A Well in the Desert: An Outtatown Grad Speech

The following post is the grad speech given by Ezra Enns on April 15, 2018 at CMU. 


Good afternoon. It is my privilege to be elected to welcome you all here today. My fellow students of Outtatown, CMU faculty members both on site and off, friends and family, honourable donors, and distinguished guests—welcome again, to celebrate the accomplishments of Outtatown Discipleship School in 2018.

The classic book The Little Prince involves a meeting in the desert, between the Narrator and the Little Prince. I left my home in Kenya expecting new meetings in Canada and Guatemala, but figuratively I was in the desert between wells. I leave this well now with anticipation of new beginnings, but predominantly with sadness to leave this year behind me.

In September, I probably would have scoffed at the idea of being as deeply connected as I am now.

“One year!” I would have said, “It takes me that long just to feel comfortable with someone, much less know that person”.

I am happy to find that Outtatown has dismissed that mindset, along with the feelings that accompany it. Specifically, the frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone. Defying impersonality and the brevity of our time, both the set of experiences and the individuals guided us to established trust in each other.

A striking thing about this program is that it’s not primarily academic, and it’s not like a trip in which a group of established friends decide to spend more time together exploring the world. Outtatown is experiential first and foremost, and that is an important factor when understanding what our groups have gone through. This is a university program in which some humans decide to join new people and travel with these new people, through a set of challenges and variables.

It seems almost like a scientific experiment when phrased like this. In an experiment, the idea is to determine whether a hypothesis is true. If it proves false, information is still recorded. It could have been relatively easy to limit the program to an experiment, even for me as a subject. But beautiful human emotion is a confounding variable here. Our attachment to one another based on love—unfair grace that these friends show—makes obsolete the hypotheses that we will either succeed or fail. They no longer apply, because of an essential, radical element of Outtatown: Jesus.

Jesus has guided my group this year, and I have seen it happening in the way we have interacted with people and places outside of the group. We have been truly blessed to interact with and learn from the diversity of Canada and Guatemala.

And from that we have learned quite a bit this year. The university credits we get are all that academic institutions will count towards a degree, but they are insufficient. Like the way scientists tried to make a model of an atom, so we try to communicate the value of our experiences.

Recent events which affected us deeply, plus the testimonies that we shared with each other during debrief week, have left me feeling that were we to continue with the Outtatown structure, we would know each other more and more, and despite that we would love each other more and more. Nevertheless, I send my fellow students out with gladness, trusting that God goes with them.

The Little Prince once said, “What makes the desert beautiful, is that somewhere it hides a well”. It is clear to me that there is more than one well, and that Outtatown was one of them.

Thank you.

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Site 1 Guatemala for the 2017-18 Outtatown program year.



One Last Wave

By Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family! Site 1 Guatemala is wrapping up their very last moments in Antigua before we board our flight at 3am Thursday morning.


Debrief Week somberly began as we said farewell to our host families in San Juan del Obispo. This was a very difficult goodbye, and only the first of many as we finish off this semester. We left our town for the last time and were off to San Pedro Las Huertas, the first place we stayed in Guatemala for Orientation Week back in January.

Beginning on Monday morning we had sessions about how to transition home well, how to tell stories about our experiences, and how to integrate the lessons we’ve learned into our future. We also discussed plans and set goals, while taking advantage of our time all together as a group with some fun activities.IMG_1922

Each student and leader shared a personal testimony about what we have learned and how we have grown this year. As difficult as it was to put into words and articulate such a broad experience, it was wonderful to listen to our group members reflect on their perspectives and to celebrate the journey each of us has been on. Many of us learned a lot about ourselves this year through community living and through practicing vulnerability. After each sharing time, the community as a whole encouraged the person who had shared. It was truly a heart-warming time.

