Feliz Dia

By Bailey Brockman

Hola chicos and chicas!

We are officially one month into our adventures of second semester! Being in a foreign country for this period of time has resulted in various stages of adjusting to culture, a few unwanted stomach bugs (don’t worry moms, I assure you we are being careful and getting looked after), and a whole lot of memories!

We had a full weekend of two volcano hikes and individually meeting with our visitors J. and Andrea.  Following that we eagerly dove into our third week of Spanish classes in hopes of miraculously becoming fluent, and eliminating the somewhat awkward encounters that a language barrier brings when immersed in a foreign culture.

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Monday started the many festivities this week held; the most obvious being the day of love, or as we know it, Valentine’s Day.  We were challenged by our leaders to take some time and possibly a little PMG budget to spread some love. To all of our delight, 3 of our boys decided to surprise everyone on Tuesday morning before class with individually wrapped bouquets of flowers, a smile and simple message of “we love you” as an early Valentine’s Day gift.

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This was only the beginning of a week of celebrations. Not only did Tuesday mark the day before Valentine’s Day, but it was also Carnival day (a tradition in South and Central America, celebrating the beginning of Lent); and to top it off, my host mom’s birthday.

The vibe one gets when it comes to celebrations in Guatemala is “go big or go home,” with a whole lot of confetti and fireworks. To say the least, this week brought a lot of “happy days” filled with hugs, gifts, school carnivals, and more confetti – leaving my host family no other option than to have a party! My new cousin Tana and I (our host moms are sisters) had the incredible opportunity to be part of a birthday party “done right” where we preceded to smash confetti-filled eggs (pica-pica) over each other’s heads for a hour. In addition, the group of us teaching English as our independent service project was able to witness the high school’s extravagant carnival.

To our surprise, the celebrations didn’t end there.  Wednesday (Valentine’s Day) was Ash Wednesday and the day that the Antigua soccer team beat Guatemala City 3 to 2, which our whole group also had the amazing opportunity see. Showing up in green to support our closest city, Antigua, we were welcomed without a question to the full stands of crazy fans.

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Fun fact: The Antigua team is know as Panzas Verdes which translates to Green Bellies.  This name originates solely from the fact that they eat too many avocados, which explains why their mascot is an avocado with a face on it.

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After this very full week of learning, celebrations, and cultural activities, we were more than ready for the weekend where half of the group headed to Lanquin for an adventurous, relaxing weekend and the other half to Santiago Lago Atitlan.

Ultimately, coming out of this week, I have learnt how to celebrate Guatemalan style, that glitter never really comes out of your hair, and that we as an Outtatown group have been so graciously welcomed into this country’s culture.  Regardless of my rudimentary Spanish and the fact that I’m basically a stranger, my host family continues to treat me like part of the family.  I am so grateful to be surrounded by such amazing people on this journey and for the experiences and adventures had and yet to come.

Until next time!

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He Guides Our Feet

 

By Sabrina Blank

Coming back to San Juan del Obispo for our second week with our homestays brought feelings of returning home for many of us. Following our week in Panajachel we were all quite exhausted from the past week’s activities and heavily anticipated the rest we knew would come from sleeping in familiar beds.

The first four days of the week were spent in our Spanish classes where the language was finally starting to click for some of us. With the knowledge that we would be having an exam on Thursday motivating us, we all poured ourselves into our studies. Many of us have been using what we learn in our class time to continue to strengthen our relationship with our host families and better our communication with them.IMG_7696

Another one of the amazing things we had going on this past week was our first day of service projects! I have been blessed with the opportunity to volunteer at a cerebral palsy hospital just outside of San Juan del Obispo. In the brief time I spent there it became swiftly apparent that God’s love was everywhere. I saw it in the staff’s compassion, in the residents’s beaming smiles, and in the volunteers’s eagerness to serve others.IMG_7214

