It was on my recent one-week taste of Outtatown Discipleship School in South Africa that I learned about giving yourself to a culture, learning from people whose life experience is massively different than your own. Kids in their desire to simply play with adults and have fun taught me to relax. Walking around Soweto and bombarding Outtatown’s South African partners inspired me to learn.
I talk about Outtatown like it's my job…because it is my job. As an Admissions Counsellor at CMU, I need to have a good understanding of our programs in order to explain them to potential students. This is why I went to South Africa: to experience Outtatown in person, so my excitement and learning about the program would translate to authentic conversation later on.
Outtatown gives students the chance to learn in a way that no university classroom or professor can offer. To gain perspective and deeper understanding of one’s self and of faith, one must get “out of dodge”, harbour a spirit of curiosity, and immerse oneself in something completely new. The people that Outtatown students connect to, inspire a desire to learn, and provide profound perspective on life.
Perspective starts with the little things. Arriving in South Africa, I couldn’t wrap my mind around driving on the left-hand side of the road. I exclaimed upon meeting the Outtatown group, “they drive on the wrong side of the road here!” One of the leaders, with sage patience informed me, “It’s not wrong—it’s different.” This was my first prompt to check my assumptions at the door and think before I speak. Dinner that night was my second prompt. Asking for ketchup at a restaurant won me looks of utter confusion from my server. From across the room, an Outtatown site manager yells to me, “It’s called tomato sauce, here!” I was humbled by my cultural ignorance, and steeled myself for a week of suspending all assumptions while assuming a posture of learning. This was not my country.
The next day we met Mpho, who has been a partner with Outtatown for over of a decade. He was our main guide when we visited Soweto. When I first met Mpho he spoke about his upbringing; that he was told where to work, where to live, who he could associate with. I thought he just had a really controlling family. Halfway through the conversation it dawned on me that he was talking about growing up under the rule of Apartheid, a system of oppressive governance instituted by the Afrikaans (white South Africans).
My lack of understanding was another perspective prompt; Mpho taught me that to understand the world, you need to engage with it—get out of your house and your community and talk to people. Conversation is transformative, and we need to seek it to grow.
I had to remind myself constantly that I was a visitor, a minority, and if I wanted to learn, I would have to embrace being uncomfortable. Humans don’t like discomfort—we like to have control, to understand what is going on around us. But when we relinquish that control we open ourselves to new learning and new life. God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. God calls us to love, to listen, to be kind—actions that take great effort and can cause great discomfort.
God will be found in the moments where we let our guard down and engage and embrace people who are different than we. This is what I learned in a week on Outtatown. To know myself, the world, and God in a way I couldn’t do at home.
– Mike Wiebe (CMU Admissions Counselor)