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

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

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

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

Outtatown South Africa

August: Finding Hope Through Hardship

A small part of the difficult and tangled history of Strandfontein was revealed to us as we lived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, a Coloured couple living in a well-appointed bungalow, nestled on a busy suburban street. Coloured is an official racial category in South Africa referring to people whose ancestry began with the intermarriage between couples of different races. At the Roberts home, we were welcomed with delicious Biryani, meat pies, and other delicious food, and our week of endless conversations about soccer, history, and Strandfontein’s struggles and triumphs began. 

Now in no way can you hope to attain a full understanding of a culture through one family’s stories and experiences, yet we learned so much. In conversation and through observing their life, we glimpsed a culture very different than our own. Be it through Mrs. Roberts’ fiercely imposed hospitality, or Mr. Roberts stories of segregation and political history, we were certainly immersed in a community that had been shaped by struggle, unimaginable hardship, and also hope.

Community so strong in fact, that tragedy produced tighter bonds and showcased this community’s graciousness and drive all the more. Weeks before we arrived, a strong community leader passed away – a leader from the Methodist Church who was a key figure in our homestay experience.  The fact that we were welcomed in the midst of this tragic loss showcases the community’s amazing hospitality.

Struggle and tragedy, however, is not the full story. It’s unfair, I think, to only remember stories of heartbreak or political corruption faced by the Coloured community and not remember our host family’s passion for soccer, for family, for close community, and for eclectic music. In hardship and joy, the Coloured community rallied together to create a truly memorable homestay experience.          

 – Sam Gillett (South Africa '15/16)

Outtatown South Africa

Remembering Rodney

Outtatown is built on relationships. As we travel around the world, it is our partners in the countries we visit that help make it safe for our students to learn and grow.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of Rodney Dreyer, one of our long-time partners in South Africa. After suffering a stroke 10 days ago, Rodney passed away on Sunday morning.

Outtatown started travelling to South Africa in 2003, and Rodney played a significant role from the start, serving as one of two country guides. Rodney worked as a country advisor on matters relating to culture, history, safety, and local customs. He helped shape where we go and what we do.

Over the years, Rodney has continued to play a significant role. Most recently, Rodney was active in developing a program for our students while they are in the Cape region. This included overseeing the catering for our students while they are in the Simon’s Town region, as well as playing the role of partner in Strandfonein.

While in Strandfontein, Rodney made it his goal to give Outtatown students the best experience that would give them a well-rounded understanding of life for South Africans in the coloured community.

He would connect each student with a family to stay with for the week, and create opportunities for the students to serve alongside local organizations. Rodney also took time to share his passion for peace and conflict studies with our students in the form of classes and practical learning.

Rodney was an active member of Strandfontein Methodist Church, where he served as preacher, worship leader, choir director, prayer coordinator, and organist. He was passionate about creating education and work opportunities for youth and young adults, as well as working in the area of conflict resolution. Rodney always made people feel connected and at home.

It was an incredible privilege for Outtatown students and leaders to experience Rodney’s passion and heart for God, as well as the joy he displayed while telling stories of hope and reconciliation. We will miss him.

Please keep his wife Joyce, their family, and his community in your prayers.