Seeds of Encouragement

By Hannah McNeilly and Emma Mitchell

As the first semester of this incredible program comes to a close, many students have expressed feelings of excitement, sadness, nervousness, and joy.  It’s been an incredible three months full of adventure, learning, and lots of challenge.  This past week has been focused on debrief and reflection regarding our experiences over the past three months. Our debrief took place at Camp Evergreen, Alberta, a beautiful camp where we had opportunities to go on trail rides, wall climb, shoot some arrows, and zipline. When we weren’t doing crazy activities, or hanging out in the bouldering room, we were spending time looking back on the semester together. We did various activities that helped us recount what exactly we did every week, which was helpful and super fun.  We also enjoyed watching Invictus together as a group, which aided us on our quest to discover more about beautiful South Africa and its history. We ended our time at Evergreen with a Christmas banquet, an evening that involved delicious food, a Secret Santa gift exchange, games, and Just Dance. It was a great way to begin the Christmas season!

A specific experience that impacted several members of the group was our Thursday afternoon session which was spent encouraging one another with the fruit of the spirit. Each of us chose the names of three people in the group and chose a fruit of the spirit that we noticed they had demonstrated throughout our time together. It was a very emotional afternoon, and by the end of the two hours of encouragement, there was hardly a dry eye in the room. It was a beautiful thing, hearing about how we have impacted each other over the last two and a half months, and how close this community has become. One person who was particularly impacted by this time of encouragement was our very own Ty Birrell. We’ve asked him some questions about his experience below.

What are you feeling now that the semester is coming to a close?

“Excitement, yet I’m upset about leaving everyone.  I am truly looking forward to next semester though.  I think I’d rather go six months without a break because I love these people so much, but I am also looking forward to spending time with family and friends.”

How were you impacted this past semester spiritually and personally?

“I feel like I’ve actually learned how to pray, and through that deepened my relationship with God.  I am learning that He surprises us in many ways, like answers to prayer.  Even though sometimes we don’t like His answers, we know He loves us. And personally, I have discovered more about who I am as an adult and I feel more confident in my ability to make decisions for myself and to not let others make decisions for me.”

How did the session based on the fruit of the spirit impact you?

“Expressing love for people I care about is an extreme pleasure and honor. Unfortunately, we only had the chance to encourage three people and I would have loved to encourage everyone in the community, especially Hannah McNeilly and Emma Mitchell (who wrote this post) because they are great.  Watching how other people expressed their love and appreciation for one another gave us all great joy and it made me realize how close this community has become. I felt especially honored when I had the opportunity to encourage my leader Chris.  He has been such an incredible mentor and friend to so many of us and it’s been a blessing to get to know him.”

What do you think is the most important thing you will take away from this experience?

“Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Adjusting is easier than you may think.  As much as I often feel uncomfortable by change, sometimes it’s important to face it because it can bring a lot ofexcitement and discovery.”

Ty’s experience is only one of 33.  We have all been hugely impacted by each other, God and our interaction with the world.  It has been challenging and exciting all at the same time, and we are all aware of how unique this opportunity has and will continue to be.  We look forward to the next few months of this adventure!

Cheers!

 

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Lake Louise!

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Worship and thanksgiving by the fire!

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Wagon rides!

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Site 2 love!

 

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Pear With Us

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Three weeks spent in and around the same area in a program such as Outtatown is both an odd and comforting experience when it is unusual to consistently sleep in the same bed. Throughout the past few weeks our site seemed to find some really nice familiarity in the people who worked with us, as well as the beautiful area surrounding us at Camp Kawkawa. It seemed as if a lot of time was spent laughing with each other, finishing the last minute touches (or the entirety) of our South Africa projects, adventuring, and just spending some genuine time with one another.

Olita Elia: “I think that I often forget about the moments, in which I feel so overwhelmingly happy and excited about life, during the amazing experiences within the semester that I have had so far in Outtatown. Maybe I get caught up in all the activities, or “more exciting” weeks that are planned for us. This past week was one of those times where I looked back and I initially thought that not much happened. I am however, almost disappointed that I felt that way because some super amazing things happened. In being out in God’s creation there were a few really rewarding moments that I will take with me for what I hope is a long time.

