Crossing the River: An Outtatown Grad Speech

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


Mandela once said: “Ndiwe(y)limilambo enamagama” (I have crossed famous rivers). It means that one has travelled a great distance, that one has had wide experience and gained some knowledge from it.”

Throughout this year we have all crossed many rivers, literally and figuratively. We all came into this program for various reasons, regardless of how well it fit into the grand scheme of what we imagined our lives to be. Most of us had a vague notion of the ideals that Outtatown functions under. Knowing God, yourself, and the world. It seems as if encompassing all these things within the year ahead may have been an awful lot to ask, or even hold as an expectation. I think we’ve all come to know however, that these words are only applicable if we want them to be. Whether these ideals have been applicable, are applicable now, or have the potential to be in the future, our time together has been so worthwhile.

Having lived in Community with 32 other people this year has had its advantages, and disadvantages. Especially when 33 people from 33 different walks of life are asked to do their own dishes every once in a while. We have lived with a group of wise, but clueless, sometimes frustrating, often helpful, but consistently Wonderful people. We have walked through each others faith journey, have challenged the beliefs that we hold and why, and we’ve all heard some really valuable thoughts, and have learned some memorable lessons.

One of those lessons being that caring about the people around you is something that I would say is almost unavoidable. Learning how to care for those around you despite conflicting experiences is something extremely valuable. I think that we can all recall the traits of those among our group that may have ground a few gears, but learning to love them is something that we must not only do in caring for one another, but also must do in our quests of living in love as Jesus did. While we are called to live as Jesus did, things tend to get slightly more complex when the time comes for those words to turn into actions. A speaker that came to us closer to the beginning of the first semester spoke to how we as humans are a conflicted race. We as the human race are capable of incredibly beautiful things, but just the same we are equally capable of horrifying things. While we may not have all the answers regarding the intricacies of our world, as we search to deepen our understandings we must do our very best to try and imitate what is good and Christlike.

It seems as if one of the catalysts for gaining a wider perspective on some of the ways in which the world works was and is definitely the people that we have encountered throughout the year. We can only live through our own perspective throughout the entirety of our lives, but this doesn’t mean that our views of the world should consist of such an individual lens. Every single day of our lives, in one form or another, includes interactions with the people around us. During our time in South Africa, I think it was pretty evident just how valuable it is to seek out the perspective of those in different walks of life. Within the first week of staying in a township on our travels we were told to go in with a posture of learning. One of our speakers gave us a metaphor to use as a guide for what was to come. If we live our lives in expectancy, what we are doing is living with our hands open. Open to receive new experiences, and open to the perspectives of others. If we live our lives through expectations however this closes our hands and we receive very little if anything at all. Living in expectancy, and adopting a posture of learning is vital for following the call of Jesus to walk in love.

You don’t have to travel the world to have traveled a great distance. 33 people this year have crossed a couple oceans together. As we part, the call to continue to take steps in crossing water does not cease. I hope that everyone here can tread through the water they approach in life with open hands, Thank you 🙂

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Site 2 South Africa for the 2017-18 program year.


That’s all Folks!

Just like that, six crazy and life-changing months are drawing to a close. We spent time at Rocky Valley Retreat Centre this week, the very first place we stayed in South Africa. Our ten days here were full of adventure (including a safari in Pilanesberg National Park), relaxation, and reflection on the last two semesters. All of us shared our testimonies with the group, and identified points of struggle and growth throughout our faith journey this year. Since we all learned from each other’s takeaways, I thought others could too, so I’ve asked some members of the site to reflect on the question:

What is the one of the biggest lessons you learned on Outtatown?

Adam Reiger: God doesn’t work in big ways 99% of the time- you have to look for the ways He is showing Himself instead of expecting Him to reveal Himself to you. Also, how to make good instant coffee.

Emma Martens: get a sweat rag.

Sarah Zwicker: community without grace fails.

Emma Mitchell: God wants to listen, even if I don’t want to talk.

Ty Birrell: communities can always learn to work together.

Emma Hamstra: I can proudly say that I’ve succeeded in not washing my hair for two weeks straight.

