Seeking God in small spaces and big cities

By Grace Jones

To start off the week back at Camp Squeah we participated in various camp work projects including lots of raking, splitting and stacking wood, and random jobs around the camp. It may have been cold, wet, and raining, but we made the most of it by singing songs and doing RWPI’s (random work project interruptions). To end our camp service days off on a high note, we witnessed two of our Squeah’s staff get engaged. It was a very exciting way to end the night!IMG_3410

Wednesday was the day that brought about most mixed feelings. Some were very excited, nervous and/or unsure. We were going caving. I would like to clarify that this is not what you may be thinking of your typical “exploring caves” activity. We were in Talus caves – the small tunnels formed between and underneath the boulders that pile up at the bottom of mountains. We were exploring, but through spaces that, at first glance, you didn’t think your body could fit through. We were surrounded by broken rock with only our headlamps for light. Lets just say that I have never been so happy to see sunlight at the end of it. This was definitely not the easiest activity for everyone, but in my opinion (as someone who HATES small spaces) it was worth it. The way teams worked together to encourage and support one another was incredible. Watching those who overcame fears and claustrophobia was inspiring. Finally, the feeling of exiting the cave, with your team, knowing that you did it together was such an empowering moment. This is one of the best team building activities I have ever done, and I would highly recommend it!

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There were also some pretty sweet life lessons that came out of it. Just as in the cave there are many possible paths to get to the final goal, we were reminded that life offers us many different but equally valuable paths. We don’t always know what the right path is, so we have to take the risk to explore. Even though this may bring a time of uncertainty, going through challenging ups and downs makes us stronger as we know that God will be there through it all, cheering us on.IMG_3418

We ended off Wednesday by playing Outtatown’s annual ball hockey game against the Squeah staff. Despite the intense competition on the court and organized cheers from the bench, Squeah staff ultimately came out on top. Nevertheless, it was a great way to end the day.

On Thursday we began to learn about our second semester destination – Guatemala! It is sureal that this semester is quickly coming to an end and that we are already preparing for Guatemala! We were introduced to some of the work we will be doing second semester, including volunteering at a variety of organizations and building a family home. We have been asked to raise $7000 collectivity as a group to pay for supplies and various costs to support the organizations we will be working with. We began to send out letters to start fundraising. We were also introduced to our Guatemala Research Projects which is a way we are learning more and teaching our fellow students about life in South America. Finally, Dave led us in a beginner Spanish lesson. Thursday was a busy day as we also enjoyed celebrating the birthdays of Tana and Elaina!

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This past weekend we drove to Abbotsford where we met up with our “guide” for the weekend, Jay Janzen, at his home church Highland Community. Throughout the weekend, we visited a total of 7 churches, experiencing a wide variety of denominations that many of us, coming from Mennonite Brethren backgrounds, had never experienced before. This included a home church, a Catholic Mass, a Multi-campus Mennonite Brethren Church, an Intercultural Mennonite Brethren service, a United Contemplative Church and an Anglican prayer service. Growing a broader understanding of Anabaptist Mennonite, learning the similarities and differences of other denominations has been an eye opening experience of realizing the diversity in how we, as Christians, can worship. Many of us have been empowered to continue to explore and learn about different denominations as well as bring what we have learned from this weekend back to our home churches.

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Learning and Loving in Vancity

By Grace Jones

This week we entered the big city of Vancouver, embarking on our second Urban Plunge of the semester, for which we stayed at the Ivanhoe Hotel. Many words come to mind when reflecting back on this week. Heavy-hearted, challenging, and empowering are just a few. This week was filled with many opportunities and experiences run by staff from YWAM, Vancouver.

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On Monday morning, we were greeted by Britt from YWAM; she gave us some background on the city of Vancouver,  along with information about what we were going to be doing for the day. The statistics she shared were very hard to swallow: 50% of people in Vancouver eat meal alone, making it one of the loneliest cities in the world. Only 2-3% of Vancouverites classify themselves as Christians.