One of those moments was in the spelunking that our group took part in. This was an activity that I was very ill-prepared for, in that I am not the fondest of feeling stuck, but it was so fulfilling and it seemed as if joy seeped through the rocks that we struggled to maneuver around. God is so good, and I think that so many people felt God there, and definitely put some thought into the light that always seems to guide us through the shadier places in life and in the caves that we spent the day in. Our guide spoke to how God is there in the darkness, and how, like the equipment we used in the cave, we can rely on things like the body of Christ and the safety that we find in Him. Despite the fact that my headlamp seemed really dim, our lights were enough to guide us through the caves. Comparing this to every day life, with the smallest of lights you can still figure your way through the darkest of places. I would highly recommend the experience if given the opportunity, and I like many others was able to see God working.

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Another experience that I cannot leave out is the last opportunity we had to take the canoes out on the beautiful Kawkawa Lake at the camp. A beautiful moment that many of us had the opportunity to be a part of was swinging into the very cold lake on a rope swing. This was an unexpected moment that just exuded happiness and such a sense of togetherness because everyone there, in spite of their fear or hesitation, swung themselves into the lake. Jeans and/or the shirts on our backs didn’t stop a single person from jumping, and it was such a great example of how I think the community has been to me, and how they continue to be. I have been supported in the endeavours that I have taken to, and the people around me jump into the adventure that seems to always be pursued.”

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Sarah Martens: “Despite being in such a diverse community that has so much opportunity to have deep and spiritual conversations – conversations about our own lives, beliefs, and struggles which lead to growth from each others experiences, encouragement, and support – I felt a little deprived. I really desired to have these kinds of conversations with my fellow Outtatowners, but did not know how to create them, what to say, or what I needed to talk about. In response to this lacking and these insecurities I brought my worries and desire before God. I had asked God to create opportunities for these conversations and that He would equip me for when they did come up.

Within the next week I began to find myself involved in the kind of conversations I had been asking for. The conversations came easy and were so uplifting. Though at first I did not realize that in having them, my prayer was answered, I just felt more wholesome and encouraged. One night I was reflecting about all the heart-to-heart conversations I had been having and it hit me that my prayers were answered. Each conversation was unique, genuine, and glorifying to God. I have grown so much this past week through hearing from others, and discussing who God is and how He has been revealing himself to us.”

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God has been at work in Outtatown throughout planned and unplanned activities. There is so much opportunity to see and hear from Him, and through our own personal desires to know God, He will continue to reveal himself to us.

 

By Olita Elia and Sarah Martens

Making an Impact

Last week, Site 2 took part in the Vancouver Urban Plunge, an experience that involved us getting way, way out of our comfort zones. On Monday morning, YWAM Vancouver instructors sent the Outtatown students into the city with a list of questions and an extra lunch. The students spent the morning streets near East Hastings, learning more about the area, its history, and its inhabitants. Every group was also given the task to share a lunch with someone they met that morning. This task lead to many fascinating conversations with the locals, including a wandering guitar player and a man who was an immigrant from Somalia. In the afternoon, the students headed to the West Side of Hastings, a place where the worn-down buildings of the East End are replaced with towering, shining skyscrapers; the crowds of people living on the streets on the East Side are replaced by fashionably dressed business people who instead crowd into packed retail stores and coffee shops. All of us students were shocked to see the difference between the two streets separated by only a single block.

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The rest of the week with YWAM included an opportunity to visit a Muslim mosque, a Sikh gurdwara, and a Buddhist temple to learn about the different faith traditions that are prevalent in the city. We also had the opportunity to serve alongside different organizations that are already working in the city. Students did some cleaning, sorted clothes at a drop-in, worked at a soup kitchen, and met a lot of incredible people!

