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group San Pedro

[post written by Kiera and Noah and originally posted on their blog]

Hola chicos,

It’s been an interesting time readjusting to being home, so I apologize for such a late blog entry! Luckily, with all the time I’ve had being cooped up at home, I’ve been able to take some time to fully process the different aspects of my experiences in the beautiful and colourful country of Guatemala. Although our trip had an unexpected ending, I see it now as only a small bump at the end of the road. Our entire semester was a phenomenal experience, right up until those last moments together before be parted ways.

Our last two weeks in Guatemala were spent in San Pedro las Huertas in a beautiful compound, where we also spent our first week of the semester, waaaay back when we first arrived in Guatemala. We were isolated together in some close living quarters, which was definitely a challenge at times. But we all made the most of it by enjoying each other’s company…and two weeks of catching up on some well-needed napping! The time we spent there felt like we were trapped (mostly because we were), but, looking back on how we dealt with the crisis, I realize that it helped me develop a greater sense of patience and grace. We all process everything differently and learning how to care for one another in the individual ways that we need is a true quality in becoming a disciple of Christ. It is a gift to have the ability to extend compassion and understanding to others (and yourself!) when you might not have the energy to be positive or giving, especially in the most rocky of situations.

Also, side-note: big shout-out to our fearless leaders (Rae, Kathy, Karissa, Luke and Shawn) and Tim & Renee from the Outtatown office who kept us in safe and careful care until we were back on our doorsteps in Canada! I don’t know what we would’ve done without you all!!

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Amidst all the chaos we were facing, we had a little graduation ceremony during one of our mornings, as we couldn’t return to Winnipeg for the official ceremony there. It was simple and sweet, and we even had it broadcasted live through social media so that our parents, guardians, and friends could watch and be a part of our celebration! It was an exciting but sad day knowing these would be the last few moments we would share together as an entire group, but I won’t forget the 6 months we had together making memories and developing as individuals. On March 27th, we made our journey back to Canada, parted ways at different airports, and made it to our homes safe and sound with no hiccups along the way!

Our group had such a variety of people from very different backgrounds and beliefs. One might think that this would divide us, but I think it brought us closer together, allowing us to learn more and to teach each other how to accept differences in others and in what we are used to. Geographically, our group also has very widespread roots; coast to coast to be exact! And although we may now be physically far from each other, I know that the friendships I’ve made are people I can count on and that we’ll see each other again.

It’s very difficult to try and sum up the semester in a few words or even in a single blog post because explaining an experience like this one honestly can’t be put into words (unless maybe I wrote a very long book). I saw and did so many things and grew in such unexpected ways. I learned more than I thought that I could in 3 months, which seems like a long time but, in reality, flies by way too fast!

The best way I can describe this semester is that I’ve been given new wings that will carry me on into the next stage of my life. A large chunk of my semester was not only learning about and experiencing things around me, but also within me. I needed personal growth in self-confidence, direction, boundaries, faith, devotion…the list goes on! Even still, I didn’t complete all the growing that I wanted to, but the areas that were in desperate need of TLC got the kick-start they needed.

I see my heart and mind a bit like a garden, and let me tell you this garden was well overdue for some trimming and replanting! Outside of our busy schedules and continuous excursions, I found the time to sit with God and let him take control so he could give my heart a makeover. It was a painful start because the hardest part of replanting is digging up the old roots that are in the way, but seeing my sprouts of a renewed and healthier faith brings me indescribable joy.

Acknowledging my struggles and my downfalls over these past few months has given me tools to overcome them and not let them define who I am at my core. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in my emotions or mental health battles and feel like there isn’t a light at the end of this tunnel. Sometimes it seems like I fall down into a dark pit of despair, but if I would just look up I’d see God’s hand reaching out to me, never giving up on calling me back to the safety of his embrace. My time away from home has truly changed me from the inside out and opened my eyes to the things in life that are not seen, but felt by the heart. And I hope to continue growing and changing, being molded into the woman God has designed me to be.

Documenting this trip has been such a pleasure and I’m sad to say this will most likely be the last blurb I’ll be writing about my time away from home. So, if you want to know more about our trip, don’t be afraid to ask because I love talking about every bit of it!!

Thanks again for reading,

Kiera & Noah

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Buenas tardes amigos!!