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With debrief finished on Saturday morning, we packed up and drove to the Pacific Coast where we spent 3 days beach-bumming together at El Paredon Surf Camp. The endless black sand beaches, pool, ocean-side campfires, and hammocks helped us have the most relaxing last weekend of Outtatown. We also had surf lessons and rented boards all weekend as we all became pro surfers.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I found the beach weekend the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with our site, after being apart for many weeks this semester. Unlike weeks in San Juan del Obispo where we were spread throughout the community, we were able to eat every meal together and really revel in each other’s presence. I enjoyed celebrating this year with all the new friends I made back in September, reminiscing on all the adventures we shared, and discussing our worries and concerns about transitioning home. I felt that at the end of the weekend we were on the same page again, and better equipped to go home after our debrief sessions. It was an overall joyful time as a group that will stick with me as one of my fondest memories from this semester.


Pray for our group as we travel back to Winnipeg. Now, time for graduation weekend at CMU!

Graduation and Goodbyes.

By Grace JonesIMG_0249

Hola Everyone!

This past week was definitely bittersweet – filled with much celebration, but also some difficult goodbyes. The week prior to Easter is easily the most lively and busiest time of the year here in Guatemala. This time of year, up to a million people flood into Antigua for the exhilarating Holy Week (referred to as “Semana Santa” in Spanish). We are all extremely grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed this time leading up to Easter.

Starting the first day of Lent, weekly processions began. Each procession is an event where an andas (float), carried by as many as 100 men or women, displays a scene from the Bible leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Once Holy Week begins, different processions occur every day, with increasingly beautiful and elaborate alfombras begin to fill the streets.

On one of the most significant days of the year, the morning of Good Friday, many of us “woke up” at 11pm and stayed awake embracing 8hrs of powerful andas of Jesus carrying the cross. Running on little sleep, we spent much time walking, observing, and reflecting this past weekend on the season of Easter. We are all extremely grateful for the opportunity to witness this time in Guatemala.IMG_0457

Experiencing the season of Easter here, has most definitely made the significance of the crucification, death, and resurrection much more evident than in years past. It is difficult to put these thoughts into words, but it has something to do with the way millions of people from all over the world were here this weekend to celebrate the resurrection. After the personal and communal growth that has come out of this year, this celebration was especially memorable. The way that we walked with thousands of people (at 3am), watching the float of Jesus carrying the cross, with the reminder of the words “pick up your cross and follow me” placed on the float, was something I will never forget. Something about the physical visual that these andas display, place so much power in the story. This weekend has allowed me to reflect on what this statement means to me in this season of my life. What is it that I need to lay down, in order to fully love Jesus as he fully loves us?

This week also included our last week of Spanish classes, which means we have all graduated now! Thursday morning, with many of our host families attending, we all walked across the “stage”, received our certificates, and even heard a couple groups share their musical talents. We may or may not have heard Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson…Spanish edition! This was such a wonderful time to celebrate and spend our last few days with our host families.

Since this was the week of grad, it also meant it was the week to say goodbye to what were our homes for a total of 6 weeks this semester. This was not an easy goodbye for anyone. I think I can speak for everyone saying that the memories made with our host families will never be forgotten. We are all extremely grateful for the relationships built and the homes-away-from-home provided to us. This was very evident as there were many tears when we met together after the goodbyes. It feels as if just yesterday we were all extremely nervous, barely speaking a word of Spanish, and asking ourselves, “What have I gotten myself into?!” when we dispersed into our host families for the first time. And just like that, it was time to say goodbye. Despite this time being very tough, it demonstrates the impact that these 6 weeks have made on each on of us. San Juan del Obispo has been one for the books. IMG_0262

Reflecting on this past week was difficult. It was a very eventful week, challenging to find the time to soak up every last minute and embrace the beauty of Semana Santa with our busy schedule. I couldn’t help but especially admire the volcanos as I walked to school each morning. It’s crazy to think that in just a couple short weeks, this will no longer be what we wake up to. Despite time flying by, I have realized the importance of remaining present, simply embracing the moments here – good and bad.

