By Grace, Through Faith

Wow! Another week has flown by in San Juan! Es muy rapido!
This past week has been filled with many different adventures such as climbing Volcan de Pacaya, helping in our service projects, and continuing to learn Spanish. We have been super busy and learning lots!  Out of all of these incredible activities, my favourite part of this week was getting to play with the children at an after school program called “Niños del Mundo”, for children who don’t have the best support at home.

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My small group was the first to visit the children on Wednesday. We have been studying the book ‘What’s so Amazing About Grace?’ by Philip Yancey, and were looking forward to understanding a deeper meaning of the term grace as we interacted with the kids. As we entered, we had no idea what to expect, only that we had a little over an hour to love these kids.
We met about fifty smiling children, ages five to twelve, who enjoyed playing games such as musical chairs, tag, and Pato Pato Ganso (duck duck goose). The time with them flew by! It was a phenomenal day and we looked forward to returning.
On Thursday, all twenty of us got to go to spend time with the kids, bringing along with us cakes and piñatas. This time there were many more kids and way more chaos, but still a wonderful time of getting to reconnect with our friends from the day before and meet new ones.

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As we spent time with the kids, the theme of grace kept appearing. We had to have grace for each other in the overwhelming chaos of screaming kids, we had to have grace for the kids when they plunked themselves down on our lap then proceeded to snot and sneeze all over, and the children had to have grace for us and our very broken Spanish. One of my favourite quotes from the book I mentioned earlier is “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”  God’s love for us and for the children is unconditional. And we were blessed to be able to share that this week.

-Kari on behalf of Guattatown

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Service Learning in Panajachel

                Hola amigos! On January 27th,  we had the opportunity to make our way to Panajachel for our very first build project! That’s not the only thing this week had in store for us though: we went zip lining, learned how to use our bartering skills in the market, took the plunge into the beautiful Lake Atitlan, and learned how to make our own tortillas (NOT as easy as you might think). This week was one full of learning and growing, much like most weeks on Outtatown. 

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Day One of the Build Project at the Job Site

                We worked with an organization called Solomon’s Porch to begin the process of building a house for a single mother and her daughter who have not had the easiest life. The mother, Natalia, and her daughter, Alaina, are the only ones left of their immediate family. There were two other children who unfortunately passed away, and the father has deserted them. Natalia has severe arthritis and is bed ridden for the most part, and twelve-year old Alaina has just completed grade one. We arrived at the job site eager to work, serve this family, and show them God’s wonderful grace. The first day we worked hard, and made good progress, however, cousins and friends of the family steadily started showing up, and so a few people took some time off their jobs to play with the children. This pattern kept continuing throughout the days, and meanwhile we were completing jobs faster than they could give them to us! By the last day we had children show up, and almost no jobs left, so we took time off to entertain the kids. At first I felt a sense of guilt, like I should be working more, doing more. However, missions work isn’t just about trying to build a house as fast as you can, by moving more cement blocks, or making more of the foundation. Its also about the relationships that are built on the job site. It’s just as important to communicate with the family, take time to know them and love them, as it is to do the manual labour involved with the job.   While the family needs the house, they also need to be shown God’s love and mercy as well.

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15-Day-Old Puppies Joined Us! 


                While this week was somewhat tiring, it was one where we had the opportunity to give rather than receive. Too often while doing things for other people we don’t put as much focus on giving as we do on what we will receive, how we will be seen, or what we get out of the experience. Philippians 2: 3-4 says ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or of vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.’ This explains very well the posture which we are to take on during service opportunities.

 

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Kayaking on Lake Atitlan

All in all, this past week as an excellent learning opportunity for all of us. Thanks so much for your support, and prayers.

 

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The most incredible view!

Adios!

-Cassidy on behalf of Site 1, Guatemala

Seeing God through Service

The word routine isn’t used very often in the Outtatown world. As a group we pride ourselves on being spontaneous, flexible, and always on the move. Yet somehow this week the Guattatown students found themselves settling into the daily routine of life in San Juan.
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Walking the streets of San Juan.

