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

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

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

Outtatown South Africa

May: The Excitement of New Friendship

At the start of the second semester, a blessing for me was getting to know two of the cooks at Rocky Valley Retreat Centre in South Africa. We spent an evening together discussing the Bible, sharing pictures of our families, and teaching each other greeting phrases in Zulu, French, and Samoan. After several hours of bonding—which was jam packed with laughter—we decided to climb the nearby “Prayer Mountain” together the following evening. Both Sindy and Nazzy, the camp cooks, had been working at the centre for four years but had never had the motivation or the time to hike to the top; they were full of excitement! 

We packed our gear and set off for the mountain. Both Sindy and Nazzy made jokes the entire time and we toughed through the climb quickly, laughing a lot on the way up. Once we were at the top, Nazzy and Sindy stood amazed at the view before them. Before long, the two women suggested we teach each other songs in our respective languages while still up there. The five of us Canadians chose to teach them a tune from Sunday school:

“Our God is an awesome God

He reigns

From heaven above

With wisdom, power and love

Our God is an awesome God”

After several repeats, we were all singing in unison and, if I do say so myself, we made beautiful music! Then Nazzy took the lead in teaching us a song in Zulu, which was hauntingly beautiful. One by one, she made us lead the song, which definitely pushed some of us out of our comfort zones. We ended the night off with a South African English song that we all caught on to rather quickly. It was a magical night! 

These two ladies impacted my time in South Africa. Their patience for everyday chores, their willingness to serve each other and us, and their desire to know more about biblical truths was beautiful to witness. It gave me insight into what I’ve gotten myself into with Outtatown South Africa. They both inspired me to continuously look at the positive side of every situation, and to look forward to more new beginnings in my life.

Both Sindy and Nazzy will be in my thoughts and prayers and I look forward to seeing them again later in the semester. They have requested we teach them how to swim next time… one more adventure that God will bless us with! Nazzy assured me on our last day that she’d also pray for us and that she knows full well that God answers her prayers!

Siyajabula ukuba lapha

(We are happy to be here)

– Hannah McNeilly, South Africa student, 2017-18

Outtatown South Africa

April: Faith Like a Mustard Seed

Recently my faith was tested. The South Africa team started our ‘SEED’ project— a six day self-guided service project—in Kayamandi, a suburb of Stellenbosch, characterized by high poverty rates and metal shacks lining the streets. The goal was to go out into the town and find a project we could start that would be sustainable. Aside from this, we also had the real project to keep in mind, to build and foster loving relationships with those we met.

Amidst the smells, noises, and colours, Kayamandi is very much a close-knit community, but it has its shadows, maybe more so than other places. Kayamandi has an exceptionally high crime rate due to the widespread adolescent drug abuse that is also the catalyst to a series of other problems. Our new acquaintance, Sandile, spoke of this issue through his own personal testimony—his son had also suffered the consequences of the effects of drugs, violence, and gangs and because this issue hit home for him, he was inspired to start a Non-Profit Drug Rehabilitation Program in Kayamandi.

The following days were spent conversing and planning with Sandile about how we could aid in this process. Our priority was to balance motivation and excitement with realistic approaches, and to create a network of resources he could build upon and use. We met with a number of organizations in Stellenbosch to discuss how to create a rehabilitation program in Kayamandi. Through these meetings we learned that the real need was a connection between resources already available in nearby Stellenbosch and those in need in Kayamandi, so we changed our approach and initiated the creation of a parent support group in Kayamandi, with the idea to have Sandile as the connection for his town.

It was very hard to proceed with the project and we agreed with Sandile that the best way to continue forward was for us to take a step back and leave him with the valuable connections that we had built with various organizations and levels of government. I opened my palms at my side, surrendering the stress of the project to God. We exchanged hugs and handshakes and departed Sandile’s house with the Xhosa saying, ‘hamba kahle,' meaning ‘go well.’ It was at this moment that I had to remind myself to rely on faith that God will do something great out of all the work we did.

I learned the importance of serving God wholeheartedly. It’s easy to be happy when you reap the rewards and satisfaction immediately after serving God, but it’s another thing when you can’t see what you left. We so desperately wanted to see a tangible finish. However, when all I could see was our trials, God was working behind the scenes, and I was reminded how easy it is to forget that. If your heart is in the right place, God will do the rest.

Coming out of this experience and even now, I pray for Sandile, his family and his son, as well as for the Kayamandi community. I ask myself, what does it mean to put God first and trust in him? And even more so, what does it mean to have faith as small as a mustard seed? That when all else fails, look to God. Matthew 17:20 says, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it will move; Nothing will be impossible to you.” When everything seems against you, trust in God who is for you.

– Sarah Zwicker, South Africa student, 2017-18

Canada South Africa

December: I will hold your hand

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

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

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

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

Maddie Neufeld, South Africa student, 2017-18

Outtatown South Africa

October: New Beginnings

With the start of something new, feelings of excitement, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, expectancy, hope, and dread often accompany it. The way in which each person manages these conflicting emotions will often look radically different. Some people thrive in this environment, exuding confidence and self-assuredness, while others withdraw.

On the first day of our program, when everyone is in this place of new beginning, the social dynamics are a fascinating thing to observe. First impressions and appearance are key. For many students, this year is an opportunity to start fresh and perhaps shed some of what they were known for back home. With these complicated dynamics at play, the group briefly meets each other and then hops into the vans, heading towards Manitoba Pioneer Camp for a week of adventure in the wilderness. 

