Outtatown South Africa

A Leap of Faith

I don’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie or a daredevil, but I can testify that, after jumping off a bungee bridge and plunging 216m down, I crave more experiences that take courage and boldness to feel alive and face my fears.

As I watched my friends jump off this bridge one-by-one, I felt a wave of fear and hesitation. I told myself they must be crazy and that I must be as well to trust this rope and have faith that it will keep me from plummeting to the ground below. However, as more and more people shared in the amazing and unexplainable feeling of freefalling, I knew I had to experience this for myself. They called my jump number and before I knew it, I was strapped by the ankles and waddling to the edge of the platform. At that point there were no excuses and no turning back; all it took was a split second of courage to jump. I could try to explain the feeling, but it is hard to find the words for an overwhelming feeling of excitement, fear, and stillness all at the same time.

Once we had all finished our jump and hopped back on the bus, I finally had time to let the experience settle in. With a little reflection I could very quickly identify where my faith fit into all of this. Much like my faith in Christ, I oftentimes find it hard to stir up the boldness and courage to trust God fully with my life. This year, through other people’s testimonies and stories of unexplainable and radical faith, I knew these were things I had to experience for myself! Like the freefall, the indescribable feeling of God is an overwhelming feeling of excitement, fear, and stillness. God makes us feel alive if we take a leap of faith and trust he will keep us safe.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” – Ephesians 2:4-5

“Jumping, falling, not falling, rising, not rising, falling, not falling, rising, not rising, falling, stillness.”

– Kaitlyn Shuart, Site 2 South Africa student, 2018-19



“Change is good, Donkey…..if you manage change properly” is one of the top quotes from the popular movie, Shrek. I must admit, sometimes I feel like the donkey who needs to be prodded into accepting change. I like familiarity, I like control, and sometimes I need time to catch up to progress. I sometimes think about changes that my parents’ generation has experienced. My Dad farmed with his Dad–they ploughed fields with horses and transportation was not yet motorized. You can imagine the changes and, shall we say, progress he experienced in his lifetime.

But change IS good. I remember September 2018 when 41 Outtatown students started out on what is probably the most life-changing adventure they have yet experienced. Most students come on the program not knowing who else will be with them. They know that their Site Leaders will provide leadership and will walk with them, but the rest is trekking into the unknown. “What am I doing here?” is in most students’ minds as they headed off in a very large van full of mostly strangers to a lake in Northwestern Ontario.

As Outtatown Program Assistant, I have the pleasure of reading student comments at the end of each semester. It is very rewarding and emphasizes for me why I work here. I am quite certain that the students are not the same now as when they left the CMU campus in September. They’ve been changed. Some have met Jesus in a very real way and others have strengthened their relationship with God. They’ve been stretched in ways that I’m sure they didn’t realize they would be stretched. They have matured. Families and communities that are receiving them back may see very real differences.

Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This verse gives me such hope that the Outtatown Grads of 2018-19 will continue to change, grow, and mature in their faith as they continue longing to follow Jesus. I hope that, many years from now, these changed people can stop and take inventory and realize that change is good and that the good work that has started in their lives now has and will be carried on to completion one day.

– Joyce Friesen, Outtatown Program Assistant

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


My Dream Journey

When I was young, people always asked me where I would go, if I could visit anywhere. My answer was always “Africa”. On January 7, 2019, my dream journey to South Africa began. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement, I jumped on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa. The flights were long and I was anxiously awaiting the dream coming true. After nearly two days of travel, we finally arrived in Johannesburg. I will never forget the feeling I had when I looked out the plane window and saw the contrasting colours of green foliage and red soil. In that moment I thought to myself: “this is Africa.” A few days later, as I was hiking up a mountain in the morning, it finally started to set in: I am in the place where I’ve always wanted to be!

It was a hot morning, the kind of heat that leaves you parched no matter how much water you drink. The sun was beating down so hard and, compared to my normal home temperature of -40, it felt oddly refreshing. I was climbing the small mountain that overlooks our camp when, all too quickly, it was hard to catch my breath, so I took a second to sit on a rock nearby. I was struggling to catch my breath and started to panic. I sat there, thinking of everything that could go wrong. As these thoughts entered my mind, I became even more worried and started breathing even more heavily.