We started off our second week with our host families and spent Monday through Thursday morning at Spanish school. We were all shocked to look back on the last week and realize just how far we had already come with our Spanish. We are all trying to have conversations at home, practice our Spanish on the streets, and listen closely to any Spanish guide we have! Our first evaluation was on Thursday morning and we are all excited to get our results back once we return from our week away.
One of the new aspects of this week was Tuesday afternoon service projects. Our team was split into four groups so we could head off to various locations in the surrounding area. One group was sent to The Grandpa House, a retirement home in Antigua. The students got to play games and practice their Spanish by interacting and speaking with the residents.
The second group was thrilled to meet the students they will be helping to learn English. This group also got the opportunity to meet the mayor of Santa Catalina Barahona and have lunch with his associates. The restaurant they went to was not like your typical Canadian, or Guatemalan restaurant though. Each student got to pick a live fish from a pond and then have it fried to perfection.
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Adam and his lunch.

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Kari and her lunch.

The third group, who will be doing some construction and community service, is planned to start up during our next week in San Juan. In the meantime the students were able to join the other groups and help them out.
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Taylor and her lunch.

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The group + Louis Carlos + the Mayor.

The final group got to go to a local hospital where the majority of the residents have Cerebral Palsy (CP). The hospital building itself was beautiful. It was built last December and we heard that it is a huge improvement from the previous small location in Antigua. All of us students who went there got a tour of each floor and got to chat with some of the residents. People of all ages are currently at the hospital; from young children to abuelas and abuelos (grandma and grandpas). After our initial tour we were set free to interact with the kids. At first all of us were slightly overwhelmed. Spread throughout two rooms, over thirty kids were lying in their individual cribs. Since most of these kids have little to no mobility and speech each child required one on one attention. The majority of our group had never worked with kids who have disabilities or in any kind of medical setting. It was easy to wonder where to begin. We so desperately wanted to love on all of them but at the same time, there were only six of us. Despite the overwhelming situation we all jumped right in and set out to love, serve, and play with these beautiful people. Whether it was going for a walk in the sunshine, giving out lots of hugs, helping feed someone their dinner, or just having a simple conversation and sharing a laugh, each child got some love from our outtatown community. By the end of our three hours at the hospital we had set the foundation for what looks to be some wonderful friendships.
In situations like this, it can be easy for us to question where God is. All of these beautiful babies are left in a hospital with a limited number of caregivers. They don’t receive what is considered a typical childhood. A lot of them have families that just don’t have the means to look after them. At first, it looks like a heartbreaking situation. But if you look closer you can see God at work. We saw Jesus through the kind volunteer coordinator, the hardworking nurses, and the other volunteers we met. We got to see the joy that our kind words and time can bring. We got to experience the diversity of God’s design for human life.
Overall we all feel that God is at work not only in the CP hospital but all throughout Guatemala. As we prepare to leave San Juan and head into our new week in Panajachel we are eager to see what God will do through us and for us!
– Steph on behalf of Guattatown

San Juan del Obispo

Hola de San Juan del Obispo!
This week our group arrived in San Juan Del Obispo and had the exciting experience of meeting our host families and beginning Spanish lessons.
As we mentioned in the previous blog, we had the opportunity to visit Cerro De La Cruz (also known as Cross on The Hill) before meeting our host families! While standing on the hill you could see San Juan Del Obispo in the far left corner, and within a 20 minute drive later, we found ourselves there! We gathered in the courtyard of “Mundo Spanish School”, and one by one we were called up to take a picture and meet our host families. Immediately we were whisked away and headed home with our families to see and get settled in our new homes.
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The following day we all greeted each other excitedly as we talked about our individual experiences and our families from the night before. The school day started off with learning basic Spanish words and phrases and ended off with a piñata! The next day we were split into groups of 3 and 4 and began our Spanish lessons with our new teachers. In the afternoon, half of our group toured Antigua and bought frijoles (which are your early 2000 small T9 cellphones) while also learning about the history of the city. Antigua is a much larger city than San Juan, and is a fun, touristy place to explore, drink coffee, and try new foods. We can get to Antigua from San Juan for 2Q (about 40 cents) on the “chicken bus”, which is basically a decked-out school bus that can pack in many people! The other group toured San Juan and were introduced to chocolate factories, restaurants (specifically La Taberna, which seems to be the hot spot to hang out).
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On Tuesday the groups switched in the afternoon: one went to Antigua and the other stayed in San Juan.
On Wednesday, we had or fist small group meetings in Guatemala where each group took on there own adventure. Thursday after school we met up with our PMG (peer mentoring group).  Some groups went to Antigua for lunch while others stayed in San Juan to talk over coffee. PMGs are a good time to have some independence from the rest of the group. We have some freedom to make our own plans. In the evening we had a night of adoración (worship) in the cool night air of the school yard.
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On Friday we had a free morning. Some students slept in, went on runs up the volcano, studied Spanish, hung out with their host families or washed their clothing in a pila. The community pilas in San Juan also seem to be a common place to find Outtatown students, ‘pila parties’ have been happening all week where the students will all do laundry together! In the afternoon we had salsa lessons with a lady who had a lot of patience and good humour regarding our dancing abilities. As a thank you for the dance lessons our group went out onto the streets and picked up garbage surrounding the church in San Juan. Overall, our week has been jam-packed, full of amazing new experiences and beautiful sites.
Hasta luego!
– Caleb & Julia, on behalf of Guattatown

Reunited & it Feels so Good!