Maddy Bogdan: Outtatown has helped me to figure out who I am and how I fit into God’s plan for the world.

Mathew Lancaster: knowing God is a two way relationship.

Katelyn Leischner: I learned how to accept my body odour.

Megan Dueck: throughout Outtatown, I have learned a lot about myself and the ways in which God works in my life. He’s helped me to mature and I know I will be applying the things I’ve learned this year into the rest of my life.

Carrie Hordyk: I’ve learned the importance of community in your spiritual life.

Faith Heinrichs: this trip has changed my life around completely and helped me face so many fears.

Hailey Funk: I can now successfully wear the same shirt for a week without smelling.

Jonah Berg: I’ve become more personal and started thinking deeper about what I’ve experienced and learned.

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Thank you so much for reading the blog this year and going on this journey with us. We’ve all learned so much this year, from grace, to surviving community, to finding joy in difficult moments, and everything in between. Outtatown, and especially the lessons we’ve learned, will stick with us for a long, long time.

Goodbye for now!

Emma Mitchell

Taste and See that the Lord is Good

This week was full of excitement and hard work.  We arrived back at the old Pietermaritzburg Prison – also known as Project Gateway – and settled in after a wonderful weekend in Durban learning about the Indian culture of South Africa.  The next morning, our group of 33 was split into two as one half left for a 3 day hiking trip in the Drakensberg.  The other half of us (my half – Hannah) would be serving Project Gateway for those three days, and would then switch with the group and leave for our hiking trip on Thursday.

Project Gateway was an extraordinary place to be for two weeks.  We learned much about the history of South Africa and about several of its political prisoners who stayed in the prison.  These included Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.  To have the opportunity to sleep in one of the renovated, former cells in the political prisoners block was a crazy experience, and at times a little freaky!  However, this feeling was quickly overcome as we kept learning about the various programs that Project Gateway offers to the community.  Some of these include helping men and women on the street with their food sharing program, welcoming many children into their school every day, and providing jobs any way they can to those in need.  Part of our time at Project Gateway was also spent listening to speakers talk about a range of topics: testimonies, social work, and how we as Christians may be too comfortable.  We all learned a lot from the people there and we enjoyed getting to know them. 

A highlight from Project Gateway for me was talking with the kitchen team and hearing their stories and how God has blessed them through the Canadian students.  They served us with so much joy and it was always a joy to be around them.  One instance in particular stood out to me: I was helping out in the kitchen cutting bread (the one task they felt would have been hard for me to mess up) and there were a few bread pieces left over.  As we all passed them around the room, I approached the lead cook and offered her a small piece.  She insisted on tearing it in half so that I could have some as well.  She then looked at me and said, “taste and see that the Lord is good” and then popped the piece of bread into her mouth.  This was a small testament to her faith yet, it reminded me of God’s great faithfulness.

For three days, our group volunteered all across the compound.  There were several different groups painting and one that was gardening.  The painting was hard work and I will say that my hands were sore (haha) BUT nothing compared to the strength required to work outside in the garden, under the hot sun, pulling up weeds all day.  They were truly a persevering group of people and I was greatly impressed by the work that they accomplished.  We later found out that the garden would be used to improve the food sharing program at Project Gateway.  The project was being run by a Grade 11 student who is part of an internship program in the United States.  It was beautiful to be able to hear her story and work alongside of her.  All in all, we had a good time and we made several new friends – some of which made us laugh more than anything.  We will always remember the lessons we learned at Project Gateway, and their influence on their community in Pietermaritzburg will greatly impact my involvement in helping my community in the future.


I (Sarah) was part of the first hiking group, and I could not wait to get back in the mountains. Living in BC seems to have developed this deep appreciation and awe of what a beautiful creation they are. I was excited to get a little taste of home while in South Africa. In reminiscing of the canoe trip at the beginning of the program, it was decided that it would be best to split into the same groups one final time- for bonding, reliving old memories, and making new ones. However this time it was different. At the beginning of the semester it was all new and exciting getting to know one another, now after six months living in a close community of 33, how much more bonding could we really accomplish? Through our amateur cooking skills, GPs (group poops), swimming in freezing rivers, and getting all sweaty we really got to the raw heart of community.