This was my second year participating in the canoe trip and, while the group may have been different, I was amazed once again at how the trip has a way of bringing people together and stripping down some of the barriers, fears, and masks that can be present at the beginning of a new experience.

The canoeing portion itself provides an image of the progression of life on Outtatown. On the first day, most people have no idea how to steer a canoe, resulting in a chaotic and slow day of paddling. We start off with many canoes turning in circles or ending up on the shore. As the day progresses, the speed picks up and the lines become straighter.

This year, we experienced some strong winds on the second and third day that, while challenging, provided an opportunity to improve our skills, work together, and surprise ourselves with what we were capable of accomplishing. As each day passed, we quickly settled into a rhythm of setting up camp at a new site each day: putting up our tents, gathering wood, cooking dinner over the fire, and sharing stories and laughter together into the night.

There is a certain level of vulnerability that comes with being separated from many of the comforts and distractions we are used to in everyday life. With only nature and people around us, we engage with each other and our surroundings in an intentional way that encourages relationship, authenticity, and the beginnings of trust.

While only four days long, the canoe trip is a foundational part of our program, and it accurately encapsulates some of the hope and expectation for the year to come. When we have to live life differently and with intention, our focus is drawn beyond ourselves to both those we are with and to the God who created us all. 

– Jannelle Dyck, South Africa Site Leader, 2017-18

Outtatown South Africa

September: Understanding Privilege

Travelling to South Africa allowed me to gain a whole new perspective on how much privilege I have been granted simply by being born a white Canadian. Upon landing in Johannesburg, one of the first cultural differences I noticed was the number of people in public buildings walking around barefoot. This surprised me because I’ve grown up being taught the general rule of “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” and I found it interesting that people in South Africa were able to walk into any store or restaurant without shoes on without it being a problem.

Shortly after making note of this, it was brought to my attention that the only barefoot people I saw were all white. I wondered why and was informed that black people made an effort to always wear shoes so as to not be judged as being poor. In South Africa (and probably many other places in the world) if a black person were to walk around barefoot, people would assume they were too poor to afford shoes; yet if a white person walked around barefoot in the same places, no one would assume their choice was influenced by financial reasons. This realization impacted me because I thought that I could flaunt my wealth and privilege as a white person by dressing down and wearing less. It inspired me to wear shoes as often as possible for the rest of the semester as a personal reminder that I was born with more privilege than I’ll probably ever understand, and that I have a responsibility to use that privilege for good.

– Brianna Wiebe, South Africa student 2016-17

Outtatown South Africa

August: Knowing God.

Knowing God was one of the biggest reasons why I joined the Outtatown program. But I didn't expect to see or know Him by falling from 9000ft. Going up in the plane, I saw the beauty of our Creator. The sand dunes beneath me, the ocean to my left, the trees, and the plains of South Africa. I saw how powerful He was by watching the waves crash against the rocks and the trees swaying in the wind. God was in the wind blowing between the cracks of the plane and the wind that took my breath away when the door was opened. Sitting on the edge of the plane, my feet out in open air, time sped up. And suddenly I was flying. I spun around so that I could only see the plane, my legs, and the blue open sky. Laughing out loud, full of joy, I turned to face the earth again. Now I realize that God was falling with me at that moment, enjoying the wind and the adrenaline along with me.

I didn't even hear the parachute open behind me, but I felt the sudden stop. Looking around I saw the parachutes of two of my friends that jumped with me. I was able to turn the chute with the handles and spin around a couple times, playing with the wind and enjoying my time floating. 

Landing was easy. As soon as I hit the ground someone rushed up and unhooked my harness so I wouldn't blow away again. The heat of Africa came flooding back to me but that didn't wipe the smile off my face. I made it! I jumped out of a plane at 9000ft and survived! Walking away from that I felt invincible, but I thanked God that the parachute opened so that I could walk away. 

I believe knowing God is to experience Him in special and everyday moments, and I knew God that day. 

– Jana Enns, South Africa student 2016-17

Outtatown South Africa

July: Balance is the Blessing

We are all different, and so we inevitably clash on different things. From privacy, to food, to theological issues, we can and do disagree. I have learned that it is a "choose your battles" sort of thing. Should I stand up for myself, or is this something that I need to simply step aside from for the benefit of the community? You have to learn that the balance is the blessing. By living in community, you are forced to learn this, which is honestly amazing. It is something that I am thankful for because I know that I have learned more about living in community during the seven months on Outtatown than the years that it may take others to learn the same things.

Living so close with other people has blessed me with many good friends. I have learned something from every one of them. The funny thing is that by being a part of a community, I have also learned a ton about myself. Through my other peers I have become aware of things that I have to work on, yet they have brought out many good qualities in myself that I didn't know I had.

A key question that was asked of us by our leaders was, "where do you see Jesus?" I would have to say that I saw Christ through my community a lot. I learned so much about God through the actions and words of my friends. And in that, a lot of my own personal growth was in hearing God's wisdom through the people who surrounded me. God has taught me to listen carefully for His voice, and that I hear it in the ways that I didn't expect it, more than in the ways that I do expect it.

I hope to translate the news skills that I have learned from Outtatown back to my home community. My Outtatown community has taught me so much, and blessed me so much, and I cherish each day that I spent with them. 

– Bailey Cressman, South Africa student 2016-17