Guatemala Outtatown

March: Building Relationships

I was drawn to Outtatown with the knowledge that service projects make up a fairly significant portion of the program. I wanted to learn about the world around me in a raw and real way, while also aspiring to learn more about how I could make a difference.

We were invited to serve through Porch de Salomon, an organization in Panajachel, Guatemala, where we would be helping to build a house for a family in need. A fire was lit within me. I was excited to start—ready to challenge myself, hoping to make as big an impact on this house as possible. I have participated in a few short-term missions projects before and thought I knew what to expect, however, it turned out that this one was a little different.

Porch de Salomon is intentional about building personal relationships with the family, which is something I really strived to do over the week. While getting to see where all eight children slept in their small, worn home on our first day, I noticed one of them shyly but curiously looking up, eager to meet us but understandably nervous at the same time. I remember squeezing next to her and asking her in my slow, broken Spanish, “Your name is Maria, right?” After a nod, a smile, and a proper introduction, we were fast friends. Soon she was frequently popping by my area of the build site in the afternoons, sometimes for a quick hello, other times to sit and chat (as best we could) while she watched our work come together before her bright, curious eyes.

The humble and gracious seven-year-old that she was, she never held back her eagerness not only for her new home, but also to see us again the next day. She is what kept me inspired and driven. I can’t count the number of hugs I received in those four short days, but I can tell you that the one that she gave me during our final goodbye was probably the longest I’ve ever had, and I’ll admit, also the hardest. I wish I could have expressed to her that she has helped me more than I could ever have helped her.

Creating relationships puts faces to names, stories to people. I encourage you to ask God to open your heart to look beyond someone’s “status” to find the human in them–it will instill a love and dedication even more lasting and valuable than could have been imagined, and a desire to do and be your best for those around you. I believe that every person you meet will leave an impact. I know the impact made on me by Maria and her family will continue for a long time, and I can’t wait to see how that shapes my future with Outtatown and in life.  

– Hannah Beatty, Guatemala 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

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

Guatemala Outtatown

January: Lasting Impact

It’s been nearly a year now since Altona increased their population by 1%, all with a vision from Build a Village to welcome five Syrian families into Altona—that’s 45 people. Build a Village was started by Ray Loewen, the owner of a car dealership in southern Manitoba, after his daughter Kristen returned from her year on Outtatown 15 years ago. Since 2001, Build a Village has helped support over 30 new comer families in their transition to Altona.

Build a Village is a non-profit organization that began because one person shared their story. Just days before Kristen was to leave for Guatemala, a devastating earthquake hit El Salvador. Although Guatemala was not impacted to the same extent as El Salvador, Kristen’s overall experience on Outtatown and her accounts of generosity in a country plagued by poverty inspired her father to make a difference. Build a Village has since been a part of building over 400 houses in El Salvador, in partnership with both Mennonite Central Committee and Habitat for Humanity. These partnerships demonstrate the power of collaboration and have caused Build a Village to grow. 

After hearing stories of generosity and hospitality from Guatemala, Ray wanted to make an impact on his home community of Altona. In the past 10 years increased support for local refugees has brought over 200 people (30 families) into the small town. In the last year alone, Altona has helped provide not just a house to live in, but a place to call home for five refugee families from Syria. They are no longer refugees—they are part of the diversity that makes up Altona.

Build a Village is a testimony of the impact Outtatown can make. All it takes is one voice with a story of resilience to build community and hope for many. Take time this Christmas to remind yourself of the ways you’ve been impacted by the generosity of others and how you might impact others with your own generosity.

  – Amelia Warkentin

Guatemala Outtatown South Africa

Check Out The New Site Videos!

Take a look at our sites end of year videos, these are snapshots of their year, from Canada to Guatemala or South Africa!

Site 1 – Guatemala

Site 2 – South Africa