As I mentioned, the goodbye to my host family was very difficult. My little 4-year-old sister was someone who I will specifically never forget. So on Saturday morning when she entered my room with a homemade card and gift as I was packing up my final things, my eyes were immediately filled with tears. Who would have thought such a short period of time would make such an impact? The idea that play is a universal language has never meant so much to me as in this season of my life. As hard as the goodbye was, I was leaving with endless memories, stories, and photos.


Dancing with our families at Graduation.


Independent Service Week

By Abby Willms

Hello all!


This week, our group embarked on independent service week – a week that provided us with an opportunity to stretch and grow as leaders, collaborators, and decision-makers. We were split into four groups, each living and serving alongside a ministry or organization for the duration of the week. Between the four groups, we had the opportunity to work alongside staff and volunteers at schools, hospitals, orphanages and ministry centers throughout Guatemala. The four groups were comprised solely of students – no leaders – thus providing us with a great chance to practice and improve communication both internally within our groups and externally with the various people we interacted with at the organizations.

    For my group, this week gave us plenty opportunity to exercise flexibility and decision making, along with the ability to find humour and joy in times of uncertainty. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original placement didn’t work out – leading us to a wonderful children’s transition home in San Lucas. Our time with this organization was special and quite impactful as we witnessed the dedication of the wonderful staff, the efforts made to create a “home-y” atmosphere for the children, and the openheartenedness of the children and staff as they welcomed us so warmly into their space and their lives. We spent our days playing outdoors with children, assisting the nannies with many large day to day tasks that arise from caring for and living with 30 children. The nannies (or “Tías”, as the children call them) do these tasks, including laundry, dishes, dressing/undressing children, cleaning, and cooking, with a great degree of joy, efficiency, patience, and grace. Seeing the joy with which these women completed seemingly mundane or monotonous tasks was a testament to their dedication and deep love for the children.

   After three days at the ministry, again due to some unexpected circumstances, it was thought best that we switch placements. This was a very difficult decision for our group as we so badly wished to continue on at Amor de Patricia. While disappointment was definitely palpable, we were grateful that, due to the quick thinking of both Outtatown staff and partners in Guatemala, we were able to continue at another organization – teaching at a local school and working to paint a mural for the inside of a Sunday School classroom. While this week shaped up to be different than the original picture we had envisioned, we remain very grateful for the ways our hearts were touched and our minds stretched by the dedication, care, intentionality, and drive of the people and organizations to work towards a more just and loving world.

Laughing and Learning

By Kaley Fehr
This last weekend some of us took the opportunity to climb Central America’s third highest mountain, Volcan Acatenango. It was a strenuous six-hour hike up, the first hour being the hardest. Once we made it to base camp we ate some spaghetti around a fire and watched Volcan Fuego erupt beside us all evening.  After a cold night in our tents, we rose at 4am to hike to the summit and watch the sun rise – the most spectacular panoramic view I’ve ever seen. Some of the group also took on the challenge of climbing part way up Volcan Fuego, the active one. It was an unforgettable journey of us pushing ourselves and being in awe of God’s grandeur displayed in nature. Definitively, a life-giving experience.


Afterwards, however, it was very nice to settle back in with our host families, feel a bit more at home, and be able to rest. The rest of the week, spent in San Juan del Obispo, was a fairly regularly scheduled week. Spanish classes, service projects, PMG afternoon, and small groups. In addition we had our very own site talent show, took part in a dance class, had a Knowing Yourself session with Brette, and had an impactful visit to an organization doing justice work in Guatemala City.

The talent show wasn’t entirely prepared nor did it turn out the way it was expected to, but it was lots of fun. Each small group performed an act, along with several individual and group acts. It was more like a comedy show…so collectively our best talent is making each other laugh.

For a cultural activity we went into Antigua for a salsa and merengue dance class. Turns out we all can dance, and I believe everyone enjoyed it.

