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

2nd Semana Española

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

Venturing in Vancouver

Hello friends and family,

Our past week in Vancouver was filled with learning, exploring, and a general lack of snow.

We began it with J Janzen, who led us in our Church Plunge. Visiting 8 churches in 2 days, we were given the task to observe and look for elements of “Temple, Body and Herald”, which are the scripture-based components of what makes a church. From a Catholic mass and a mega church to a small, contemplative service and jazz vespers, we seriously got our church on! Probably our most foreign experience was the Gregorian chant at Christ Church Cathedral. It was very holy and felt different to the kind of worship services most of us have been a part of; a dim, candle-lit sanctuary, a small group in white robes singing the chant in a very quiet reflective mood. Most of us found this service to be very relaxing and took the time to reflect on our plunge or pray. These two days challenged us to analyze our own churches, how they incorporate (or don’t incorporate) the temple, body, and herald aspects of a church, and gave us some new insights on other Christian denominations.

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Following a great free day in the city, we began our Urban Plunge portion of our stay in Vancouver. Hosted by YWAM (Youth with a Mission) Vancouver, we had the opportunity to tour both the West and East Sides. In groups of three, with a map and lunches, we set out for a morning in the Downtown East Side, known for being one of the most financially impoverished postal codes in Canada. We were surprised at the stark contrast between the East and West Sides. One minute you could be walking through downtown, past nice coffee shops and then the next block you were weaving your way through packed sidewalks of people experiencing homelessness. From talking with people on the streets we saw how close a community they were, and how they look out for one another with the evident hope that their situation will improve. It also brought our attention to how materialistic and detached the West Side was. We finished our day with a session about sex trafficking in Canada. After learning how prevalent and current it is, we were led in a prayer vigil for those affected. On our second day we were separated into groups to do service work at different non-profit organizations.

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After finishing our time in Vancouver, we returned to Camp Squeah in Hope, where we concluded our busy week of learning with adventure! We went caving, where we reflected on how caving is similar to our journey with God. We were divided into groups of five, given overalls, helmets, headlamps, and minimal directions, and sent off into a series of caverns under a mountain. Often crawling on our stomachs, squeezing through tighter spaces than we ever realized we could squeeze through, and battling claustrophobia, our little “spelunking” adventure was quite a struggle for many of us. We would frequently reach dead ends or were confused about what direction to go, but with determination, encouragement, and a few breaks here and there (my group liked to sing during these), we eventually found the path again. Afterwards, our guide Walden debriefed us on how we often reach ‘dead ends’ in our faith and, in order to continue the path, you must persevere, with a little help from community and listening to God.

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All in all, we’ve had a pretty jam-packed week in VanCity, and can’t wait to tell you about our week with Steve Klassen and our silent day! Until next time!

Blog by Ethan and Eileen