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


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


Winnipeg Urban Plunge

This month’s story takes place during the week of our Urban Plunge in the North End of Winnipeg. It was such a great week filled with many learning and eye-opening experiences. We stayed at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church where we were welcomed with open arms. Our first day in the city we did a learning tour throughout the West and North End neighbourhoods of Winnipeg, where we walked and got to know the different churches and organizations around the city. We then had two days set aside for volunteering at two organizations of our choice. 

From the second day of volunteering, our fellow student Selah tells the following story of a life-changing encounter: 

“In the morning Robbie and I spent time folding pamphlets for the big Thanksgiving dinner at Union Gospel Mission (UGM). UGM is a ministry in downtown Winnipeg that seeks to meet immediate needs surrounding poverty and empower people to take positive steps. After preparing lunch and snacks for the afternoon meal, I spent some time in the drop-in area, talking with people who were visiting UGM to use its services. 

“One conversation that particularly stood out to me was with a man named Darryl. We talked about our lives and what we’re each doing. Darryl shared of his childhood and other milestones in his life. He opened up and was vulnerable with me, more than I expected, mentioning that he hadn’t been to church in 31 years due to problems with drugs. 

“Darryl grew up going to a Catholic church and, the last time he did attend church, he was in a dark place, struggling with addiction and confused about who God is. At that point he had said he would never go back to church. The priest at that time put his arm around Darryl’s shoulder and told him he knew he’d be back someday. 

“Darryl mentioned that he had recently been thinking about going back to church, so I told him about Winnipeg Centre Vineyard and invited him to attend the service the next coming Sunday. The week of our Urban Plunge came to an end and all the students went home for the weekend. 

“While staying in Winnipeg over the Thanksgiving weekend, two other students and I were able to attend Winnipeg Centre Vineyard that Sunday. And we just so happened to run into Darryl. We chatted together and Darryl said he was so glad that he decided to come this morning and that he had thoroughly enjoyed the pastor’s sermon. Darryl said he would probably be back again. I was thrilled to have played a small part in Darryl’s turn towards Jesus. 

“We often think that small talk doesn’t matter, but this experience has been eye-opening for me. It has challenged me to consider how important the chance to tell my story or listen to others tell their stories is. It doesn’t take much, yet through sharing our stories and our lives we are each able to reconcile our pasts and can be encouraged to take a step in a new direction of life.”  

– Kiera Wassink and Kailyn Louka, Outtatown 2019-20

Abide With Me

It feels like a lot has happened in October and life if very full. Does it seem that way to you? It feels like just a few weeks ago it was Registration Day and in a month, Semester 1 will be over. Lots of life has happened and lots more is yet to come.

Sometimes events in life hum along and all feels 'normal' and well. But sometimes life issues crowd in around us. What do we do and where do we go to find help to cope. 

The past few weeks have been interesting for me. I was immersed emotionally in the final weekend of the federal election and the unleashing of hurtful comments made by the candidates. My church is in some turmoil right now and there are divisive issues. Our Outtatown community grieved the loss an alumna. All this and more on one weekend.

Coming to work the following week, I put on a brave, normal, happy work face. In the midst of my swirling thoughts of the weekend, I opened my daily devotional email and the song highlighted on this day was the hymn, Abide With Me. An invitation from our Heavenly Father and Comforter that was so simple yet so powerful to me at that moment. I knew I just had to 'be' in the calming and loving presence of God and rest.

I'd like to share the words with you:

Abide with Me
Henry Francis Lyte 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's pow'r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Blessings to you today as you abide in Christ!

– Joyce Friesen, Outtatown Program Assistant

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

Outtatown South Africa

The Best is Yet to Come

"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." If I would choose a verse to describe my Outtatown journey, I would choose Ecclesiastes 7:8. I realized this on the second day of our scorching trek through the Karoo Desert, and then again the week we were working on our community development projects in Kayamandi.

The bus ride to Cape Town, for many of us, was a miserable drive that showed that the end of the ride really is better than the beginning, if that meant that we were finally done driving through what I'm sure was the hottest car ride we've ever experienced. For me it was also an amazing moment of realization. I was watching the beautiful desert go by when it finally hit me just how crazy it is that I am in South Africa. If anyone would have told me that I would be here just a few years ago I would have scoffed in their face and told them it was impossible, while in my mind wishing it were true but thinking I was unworthy of such a privilege. Looking back now, I realize that being patient and fighting through those lies that I told myself has gotten me here, and even though this isn't my end, this is already better than where I began.

"Don't forget about the real project." I can't tell you how many times I heard Johan, a long-time Outtatown partner, tell us this while we were planning our development projects in Kayamandi. The reminder to search for the real project of building relationships and finding the deeper level hit me in the heart every time. Every day that we were walking around the streets of Kayamandi, enjoying the sense of community flowing through the air, it was hard to set my foot down on my pride and tell myself to be patient. If I went according to what would make me feel good about myself, I would have gone in and just created a project that looked good, forgetting to take my time with the people. This project required us to stop, think, and be patient with finding a place where we could both build a relationship and learn from. This project had nothing to do with what would make me happy, but had everything to do with what would strengthen and empower the people in Kayamandi.

I have had the privilege to learn to anticipate that everything will be better than it already is, and to practice being patient in everything I do. I am excited to see how God will keep trying my patience by killing my pride, how God will guide me throughout my life, to see it keep growing into something better during and after Outtatown.