Then I looked around and realized that everything around me was still. I was sitting still and everything around me was also still and peaceful. I felt the gentle touch of God’s Spirit come over me with grace, reassuring me that I had nothing to fear and nobody to impress. I started upwards once again and, as I approached the top of the mountain I heard voices. I couldn’t make out whether it was singing or talking, and I thought that maybe it was some of my friends who had left shortly before me.

As I reached the top of the mountain I encountered a cross. I looked around and pointed out another, and then another! There must have been about 30 crosses on the top of this mountain, beautifully representing the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus made for us. I looked over and saw where the voices were coming from. A group of ladies from a nearby village were holding hands, singing beautiful songs of praise in their native language beside one of the crosses. I sat there and listened to their singing and praying in awe.

If I had let my fears defeat me, I never would have experienced this moment. As I looked out at the surrounding mountains, green trees, and bright blue sky, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that God has created in this country, both in nature and in human diversity. The way these ladies praised our God touched my heart and renewed my soul. In that moment I realized that even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, God understands them perfectly, and He understands my prayers as well, spoken aloud or silently within my heart.

That morning blessed me so richly and abundantly! Something I hope to take with me for this adventure, is to be present in all the moments of this journey. Being open to every moment, big or small, because I believe God is speaking to us and reminding us of His love in every one of them. I expect that God has amazing things in store for these next three months in this stunning country that is South Africa. 

– Marissa Koop, Site 2 South Africa student, 2018-19

Strangers to Friends

Feb 2019 - Tim photo

Backing out of the driveway and onto the street, I returned a grateful wave as the gate shut. I punched in my next destination on Google Maps, pleased that the route looked clear and that I would be able to arrive by 11:15 PM. As I turned on some music and drove along the uncommonly quiet highways of Johannesburg towards Pretoria my mind was drawn to reflect upon where I was. After spending the better part of the week in the Soweto area, I had just said goodbye to our long-time partner Mpho Putu and his beautiful family. I was headed for Pretoria, where our group would begin their Afrikaner homestay experience the next day.

As I write this, it has been a week since I returned from my brief, whirlwind trip to South Africa, where I met with country partners and connected with our group. When I tell people at home that I go there for work they often comment on how fortunate I am. I can’t disagree, but not for the reasons you might expect. Yes, it’s is warm and beautiful, but I’m not there to lie on the beach or to surf. The reason I feel privileged to make the trek to South Africa is because of the incredible people that I spend time with.

If you don’t already know, let me make this clear: Outtatown works with some amazing people! Our leaders and students rub shoulders with and learn from inspiring individuals. They are welcomed with great hospitality and warmth and it was my honour to experience just a taste of those relationships while I was in South Africa.

Driving to Pretoria that night, I reflected upon my days with the group in Soweto. While there I had connected with Mpho and his student leaders. Mpho and his brother, Thabo, inspire me through their tireless work to invest in the young people of their hometown. What a privilege it is to pick Mpho’s brain regarding South Africa and its journey towards reconciliation. I eagerly anticipate building my relationship with Mpho and his extended family, both in the coming months and when I visit again next year.

While in South Africa I had the pleasure of connecting with numerous other partners. I joined Ilse and her family for a Sunday afternoon braai in Pretoria. I prayed with the Gould family as they put their sons to bed in Pietermaritzburg. I shared biscuits and pop with the Indian church leaders in Durban. These are but a few of the significant relational moments that I delighted in.

In his book Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson writes, “Friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”

The beauty of Outtatown is that, through the program, strangers become friends. The common experiences shared between friends are truly holy. These friendships urge us to follow Jesus. I give thanks for the hospitable and inspiring friends who give so much to Outtatown.

– Tim Cruickshank, Outtatown Program Manager

Canada Outtatown

The 10 Lepers, Tim Hortons, and a Notebook

Before I tell the story that had the biggest impact on me this month, I first want to retell the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. To summarize, in Luke 17:11-19, 10 men who suffered from leprosy came to Jesus asking for healing. Jesus cleansed all 10, but only one turned back to give praise to God. Jesus asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other 9? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

This Bible story is a great illustration of what I experienced on our last Urban Plunge day in Vancouver. We were divided into groups of three and given various amounts of money to make an impact in any way we could think of. I believe the biggest impact of the day was actually the one I experienced.