We set out in groups of 3-4 with the task of learning more about the poorer part of the city, the Downtown Eastside. This was definitely a bit of a shock compared to our Winnipeg Urban Plunge because there was much more evidence of people experiencing homelessness in this area. Given the task to answer questions about the city without any cell phones, we were challenged to put ourselves out there and talk to people on the streets. As well, each group was given an extra lunch to share with someone who needed it. The stories that came out of these encounters were priceless and an excellent reminder that everyone has a story – it is just a matter whether or not you are willing to sit down and hear it.

In the afternoon, our groups travelled to Downtown Vancouver where we discussed the comparisons of these two neighbourhoods. The amount of division between the two areas was unbelievable, especially because they are only a few blocks apart. Compared to the Downtown Eastside, where needs are very evident,  Downtown first appeared to be very put together. However, through discussion and lots of observation, it was clear that there was very little sense of community in the more upscale neighbourhood. Later that night we met at a church where we watched a documentary on sex trafficking, followed by a time of reflection with several prayer stations. This was a very powerful experience that left us all feeling very moved.

The next day, we had the opportunity to visit the temples of three different religions: Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Our group really enjoyed learning about new cultures and religions through stories and experiencing the cultures first hand. Despite our differences, hearts were touched by the hospitality displayed by the Sikh Gurdwara. Here a picture was taken with our group to put in their monthly newsletter and we learned how their doors open for 20 hours a day to the public, offering somewhere to sleep and meals to eat. Entering the Buddhist culture, we were encouraged by how they valued our group, being very intentional to learn more about us and our school’s Mennonite background. Seeing the similarities between Islam and Christianity was a very neat experience as well. Overall, we came out of this afternoon with amazing takeaways. To tie into learning about new cultures, we ate at Indian and Vietnamese restaurants for dinner the next two nights; this was a delicious experience for everyone.

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We split into our small groups to visit a variety of organizations on Wednesday, doing tasks both behind the scenes and with the public. Wrapping Christmas gifts, serving meals, cleaning, and interacting with the locals were just a few of the ways we helped support local mission. Two of the small groups had the chance in the afternoon to offer free prayer on the streets of Vancouver. Despite the fear of wearing large red aprons and holding “free prayer” signs, it was a humbling experience to offer this service to the public. That night we said goodbye and thanked the staff at YWAM for an incredible week.

On Thursday, we split into more small groups, and were given a random amount of money to bless the city in anyway we chose. Groups received anywhere from $40-$100. This activity was definitely challenging at times, but extremely humbling. Despite unsatisfactory responses, such as having people reject a flower or donut because they didn’t feel they deserved it or simply wishing you had more to give, the smiles, stories, and gratitude far surpassed these hardships. It was amazing to see how much thought and effort each group put into this activity, regardless of how much money they had. Making care packages, handwritten notes of encouragement, and random acts of kindness, such as “paying it forward”, were just a few ways we were able to reach out to the community.

On our way back to Camp Squeah, we met back up with Steve Klassen at the Mark Centre to help clean up their property and do a listening to God exercise. This ended our week on a great note.

For our free weekend this weekend, students were able to choose their own adventure. This included having the opportunity to visit family and friends in the area, hike the trails of Hope, as well as relax and rejuvenate from a very busy week.

For myself, this week was filled with challenges, heartbreaking experiences and times of being overwhelmed, but the learning and growth that came out of it was life changing. It has left me with confusion of what I did to deserve the life I live and a tremendous amount of gratitude for the family I grew up in. I have been inspired to take what I have learned here in Vancouver and bring it to my hometown. Through conversations with many locals, learning about the obstacles of homelessness in the city and their passion to make a difference, I have been empowered to also make a difference. It has been an incredible reminder of the power of learning. This was a week I will always remember.

Adventures in British Columbia

 

By Elaina Wagerman

Hola, friends and family! Greetings from Site 1 Guatemala! Late Sunday night we arrived at Camp Squeah in Hope, BC. Our 13-hour road trip through the Rocky Mountains and Fraser Valley was absolutely breathtaking. The combination of the need to sleep and wanting to stay awake to absorb the surrounding beauty left us utterly exhausted when we finally got to our destination.