Our first day was spent trekking into a valley leading towards Pillar Cave, where we would be spending our two nights. We experienced lush green mountains surrounding us, rock hopping across rivers (and some of us falling in), and probably one of the most blue skies we have seen yet in our 3 months here. This first hike gave a little picture into the challenge that tomorrow’s hike would bring. After a rocky sleep and an oatmeal breakfast, most of our group began the adventure to summit Rhino Peak. As a pretty avid hiker back home, I was not expecting to experience the difficulty I faced on the steep sections; willing each foot to move took a lot more effort than normal.


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Throughout the whole hike there was an immense amount of encouragement and support being given, and I believe this cheering-on is the only reason I made it up. Ty, one of the members of our team, was a ball of positivity, leading the pack up the mountain both literally and figuratively.  When our whole group finally made it to the top we got to reap the benefits of our hard work while we enjoyed cheese and crackers and an absolutely stunning view. All struggles were forgotten as we soaked in this beautiful creation that seemed like it was made for us just in that moment.DSC_0367

I’ve always thought about how hiking is such a great analogy. Despite it being a tough climb at points, I was constantly looking back at the amazing view down the valley and each time I was surprised to see that the next view was better and more encompassing than the last, ending off with a panoramic view of the Drakensberg mountain range. This reminds me of my walk through faith, at times I can be distracted by the difficulty and stuck in the motions of life and I forget where I’m headed; but every so often God graciously gives me a little sneak peak of the place he’s leading me, a little encouragement to keep going, be patient, and to trust him. Once I make it to the top I can look back and see the ways that God has been faithful and I can look back on this beautiful trip he took me on. Come to think of it, Outtatown has been a journey like this, it has been challenging, and breathtaking; I’ve learned so much and will continue to do so as we head home soon. Getting to climb this mountain called Outtatown Discipleship School has been an incredible opportunity, and I can’t wait for the journey my next hike will bring.

DSC_0388By Sarah Martens and Hannah McNeilly


Back to Camp- Camp El Olam

For many of us, camp holds a special pocket of memories within our minds. The atmosphere that a camp brings is something that many of us were not expecting as per our usual stops along the way during this second semester in South Africa. As our group pulled into Camp El Olam we were welcomed with lots of smiling faces, music, games, and new people that some of us will surely keep in touch with. Our time here was an unexpected contrast with much of the semester, which seemed like a lot at first, but it was a very refreshing experience that many of us needed. The weekend started off with a short walk around the campgrounds with a surprise visit from some bush pigs, and throughout the week we took part in a competition for a surprise treat (shout out to team #1). It was a very eventful weekend filled with so many laughs, and great people.

FSC_0001 (138)“After spending four consecutive summers at camp I can say it’s one of the places where I feel most at home. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about it because of the summer approaching and how I’ll be returning to work at one of my favourite places. Arriving at Camp El Olam, the last thing I was expecting was the familiar feeling of excitement bubbling in the pit of my stomach thinking about the coming camp days. As much fun as the pre-planned activities provided us with, the true joy that I experienced came from the unplanned moments spent with the staff at El Olam. I had the opportunity to get to know a couple of the Ablaze students and staff there and it was such an amazing thing for me to see two of my favourite things come together: God and camp.

“The camp I attend in Canada is not a religious camp and my thoughts about going home have been surrounded by how I’ll continue in my faith journey while working there this summer. My answer, as simple as it sounds, came from one of the Ablaze students, who I can now call a friend, named Kez. We were talking about camp, and I mentioned mine saying that it’s not religious and she casually stated, “It’s okay, it gives you an opportunity to share the light for God.” I don’t think she realized how much of an impact that statement left on me. As much as I love being in a community that shares the love for God that I do, being outside of that can provide you with the opportunity to spread that love of God and help others see it too. I don’t have to go back home and outwardly tell people I’m a Christian, the way I live can be just as big of a statement.