On Thursday, we participated in what was call “Impact Day”. The idea of the day was to simply make an impact, no matter how big or small, with the amount of money you have been given. All of our groups varied in what type of impact we made that day. One group gave out flowers to people, brightening their days. One group joined a protest on the housing situation in Vancouver and donated their money to the cause.

 

My (Emma Mitchell) group started the day with a goal to spend the day volunteering at a woman’s shelter. When we got there, we were told that there were over 5000 volunteers per year, and you had to book volunteering months in advance. I began to feel a little discouraged, but then a woman who was sitting near us piped up and said that she would like to show us around East Hastings and give us a better understanding of what was going on. The woman’s name was Janice, and she turned out to be an incredible inspiration to us all. Janice is a recovering drug addict who has been sober for 19 months after 24 years of usage. She also has the strongest faith that I’ve ever seen. She thanks God for everything in her life, and lifts everything up to Him. She told us her story with sadness and with hope, and we all felt a genuine bond grow with her as the morning went on. We took her out to lunch with the money we had been given, and she was so excited and happy to be with us and to be sharing parts of her life with us. It was such an amazing day, and my group agreed that God put Janice into our lives that morning. We had gone out with expectation of impacting hundreds, but we learned that impacting one person by doing something as simple as listening to them is equally as important, and we left pretty impacted ourselves. As Hailey Funk said during the debrief time that afternoon, ‘everything happens for a reason, and that reason is God.’

As we prepare to head back to our homes in the next few weeks, we are keeping the people that we interacted with on East Hastings in our thoughts and prayers, and we hope to take our experiences this week home with us so that we have a desire to serve our brothers and sisters coming from all walks of life. If there’s one thing I took away from this week, it’s that God loves all of his children, and is at work in their lives, even if they don’t realize it. God is always present, even in the most harrowing situations.

Psalm 46:1- “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”

Have a wonderful week! God bless!

By Emma Mitchell and Adam Regier

 

Open Ears

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Often in community we have open mouths to communicate our ideas and thoughts with one another; however, this past week we learned the importance of instead opening our ears to what God may be saying to us. An invitation towards a deeper relationship is always extended towards us, and through this we hear the call of transformation – “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people” (Mark 1:17, CEB). God continues to work in and through our lives, but we often question this because we do not know what we are listening to, or for. This past week our speaker Steve Klassen helped open our ears to hear God’s voice through things like: situations, other people, Scripture, reflection, and little “coincidences” that happen throughout our daily lives. 

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“In one of the sessions, Steve lead us through a five minute silent prayer. We were supposed to meditate on a phrase or a piece of scripture, and let that move us and let God speak to each of us through that. I was skeptical participating because there was only five minutes and I put limitations on the time it would take God to speak to me, yet I closed my eyes and tried anyway. “King of my heart” and “He is my song” were the phrases that immediately came to mind and I let myself repeat those over and over in my head.

“Suddenly an image came to mind of me in a small sail boat in the middle of a calm ocean with no land. I instantly began to analyze it, searching for meaning, wondering if this was an image from God. But then I realized I was getting lost in my own thoughts instead of letting God lead me through them. At this realization I stopped my questioning and just focused on the picture. I noticed a big drain open up below and all the water begin to flow out. I was confused, wondering what would happen to a sail boat if there was no water for it to float in, because without the water the boat would become purposeless.

“Then large hands came and took me and just held me. What was I supposed to make of this? What was God trying to communicate to me through these images? I focused once again on the calm water, I think that symbolized that despite the fact that I’m not going through a rough time or anything right now I’m still not relying completely on God; there’s something that I’m holding onto which I find security in instead of finding that security in God. I think the drain symbolizes that I have to let go of it, and when I do God will be right there for me to lean on, take refuge in, and find my strength through. When I let go, God will become the complete king of my heart and He will be my song.” – Sarah Martens 

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Many of us experienced God’s voice throughout the week, and have had some pretty amazing stories that we will take with us. In hearing God’s voice, or even in slipping only to be caught and hearing through the Word that he is there to catch us, we will know that God is there for us to listen. Throughout the remainder of the week I think we gained a better understanding of what listening is, and along the way we spent time within God’s beautiful creation. In this past week we were silent, but we also had some opportunities to be noisy with our small group adventures, and any adventures that we could squeeze in with our free time. A hot commodity was the beautiful lake that we were constantly in awe of, and we had the opportunity to take some awesome watercraft’s out to float and explore. In other words, we were able to explore creation and to explore the capacity we have to listen to God. 

