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

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

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 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

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

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