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We’ve had another wonderful week here in Guatemala!

Our large group split in half this past week and went to two different locations, switching halfway through the week. My group started the week off by making a two and a half hour journey to Panajachel followed by taking a boat across Lago de Atitlan to the town of Santiago where we stayed for four days.

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While in Santiago we partook in a few tours led by workers from MCC (Mennonite Central Committee). In first semester this was the organization that held some sessions for us during our week in Saskatchewan. The main location that we visited in Santiago was Anadesa. This is an organization run with the help of MCC that reaches out to the indigenous women in the community. At their facility, women are taught methods to successfully run their own businesses, such as selling beaded jewelry, chickens, tortillas, etc. At Anadesa they also have the opportunity to learn/teach each other better ways to prepare meals and some healthier choices that go along with preparation. They are also given information on how to be more environmentally aware which helps keep their community cleaner and healthier. Among these things, it is also a place for women to spend time together and discuss various topics, like their faith or the struggles and joys they are experiencing in life.

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One of the days there, we had the pleasure of going to the market with a few of the ladies who work at Anadesa and then helped to prepare our own lunch: tamales and sopa (soup) with chicken and various vegetales. It turned out awesome!

Another tour we did involved going to a coffee plantation to learn how café is made and produced. My favourite tour was of Adisa; a location that serves people with mental and physical disabilities. They told us of the various programs they run and the jobs they are able to create for these people.

I think it’s amazing that they have a centre like this out in Santiago. For the residents of these rural towns it can be so challenging to get help for their loved ones who need extra care. One of the only other places with this kind of facility/assistance is all the way in Guatemala City which, with all the travel time, takes a whole day trip. Now at times it’s not been easy for Adisa to operate due to financial or social factors, but this organization has come so far with what they are doing for these kids and adults!

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While we were here, we were split into groups of 2-4 and stayed with local Mayan families in Santiago. I really enjoyed staying with my family, even though they mostly only speak Tz’utujil; which is the indigenous language spoken in this area. They were so excited and told us how they felt so blessed to have us stay with them. This really warmed my heart because it’s these relationships that we make that you can’t plan for. It can be so hard to just communicate, let alone bond with the families we stay with, but when I get past the language barrier I become solely filled with joy that I get to meet these people and share their home with them. I feel just as blessed as they do to spend the few days we did with them and feel the full extent of their generosity and love!

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The second half of our week we took an eight-hour bus ride to Lanquin where we spent a few days enjoying one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala! Our group went river tubing and enjoyed the peace and quite of our hostel on the first day. And on the second day we did various water related activities; caving, climbing and jumping off a waterfall, doing a short hike up to a look-off, and ended the day with swimming in the natural pools of Semuc Champey. It was a wild week full of such a variety of activities and experiences, but now we are settled back in our home stays in San Juan del Obispo for another week of español!

Gracias por leer,
Thanks for reading,

Kiera

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A Week in the Life in San Juan Del Obispo

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This week we were getting familiar with the streets and faces of San Juan, settling into a routine with Spanish, homestays, and weekly activities. Our fourth week of homestays began on Monday, with Spanish lessons in the morning and time with our PMGs (Peer Mentoring Groups) in the afternoon. My PMG stayed in San Juan this time, choosing to just relax at La Taberna restaurant (The Tavern) and check in with each other. PMGs are a great opportunity for some more intentional conversation or relaxation, studying the Bible or doing Spanish homework, and finding adventures around San Juan or Antigua.

This week we had the opportunity to meet with J or Andrea Janzen, two friends of the Outtatown community who led us during the Church Visit weekend in Vancouver last semester. On Monday I met with Andrea at a café, and we talked about all things from faith to friends and future plans. J and Andrea were a great pastoral resource for lots of people, offering advice, insight, questions and listening, similar to mentoring with our respective site leader, but with different perspectives and experiences.

On Monday lots of people also showed up for a boot camp/workout at the school, which, for most, was either exhausting, fun, or both. Our big hike up Volcan de Acetenago is coming up, so many of us were eager to counteract all the sweet bread and tortillas our host families give us and prep for our approaching adventure.