To start the day off, my group members and I decided we would go to the Westside (the higher-end part of Vancouver), to see where our money could best be used to make an impact. A short time later we were buying markers, notebooks, and big jugs of Tim Hortons coffee. The outcome of these purchases was three girls standing in the rain on a busy shopping street intersection with a sign that said “FREE COFFEE” and a notebook that invited people to write down something they were thankful for.

As our jug of coffee started to empty, our gratitude journal started to fill with a few things people were thankful for. In between the several people who gave thanks for things such as free coffee, their moms, sisters, music, and legalizing weed, there were the people who walked by us with their shopping bags scoffing at us or pretending to be on their phones so they didn’t have to acknowledge our existence.

We ran out of coffee and decided we should head to the Eastside (the “needy” part of Vancouver), to do the same thing. This time we bought double the coffee, stood in the rain on the busiest intersection and held our free coffee sign. Immediately, the people on the streets swarmed us with grateful attitudes and were almost more excited to write in our gratitude journal than to get a free cup of coffee. After serving over sixty people of the Downtown Eastside, we rejoined the rest of our site to debrief the day.

As I read through the gratitude journal and saw all that people were thankful for, I was reminded of the story of the 10 lepers and the importance of giving thanks. Along with many other, more privileged people on the Westside, I often forget to give thanks to God for the things I have been blessed with. However, for those living on the Downtown Eastside who don’t have very much, they are like the foreigner in the story who turned back to Jesus and gave thanks for everything; like “ Jesus being here”, “salvation”, “good health”, “shelters”, “being alive”, and “food”. That day reminded me to always have an attitude of gratitude.

– Kaitlyn Shuart, Site Two South Africa student, 2018-19

On Hope

Jan 2019 - Renee photo

It’s January and I’ve been thinking about hope. I love the Advent season we’ve just been through, in part because it’s festive, but also because the reality of God becoming a human is enough to knock me down and lift me back up again. British poet Malcolm Guite writes, “It’s just as well he dared to be, dared to come out of the invulnerable realm of ideas and into the bloody theatre of history, that he might change and redeem it from within.” That God comes and encounters us in our very particular, very human situations is stunning to me. But it's January now, with all of its busyness and resolutions and self-help mantras, and I am quick to forget that this is who God is.

Towards the end of December, I moved into a new neighbourhood. There’s a lot of good about this place—a more central location, friends who live within walking distance, new shops and cafes to discover. But there is also a lot of brokenness and heartache in the neighbourhood, and it makes me wonder where hope resides. I’m reminded of the tensions our Outtatown students wrestle with throughout the program: how do we reconcile the world’s beauty and diversity with its pain?

I love the way the Message phrases John 1:14, “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” I wonder if part of the answer is found in the hope of a God who enters our reality and dwells with us in our circumstances; a God who moves into the neighbourhood. I’m not the only one building a new sense of home this year—Outtatown students will soon be arriving in their international locations, and will discover the extraordinary beauty and diversity of South Africa and Guatemala. But they will also encounter each country’s pain. My prayer is that, as we all enter the New Year, we hold onto this hope: that God became flesh and blood, and entered into our reality, wherever we may find ourselves, so that he might “redeem it from within”. 

– Renee Willms, Outtatown Program Manager

Canada Outtatown Updates

A Day of Silence

This past month we had Steve Klassen, Director of the MARK Centre, come and spend four days teaching us about listening to God. We learned about many different ways we can hear God speak and how God is working in our everyday lives. We were taught that one of the most important things to do if you want to hear God speak is to simply listen. Which led us to a day of silence.

Starting from about 9:30 in the morning until 7:30 that evening, our energetic and noisy group was challenged to not talk to anyone. People took the day to rest, enjoy nature, go for hikes, read their Bibles, talk to God, and just listen. Many people heard something from God, whether it was through a Bible verse that came to mind, words and images, or through the environment around them. Some people also felt as if they didn’t hear God, but that doesn’t mean He was any less present to them.

I really enjoyed the silent day. While I am not too sure what God said to me on that day, I know He was there watching over me. Near the end of the silent day I wrote a short story reflecting on an image. This is what I wrote:

“The little girl dances through the forest without a care in the world. Free as ever, filled with uncontainable joy, spinning with her arms spread wide, her hair flowing behind her. Curious and overflowing with excitement, she has so much to look forward to. She doesn’t know what the future holds. Right now she is just focused on the present, looking at all the amazing beauty around her. Soaking everything in, she doesn’t want to forget one second of this moment.