“During our stay the staff became like part of our community and the way God brings people together continues to baffle me. From Canada to South Africa, the people I have had the opportunity to connect with while we have been here will stay with me for a very long time. Both Kez and Sikkah, without realizing it, showed me what portraying God’s love looks like. Being kind and being able to share laughter are some things that we shouldn’t forget. El Olam has definitely been a highlight of my time on Outtatown. God Brought me a sense of home when I needed it most and he brought it in the shape of Camp El Olam. I truly think God’s hand is upon that place and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see it and experience it for myself.”- Jana Arnold

With our time remaining in South Africa does not seem too plentiful, many of us are awaiting the time when we can go home, and many are trying to stretch out our experiences here to see how far they can go. It seems as if we arrived not too long ago, but undoubtedly we still have time to be here in the place that we are.

Thanks for giving this a read. Adios

P.S it took us a while to get this to ya because we were climbing a mountain, updates on that to follow.

Scribed by: Gil Greenway, and Olita Elia


Beauty and True Community

When you start off a week by literally jumping off of a 216m high bridge, you know you can face anything thrown at you.  Bungee jumping was a crazy adventure in itself, one experienced by the majority of our group.  I will say that in my opinion, the worst part is definitely the lead up – but when you have your whole community behind you cheering as loud as they can, encouraging you to take the leap and face your fears, you just jump!  Oh man, what a rush.


Back on the bus, we embarked once again, this time headed for Jeffery’s Bay.  After a restful few days full of lots of fun, we hit the road again for Mdumbi.

Mdumbi Backpackers was not only a beautiful hostel to stay at because of the views, but it was also inspiring to see what a light they were to the community around them.  We experienced their hospitality and love in several different ways.  We were delighted to see their education plans, food programs, and culture-embracing attitude.  This beautiful way of showing community and hospitality to the people living in constant close quarters was inspiring and made me think ahead to how I will welcome my close community this coming year.  It was also an incredible learning opportunity to see God at work even though it wasn’t a Christian hostel – man, God has no limits!

IMG_7380Another (much needed) way that I personally felt welcomed was how they dealt with a sudden and very mysterious allergic reaction that I had.  Waking up Saturday morning covered in hives and having several staff members running around trying their hardest to relieve the itch was truly a blessing.  Their effort in making me comfortable while also building friendships with me and the rest of the community was an example that we were all able to learn from.


Our dear friend Nathan Rieger, who previously spoke to us about idols during first semester in Canada, made the long trip out from Winnipeg, Manitoba to spend this week encouraging and mentoring us, all the while living life to the full in South Africa. I have been incredibly impacted by the fountain of wisdom, advice, and guidance Nathan has been able to share with this community: he has an amazing gift of being able to form such strong relationships with us in only a short period of time.

Sunday morning he spoke to us about reaching true community. There are four different types of community: pseudo or false community, chaos, emptiness/holding on, and true community. Quite often there is a cycle between the first two, but in order to become true community we need to find a balance between unity and diversity. This means that we need to embrace the good times and the things that bring us together, and when it comes to differences, we need to learn to suspend judgment and seek to be understanding rather than letting the differences divide us. I am excited to see how our community will continue to strive to true community in the closing month of our program.

Once the goodbyes were said, and Nathan was sent on his way, we packed the bus and were on the road again towards rural KwaZulu-Natal.  We look forward to the weeks ahead and are striving to spend every moment enjoying the blessings of this community as we also look forward to returning home in the coming weeks.


Written by Sarah Martens and Hannah McNeilly

Home Away From Home

It was so amazing to have arrived in a place we had never been that was filled with people that we did not know, and to have them welcome us into their homes. This past week we had the opportunity to live in the homes of people in the Strandfontein area, and it was been filled with so much hospitality, and caring that so many of us were able to feel a slight bit of home away from home. It seems like the relationships that we build with the people around us is a pillar on which this Outtatown experience stands, and a lot of this past week we were able to immerse ourselves in a few amazing relationships. The time that we spent with our homestays was accompanied by being able to learn a little bit about the area we were staying.



We also had the privilege to visit Robben Island, as well as the District Six Museum which is filled with the history of Coloured people in the Cape Town area.