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As Tuesday came around, after class I rushed to eat lunch with my homestay, and ran to catch the first bus to my service placement. My group is with an organization called Celebrating Recovery, which works with people who have lived with and suffered from addictions, and is currently constructing a house for those who are experiencing homelessness mainly because of an addiction. We are helping get construction on this house started; so far we have just been helping to even out the road in front of where the house will be, and this week we were doing the same thing as the last, passing buckets of dirt down the hill in an assembly line. The house will be on top of a mountain, in a little Mayan village called El Hato. From the building in front of where the house will be, we are blessed with a breathtaking view of Antigua and the surrounding villages and rolling green mountains as we work.

On Wednesday I met up with my small group. We bused into Antigua together and walked to a café, a hidden gem with delicious cinnamon buns, a friendly cat, and homemade chocolate, granola, and peanut butter for sale. Like PMGs, small group is always a great opportunity to catch up and have intentional conversation. We talked about our highs and lows of the past week, as well as our hopes for the coming days. We also discussed a couple chapters of God Enters Stage Left, which focuses on the dangers of relying solely on religion for faith and a relationship with God. As always, small group was a great way of intentionally connecting with a smaller group in our big community.

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Thursday we had our test in Spanish class for the last two weeks of classes, containing all three tenses we have now been taught. With brains a little bit fried, we all went home afterwards for lunch with our homestays and a free afternoon. I used mine to prep for our upcoming travel week to Lanquin and Santiago. In the evening we met up for Worship at the school, with some familiar and new songs, as well as prayer and reflection. Before everyone went home, many said goodbye to one another, as the next week we were going to travel in two separate groups.

Friday morning we woke up bright and early and headed to the pilas (manual laundry tubs), where my group would meet our bus. Then we settled in for a long drive day, into the rainy Cloud Forest, towards Lanquin.

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Chocolate, Jade, and Volcanoes

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After a full week in Panajachel, our group reunited with our host families. It was really nice to be back and settle into a routine again. For some of us coming back to San Juan del Obispo felt sort of like coming home. It was great to continue studying and learning Spanish after not having used it for a week. We were impressed and surprised by how much we had retained and remembered from a week earlier. In addition to a familiar four days of learning, PMGs, small groups, Tuesday service projects and worship, we had the fun opportunities to participate in a chocolate tour, a jade tour, and to hike a volcano.

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14.5On Thursday and Saturday we were able to see and try the process of chocolate-making the way it’s done here in Guatemala. Daniel, the owner of the local chocolate factory led us through the main steps of roasting cacao beans, taking the shells off and crushing the beans before adding sugar to the mixture and shaping the patties to be left to chill for six hours. A common use for this chocolate in Guatemala is to make it into hot chocolate, but it is also delicious to eat.

This week we had the option to go on a jade tour and those of us who went found it an interesting and valuable activity. We met Don Francisco, a master of jade who was very knowledgeable and experienced with working with jade. For years Don Francisco would venture into the hills of Guatemala with a coworker and their donkeys, searching for stones that contained jade. He taught us about jade, the history and production of the stone and how he works with it. He showed us some of his pieces, as well as his machines and we were able to try working with some jade. It was very cool and lots of us hope to go back to make a piece of our own.

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Hiking Volcan de Pacaya on Friday was a beautiful experience for all of us. Some students rode horses, while the majority of us walked, but when we got to the top we were all in awe of the gorgeous view. We roasted marshmallows near the summit, using the natural heat vents in the volcanic rock and looked out at the volcanoes Fuego, Acatenango, and Agua in the distance, surrounded by clouds and the beautiful colours of the sunset. As we watched the sun go down we reflected on thankfulness and stood in amazement at God’s creation.

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In addition to all of this, during this week the majority of us students and the leaders were able to meet with J or Andrea Janzen to discuss and debrief various topics including faith, growth on Outtatown, the future, and more. We first met J and Andrea on our church plunge in Vancouver and they travel here to Guatemala every year as a spiritual resource and mentor for us students and for the site leaders. We found the time with them very valuable and refreshing. We appreciated the time to talk to someone outside of our community who has so much wisdom about faith and other aspects of life.

All in all it was a great week and, as we head into our fourth week of homestays and Spanish classes, we are excited to continue to grow in our Spanish and in community. We hope for continued growth in our lives, anticipating more challenges and more fun experiences!

¡Asta pronto!

Erika y Annika

What has OT Guatemala been up to?