We began our week on Monday with our first session with Kevin and Sharon, who spoke with us about healthy Christian relationships and sexuality. Site 2 South Africa joined us for sessions, and we visited Camp Kawkawa where they were staying.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

On Tuesday, both groups split up and the women had a day of sessions with Sharon, while the men spent their day with Kevin. Between discussions about healthy sexuality and singleness, the ladies went for an epic hike up Mt. Lincoln. It was definitely challenging as a first mountain hiking experience. The forest-covered, rocky mountain was stunning, adorned with moss and hugely excellent pines. Despite the difficulty of the ascent, it was the most rewarding experience to finally summit and observe the river and neighbouring mountains from above. I’m already falling in love with the mountains, and pretty much all of British Columbia.

The adventures continued on Wednesday when we spent the afternoon mountain biking and kayaking around Kawkawa Lake, in between more sessions. Both groups spent the morning at Camp Squeah having a big group discussion; our site leaders formed a panel and answered any questions we had for them. Their wisdom and openness to share their stories and opinions was deeply appreciated. What a blessing it is to have such a diverse community of people to learn from and to have these important conversations in such an open and safe environment. In the evening, we gathered again with South Africa as one huge lively group of exhausted and enthusiastic friends and finished off our sessions with Sharon and Kevin by learning about marriage in a Christian context.

We said farewell to Camp Squeah on Thursday afternoon and departed for Copperdome Lodge near Pemberton, BC. Our site spent the weekend enjoying ourselves and having fun. We celebrated Halloween on Friday night by throwing a costume party. Everyone drew names from a hat and dressed as another person in our group. We spent the night pretending to be each other, laughing together, and eating Halloween candy.

Friday morning was kicked off by throwing ourselves off of BC’s highest bungee jumping  bridge in Whistler! Despite our fears, every single student and leader was able to jump and we all made it out alive! It was both an exhilarating and terrifying experience, although it helped to have a huge group of encouraging friends cheering me on! After a thrilling morning, we spent the rest of the day winding down in Whistler Ski Village.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Overall, this week has been so very full. Full of learning and important discussions in our sessions, full of beautiful views and excitement about exploring British Columbia for the first time, full of adventurous hikes, biking and kayaking, and most importantly full of quality time together as an Outtatown family!

Stupid Good

By Bailey Brockman

This week was filled with adventure, beauty, learning and even some much needed silence. Our group stayed at Pioneer Ranch Camp, AB, where we had the opportunity to try various camp activities and to hear from Steve Klassen, our instructor for the week.

When I say we were able to experience beauty, I mean the breathtaking beauty of our world that consistently left us in awe. Every evening, and the occasional morning, we would all gather on the docks to watch the painting-like sunsets and sunrises. If you were lucky enough, you caught glimpses of phenomenal star-lit skies and northern lights.

FullSizeRenderOn Monday, the day after arrival, class began with our spunky leader Brette. Within the “Knowing Yourself” unit, we explored the four different social styles, which ones we identify with, and exactly what that means in regards to strengths and weaknesses. Then whether we liked it or not, we participated in the sport of axe throwing… Yes, axe throwing, and yes, it’s a sport. To say the least, an embarrassing number of us should probably never attempt the sport again.

Tuesday was our first session with the dynamic Steve Klassen and his trumpet. Steve based his lessons on how to listen to God, through varying methods, personal stories, and the workbook “Your Ears will Hear”, which he and his wife constructed together.

Steve continued his teachings in and out of the classroom throughout the week and even joined some of the students in an intense basketball scrimmage, in jogging on the trails of the provincial park, and in some quality supper conversations.

Wednesday night we split into our small groups to discuss the readings for the week and apparently for some of us, to embarrass ourselves at a local open mic night.

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Then the much anticipated Thursday came. This day was a day of personal growth, recharge, and listening to God through a full day of silence. Despite the awkward clanking of forks and chewing at meal times, the silence was much needed, and everyone came back with stories and experiences to share. To end off the day, the camp held their monthly worship night for locals and campers.

Friday was our last session with Steve focused on debriefing silent day. Then we had the opportunity to go horseback riding, lead by the Pioneer Ranch Camp staff, which we were thankfully a lot better at than axe throwing.IMG_1932

The next morning, we set off on an optional hike day through Siffleur Falls where we witnessed the phenomenal beauty of creation and took any and all adventures to the fullest.FullSizeRender 2

After the 14km hike, we went swimming in Abraham Lake because who wouldn’t want to jump in glacier water in October?