“I’ve been wanting to visit Robben Island ever since I knew who Nelson Mandela was.  I’ve always been a huge history nerd and this experience gave me the full course history meal that I was craving to eat.  I brought Long Walk To Freedom along on the trip with me, and I read the section about Mandela being imprisoned on Robben Island the day before we went, as well as on the boat on the way to the Island.  It made the experience as a whole a lot more powerful and haunting.  We started off with a bus tour of the island.  Our guide told us all about the history of the island and how it used to be an island for lepers in the 1800s, and then obviously the infamous prison.  The interesting thing was that the island is beautiful.  Watching the deep blue water crashing up against the rocks, while walking on white sand littered with unique shells and being able to see an amazing view of Table Mountain and Cape Town was something I wasn’t expecting.  It was almost peaceful.  We drove past an old church, a leper cemetery, some old barracks, the building where people can stay voluntarily overnight (Mandela stayed the night there 3 times after he was released), and the quarry that had a pile of rocks as a small memorial.  It was all barren and quite haunting, but in a beautiful way.

“That part of the tour lasted about 45 minutes.  Then it was time for the heavier stuff, inside the maximum security prison.  The tour being given to us was lead by an ex-political prisoner who was imprisoned at Robben Island.  We entered a communal cell to begin the tour.  It was clear that the prison had been heavily renovated.  Our guide started talking about how he got arrested, and a bit of his time in prison, but he didn’t dwell on it too much for obvious reasons.  He talked about how the Black people got less clothing, food, and blankets than the Indian and Coloured people.  He talked about how the solitary cells (where the majority of the political prisoners were kept) were -if I’m correct- 2 by 2.5 metres.  On the weekends, prisoners would have to stay in there for 23 hours per day.  They had to use a bucket for a toilet.  He said that this was not only gross, but it’s embarrassing and shameful as well.  He showed us the straw mats the prisoners had to sleep on, and let me tell you, they were not much more comfortable than the ground itself.  Our guide also said that the inmates were given 3 blankets when they first got to the island and that it was not uncommon for them to be already infected with lice. 

“Then he took us outside to the concrete pad.  You know the one I’m talking about.  We stood on that thing. The concrete had been redone, but it still felt like we were standing on something much more powerful than a slab of concrete- and we were.  Our guide pointed to a window across the court and said: “You guys see that window? 4th one from the left? That’s Mandela’s cell.”  Oh man.  That’s his cell.  We went into this building and inside was a narrow hallway filled with tons of these 2 x 2.5 metre cells (all of which were repainted as well).  Then I got to Mandela’s cell.  We couldn’t go inside, but I grabbed onto those prison bars and stared into that room where he spent so much of his time.  He said in his book that if he stretched out on his “bed” all the way, he could touch wall to wall.  Some people’s mattresses are bigger than that cell was.  It’s crazy to think that a person who spent that much time in that place, was able to come out of it a sane and forgiving man; one of the greatest leaders of all time.  Time and time again it comes up that there is beauty in brokenness and I think Nelson Mandela is the epitome of that.   It was truly an unforgettable experience.” – Emma Martens


Service with a Deeper Purpose

Hello everybody! Last week was our second and final week spent in Stellenbosch and Kayamandi, and it was full of service and fun. Monday to Wednesday were spent working on our Kayamandi service projects, which included starting a garden at a primary school, painting a mural, spending time learning from and cooking with a local Gogo (or grandmother), and fixing up creches (daycares) and churches with members of the community. We also spent time getting in touch with our athletic sides by playing cricket, attending a university rugby match, and hiking Table Mountain.

Throughout the whole week we were focused on what we called “the real project”- building relationships with the people that we were working with and trying our best to impact their lives in whatever ways we could, not only through supplying materials for their projects. Our main goal was to make friends in Kayamandi, and I think we all left feeling like we accomplished just that. God really shone through our guides and our project partners, and it was crazy to see how God led us to amazing people and things this week. It really solidified Jeremiah 29:11 for me, that God is always in control, knows exactly what He is doing and will always lead us to great things.

Have a safe and happy week! God bless!

By Emma Mitchell

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