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With prayer and in God’s strength, we move forward together.

Scribed by: Sarah Martens & Olita Elia

Beautiful British Columbia, Relationships, and Church Plunge

AND WE’RE BACK from another week of exciting adventure and new learning material!  What an incredible week it was.  Not only did we have the opportunity to continue to experience the wonders of Outtatown, but our group grew to twice its size for a portion of it!  After a long drive from Alberta to BC, the South Africa team arrived at Kawkawa Camp late Sunday evening.  What we were all unprepared for was the beauty that would meet us when we woke up.  This gorgeous little valley in which the camp is nestled has been our home for over a week now and – to the great delight of our team – will continue to act as such for another couple weeks.

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For the first part of our week (Monday through Wednesday) we spent our mornings and afternoons learning alongside the Guatemala group.  Our time was spent learning about being satisfied in the Lord in times of singleness and what it looks like to have a God-centered relationship. The discussion was led by Kevin Snyder and Sharon Peters. On Wednesday, the boys and girls did separate hikes and bonded over laughter, discussion and lots of hard work!

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When asked about what stuck out to him from the three days of session, Malcolm Mitchell said:

“A meaningful part of the message for me was when Kevin spoke about Paul and his outlook on singleness.  For a few years now, I’ve deeply admired Paul, his mission and his writing.  I was excited to hear about being content in singleness and it made me feel empowered.  I was reminded that when you spend time and glorify the Master, that is when things are good, whether in singleness or in marriage.  I feel like society tells us that in order to live a full life, we need to get married, but this week I learned that biblically, marriage and singleness are equals. A lesson that Kevin taught us that really stuck with me was that being in a relationship can potentially distract you from God’s perfect presence.”

Once the two sites separated again (not without exchanging hugs and cell phone numbers, of course!), the South Africa site enjoyed a free day, and then set out for Vancouver to experience different worship service settings and traditions.

The weekend was organized and led by J Janzen who pastors at Highland Community Church in Abbotsford, BC.  First, we were able to experience and learn about a new and small Reunion House Church that was planted by a man named Dean.  We enjoyed coffee and snacks around a table that represented the centre of the community – which is Christ.  The rest of weekend included a Catholic Mass at the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver, a contemplative community gathering of several house churches called the Imago Dei community, a Mennonite Brethren Multi-Campus church called Westside, an Intercultural church called Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church, a Jazz Vespers service at St. Andrews-Wesley United, and an Anglican Liturgical service at Christ Church Cathedral. Each aspect of the weekend carried a meaningful message for at least one member of the group.

For me, I felt particularly moved by the contemplative worship time at the Imago Dei Community church.  In between songs and scripture passages, we spent a few minutes in silence.  In those moments, I felt like I was free to rest and hear God’s voice.  I felt myself asking him about things and then receiving the answer in the next passage read from the front.  When I go home to Kingston next year and actually start figuring out what I want my worship experience to be like, I think I want to include some aspect of this at least once a month.

As a group, we spent time in between and afterwards debriefing with J and discussing the differences between denominations and whether or not a church is more of a Temple, Body or a Herald, or a combination of all three.

Temple – When a church focuses on the sanctity of the space and of the tradition.
Body – When a church focuses largely on the community within the church and stresses accountability and relationships within.
Herald – When a church focuses on their outreach into the community and if they are bringing people in and/or supporting the community outside of its doors.

As an Outtatown team, we came to the conclusion that it’s crucial to have all three be a part of our church theology.

All in all, it was a very educational and exciting week.  We felt like we were moving lots and learning lots.  It was also very exciting to be in the city of Vancouver for a weekend and we look forward to returning there for our Urban Plunge next week!

With prayer and in God’s strength, we move forward together. 