Over the weekend we were given the opportunity to climb two volcanoes. On Friday morning our entire group piled into a van and headed from San Juan del Obispo to the base of Volcan de Pacaya. Upon arrival a small group of us (including myself) mounted the horses that we had earlier decided to utilize on our trek. With twenty-seven Outtatowners, our two guests, our two guides, multiple other horse riders, and two dogs trailing behind us our group was a steady force making our way upward. The further along we went in our journey the better we were able to see the vast beauty of Guatemala splayed out in front of us. As we neared the top we reached a brief plateau in the volcano’s ever-sloping frame where a shop was located. Sold at this “Lave Shop” is a variety of hand-made jewellery products that contained repurposed igneous rock, which is cooled and hardened lava. We were also given the opportunity to take advantage of a natural “hotspot” and roast marshmallows over a field of still hot igneous rocks. Once we were finished taking in the panoramic views at the highest point in our hike we were still only half done our adventure. Our trip down was much faster than our walk up, thanks to something called scree running. Scree running is relatively simple. At its root you are just running down a hill, in this case a volcano, as fast as you can. Trusting that the small loose rocks under your feet will cushion your steps, much like running through sand does. It was an exhilarating way to make our descent and left many of us breathless, in the best way.

This week, when we were not studying, volunteering, and/or hiking, we were encouraged to take time to meet with J. and Andrea Janzen. For those of you who regularly read the blog there is a chance that you may remember J. and Andrea from first semester in Canada. For those of you who don’t, we got the opportunity to spend a few days with J. last semester during our church visit experience in Vancouver. It was during this time we got to experience seven churches within three days. J. and Andrea have been coming to Guatemala for a week in second semester for many years now. The purpose behind their visits is to offer outside pastoral support to those of us in the program and remind us of the support we have outside of our Outtatown community. For many of us our meetings were a time of encouragement and reflection on all that we have been learning in these past busy weeks.

 

Building Relationships

By Kaley FehrIMG_7102

Last Friday we traveled to Panajachel, a city on the edge of the beautiful Lake Atitlan. We began the week by getting an awesome landscape view from above the trees on a zip line. The rest of the week was dedicated to working with Solomon’s Porch, building a home for a local Kaqchikel family, but more importantly we were there to build relationships. The family was incredibly welcoming, very grateful to us for coming and showed great hospitality throughout the week.

 

Together we worked hard and got a lot done. We moved bricks, wood, and dirt. We dug a three metre hole, dug trenches, and poured concrete. We even chopped cinder blocks in half with machetes. Nevertheless, we also spent time with the family’s kids. All of them loved to play soccer; even the neighbouring kids came to join for a game during our lunch breaks. They were also eager to help out in any way they could to contribute to the building of their home. The father, Juan, worked hardest of us all, always with a smile on his face. Before leaving, a few friends and I sat down with some of the kids and shared a memorable moment teaching each other words from our native languages. To end our last day of dirty construction work we cleaned off with a water fight. Spending our last moments together in laughter, we dumped buckets of water on anyone who wasn’t fast enough to get away.

 

Leaving was more emotional then I had first anticipated. Words couldn’t express the gratitude each member of the family had, and for us as well, as they had taught us so much about love and thankfulness. With this project we were left feeling like we had made a real impact. It was an honour to be the first group and lay the foundation. Knowing that there are people living in worse living conditions than us and seeing it first hand are always two very different things. Going out with the purpose to serve, we learned how much of an impact even a small action can make. This was made particularly clear when we had the opportunity to go look at a completed house built previously by Solomon’s Porch and compare it to the family’s former house. Porch does their best to help each family they work with to establish a sustainable way for them to support themselves. Their impact is widespread and long-lasting. In total this week of work was a meaningful and memorable experience. After an emotional goodbye, we took photos and now await news of the home’s completion.

 

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The weekend was spent at a ‘hippies paradise’, a hostel called La Iguana Perdida across Lake Atitlan. We enjoyed our free weekend with swimming, hiking, morning yoga, and delicious meals…even salsa dancing for some of us. It was nice being back in community living and having some freedom to explore. It was a refreshing way to enter back into Spanish classes and life in San Juan del Obispo.