January 8th 2017: the day we would be all together again after a whole month apart! This day included a 4am plane ride for the Winnipeg students… rise and shine! Once we hit Houston after a couple flights, we were reunited at last, all 17 of us students and 4 leaders (one, Alanna, who is new to us!) were a whole team again.

After arriving in the Guatemala airport around 11:30pm, we went outside and met our new form of transportation. Gone was Trudy, our faithful 15-passenger van from first semester, and here was Bruce, a bright yellow school bus. We drove for about 45 minutes through the dark streets from Guatemala City to San Pedro, a town just between Antigua and our future home of San Juan del Obispo!

We arrived in Guatemala late in the evening and it was too dark to see anything. Waking up in the morning the next day felt like Christmas morning. Seeing Guatemala in the light was absolutely breathtaking! Volcanoes, cobblestone roads, fruit trees and vibrant plants and flowers surrounded us.

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Guattatown 2016/17

To say second semester started with a bang is a bit of an understatement! It was our first full day in San Pedro, and we were all sitting outside having a session when a tree fell on the porch of the house! We ran out from under the porch. Thankfully everyone was okay, but we weren’t able to stay there anymore, so we relocated to a hotel just down the street. Our new accommodations had a sitting area on the roof with a beautiful view of the city below, and the volcano Fuego in the distance. We are still praying for the first home that we stayed in though as it is being repaired. We are looking forward to staying there again at the end of the semester for debrief!

One of the highlights from this time was going on the roof after it got dark and in the distance seeing the volcano spew out lava from the little eruptions (remember an active volcano that has little eruptions is better than one without!). Our time in San Pedro was spent having sessions to prepare us for the next 3 months, learning the basics of Spanish, and getting accustomed to living in a new country. For example, we quickly learned that it’s important to ask someone who has been in Guatemala before to teach you how to use the shower. If you don’t, it will most likely be freezing cold (some of us learned this the hard way). We also learned that tortillas can, and will, go with everything.

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After our orientation days, we moved to Guatemala City. We visited the elaborate National Palace of Culture, which is a building made of 100% Guatemalan materials! We saw the Monument of Peace, which includes two left hands representing a truce between both sides of the civil war conflict. Two left hands are symbolic, we learned, because your left hand is closer to your heart. A white rose is held in between the hands to represent peace. This was meaningful for us after learning about the injustices and brutality of the civil war in Guatemala. We had the opportunity to learn about the war from the MCC Guatemala Rep. We also visited the Guatemala City dump. In Guatemala, 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Hundreds of Guatemalans live and work in a dump sorting trash to make a small amount of money. Some of these families who work in the dump have lived and worked there for many generations. Many of us students were struck with sadness and compassion when we saw the working and living conditions of the dump that is a reality for so many Guatemalans. We were encouraged to learn about efforts to provide education and support for those individuals, and are looking forward to learning more when we work with these organizations come March.

Our group has a better understanding of Guatemalan culture, history, and the people after our short time in Guatemala City!

As our first Sunday came, we packed up our bags and headed to Antigua. Antigua is about an hour drive from Guatemala City, and it is 15 minutes away from San Juan and our host families. Even though we all loved living together again, we were so excited for the opportunity to live alone with new families.

Our time in Antigua started by taking a shuttle partway up a mountain to go to church. We had headsets that translated the sermon from Spanish to English, but we could sing along to the songs in Spanish really well. Then we headed back down in the shuttle and had lunch in Antigua. Options included: sandwiches, crepes, bagels, tacos, etc. You can find everything in Antigua from pancakes to pasta, sushi to salsa, and McDonald’s to Little Caesars pizza.

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Afterwards we headed to the Cerro de la Cruz, or the Cross on the Hill. This is one of the most famous spots in Antigua, and shows an amazing panoramic view of the city and the 3 volcanoes that surround it: Fuego, Agua, and Acetenango.