Saturday night we cleaned camp and packed up the memories we made here in Alberta to head off to British Columbia early the next morning. What’s better than a 12-hour roady through the Rocky Mountains with 27 friends?

So yeah, too sum it up, this week was “stupid good” with a great balance between adventure and learning about God. Many of us will hold aspects of this week close in our hearts, as it was an opportunity to grow personally and spiritually, all the while, experiencing creation and building further friendships.

 

Redberry, Theology and Faith in Action

By Kaley Fehr

Last Saturday, we woke up from our last sleep at transitional housing in Winnipeg to snow on the ground. There were some mixed reactions to the snow, and the early morning, but we had a long cozy ride across the prairies to Redberry Bible Camp. For those of us from Saskatchewan, it felt a lot like coming home. By the time we got to camp it was dark, we enjoyed a hearty lentil soup and crawled into our cabins for the night. The next morning, we traveled to Hepburn, Saskatchewan, where we were welcomed into Tana’s church. Tana was honoured to take us around her hometown and invite us into her home. Even for me, growing up only one town over, it was a meaningful day to bring my new Outtatown family so close to my old home and life. The group really appreciated the comfort of being in a home and an afternoon filled with farm yard adventure.IMG_7470

Monday we began our classes on theology with Rod Schellenberg and Stephanie Christianson. The sessions went through to Wednesday, and we covered a small intro to theology, the nature of sin, the trinity, how we are rescued in Christ and sharers in God’s life, ecclesiology and how we will be heirs with Christ. It was a great opportunity for all of us to dig deeper and reflect on what we believe and why. It was important to recognize how much our beliefs, ideas and opinions are rooted in the family culture we were raised in. Hearing from varying beliefs and opinions was a good reminder to consider other people’s views and backgrounds. Many good questions came up that we were able to discuss with one another.20171016115048_IMG_5546

The camp is in a beautiful location by a lake and some rare Saskatchewan hills. There were many possibilities for our free time, with a skate park, horses to visit, a gym and lots of trails to explore. One night the group was taken on a hayride behind a tractor to a fire pit by the water where we had s’mores and campfire singing. Another evening we had the opportunity to join the Hepburn youth group and play laser tag at Bethany College.20171014_162947

Thursday and Friday we spent with MCC in Saskatoon. We learned a lot about the organization, what they stand for and how they are taking action in the name of Christ to bring relief, development and peace to those in need around the world. MCC is also present within Saskatoon, one of their areas of focus being Appleby neighbourhood where they hope to foster connectedness amongst the inner-city community. We spent some time discussing needs-based and assets-based approaches to relevant issues in “core” neighbourhoods – all within the apartment room where children gather for kids club. Back at MCC we took part in some simulations to help us better understand the lives of immigrants/refugees – both their journey and integration into Canadian society. At the end of one of the simulations we spent time in prayer over some blankets that will soon be delivered to individuals staying in refugee camps. This was a powerful experience as it connected us to those whose lives we were learning about.Resized_20171021202507_IMG_5673

This week caused us to think more critically about our faith and how we can apply it. We are ready to face the mountains as we head west into Alberta for our next week.

 

What comfort zone?

By Bailey Brockman

Being one month into program, Site 1 – Guatemala has been adjusting to our unique community life. Some have conquered this challenge very quickly, while others have had a more difficult journey. Regardless, we’ve all struggled at times, and still do, but have grown as not only a community, but as a family.

This week, our site had the opportunity to do our first Urban Plunge in downtown Winnipeg. We set up camp in both One88 Princess (a church-run drop-in centre for homeless people) and transitional housing. We had the chance to meet with Levi and Karissa from MB Mission, who told us stories and helped us prepare for the week ahead. Comfort zones were, to say the least, challenged one way or another. For some, navigating around the city streets with a sheet of directions and a map is both frightening and unfamiliar. For those of us used to city life, this wasn’t as much of a problem; however, being told to intentionally interact with those around them, specifically those experiencing homelessness, was not something they were typically used to or felt comfortable doing. Despite what previous exposure we have had to both city life and homelessness, we were pushed to broaden our comfort levels, leading to a great amount of personal growth.