New Homes, New Lessons

By Abby Willms

Hello all!

The second week in Guatemala was one that stretched and pushed our group – each in unique ways. It was a week of unknowns and with that came understandable anxieties, questions and uncertainties. As we have all become well aware of (and I’m sure many of you at home have as well), Outtatown is not a program that shies away from encouraging each and every student to push themselves and to look for opportunities that inspire growth or present opportunity to learn – whether it be personal growth, spiritual growth or the growth of our worldviews (or, as so often happens on Outtatown, all three in one!).

As Sunday rolled around and we left our gracious hosts at Semilla, there was much excitement in the air, however, there was also a distinct presence of anxiety that accompanied leaving both a comfortable place and the comfort of the group setting we had grown so accustomed to – both in first semester and the first week in Guatemala. This was a time where we were invited to sit in the inevitable awkwardness and discombobulation that would ensue both from the absence of the group and the presence of a new family – a family we knew little about except that they would speak only Spanish. As we gathered at the Mundo Spanish school in San Juan del Obispo and saw the smiling faces of 25 kind, welcoming host families, the muddled anxious/excited feeling turned to one of mostly excitement. We sat down in the grass, and one by one were called to meet our host families. We were all so grateful for the friendly smiles, hugs and photos that greeted us.IMG_4194

My host mom, host sister and her cousin had come to meet me and walk me home. They insisted on carrying my monstrosity of a bag – which gave us much reason for laughter on the way home (thank goodness laughter is a universal language!). While I struggled immensely to come up with even one coherent sentence on the walk home, they were incredibly gracious and even without being able to communicate verbally, I felt comfortable and at home. That evening as I settled into my new room and met the rest of the family – including several aunts and uncles, two grandparents, three cousins, my host brother and sister, host parents and their dog – I was overwhelmed and so incredibly thankful for their hospitality, something I will never forget.

The next morning we met back at the school and exchanged stories of the previous night – most of which included embarrassing Spanish mistakes, laughter, yummy food and the overarching theme of generosity and incredible hospitality. Following the quick exchange of stories, it was time to meet our Spanish teachers and start orientation – which included fun games, introduction to some basic phrases and an interview that helped them sort us into learning groups for subsequent days.

The following days were ones of adjustment and exploration. Each morning we met at the school for four hours of Spanish instruction and each afternoon we partook in activities that helped us learn more about both San Juan and Antigua and practice the Spanish we were learning in class– both through formal tours and through simply walking the cobblestone streets and returning the welcoming smiles and “buenos tardes” that others so willingly shared with us. I think I can speak for the group when I say this was a week that stretched us but also provided immense opportunity to be grateful and to celebrate the gift of relationship and community.

First Week in Guatemala

By Ryan Hopko and Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family!

After many flights, both the Toronto and Winnipeg groups reconnected in Atlanta, and arrived in Guatemala City! We collected our luggage and piled onto our big yellow school bus and began driving to San Pedro, a suburb of Antigua. Our hosts at Luis Carlos’ ministry centre provided us with a lovely snack, and we all went to sleep. We woke up and finally saw our surroundings in daylight. Three volcanoes surrounded us and the garden was filled with orange trees, avocado trees, and beautiful blooming flowers. At 6:30 am I had already fallen in love with the beauty of Guatemala. We ate breakfast all together in the garden and then gathered to share our breaks and reconnect as a group. After lunch we explored the city of San Pedro, visited our first tienda, explored the church and city square, and walked the cobblestone calles and aviendas.

On Tuesday afternoon we visited an exotic animal rescue centre in Antigua where we had the opportunity to hold several snakes! When I heard “exotic animals” I pictured something slightly different, maybe involving some pretty birds or a sloth even. Although, it was a very rewarding experience to come in contact with an animal I had always been taught to be afraid of. After more orientation sessions preparing us for the culture of Guatemala, we had an entertaining evening playing board games and hanging around in the hammocks.