By Hannah McNeilly

Jesus is Lord, Our Idols are NOT

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Driving to Alberta Pioneer Camp.  Photo: Gil Greenway

The long road, on which we travelled more than 20 hours in order to reach Alberta Pioneer Camp, turned out to be somewhat allegorical to the journey that we were placed on, to realize and address our idols. This past week Nathan Rieger stayed with us and spoke to us about idols we have placed alongside or before God in our lives. The week was not an easy one, but we took the stories and lessons into our own lives and were challenged to grow as we faced many of our own personal struggles.

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Basketball between sessions.  Photo: Gil Greenway

Emma Martens shared this reflection on our week with Nathan:

“I was definitely challenged this week, but in a good way.  Before Nathan talked to us about idols, I thought that idols were just a religious depiction of something/someone who wasn’t God.  If you would’ve asked me what first came to mind when asked what an idol was, I would’ve probably said ‘someone to look up to’.  A role model of sorts.  I never really thought of an idol as something negative -whether it be sacred or secular- that takes the place of what only God should provide.  I won’t share what my idols are because it’s pretty personal, but knowing what they are has completely changed the way I think about myself.  I’ve always thought I’ve been relatively self aware, but now I know that there’s always so much deeper you can go.  One problem I think many of us faced after figuring out our idols, is how to get rid of them?  Or how do we turn them into a positive thing?  For a lot of us, myself included, our idols have incorporated themselves into our personalities and our everyday lives.  How do we change/alter/abandon such a big part of our personalities? This is something I’m SO looking forward to figuring out as I get older.  Listening to Nathan was weird and amazing.  In that, I mean that there wasn’t anything huge that I disagreed with him on.  Everything he said was so deeply emotional and real and raw and sincere. We had a sharing circle one day, and many of us ended up crying.  Whenever someone cried Nathan said, ‘Thank you for your tears.’  I loved that so much.  I could’ve listened to him talk for a lot more than three days.  I am very, very excited for the time we will get to spend with him when we get to South Africa.”

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The view from camp.  Photo: Gil Greenway

Nathan spoke to the reality of how in his travels he has seen people accept Jesus as Lord, but in doing so many of them placed a representation of Jesus alongside the rest of the figures of different idols they held previously. In our walk through Christianity we may have separated Jesus from golden idols, but we found that just the same we have placed some of our idols alongside Jesus. Our idols may be different in that they are not physical statues, but things such as the societal expectations and standards of beauty or strength are things so prevalent along our mantelpieces. They become idols when we let them judge us and give us value in the way that only God should. Many of the idols that we have found within our lives give us “love if…”, but God gives us unconditional love- love despite our faults.

 

With prayer and in God’s strength, we move forward together.

 

Scribed by: Sarah Martens and Olita Elia

Crossing Over

By Emma Mitchell 

Hello family and friends! This post is coming to you from Sundre, Alberta (after two days of driving), where we are spending the next week learning about idols from Nathan Reiger. Stay tuned for our experiences here in next week’s post, but for now, I’d like to tell you about our week in Roseau River, Manitoba. 

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We arrived at Roseau River Bible Camp on Sunday night ready to begin our week of cross-cultural learning with the Anishinabe people. On Monday morning we drove to Roseau River First Nation and met Peter, an elder who was our teacher for the week, and his beautiful family. Though complete strangers from a drastically different culture, we were welcomed into their home with so much love and treated like old friends. By the end of the week, we had formed such an incredible and unforgettable bond with the entire family (and their adorable dogs).

Our time with Peter was spent learning about the mistreatment of First Nations people, through treaties, the Indian Act, and residential schools. We also had the opportunity to participate in a sweat lodge, an experience unlike anything any of us had ever done before.

On Wednesday night, Peter’s family graciously opened their home to us to spend the night. The next day we drove to a historical Mennonite village where we learned about Mennonite culture and history, and parted ways with Peter and his family. Having the opportunity to learn from such a wise person was life-changing for us. We are all so blessed and thankful for everything that their family did for our crazy site.