Being in the North End, which is perceived as the “sketchy” part of town, was a great learning opportunity which not only changed the perspectives of those in our group from Winnipeg, but allowed everyone to pass further judgement towards a specific area, or group of people, etc.

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On Wednesday and Thursday, the group was split up, all going to different organizations and missions including, Walls of Freedom Church, Siloam Mission, Flatlanders, The Union Gospel Mission, IRCOM, and the Provincial courts. Students had the chance to work behind the scenes by sorting through clothing, preparing food for the next meal, or cleaning the facility. Others were able to serve through engaging in conversation and personally interacting with those experiencing homelessness and less fortunate people who were attending. The impact these two days had on our group was phenomenal. Everyone came back with stories about the new people they had met that day or the things they had experienced. One student had “such a change of heart and perspective in a 20 minute conversation” in which they learned to be open minded and free of judgement. Another group of students were told by a homeless man to not worry about tomorrow’s anxieties (Matthew 6:34) which couldn’t hold more meaning coming from anyone else.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetFurther, our time in downtown Winnipeg has really shown the group how much we have previously taken for granted. With Thanksgiving just passed, it was the perfect time to reflect on what it is that we are thankful for. It is sort of funny what we have learned to appreciate being on program for the last month. Due to our constant moving and sleeping in a new place typically every week, you learn to love the little things. For example, how close the nearest bathroom is, a hot shower, foot deodorant and dry shampoo when showers are just not an option, and even a little shelf to call your own.

Overall, we are all experiencing life in its realest state, and being thrown into uncomfortable situations so frequently has become, ironically enough, comfortable. This has altered our definition of what a comfort zone is. So much so, I wonder when we return to what we consider our regular lives, if we will find comfort in that at all.

Remembrance and Reconciliation at Roseau River

By Grace Jones, Abby Willms andBailey Brockman

This week was full of learning and engaging in culture. We had the privilege of being welcomed into several sacred ceremonies such as the pipe ceremony, smudging, and a sweat lodge. Our host for the week was Colleen – she made us feel welcome and introduced us to several sacred grounds. She also shared with us some of her personal journey – talking about her experience at residential school and how that has shaped her life since. We had the opportunity to interact with four generations throughout our stay on the reserve – each offering a different perspective and different insight into life in Roseau River. The eldest of the four generations was Peter who taught us the history of colonialism as well as origin stories of creation, the sweat lodge, language and the clan systems.

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Not only did they offer us their wisdom and stories, they also extended incredible hospitality as they prepared daily meals for us and welcomed us to stay overnight in one of their lodges – this was the first time an Outtatown group has stayed on the reserve. The idea of being offered forgiveness and unity despite broken relationships and past injustice towards Indigenous peoples was something that impacted and inspired the group. Many hearts were touched by their hospitality and kindness and were inspired to show such kindness in our future interactions.

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Listening to the stories of several residential school survivors was a powerful and heartbreaking experience that changed our perception of Canada’s history. All coming in with different knowledge, backgrounds, and views on reserve life, hearing firsthand stories challenged some preconceived notions. While some of the realities that indigenous people face are heartbreakingly unjust, the resilience and wisdom we saw was inspiring and displayed the strength of the community and cultures foundation. As Peter’s story came to a close, he spoke of what the word reconciliation means to him and what it would take to begin to heal. This lead to several group members feeling called to express heartfelt apologies on behalf of themselves and those they felt they represented in the colonial narrative. This was an emotional time and one of connectedness.

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The combination of participating in ceremony, listening to elders, and witnessing such kindness and hospitality moved us and touched our hearts deeply. Overall, this culture has so much to offer and has so many great life lessons for all nations. It deserves to be practiced and preserved. Many misconceptions were put to rest and truth was found in the beauty of the culture.

It was an honour to be welcomed into the Anishinabe community of Roseau River – we will cherish their culture, kindness and teachings which have allowed us to learn and grow in incredible ways.