– Carolyn Penner, Site 2 South Africa student, 2018-19

Outtatown: Grad Reflections

This Outtatown year saw us standing at the bottom of a mountain looking up at a daunting climb. For some of us that climb involved experiencing intense community for the first time. For others it took shape while talking about faith in the midst of our world’s diversity and hurt. 

For all of us that climb saw us travel to a new culture without family, and spend an entire day in silence or several dark hours in a cave. Indeed, fears and challenges defined much of our year, and while we may have more questions than ever, we have also gained wisdom and perspective.

Our year has also seen us celebrate spectacular mountaintops. Many students have uncovered or solidified their passions, whether for justice, for art, or for outdoor exploration, and these are calling us into exciting futures as we share all that we are still learning. Our mountaintops saw us learn to be vulnerable with those who walk alongside us; hopeful in witnessing each other’s victories; and strong in encouraging each other through challenges. In so many ways, having struggled and overcome—having experienced the daunting climb and the mountaintop—we have come to know that God is at work in all circumstances.

– Rachel Herold, Site 1 Guatemala Site Leader, 2018-19. An excerpt from her graduation address, appearing in Spring 2019 Blazer

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

Outtatown South Africa

No Place I’d Rather Be

Recently our entire group spent three days in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. We hiked, marvelled at God’s amazing creation, and spent the evenings camping out in a cave, playing games, and bonding more as a community. I think those three days really took us all back to our canoe trip at the beginning first semester. We recalled the constant rain and the awkwardness of entering our new community back in September. This reminder allowed us to look back and see just how far we have come as a community. It also prepared us to say goodbye, as the end of Outtatown has begun to creep up on us.

Throughout our first day of hiking, and later while we were in the cave, I found the song “Set a Fire” running through my head. In particular, the line that says, “There’s no place I’d rather be, than here in your love,” repeated itself. These lyrics continued to run through my head on the second day as we made our way up the steep slope to the top of Rhino’s Peak. I found this to be comforting as I looked out at the wonder and scenery around us.

Later that night, when we returned to our cave, we had worship and sat on the edge of our cave looking at the beautiful peaks that we had climbed just hours earlier. I remember sitting with my back against the cave wall watching as the sun set and darkness enveloped our group, with the only light coming from a few headlamps. During worship we sang “Set a Fire”. I felt my soul fill with joy especially as we sang the lyric, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”  Again, I found myself reflecting on the past six months, just how far our group has come and how different our community seems now.

The next morning I woke up early and watched as the rising sun make the mountains change colour and glow. I sat there with a few others in silence, just enjoying each other’s presence and being still before God’s creation.

I felt so at peace being with the people who have now become some of my favourite people in the world and sitting in what might be the most beautiful place I have ever been. During our time in Drakensberg God reaffirmed me and my choice to do Outtatown, as He has continued to do both semesters. I can honestly say there is no place I would rather be right now and no other people that I would rather be with.

– Amy Wiens, Site 2 South Africa student, 2018-19

Musings from Hwy 11

We were cruising down highway 11 in Northern Ontario. Cruise control was set, our puppy Pippin was curled up in the back seat, I was singing along to some tunes, when Zoe looked over at me and said, “Could it get any better for you? This is your dream.”

Spending roughly 60 hours in a car might not sound like vacation to you. That’s fair. It sounds a little odd to me as I type it out. That’s a lot of time. But the thing is, I LOVED it! It makes me feel some solidarity with Outtatown students who spend countless hours in the big, white Outtatown vans as they drive from Winnipeg to the Canadian Pacific Coast and back.

Every so often, we in the Outtatown office get the opportunity to take a vacation. I returned from mine a few days ago and still feel like I’m playing catch-up. In light of this, I’m going to gift you with a couple musings from 18 days spent road tripping to Southern Ontario and back.

It is so good and healthy to get into the wilderness. Nature has always been a place where I am able to relax and where I more naturally encounter God (pun intended). Highway 11 is pretty isolated at times. After months of busy work it was such a relief to find myself on that lone road, with only the occasional transport truck passing us. Life can get busy and complicated, but moments of relative solitude lead us to encounters and revelation. This makes me excited to think of how Outtatown students will be challenged to encounter God during a day of silence in first semester, led by Steve Klassen.

Part of our road trip included a visit to my grandma in Matheson, about 700 km north of Toronto. Grandma is now 94 and never ceases to inspire me with her vibrant, passionate faith and her incredible knowledge. How often do you get beat by a 94-year-old in Scrabble? Driving the many kilometres of highway I reflected on my grandma’s vitality and fun-loving attitude. Faith is paramount in Grandma’s life, and this inspires her to find deep joy in everyday life.

I think of Outtatown students this upcoming year who will spend time studying the Bible and exploring the beauty and brokenness of Canada and Guatemala. But they will also experience a lot of adventure and will have fun doing it! There can be a tendency to prioritize work while devaluing play and adventure, but I think of Grandma, who recognizes the goodness in both. This is something I love about Outtatown: students work and play in community, wherever they go. Formation and learning take place in both work and play, but Grandma’s words remind me that God delights in our joyful fun.

So, my prayer for each of you, and for each future Outtatown student, is that you would find space to rest, to encounter God, and that amidst the busyness of life you would have fun. Just say that Grandma told you so.

– Tim Cruickshank, Outtatown Co-Director