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Then, finally, it was time to head to San Juan and meet our new families. Nervous excitement doesn’t even begin to describe what we were feeling. On one hand, we couldn’t wait to meet our families and get settled in. On the other hand, the only words most of us knew in Spanish were hello (hola!), thank you (gracias), and where is the bathroom (donde esta el baño?). The next morning was filled with stories of wins – “I was able to talk to my family!” – and losses – “but I had no idea what they were asking me!” Needless to say, we were all very eager to start Spanish school so we could learn more.

Hasta luego! (See you later!)

– Shelby and Heather, on behalf of Guattatown 

Steve Klassen – Listening to God

On Sunday October 30th the male students woke up from their short sleep at 5:30am to jump into the vans and make the 2 hour drive to reunite with the female students after being separated for guys/girls week. After many hugs, stories and goodbyes the South Africa and Guatemala sites parted ways and made the their seperate treks to their seperate camp destinations near Hope BC. Our site pulled into the beautiful camp Kawkawa at around 8:30pm and got settled in before crashing for the night after the long day on the road.

The next morning everyone piled into the dining hall for breakfast in their Halloween costumes ready for a fun day. After breakfast we were called downstairs by the incredible sound of a trumpet being played extremely well. We walked into our classroom space to find Steve Klassen playing away on his trumpet. We all found our seat and became focused on our instructor for the week as he captivated us with an amazing tune to start off our day, but even though the trumpet was amazing we quickly learned that it wasn’t what we were going to be learning about that week. As the song finished Steve put his trumpet away and got right to the point. He introduced himself and told us this week we were going to be listening for God’s voice. He told us right away that he couldn’t promise we would hear God but he was fairly certain we would at least get some good teachings this week and he wasn’t wrong one bit. Our sessions that Monday morning and afternoon were focused on finding God’s voice through the scriptures and through stories and writing in the book Steve and his wife Evy wrote together. We each got a copy of Steve’s book and were encouraged to go through it as we went through the week to find how the different types of stories related to us finding God’s voice.

When we went to the scriptures we found ourselves in the gospels of Matthew and Mark and for the most part looking at many of the different inspiring verses and stories that were contained within the books. We looked at the many ways that Jesus listens for God and then how he teaches that back to the people. Some of these ways included going and praying in a solitary place or just simply asking God to give him the words to say. As we continued to look further we found that these things related to our lives a little as well in the sense that prayer and silence are extremely important tools for some to hear God’s voice. Another thing we focused on that Monday was a specific poem in Steve’s book called “My Rule For Life” by Doreen Kostynuik. This poem hit home for quite a few people in the room because of the flow of the poem and how it portrayed our relationship with God and with Jesus. The poem started by telling the reader to follow Jesus around the scriptures and watch how he interacts with his surroundings, the people, and with himself and God. Next the poem went on to instruct the reader to let Jesus look at you, touch, hold, and heal you and to be present with you. Then the poem told us to become all of those things we let Jesus do to us. We read over this poem many times in many different ways and by the end everyone had taken at least one thing from the poem that was sent significant to them. Steve then instructed us to take whatever we had found and sit with it in prayer and bring it before God. This activity gave us a taste into what was to come in the next teachings ahead of us.

Tuesday everyone put their costumes from Halloween away and came back ready to go for another day of sessions with Steve. We were told on Monday that today we were going to get some insight on what to do on our silent day which would be happening on Wednesday. The South Africa site had told us a few stories about their silent day experiences and quite a few of us were excitedly anticipating this session to lead us the next day. We got what we were looking for because Tuesday we went through Steve’s book and touched a little bit on each of the ways to listen for God’s voice. The five ways in the book were Listening to God: through scripture, at work around us, through our hearts, in silence and solitude, and in community. We had touched on scripture on Monday so we went on to talk about God at work around us. Steve lead us through a few stories from his book and got us to pick out where God was at work in the people’s lives in the story. After we had had a bit of practice at this he got us to look back into our lives and find a specific moment where we found God had been working in our lives. When we had found one he got us to look more deeply at the experience which helped us to see more ways that God had been working in our lives. After everyone had a good experience in this activity Steve guided us on to trying to listen for God through out hearts and lead us through a few different ways to pray and open ourselves to God and put everything else to the side. We practiced a few meditations that he encouraged us to remember and try in solitude on our silent day that was quickly approaching. This lead us into listening to God through silence and solitude which was perfect because it helped many of us in the silent day the next day. We went over some different ways to look and listen for God in silence and it gave our group a little more confidence going into the next day because most of our group isn’t usually that quiet so we were all looking at a day without talking as being a pretty big challenge. We ended the day here after a bit more instruction on how to go about our silent day and then Steve left us with one last encouragement for the next day.

