spent the majority of the week before, and the bus ride there, anticipating leg pain and sore shoulders and just a challenging time in general.

The first hour, honestly speaking, was unbearable. We trudged through deep, loose, volcanic gravel in direct sunlight while carrying around eight liters of water, plus food and clothes. Eventually the ground transitioned into a bit easier terrain, and we started to get into that good hiking rhythm and mindset; discussions picked up to distract ourselves from our fatigue.

Whenever it started to get tough, I would remind myself of who I was doing this for: for myself, for my parents, for my friends, for my family, and especially for the amazing views at the top. Doing so motivated me to keep going. Around 5:00 PM, we arrived at base camp, and that night was easily one of the coolest nights of my life. We rested our sore muscles around the fire as we ate spaghetti and took in the incredible view. But our job was not yet complete.

We woke at 4:00 AM the next morning for our final stretch to the summit. Our old friend, loose gravel, came to say hello again as we shuffled up to the apex in the darkness of the early morning. The first couple rays of sun urged us on, like a countdown to reach the crater in time for the sunrise. No words can describe the euphoria and rush of excitement that everyone felt as we took our last steps. Amidst the cold winds, we settled down and witnessed the most amazing sunrise I had ever seen. We had done it.

I felt a surge of pride for every single person up there, not to mention a strengthening of the bond between us, all after completing such a demanding challenge together. I remember thinking how can this be real…how is this my life? I may have shed a couple tears because it was such an amazing moment, packed with happiness, relief, and amazement at the beauty of this earth we live on.

With the close of our weekend we may have left with lighter packs, but our hearts were full with memories and experiences. I’ll never forget the lessons I learned about perseverance and dedication, not to mention the incredible views we enjoyed together.

For me, these days hiking Acatenango will always stand out as one of the top moments of Outtatown and of my life in general; I can’t wait to share my story when I return home and for the years to come!

– Allison Weber, Guatemala student 2017-18

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


Guatemala Outtatown

March: Building Relationships

I was drawn to Outtatown with the knowledge that service projects make up a fairly significant portion of the program. I wanted to learn about the world around me in a raw and real way, while also aspiring to learn more about how I could make a difference.

We were invited to serve through Porch de Salomon, an organization in Panajachel, Guatemala, where we would be helping to build a house for a family in need. A fire was lit within me. I was excited to start—ready to challenge myself, hoping to make as big an impact on this house as possible. I have participated in a few short-term missions projects before and thought I knew what to expect, however, it turned out that this one was a little different.

Porch de Salomon is intentional about building personal relationships with the family, which is something I really strived to do over the week. While getting to see where all eight children slept in their small, worn home on our first day, I noticed one of them shyly but curiously looking up, eager to meet us but understandably nervous at the same time. I remember squeezing next to her and asking her in my slow, broken Spanish, “Your name is Maria, right?” After a nod, a smile, and a proper introduction, we were fast friends. Soon she was frequently popping by my area of the build site in the afternoons, sometimes for a quick hello, other times to sit and chat (as best we could) while she watched our work come together before her bright, curious eyes.

The humble and gracious seven-year-old that she was, she never held back her eagerness not only for her new home, but also to see us again the next day. She is what kept me inspired and driven. I can’t count the number of hugs I received in those four short days, but I can tell you that the one that she gave me during our final goodbye was probably the longest I’ve ever had, and I’ll admit, also the hardest. I wish I could have expressed to her that she has helped me more than I could ever have helped her.

Creating relationships puts faces to names, stories to people. I encourage you to ask God to open your heart to look beyond someone’s “status” to find the human in them–it will instill a love and dedication even more lasting and valuable than could have been imagined, and a desire to do and be your best for those around you. I believe that every person you meet will leave an impact. I know the impact made on me by Maria and her family will continue for a long time, and I can’t wait to see how that shapes my future with Outtatown and in life.  

– Hannah Beatty, Guatemala Student 2017-18

Guatemala Outtatown

February: Where Home is Found

In the early morning hours, overtired Outtatown students ran to embrace one another, and shouted “welcome back!” across the Winnipeg airport. There was an amazing, indescribable feeling of returning not only to our adventure filled, God-centered family, but in a sense, to our home.

Over the course of the last five months, unbreakable bonds have developed. Being on the road, with a new location almost every week, and the many goodbyes with those we have crossed paths with along the way, has resulted in seeking home wherever we are as long as we are together. Home has been within water-filled canoes, questionably smelling 15 passenger vans, tops of mountains, soup kitchens, floors of churches, delta kiosks, and now Guatemala.

How could one feel at home in a brand new country, culture, and language? You must bring home with you.

Our home is one that is free of judgment, one that celebrates diversity, is safe and secure, and is supportive. Laughter, honesty, authenticity, and sincerity are values held by our community. Together we conquer fears, embody Christ, and spread the love of Jesus. With this comes stepping over boundaries we didn’t even know existed.  Although it may be more comfortable to be home with your family living your typical routine, we have learned that life is not meant to be comfortable. It is the situations that push us to our limits that allow us to grow, to make an impact, and to have meaning.

Returning to program excited to start second semester, we shared what our break entailed and lessons learned from our time apart. This lesson of living in the uncomfortable connected with much of our group and is the mindset we have chosen when looking at the next few months as we adapt to a new culture.

Traveling with the home that we have developed and the support and growth that has come with that, we are inevitably excited for what is to come. We will embrace every funny, awkward, and empowering moment we encounter along the way, because we know that life is not meant to be easy and that although we may not be at our homes, we have home, and that’s what matters.

Bailey Brockman, 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