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

Guatemala Outtatown

April: “Look at What You Have”

2 Kings 4:5 

Elisha and the Oil  "Look at what you have, take it and bring it to Jesus, then he will multiply it." 

"Stop focusing on what you don't have. Instead look at what you do have, and do something with that." 

We spent a week at Community Cloud Forest Conservation helping build projects, and learning about the cloud forest and the Mayan people who live in it. During the week, kids in grade 6 were there taking part in a school program. We were paired up in groups of two with one of these local kids for a two-night Mayan homestay. We piled into buses that took us up into a mountain valley. From there, we followed our new family to their home. The two of us were paired with Gladis, a beautiful 12-year old girl from the rural village of Cebop. We were in for quite the surprise when Gladis took us on a 30 minute uphill walk to her home.

We were welcomed by her father and shown the house. It was made up of two separate wood buildings connected by a tin roof. The floor was completely dirt, and all the furniture was made solely out of wood. We were given some fruit and tea, and sat down on the wooden benches on one end of the room. Slowly, children startled trickling in, and before we knew it eight kids aged 8-months to 13-years old were sitting across the room, staring at us. Some of the kids spoke a little Spanish, but their native language is Q’eqchi', a language that is incredibly difficult to speak, and of which we knew nothing. We tried to ask them questions like "what is your name?" or "how are you?" in Spanish, but all we got was silence or a whispered reply. Then Denis, our 8-year old host brother, appeared with a ball in his hand. From there, a game of catch started with us on one side of the room, and the kids on the other.

Then we tried out a new activity: take a notebook, and draw a picture of an object, and write the English word beside it: house, and the Spanish word: casa. The kids write out and teach you the Q’eqchi’ word: ochoch. The kids were a little apprehensive at first, but soon they got into it, all reaching for the pen so they could write in the word or draw their own picture. Some words were quite simple. Pineapple, piña (Spanish), and chop (Q’eqchi’). And others we still have no idea how to pronounce; flower, flor (Spanish), and uutzùuj (Q’eqchi’). We all had so much fun writing — even their parents came into the room to see what we were doing. 

The next day was even better, with us playing soccer outside with the kids, and them drawing endless pictures for us and reciting all the English words they learned. At dinner that night they kept teaching their mom all the words they knew, pointing at a dog and saying "dog… Perro… Tźí". 

We were there with only a ball, pens and paper, and our imagination to use. Somehow we had the greatest time and formed a beautiful relationship with this family. It didn't matter to the kids that we didn't have any cool toys or fun electronics for them to play with, or that we couldn't even speak their language. We took what we had, and used it as well as we could. By the end of our time there, we went from awkwardly staring at each other from across the room, to all the kids sitting on one wooden bench with us so we could share our two notebooks. 

Leaving this beautiful family after only two days was one of the hardest goodbyes of the semester. We had experienced what felt like a whole other world. At the same time, we had come to understand that this was all they knew and would probably ever know.

We reflected on the fact that next year, when we're sitting in a university lecture, Gladis will still be making the uphill trek to her home where her mom will still be making corn tortillas. We are left wondering what to do with that understanding… how can this two-night homestay be more than just another thing we did while on Outtatown? How does this apply to life in our own reality? As we struggle through these questions, we are trusting that God placed us in Cebop for a reason, that His plan is always greater than ours, and that he will use this experience we had and multiply it into great things. 

 – Stephanie Wadge and Shelby Sytnyk, Guatemala Students 2016-17

Guatemala Outtatown

January: Lasting Impact

It’s been nearly a year now since Altona increased their population by 1%, all with a vision from Build a Village to welcome five Syrian families into Altona—that’s 45 people. Build a Village was started by Ray Loewen, the owner of a car dealership in southern Manitoba, after his daughter Kristen returned from her year on Outtatown 15 years ago. Since 2001, Build a Village has helped support over 30 new comer families in their transition to Altona.

Build a Village is a non-profit organization that began because one person shared their story. Just days before Kristen was to leave for Guatemala, a devastating earthquake hit El Salvador. Although Guatemala was not impacted to the same extent as El Salvador, Kristen’s overall experience on Outtatown and her accounts of generosity in a country plagued by poverty inspired her father to make a difference. Build a Village has since been a part of building over 400 houses in El Salvador, in partnership with both Mennonite Central Committee and Habitat for Humanity. These partnerships demonstrate the power of collaboration and have caused Build a Village to grow. 

After hearing stories of generosity and hospitality from Guatemala, Ray wanted to make an impact on his home community of Altona. In the past 10 years increased support for local refugees has brought over 200 people (30 families) into the small town. In the last year alone, Altona has helped provide not just a house to live in, but a place to call home for five refugee families from Syria. They are no longer refugees—they are part of the diversity that makes up Altona.

Build a Village is a testimony of the impact Outtatown can make. All it takes is one voice with a story of resilience to build community and hope for many. Take time this Christmas to remind yourself of the ways you’ve been impacted by the generosity of others and how you might impact others with your own generosity.

  – Amelia Warkentin

Guatemala Outtatown

June: Little by Little, One Travels Far…

There she was, basking in the warmth of the September sun, waves crashing against the Manitoba Pioneer Camp canoe, praying with an open mind and content heart—“God, this semester is yours. Transform me, I desire to know you.”

She wiped her slate clean, handing God the worries, hurt, and troubles from back home. It wasn’t easy, but it allowed her to dive into community, seek God with her whole heart, be intentionally present and make the most of every experience. I suppose it’s true when people say, “be careful what you wish for,” or in this case “pray for.” Not only did our Heavenly Father blow her expectations out of the water, He also transformed her in unimaginable ways. These transformations happened during the urban plunges, experiencing beauty and brokenness in various forms, living in community, and most evidently through outdoor adventures and the instructors who changed her perspective.

Jesus held her along the way, reminding her even in the difficult times that she was, and is, never alone; that she is deeply loved and created in His image.

Outtatown has been such an adventure! I was given the opportunity to find a friend and home in Jesus, our Savior, who rescued me. The multitude of experiences we’ve had in the past semester have impacted and shaped where I stand in Christ—deeply rooted in His love and grace.

I’ve found passions and God-given gifts in myself and loved being alongside 23 other people on this same journey of discovery. Our community has grown in a variety of beautiful ways and I look forward to discovering the places our Father will guide us in Guatemala! He is a great God who loves to give great gifts. I am eternally grateful.

– Alison Berard (Guatemala '15/16)

Guatemala Outtatown South Africa

Check Out The New Site Videos!

Take a look at our sites end of year videos, these are snapshots of their year, from Canada to Guatemala or South Africa!

Site 1 – Guatemala

Site 2 – South Africa

Guatemala Outtatown Updates

Site 1 Fall 2012 video

All our groups have some great new blog updates, check them out to hear how God has been moving in the students lives.  

Here's a link to a video one of Site 1 showing the first semester experience: