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

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

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

Canada Outtatown South Africa

June: Learning about Diversity

This past year on Outtatown I learned that there can be so much diversity within one country, let alone the world. It would be easy for me to talk about the diversity and racial struggles in South Africa, but I’m going to talk about my own country instead.

Travelling across western Canada, I saw how many different groups that our nation beholds. Growing up in coastal British Columbia, I’ve always seen the beauty of Aboriginal culture, especially in artwork. While in Manitoba on Outtatown, we learned so much immersed in life on the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation community, through experiencing traditional practices like the sweat lodge, hearing from elders, and watching one man make carvings out of deer bones. All of this was incredible.

We also had a day of learning about their past and the struggles and the pain that they’ve gone through. I had learned about residential schools and how reservations came into existence, but never as in depth as I did in Winnipeg during our blanket exercise. Hearing just how excruciating and horrific my European ancestors made it for the Anishinabe and other Indigenous peoples brought me guilt and anger. That being said, I am very happy to see how strong and resilient this group is, and I hope that we can continue to show them the love and respect that they truly deserve.

Canada is a huge country filled with people from all corners of the Earth. It was really special to enter into others’ holy spaces and learn about faiths different from our own. As Christians, we are called to love everyone and we cannot let a difference in faith or religion stop us from doing that. I have loved having the opportunity to experience so many cultures within Canada and South Africa, and Outtatown is definitely to thank for that.

– Cole Stewart, South Africa student 2016-17

Burkina Faso Outtatown

May: Press On

Our last five days were spent at a youth retreat centre in Ecouen, a town just north of Paris, France, where we celebrated together and debriefed our entire experience on Outtatown. Throughout our days there, many moments were spent reminiscing about the profound and hilarious adventures. It was during that time that I realized how special our community was; the place of belonging I had found and how God had impacted each one of us in a unique way.

Our group leaders led a session on story sharing on one of the days. We brainstormed the significant memories from our three months and then we were challenged to share the best stories in either a 30-second or 2-minute time frame. The idea behind this was that as us students transition back home, not everyone is going to want to know the details of our entire journey on Outtatown. To understand a story better is to tell a story better. The activity pushed me to really reflect on what was the big take away in each story.

On the last night there, our worship committee led us in a foot washing ceremony. As Jesus washed his disciples' feet before he left them, we washed each other’s feet before going our separate ways. After the foot washing, we sang worship songs together and spent time praying for one another through intentional prayer. I found myself fighting back tears the entire evening, as I could no longer deny that Outtatown was coming to an end. I was going to miss my new family, the sense of belonging and the energy that each person brought to our group.

As I look back on my time on Outtatown, I know that I miss my community. Despite the pain of moving forward, I’m excited for the opportunities down the road. God challenged me more than ever before in my life; I know that if I grew through these challenges, I will grow during my next journey. As Paul and Timothy wrote in Philippians, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” I leave that message with all of you: press on towards Jesus. For my brothers and sisters from Outtatown, you are stronger than you know, you can do more than you can imagine because He dwells in you. He is with you every step of the way; if that is the case, will you press on?

– Liam Kachkar, Burkina Faso student 2016

Guatemala Outtatown

April: “Look at What You Have”

2 Kings 4:5 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outtatown South Africa

March: My Outtatown Experience

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)

Outtatown South Africa

February: A Day of Silence

The simple act of laying everything at Jesus’ feet comes with a rich reward. During the first semester, we spent one day in silence at a Bible camp surrounded by the rolling hills of Alberta farmland with the majestic Rockies in the distance. I came into this week with so many doubts plaguing my mind and heart about God speaking to me. God shattered those doubts and removed my fears.

I started my day by watching the sunrise and saw the exact moment that a ray of light touched the snow-capped mountains. I was in awe of the majesty and beauty of creation. As I sat there watching night turn into day, I prayed about my doubts and fears and the barriers that prevented me from being a listener. As I was praying, I felt the vibration of a horse galloping. An Appaloosa from the barn was charging towards an electric fence. It stopped, became frustrated, and trotted away snorting. As this happened again and again, I saw this horse as an image of myself. I put all this effort into running to God, trying to please the Creator. Met by barriers of my own making, I fail to reach God, just as the horse couldn’t get past the fence.

I came into the day of silence very observant of events and divine “coincidences” that were happening around me. I decided to lean into those feelings and convictions and I prayed, “Father, help my unbelief, get rid of my doubt, show yourself to me. Rule and reign in my heart today.” God answered in the most unexpected way.

I fell asleep for the rest of the morning, which made me so angry, yet God knew that I needed rest. God was teaching me to rest, to cease striving, and the two words “be still” took on a whole new meaning for me. I went on a hike in the afternoon and found a field where I danced, worshiped, and sang. I felt like Maria from the Sound of Music! I was running around in complete abandonment, like a child just enjoying her father’s presence. God was with me and I lacked nothing.

Later, my thoughts started to wander and I remembered my grandma who passed away four years ago. She taught me how to play the piano and two of her favorite hymns were “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art”. The reminder of her that day spoke to me.Ten minutes later, our host played both these hymns on his trumpet!

I’m learning to live freely and lightly while I rest in the Lord's arms. Where will this lead? Only God knows, but my ears have been opened and I believe I’m hearing the voice of a loving God who wants a relationship with me.

 Naomi Wiebe, South Africa Student 2016-17