Hola amigos!

Two weekends ago we kicked off our time away from our host families by making a 3-hour journey to Panajachel where we took a boat across Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) to a hostel to spend the weekend. It was a peaceful weekend with lots of free time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, go swimming, adventure in the town up the hill, or go scuba diving! After an awesome weekend with only a few people getting sunburned (luckily enough, not myself), we made our way back across the lake to Porche de Salomon where we spent the week working in the mountains to assist in the construction of a casa (house) for a local family.

Porche de Salomón is an organization that assists in development and humanitarian aid for people in and around Panajachel. It was a long four days of helping them with the beginning stage of the construction of this house. Through hard labour, lugging cement blocks up a steep hill and digging a foundation for the house, we were able to help make the workers’ jobs easier in the following weeks. Although we tired ourselves out with our work, we still managed to have some fun with each other, the family that we were working alongside, and the other workers involved!

Below are a few photos to give you an idea of what our week looked like 🙂

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Our group with the family and our last day of work!

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Carrying sand and bricks up the hill

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Laying out the sand

 

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Learning how to cut and bend wire

This past week has been eventful due to the majority of our group getting sick because of something we consumed along our adventure away from San Juan. After a few trips to the hospital with various students, we’re all on the road to recovery. The doctors were great and with some antibiotics we should all be back to normal in no time.

Although illness crept its way into our group, our time in Panajachel is one that won’t be forgotten. One additional aspect was that the view of the lake surrounded by volcanoes along with the colourful town was breathtaking! Another was that there was so much to learn from the people around us, either the volunteers of Porche de Salomon or people we met in the mercado (market) or from each other. I think there was a lot of growth in the appreciation of hard physical work and learning how to accomplish the tasks set out for us as a team.

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Enjoying zip-lining and high ropes as a group on the weekend

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Breathtaking sunset we got to enjoy 🙂

Currently we are back in San Juan del Obispo with our host families for two more weeks of Spanish classes. And this afternoon (Friday, Feb. 7) we will be hiking Volcán de Pacaya, where we will roast marshmallows on volcanic heat vents at the top! Stay tuned to read about our adventures on the volcano.

That’s all for today,

Hasta luego!

Kiera

Segunda Semana de Español

Hola!!

Our second week of homestays brought us into a sense of routine. Each morning we ate at our homes with our host families, and from Monday to Thursday we attended Spanish school. We returned home for lunch with our families, then headed off to various activities. The evenings were free, and were usually spent with friends, working on homework, spending time with host families, or catching up on sleep.

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Monday afternoon we had PMG’s (peer mentoring groups). This is a group that we were assigned to at the start of first semester. It is a group consisting of three students with no leaders, and we are able to make it what we want. It is a great opportunity for fun, deep conversations, and supporting each other.

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Tuesday afternoon was our first day of service placements. Students had the opportunity to choose from 5 different service options that we will work with each Tuesday during the remaining 4 weeks of Spanish and homestays. The options are: helping at a hospital for kids with cerebral palsy, teaching kids English at a Spanish school, offering our time at an old folk’s home, helping at an addictions counselling center, and helping construct a trades school with a long-time partner, Hilmar. It is a great opportunity to give back to the people of this country.

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Tuesday service

Wednesday afternoon we had small groups; it was the first time that small groups were led by students. Small groups is a set group of 7 students and one leader, and we do many different things. We will be leading small group throughout the semester, giving us the opportunity to use our creative abilities to lead a small group meeting for our fellow students. This is one of the many ways that we are able to develop independence, leadership, and to expand our comfort zones.

Thursday afternoon we had an opportunity to give back to the community of San Juan del Obispo that is so graciously hosting us. We split into groups and cleaned up the streets of the town. In the evening our group reconvened at the school for our weekly worship. Students on worship committee plan all the worship events and bring their various talents into their leading styles.

Finishing up the first two weeks of Spanish school with a test on Thursday, we hit the road to the beautiful lakeside city of Panajachel, then took a boat for a relaxing weekend at the town of Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan.

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Hasta la proxima vez,

William y Rachel

 

First Week at Homestays

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Hola!