Everyone got up and came to breakfast the next morning talking as much as they could because at 9:00am the leaders got up and made a few announcements and then told us the silent day had begun. Everyone dispersed to do whatever they either had or hadn’t planned for the day. We all gathered back at the dining hall for lunch and ate in an awkward silence the entire time and then got back up and headed out to do whatever we had or hadn’t planned once again. At 4:30pm everyone gathered back at the dining hall in the couch area to debrief the day. We all went around the circle and shared how we had or hadn’t seen or heard God through the things that we had done throughout the day. These are a few brief accounts from students on what they experienced through their day of silence.

“I found that God lead me through the entire day. I started with a prayer asking God where I should go and when I started walking around I found whenever I came to a spot where I needed to decide which turn to take God sent a sign like a small bird or a fish jumping out of the water to guide me in the direction I needed to go. I was lead to the top of a tree to pray and into a creek to meditate. God was with me the entire day and I could feel him inside me protecting and guiding me and talking to me the entire day. I learned that God is always with me and that I need to sometimes just stop being so busy with life and let God take control and lead me to a place to just be with him and not be distracted by anything else.”

“Silent day was a very humbling experience for me!  I started my day off with huge plans, and a schedule to keep me preoccupied. I came into the day with high expectations and a real urge to hear from God.. However God didn’t reveal himself to me in the way I wanted, but more so in a way I needed. God spoke to me and said “Be at rest my soul”  and just be still and enjoy me. Through this experience I realized the busyness of life is a huge hindrance in hearing from God, and if I want to hear from God I need to silence myself before him and sit in his presence.”

Through Steve’s week with us our group picked up some valuable lessons about how to better communicate with God and listen to how He is working in our lives. And even though everyone had different experiences throughout the week it’s pretty safe to say the everyone learned something from this week either about themselves or about their relationship with God. We were extremely honoured to have Steve Klassen with us for an amazing week of learning and are very thankful that he was able to grace us with his vast knowledge of scripture and great teachings on listening for God’s voice. This will be a week that is remembered by our site group for many years to come.

Site 1 Guatemala

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Early evening on the shore of Lake Kawkawa

Girls Week!

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All the gals from Site 1!

Hola Amigos! We’re a little late on this one but I’m here to tell you all about our Girls Week. On October 23 we made our way from Redberry Bible Camp in Saskatchewan to Rivers Edge in Alberta! Here we met up with the girls from the second Outtatown site, South Africa. This was a very exciting time for many students from Manitoba and Ontario who had not seen mountains before! Going into this was also a little bit of a culture shock. Our site consists of 17 students, as well as 3 leaders, and when we met up with South Africa, we realized that they have more girls than we have students! This took a little getting used to. However, soon fast friendships were formed as they welcomed us to the camp they had been staying at for the last week.

Our speaker this week was Darlene Enns-Dyck. Our overarching theme for the week was purity in the eyes of Jesus, and what purity really is. We really delved into difficult topics such as purity rings, sex before marriage, and what it really means to be clean. She brought up the idea of cleanliness being deeper than we envision it, and how Jesus is always redefining purity. She was certainly a speaker we won’t forget.

When we weren’t sitting in sessions, our lovely leaders planned some great activities for us! We had wrestling championships, went on a hike at Lake Louise, did some Holy Yoga (instructed by Alison Goerzen), a spa night with some well-deserved pampering, and went into Calgary to tackle some escape rooms! We also put together 25 or so questions for the guys to answer. We asked them about everything from how often they completely zone out, to what they think of girls who’ve had sex before marriage, and what they think of how the Bible describes a Man’s role. In return, the guys also asked us some questions which we answered. This was a challenging time as we dove into how women are oppressed in today’s society, and shared our own stories.

Girls week was one of the most beneficial weeks that we have had as a community, as we took time to connect with each other, and got some time away from the guy’s crazy shenanigans! We learned a lot, laughed a lot, and grew together, and found excellent friends in the South Africa site. We will certainly cherish these times forever.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Site One Guatemala

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The girls from both the Guatemala and South Africa Sites at Lake Louise.