Early Thursday morning we left for Guatemala City in the school bus. We arrived at the Anabaptist Seminary where we stayed for the rest of the week. We began with an introduction to Semilla’s ministry. Then we had a session with Hector Castaneda who spoke about Guatemalan history and culture. We visited the National Palace, Cathedral, and markets around Zone 1 of Guatemala City. In the evening we watched a documentary titled “Recycled Life” about the garbage dump that we would visit the next day. On Friday morning we began with a panel session about the religious demographics in Guatemala. We heard from a Mennonite, Pentecostal, Catholic, and Mayan spiritual leader. Afterwards we visited an exhibition titled “Why We Are the Way We Are” that discussed racial discrimination, some significant historical events which shaped the current political situation, and information about the Mayan people groups in Guatemala. After enjoying a delicious lunch at Café Imeri, we visited the necropolis and garbage dump.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

What stood out to me most was seeing the elaborate Castillo family grave in the necropolis, a family which owns a large percentage of Guatemala’s wealth and owns entire industries within the country. The grave was made of massive stone blocks in the form of a pyramid, engraved in an ancient Egyptian style, meant to portray this family as pharaohs. Just metres away was the largest garbage dump in Central America, where hundreds of “guajaros” (or garbage dump workers) spent hours everyday sifting through mountains of the city’s waste to make a living. They collected and sold the objects that were discarded as trash by the 6 million people of Guatemala City. The dump was so dangerous that we were not permitted to enter, and instead looked from above. Hundreds of huge black vultures filled the sky and circled the commotion going on down below, smoke billowed from the trash as the gas it emitted caught on fire, garbage dump trucks came and went, even an ambulance came to help a worker who was injured in the dump. We watched the many workers climb, sort, and collect the garbage below. Later we visited a shopping metropolis area called Calaya. The contrast between these areas was shocking. Calaya was saturated with consumerism, luxury, and complete extravagance. We toured luxury apartments, browsed ridiculously expensive clothing stores, and bought fancy gelato.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The level of visible economic disparity between these two areas was unsettling. It made me think about a statistic that Hector Castaneda shared; that only 20% of Guatemala’s population live in what is defined as “economic stability”, while 60% live in poverty earning approximately $2 USD a day, and the other 20% live in “extreme poverty” earning less than $1 USD a day. I thought about families like the Castillo family, the 10% of the population who owns 86% of the country’s wealth and land. What sort of corruption allows this inequality? And most importantly how do the choices we make as a society and as consumers allow such a difference between the rich and the poor. Many of us realized that the issues we learned about this week in Guatemala are not unique to this country. Especially the issues of the treatment of indigenous people and the systemic issue of poverty within marginalized communities were familiar to what we learned in first semester. On Sunday, we travel to San Juan del Obispo, near Antigua to meet our homestay families and begin Spanish school!

 

Reflection and Retreat

By Abby Willms

IMG_2689The last two weeks have been full of reflection and connection. As we headed into the final two weeks of program, there was an interesting juxtaposition of sadness and excitement present in the group. Energy was running low for many of us, yet the week of reflection evoked an atmosphere of connection within the group. We started the second last week of the semester at River’s Edge Retreat Centre, where we embarked on a journey of debrief – one that will undoubtedly continue long after we arrive home. We were given a variety of ways to think about the potentially daunting word “debrief”.  This time of reflection was a true gift and uncovered many treasured moments and ideas from the semester – ones that may have been forgotten or left uncovered had we not spent this time together. We were encouraged to embrace each exercise with an open mind and heart, and be present to both ourselves and one another.

Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to think of reflection as not only pertaining to the past, but also pointing towards the future. We were given space to reflect both silently and aloud, and were encouraged to continue these conversations as we move forward as a group and as we head home. We explored what it might mean to reintegrate back into life at home with those we hold dear. We learned more about storytelling and how we can begin to share our experiences. We reflected on lessons from this semester and how we can translate them to more tangible goals. Finally, we were given the opportunity to share a five minute testimony with the group – sharing about our personal growth over the first semester. In addition to all the reflection that this week held, we enjoyed participating in a variety of activities together as a group, including high ropes and archery tag.