“God is looking down at this little girl, watching her. He sees her face glowing in the sun and hearing the laughter echo through the trees. He is happy, He is proud, He loves her SO much.

"What if I told you that God thinks this when He looks at you? It’s true, God knows you are beautiful, He knows you are special, He cares for you so much and He loves you unconditionally. If God knows it’s true, why is it so hard to believe ourselves?

“The world is moving so fast. What if we just stopped and took a step back? Why can’t we just go back to being like a child? Why do we need to worry and stress? God is our Heavenly Father and He will take care of everything we need. God loves us no matter where we are in our faith journey, we don’t have to be perfect like society tells us. Jesus said to come as you are."

I want to be like the little girl that I pictured that day, without a care in the world, laughing and dancing, just enjoying the presence of God. WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN and He loves us all so much! I think we should all strive to be like that child in the forest, filled with God’s love, glowing with His goodness and joy.

“How great is the love the Father has given us so freely! Now we can be called children of God. And that's what we really are! The world doesn't know us because it didn't know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God. He still hasn't let us know what we will be. But we know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him. We will see him as he really is.” 1 John 3:1-2

– Makenna Olson, Site Two South Africa student, 2018-19


December 2018 Joyce

I’ve been shopping lately. Yes, Christmas is coming and I get a bit excited about that! I love the sparkle of the glitter in a Christmas wreath, the twinkle of lights, thinking about the people that I can buy a gift for, and the aroma of turkey and stuffing roasting in preparation for the gathering of friends and family. These things I really look forward to.

The countdown is definitely on! In my wandering through many stores, I was impacted by how many different versions of Advent calendars I saw. All the way from a rustic barn board with a star that tracks along a zig zag edge following days 1-25 to a board with intriguing little doors filled with Lindt chocolate….it’s all there! The biggest chocolate surprise, of course, is on December 25!

What is all this Advent anticipation about? For many years, I made my living in the retail sales and floral industry helping people like you to get into the frenzied whirlwind of gift buying and making sure that your homes were beautifully decorated. I still design beautiful things, but I have come to realize that we have more important things to expectantly wait and prepare for. I look forward to celebrating that Christ has come with Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy and is the Light for this world that is not always beautiful.

As of December 1, Semester 1 has come to an end for the Outtatown Program. What are the students preparing for and looking forward to? I’m sure the comforts of home, seeing friends and family, and a favorite meal or two is appealing. Will what the students have learned and been introduced to cause them to pause? And what are the hopes and expectations for the next part of the journey as the learning continues into different cultures and geography?

Wherever we are this Christmas season and whatever we are anticipating, may we reflect on our God of perfect Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. Let’s celebrate that Jesus, the Light of the World, has come.

– Joyce Friesen, Outtatown Program Assistant

Canada Outtatown Updates

Impact of the Inner City

When I think of one story that stands out from the varying experiences our community has already had, the conversations with individuals experiencing homelessness at UGM (Union Gospel Mission) stands out. The whole Urban Plunge in Downtown Winnipeg was a very impactful and meaningful week for me. When my group arrived at UGM that morning, we met Barry who explained what the program was about and its mission. He gave us a goal for the afternoon when we met with everyone at the drop-in. The goal for us was to come back to him at the end of the day with names of the people we interacted with. He explained to us that asking someone for their name was significant because for many people on the streets, it is one thing that they can claim as their own. Their names give identity, they are gifts to them. With that in mind, the group was very intentional about having conversations with each person at the drop-in, seeking to build relationships and to share as much joy and love as we could.

Everyone in our group talked to different people as we served coffee, tea, and some desserts. The diversity of stories within the room was amazing to hear about and witness.

I was serving cinnamon buns at one point in the afternoon after having spent time sitting at tables with different people. An older woman, who I will call Mary, walked up to the counter and quietly asked for a cinnamon bun without lifting her head. I grabbed one from the tray and placed it in her hand, wishing her a great rest of her day. When I did this Mary held my hand and looked up at me, straight into my eyes, saying “God bless you.” At that moment my heart was filled with joy.

I experienced a similar situation later in the day with an older man, who I will call John. He was slowly drinking his coffee, while I sat and talked with him. He told me how he had been born in Serbia and came to Canada as a young man. As John rose to go to the clothing exchange, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much for your company.” Being able to participate in this kind of setting was a valuable experience for me.