We’ve officially spent one week with our Guatemalan host families! This past week was full of new experiences, overcoming challenges, navigating a language barrier, and working hard in class and at home to learn Spanish. Monday was our first day of Spanish school. We all met before class and shared about our exciting first nights with our homestays. We had a great first day where we learned some of the basics such as numbers, directions, and how to introduce ourselves. Throughout the morning we each had a short interview to see how much Spanish we already knew so that we could be split into class groups for the next day. We ended the morning with pin the tail on the donkey and a piñata! The next day we were split into groups of 4, each with an amazing teacher who will teach us Spanish in the weeks to come.

In the afternoons on Monday and Tuesday we were given a tour of both San Juan del Obispo and of Antigua. In San Juan we visited a chocolate maker where they taught us how their chocolate was made and let us taste the many different flavours they offer. Next we visited the Museo del Nispero, named for a popular fruit in Guatemala, and there we tasted some of their nispero products, including jam and honey. Afterwards we went to the firework factory where they showed us the popular bull-shaped firework structure that is meant for someone to hold above their head and run around as the fireworks go off. We learned that many Catholic Guatemalans use fireworks to celebrate different saints throughout the year.

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In Antigua we walked through the market, visited a fancy hotel, saw some of the many beautiful churches, strolled through Parque Central, and learned more about the history of the former capital city of Guatemala. Antigua is such a beautiful city, rich with culture and history, and overflowing with life and colour!

Friday afternoon we had the privilege of having a salsa dancing lesson! Many of us were unsure of what to make of it at first but we all ended up having a great time. Most of the time was spent laughing while tripping over each other’s feet, but towards the end we mostly got the hang of it. It may not have looked like it but I would say we’re Dancing with the Stars ready.

On Thursday evening we all came together for our weekly worship. We sang and had time to reflect on the business of the past few days through journalling, drawing, praying, or sitting in silence. Although getting back into the Outtatown swing of things is exciting, it can be overwhelming at times. It was nice to create space to breathe and refocus. We were all thankful for the time spent together as a community, as living apart is taking some getting used to. Knowing that there are others who are going through the same things you are and who are there to support you makes all the difference.

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Our host families have really welcomed us with open arms and loving hearts and we are so thankful for them. Although communication can be tough at times, we have felt very cared for this week. It’s amazing to have this opportunity to be able to live in this new culture, to try new food, and to be able to practice speaking Spanish every day. There’s still so much to see, learn, and do and we’re excited for what the coming weeks hold! We’re off to a great start and can’t wait for what’s yet to come!

¡Hasta luego!

Annika and Kara

The Adventure Begins (Again)

After a long five weeks at home, all the Outtatown students were reunited at last in Atlanta, Georgia, during our layover. Anyone could see how joyous the reunion was, judging by the smiles, the hugs, and the excitement on everyone’s face. Our Outtatown community is a very close-knit, tight group, which makes the times apart hard but the times together beautiful and fun.

The break itself had a variety of responses from different students. Some found it very long and very boring, as loneliness made itself present. Others found it a nice way to relax after the busy first semester that Outtatown brings; constantly busy and moving. They felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle another semester in Guatemala. Still others were happy to be back home to see many friends and family members they hadn’t seen for three months, and therefore were busy with life at home once again. Overall, the entire body of students were ecstatic to be back together and headed for a different country and a new adventure.

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The phrase used most often in the first week of our stay in Guatemala would probably be “This is so beautiful!” From the volcanoes, to the foliage, to the vibrant colours of the houses and stores, Guatemala is a beautiful country through and through. Orientation week proved to be both an informative time as well as a time of relaxation and enjoyment of simply being here in this country. It was also a much-needed time to become accustomed to the culture and way of life in Guatemala, in addition to reconnecting with friends we hadn’t seen in the past five weeks.

This past weekend we stayed at SEMILLA, a seminary in Guatemala City that prepares its students to live out the reign of God with justice and peace today. Many groups stay there as they have rooms for guests to stay. During our time at SEMILLA, we learned much of the history of Guatemala, as well as some parts of their culture which are hard to learn about but important to know. For example, we went to an overlook of the garbage dump in which so many people work, including young kids, to support themselves; we also visited a mall, which was such a harsh contrast to the poverty at the dump.

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Some of the beautiful Ruins we saw in Antigua

After our time in Guatemala City we went to church in Antigua. It was a beautiful service and amazing to worship together despite the language barrier. There was English translation for everything, and the verses of songs alternated between English and Spanish. It was beautiful to worship the Lord together.