In the Knowing Yourself, we focused on self-care and spent time thinking about how we can recharge ourselves from our different kinds of tired.
We visited an international Christian organization in Guatemala City that works toward justice and healing in the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation. They have taken the initiative to bring together police, lawyers, the church, and society to start a discussion where there was none in the past. They have fought to implement the first mandatory training for police on the issue of child sexual abuse. We were given a presentation, a tour of the office, and the opportunity to meet the different organizational departments and see how it all works together. Many of us left feeling empowered, believing that there is change happening in the world and that we too can be a part of it. This excursion was the highlight of my week.

Tradition & A Sense of Belonging

By Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family! Site 1 Guatemala is wrapping up yet another extraordinary week spent in San Juan del Obispo! It’s hard to believe that only two weeks remain of Spanish school and living with our host families. It will be a difficult goodbye. Throughout this week two ideas have stuck out to me while our group was going about the semi-usual but never mundane routine of weeks in San Juan.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

First, I have found myself reflecting back on my initial feelings upon arrival in San Juan del Obispo, this small town we knew little about or even what to expect. On my first night with my host family, I was overwhelmed by their incredible hospitality and relentless kindness as they welcomed me, a shy white girl who barely spoke any Spanish, into their home. Despite their hospitality, I still felt out of place. My homestay, although abundantly charming, didn’t feel like my home. So many things were different from my home in Canada.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Looking back, my perspective has definitely changed. As my Spanish progresses, I am interacting more and more with my family and my host sister especially. I have now built relationships that somehow tie me to this small town in Guatemala that no one back home has even heard of. When I think about my house, there is a sense of familiarity about the big red double doors, my pink cinderblock room with its floral curtains, the sight of the cherry red coffee beans growing outside my kitchen window, and even sharing the shower with a couple green slugs every now and then. I’ve grown to see past the differences enough that I feel a sense of belonging here. Now, to me, San Juan del Obispo looks like home.

This past week we also had the opportunity to be involved in some unique cultural activities. On Wednesday afternoon, our entire group had the pleasure of visiting a women’s cooperative in San Antonio, where we were taught about several Mayan traditions including a typical wedding ceremony. The women first showed us some weaving techniques and we learned about the very complex and intricate process of making traditional blouses, shawls, and other clothing. The artistry of their weaving and the knowledge of the years of experience and hours of work that go into each piece left us all appreciating their work even more. Next we participated in the wedding ceremony. Linnea and Simon, the happy volunteer couple, and the wedding party were dressed in traditional wedding attire. The women facilitated the wedding, explaining the whole ceremony step by step. Afterwards the couple was showered with flower petals and the whole group danced to marimba music. We even prepared a traditional wedding soup and tried our best at making tortillas.

On Sunday, our group had the opportunity to make an “alfombra”, a carpet made from colourfully dyed sawdust, pine needles, and flowers, adorning the street where the Lenten procession occurs. The alfombra took almost 7 hours to complete and turned out beautifully. It was delightful to see the people walking by stop to take photos or congratulate us for our hard work. Freddie from Mundo Spanish School said that many tourists don’t understand the point of these time consuming creations because they are destroyed in less than 2 minutes when the procession walks over and ruins it. I really enjoyed this opportunity to take part in a tradition that is so central to the celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week), and to learn through this experience more about the culture of Guatemala.

I think that through experiencing and being a part of local traditions we can learn so much more about a place and a people. I was honoured that the women from the cooperative, as well as Mundo Spanish School, took the time to share such important and sacred traditions with us. I came out of this week with a deeper appreciation for the insight and learning that result from observing and experiencing these celebrations. This made me think about how our traditions as an Outtatown community, and even as Canadians, can allow people to better understand us as they reflect our history, values, and goals.