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The final week of the semester offered a chance to relax our bodies and minds after an emotional and busy week. Spending the week in Banff allowed us to process many of our thoughts and reflections. Upon arrival in Banff we embarked on a group hike – exploring the mountains as well as the local hoodoos. We were given free time to spend together exploring Banff – sightseeing and checking out local shops. On Wednesday, the group headed out for a ski day at Sunshine Ski Village. For many, this was a long anticipated day, and it certainly did not disappoint. The weather was beautiful and clear. Experienced and inexperienced skiers/snowboarders alike enjoyed the opportunity to challenge themselves and learn from one another – whether it be the art of falling or how to take on moguls.

We finished off our week in Banff with a trip to the hot springs, where all our 70’s vintage bathing suit dreams came true. The next morning, bright and early, we packed up the vans and headed to the Calgary airport where we said goodbye to six of our friends. From there we made our way back to the prairies as we continued our goodbyes. While the goodbyes were bitter sweet, we very much look forward to reconnecting as we head to Guatemala in the new year!

Confronting Our Idols

By Ryan Hopko and Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family! Greetings from Site 1 Guatemala! We finished off our church our weekend and arrived back at Camp Squeah very late Sunday evening. We were warmly welcomed back by the uber hospitable Squeah staff and were happy to be back someplace familiar. We went to sleep quite tired, but excited, and looking forward to the week to come!

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We kicked off Monday morning with J Janzen, who helped us debrief and reflect on the churches we had visited over the weekend. As a group, we discussed the differences and similarities between each denomination and their unique services. Together we compared each church to our previous experiences and the diverse places of worship we have attended in the past.

On Tuesday morning we split up into our small groups and spent time together either hiking the Othello tunnels, baking sugar cookies, or just hanging out and having some good chats at Squeah. Our speaker, Nathan Rieger, arrived that evening and we dove into learning about different types of idols, their presence in our lives, and the importance of separating ourselves from these idols.

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We continued to learn through Nathan’s riveting stories on Wednesday and Thursday. We challenged our Squeah staff friends to an intense soccer game on Wednesday evening, involving only minor injuries and so much fun. We finished off the week of sessions with an opportunity to share in community some personal stories about idols in our lives. It was an emotional afternoon, but we really grew closer as a group and learned more about each other.

Thursday evening we got dolled up and looking spiffy for a Christmas banquet. The amazing cooks at camp served us a surprisingly fancy Christmas dinner. Our evening was spent drinking eggnog, singing and dancing to carols, playing musical chairs, building gingerbread houses, and making paper snowflakes. To finish it off, we snuggled up like a bunch of bugs and watched Elf together.

Friday began with a continuation of the discussion Nathan began, led by our dear friend and leader Andrew Fawcett. He further explained and introduced a method for overcoming idols. Next we had a Knowing Yourself session led by Dave, who spoke about discerning God’s plan for our lives. We talked about the difference between our career and our calling, and identified some prominent values specific to ourselves. Late that night, an adventurous group of us hiked into the dark wilderness in search of a giant tree. The hike took much longer than we anticipated as the trail was not clearly marked, but eventually everyone made it out of the woods. The big tree we found was most definitely huge – the wingspan of at least 8 people. Incredible!IMG_4466

After a more relaxed morning, we headed into Hope Saturday afternoon to skate at the arena. It was so fun to hang out together. Then, we let loose in the evening by having a night of worship through dance, led by the krump queen – Brette.

We departed early Sunday morning on a long 13 hour drive towards River’s Edge Retreat Center near Cremona, Alberta. We stopped for some delicious pho for dinner and even took a break to explore Lake Louise. After arriving we went straight to sleep to prepare ourselves for a week of debrief and transitioning to go home for the holidays.

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Overall this week was an opportunity to self-reflect and to be vulnerable by sharing with the group. This vulnerability helped us to get to know each other on a deeper level and gave us a chance to encourage and support each other. Some of us who shared felt as if a weight had been lifted off our shoulders after addressing our idols; describing it as a freeing experience.