Then came the moment of both excitement and anticipation: meeting our host families. With a couple of exceptions, not one of us spoke Spanish beyond the point of the bare minimum, causing some anxiety regarding this moment. One by one, our names were called, and we left with a family we’ve never met before and with whom we do not share a common language. As each student goes into this week, please pray for us as we try to learn Spanish and become accustomed to the culture and schedule of Guatemala. It will be amazing to see everyone grow through this uncomfortable situation, and get to know the host families better. Adventure is right around the corner!

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Wrapping Up Our Semester

Hey everyone!

We just finished our debrief week in Hope, British Columbia, and ended the semester with a few days of fun in Banff. Our debrief week helped us reflect on the experiences that we’ve had over the past few months, and to do so, each of us presented a short testimony to the group about which parts of the semester impacted us the most, as well as some challenges that we have overcome. It was a week full of learning more about each other, seeing how God has been at work throughout the semester, and seeing how we’ve progressed since the beginning of Outtatown. It was so cool for us to be able to look back to how we were impacted individually and as a group, because all of us have grown in so many different ways since September.

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In Banff, we had a ski/hot springs day, dinner with our small groups, and a free day to explore the town, hang out with our peer mentoring groups, and relax for a bit before the trip home. On our ski day, we took a gondola up to Sunshine Village where we could then take a chairlift to the top of a mountain. At the peak, we were at over 7 000 feet in altitude! Since we were so high up, and the wind chill was -32⁰ Celsius, we really had to focus on the task at hand. As difficult as it was to ignore the bite of the cold winds and low temperatures, once we learned to do that, it helped us to appreciate God’s creation around us. There were mountains everywhere, and the falling snow made everything sparkle.

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During our small group dinner, we had one final chance to check in with each other and share about what we had learned in the past week. In my small group, the way we always start our weekly discussions is by sharing one thing that challenged us, one highlight, and one thing we’re looking forward to. We had a great chat and, after dinner, we reunited with the larger group to go to the hot springs. It was the perfect way to end the day because we all had sore muscles from skiing. It was nice to relax and wind down after a busy week, and we all felt so refreshed afterwards.

After such an eventful and rewarding semester, we all have many stories to share with loved ones at home. As difficult as it was to leave the group, we are all looking forward to catching up with friends and family over the next month as well as preparing for Guatemala.

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Happy holidays!

Kailyn

 

Learning to hear Gods Voice

Hello!

Nearing the end of our first semester, we had Steve Klassen come and speak to us about listening to God. He talked much about his experiences with God speaking to him and giving insight into his life. He had many fascinating stories about getting an impression from the Lord to do something and, after he did that specific thing even though it was strange and didn’t make sense in the moment, he could see how God worked through that and did something amazing. He also told many stories of people that he knows who are in tune with God’s voice. His friend Jamie, a police officer, has had many encounters with God speaking to him to do what seems like random, strange ideas, leading to lives becoming touched by the good news of Jesus. It was pretty amazing to listen to Steve talk about the many times that God moments have happened simply by listening.

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Steve encouraged us to slow down and to listen to God’s voice by simply being silent. People are so busy these days, and it is hard for us to take time to just be. He told us about the many ways God speaks to God’s people: through the Bible, other people, small voices, impressions, or many other ways. Steve also brought to our attention the ways we can try to figure out if what we are hearing is God or other voices, which was important to hear so we can try to distinguish what we are hearing.

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On Wednesday we had a silent day. The entire day we were not supposed to talk, or even text. We were encouraged to take time to meditate on Scripture, read poems, reflect on the Lord and our lives, and listen. Many people went hiking, sat outside, or reflected on Scripture. A lot of students felt words or pictures from God during the silent time. In the evening we broke the silence with worship, praising the Lord for his goodness and faithfulness. Many people shared stories of their day, about how they felt God’s presence or heard from God. Almost everybody said they enjoyed the silence and solitude, wanting to partake in more stillness in the future instead of constantly being busy.

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Lessons were learned from the silent day, as being still, being silent is not a normal activity in our lives today. We learned from Steve the importance of being silent, and listening to God throughout our day. God has many important things to say to God’s children, if we but take the time to listen.

Catch you later,

Erika