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Not Easy, But Together

By Rachel Herold

This past week marked not only the halfway point of our semester in Guatemala but also the reunion of our (almost) full group after a week of travelling in two separate groups. Although we regretfully left three members of our family behind to rest and get healthy in Antigua, it felt good to be back together as we travelled north to Lake Izabal, Flores, and Tikal.


Lake Izabel

The timing of this travel week, combined with structured “Knowing Yourself” sessions and ample time for thought during 8hr drive days, created an excellent context for reflection. I found myself reflecting predominantly on our community — on relationships built, on lessons learned, and on how far we have come since September. So, given the opportunity to share my reflections with you all this week, that is what I choose to celebrate — our community.

We may not be a community that always exists in harmony, but we are a community that feels it when one of us is hurting or absent. Despite the excitement of travelling, beach resorts, and farm hostels this week we could not help but feel something was missing and remember our friends we had had to leave behind. Feeling their absence was sad, but it was also a reminder that each and every one of us fills an indispensable spot in our Outtatown community. Our community is made up of 27 different personalities, and yet we have somehow found a rhythm where each of those personalities plays an essential role.


Exploring the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

We are not a community that has it all figured out. Rather we are a community where leaders and students alike can sit down and have honest dialogue about topics that matter, such as family and self-esteem. We are not a community that has all the answers, but we are learning to sit in the discomfort of just listening and accepting where each other are at. One of the highlights of my week was, after leading a session on Self Love, seeing students sitting in conversation with one another, sharing their personal thoughts, and just being able to laugh with and love one another, even in the face of the “hard stuff”.

We are not a community that always agrees with each other. Rather we are a community that sits around the table on a free afternoon and has hard conversations about social issues and theological beliefs. We are also a community that is willing to pursue reconciliation and forgiveness when heated debates lead to hurt feelings.


Volleyball at Denny’s Beach, Lake Izabel.

During the last week, I also found myself reflecting on what we were learning and getting out of our time in Guatemala. Of course natural, hot spring waterfalls are breathtaking and hammocks under palm trees are hard to pass up, and these are memories we will take with us and stories we will retell. However, it seems to me that flying thousands of kilometers away from home, sleeping in strange beds, and dealing with strange bugs oddly creates the best environment to look back at ourselves. In the context of the unfamiliar we discover the things we definitely cannot live without (hugs and communal meals), and the things that we definitely can live without (warm showers and Netflix binges).

In the unfamiliar, we also get to practice resilience and trust, as we see just how much we can handle and we find those we can rely on when we’ve reached our limits. And I am proud and grateful and overjoyed to look around me at 26 once-strangers who are now friends, who know each other personally and support one another unconditionally. For me, the best part of this past week wasn’t the incredible sites or fun adventure, it was getting to see our community lifting one another up in the midst of it. Of course, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal was magnificent, but what truly warmed my heart was to hear students finding joy simply in seeing one particular friend giddy in her passion for Tikal’s history. Similarly, jumping off a hot waterfall was exhilarating, but the most encouraging experience was to see students overcoming their fear of heights once again, to the encouraging cheers of their friends, and to see everyone moving over and making space for each other under the falls.


But, these were not easy relationships to build. When we are struggling with culture shock, when we are tired and uncomfortable and hot and sweaty, patience and empathy do not come naturally. Patience and empathy only come because we have chosen not just to live together but to love one another, and we are learning what it takes to truly love in community.

So, as I am sure you have noticed if you’ve been following us throughout the year, Outtatown is far from being about easy experiences. Outtatown is about sitting in the back of bus with your knees cramped up to your chest for 8hrs, but giving up the seat with leg room to the girl who gets car sick. Outtatown is about getting soaking wet because you took the worst seat on the boat but choosing to laugh instead of complain and making everyone’s day a little brighter. Outtatown is about dealing with sun burns and stomach bugs and bug bites but happily sharing your first aid supplies with anyone who asks. Thank you to all my students who, in each of these instances, inspire me with your self-sacrificing love for one another. No, Outtatown is not about Easy, but it is about Together.