Prior to going to UGM that morning, I didn’t know what to expect and I was a little nervous about initiating conversations with strangers. But by the end of the day, after my interactions with Mary, John, and others, I realized how significant and simple it is to sit down with somebody from a different walk of life, have a cup of coffee, and get to know each other. Although both these moments were small and many of our group members experienced God in crazy ways that week, those moments really stand out for me. These moments will stick with me beyond Outtatown, when I am back home.

It’s crazy how much we as a community and individually have grown in our friendships and in our relationships with God this past month. And we still have two more months to go in this semester! Thank you all for your prayers and support!

– Bethany Wall, Site One Guatemala student, 2018-19

An Invitation to Follow


Registration Day in September already feels like such a long time ago. In the world of Outtatown, days often feel like weeks, and yet they fly by at an incredible pace. Time is sometimes difficult to track on program, with so many activities and experiences packed into a full day. Lately I’ve been reflecting on time ‘flying by’ in Outtatown and some significant markers indicating God’s faithfulness have come to mind.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, as back in 1998, a group of conference and church leaders, as well as college administrators, made the courageous and bold decision to launch the “School of Discipleship”, now known as Outtatown.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of our relationship with the community of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation. In 2008, leaders from the program received word from Peter and Colleen that they would be willing to host the group of students in the fall for a four-day learning experience. What started as a nervous exchange of stories and many unknowns as to what these relationships would be, has developed into relationships of deep friendship and hospitality. Hearing their stories, learning about traditions, and experiencing ceremonies and festivals have all been a valuable part of the experience for our students, but we are most thankful for the opportunities to build relationships.

I’m grateful to God for the ways that God has been faithful in providing for the program, and for the many people who have been involved as leaders, instructors, and partners over the years.

On Registration Day, I invited our students and leaders to accept the invitation that Jesus extended to some guys who were fishing. As I mentioned to the students then, even more than the places they go, or the experiences and events planned – there is an invitation for them, for all of us. Much like the disciples who were out fishing, Jesus invites us to experience life to the full in following Him. He desires to give us new perspective, purpose, and a way of understanding and caring for those around us.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark we read stories of Jesus healing people, Jesus including people who others are running away from, and Jesus slowing down to ask what it is He can do for them. This is the invitation that Jesus extends to us as well, to stop and pay attention to the ways that God is being revealed around us: in the beauty of the mountains and lakes, in discovering more of who God created us to be, and in having the opportunity to hear someone share a piece of their story with us. I’m convinced that Jesus is continuing to invite us as a program to explore and discover what life is like when we follow Him. Thanks for your continued prayers and support along the way.

– Cam Priebe, Director of Outtatown

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


A New Season

We recently said farewell to Deanna Braun, Guatemala Program Manager. This month, Deanna shares some parting comments with us as she reflects on the past six-plus years she spent with Outtatown. We pray God's blessing for her in her next season of life.


Every season comes to an end. It is important to enjoy the present moment and to be intentional about reflecting on lessons learned that can be taken and applied in the future. This is a message that we share with our leaders and students every September. The Outtatown program has a finite ending for each year’s participants. My time with Outtatown has also come to an end. As I reflect back over the past six years, I have many fond memories of connecting with students, leaders, and ministry partners and I have learned and grown in my personal faith in Jesus.

One particular way that I have grown in my faith is by learning to trust in God’s faithfulness. Planning a travelling and adventure program for multiple groups across multiple provinces and countries takes a lot of logistical planning. No matter how much time, effort, and details were put in to make sure that things went smoothly, unexpected situations will always arise and can throw the best of plans into question. Throughout my years with Outtatown, I have seen this happen multiple times and each time new plans would come together, usually through creative brainstorming with co-workers, talking with ministry partners, or thinking outside the box. Usually, my first thought was that these plans were not ideal or not what I had planned, but I was grateful to have something in place that fit our particular need. Hearing stories afterwards, I have often been amazed at how God was at work and students were impacted by the new place or the new experience. God was at work, providing for us and, in the process, my trust in God’s faithfulness grew.

I am grateful for opportunities to have worked together with and learn from people in Canada and Guatemala who are passionate about God. I am grateful for the ways that I have been impacted by being able to journey alongside others in our life and faith journeys.

As spring has drawn to an end and summer is officially here, I wish you all well. May you all experience God’s love and peace throughout the summer season.

So long friends,


–  Deanna Braun, Former Guatemala Program Manager

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