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

Guatemala Outtatown

February: Where Home is Found

In the early morning hours, overtired Outtatown students ran to embrace one another, and shouted “welcome back!” across the Winnipeg airport. There was an amazing, indescribable feeling of returning not only to our adventure filled, God-centered family, but in a sense, to our home.

Over the course of the last five months, unbreakable bonds have developed. Being on the road, with a new location almost every week, and the many goodbyes with those we have crossed paths with along the way, has resulted in seeking home wherever we are as long as we are together. Home has been within water-filled canoes, questionably smelling 15 passenger vans, tops of mountains, soup kitchens, floors of churches, delta kiosks, and now Guatemala.

How could one feel at home in a brand new country, culture, and language? You must bring home with you.

Our home is one that is free of judgment, one that celebrates diversity, is safe and secure, and is supportive. Laughter, honesty, authenticity, and sincerity are values held by our community. Together we conquer fears, embody Christ, and spread the love of Jesus. With this comes stepping over boundaries we didn’t even know existed.  Although it may be more comfortable to be home with your family living your typical routine, we have learned that life is not meant to be comfortable. It is the situations that push us to our limits that allow us to grow, to make an impact, and to have meaning.

Returning to program excited to start second semester, we shared what our break entailed and lessons learned from our time apart. This lesson of living in the uncomfortable connected with much of our group and is the mindset we have chosen when looking at the next few months as we adapt to a new culture.

Traveling with the home that we have developed and the support and growth that has come with that, we are inevitably excited for what is to come. We will embrace every funny, awkward, and empowering moment we encounter along the way, because we know that life is not meant to be easy and that although we may not be at our homes, we have home, and that’s what matters.

Bailey Brockman, Guatemala student, 2017-18

Canada Guatemala Outtatown

January: The Beauty of Trust

Exploring the Talus Caves was an experience that inspired a plethora of life and spirituality-related metaphors. This particular cave system near Hope, BC took us into the heart of the boulders that surrounded the base of a mountain and carried us into spaces that put our waterslide-related claustrophobic experiences into perspective. The caves were damp and dark – yet with these seemingly adverse characteristics came a certain mystery and desire to explore the possibility for beauty and meaning. It was an opportune time to think more abstractly about the concepts we have been discussing this semester – particularly those pertaining to community, vulnerability, and trust.

While some were eager to test the limits of the caves— and their bodies— as they wormed their way through spaces far too small to be a logical path, I was far more hesitant, fearful and claustrophobic. For me, caving was less an exploratory exercise than it was a beautiful experience of surrender and trust. To clarify, using the word beautiful to describe this experience does not preclude tears or even imply it was pleasant. This was a raw experience for me— there was no pretending to be above fear or in any way immune to the seemingly ‘all in your head’ experience of claustrophobia. It was a unique experience of letting others hold you in a raw state and simply trust— trust those around you to meet you where you are at, trust that this will not be the moment that age old rock will shift, and trust that sunlight and blue sky will, in fact, still exist when you exit. As some groups explored beauty in darkness through pictographs, I explored the beauty of being pushed to explore fears and areas of darkness within.

With the physical exploration of the caves came a powerful metaphor relating to one’s path in life. As I felt completely unable to decipher all the possible routes, the importance of surrounding yourself with those who will not only walk the straightforward path with you but will also take the detours and the dead ends was reiterated and powerfully shown. Along with this, the beauty of trust within community was exemplified. I saw the immense importance of being able to articulate the things I struggle with and then seek out a guide— someone to take my hand, walk with me and remind me of the importance of taking the next step even when tunnel vision prevents me from seeing the greater picture.

– Abby Willms, Guatemala student, 2017-18

Canada Guatemala

November: First Rains

The fire grabbed hold of the strips of birch bark on the pile of wood. Slowly, the small flame wrapped itself around the logs, and around the 15 stones that we had lain inside. The stones, referred to as the grandfathers, turned red-hot.

I stepped around the sweat lodge and crawled in on my hands and knees. In order to fit all of the enthused group members, our guide, Colleen, gestured a few closer to the recessed centre of the lodge. We were all pressed tightly against each other’s sides.

With antlers, two of our members guided the first four fragile, glittering stones to the centre of the sweat lodge. Colleen threw the first herbs on the stones, and I tried to breathe but my nose was scalded. Truly I had thoughts of doubt—I would be driven out by the heat. Colleen reminded us in the same tone as before the sweat, “Don’t focus on the heat. Keep thinking about the people in your life. Just pray in whatever way you can.”

The first water was ladled onto the stones and steam poured from the rocks to the air surrounding our heads. The rocks did not change colour like I had expected. They remained the same dragon eggs as before.

When Colleen invited each of us to share, I racked my brain for an honest reason for being there. A few minutes prior, I wasn’t aware I was seeking a purpose—seeking a direction—for my newly independent life. Nonetheless that’s what I shared with the group, slowly, taking full breaths when I needed them. Wouldn’t it be better if we all held our words in our hands and looked at them a while before we said them?

Colleen had the door opened for a few members to crawl out, and I snuck in some resolve regeneration. Even with more stones added, the sweat lodge cooled down significantly. I embraced the momentary comfort of the open door, and the task seemed manageable.

Then, unexpectedly, it still seemed manageable when the door closed again and the last grandfathers were brought in. I thought to myself what a glorious discomfort. I was in Canada, struck by the depth of the Anishinabe culture. I was invited to this experience.

After the sweat officially came to a close, I stayed to sing some songs, including one of my own: “I Wonder as I Wander.” Then I left spiritually satisfied.

Upon exiting, I saw my brothers and sisters near the doorway and a wide smile burst on my face. They asked me how it was with me and without cognitive reason I spoke my feelings. For God wove the threads of life and existence into these surroundings, this nature, and these people. Our Heavenly Father included me in this beautiful cloth.

After a few good hugs and exclamations of joy, I headed into the house to change out of my cold, wet clothes. There was a line up. How beautifully trivial it seemed to me. I didn’t need to sit down; I wasn’t in a hurry. I saw the people around me as children of God, and I respected them as such.

I did drink a lot of water, though. No matter how much I drank my body soaked it up like the red Kenyan soil at the first rains.

– Ezra Enns, Guatemala student, 2017-18

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