Heartwarming Hospitality



You can rest assured that we have arrived safe and sound back in San Juan after a pretty crazy two weeks of travel. February 18th we left San Juan del Obispo destined for Cobán and the cloud forests of Guatemala. After about 6 hours on our school bus, we arrived to CCFC (Community Cloud Forest Conservation) where we met Outtatown partners Rob and Tara. They have been working in Guatemala for over 10 years serving the Mayan community, teaching and working with them to make sustainable and healthy agriculture a part of their everyday lives. They also teach Mayan families how to feed themselves well, how to use what they have to make a living, all while instilling the importance that girls get an education past 6th grade. 

It was this ministry that we partnered with for a whole week; it was a place where we got to rest our heads inside the very building that past Outtatowners had been working on for a couple years, and eat spectacular food made by the Mayan ladies that were staying with Rob and Tara. You could sense the hospitality of all these people the moment you walked through the gate. It made you feel like you walked into a home. 

Over the course of the next few days, we learned a lot about what they are doing in Cobán. The first day we got a tour around the conservation grounds where Rob showed us how they were trying to sustainably use the land they had. They had natural water filtration from the sinks to the river so the chemicals we use everyday wouldn’t pollute the water; all the toilets are composting to avoid the whole water pollution and then filtration steps; and every vegetable and herb they use for meals is grown on site. We then got to explore a giant cave that was only a short walk from the lodge and garden area. You were dwarfed by the size of this thing! All in all a pretty fascinating day of learning. 

A few of the other days were spent helping out around the site with whatever tasks they needed to have done. This included gardening/pulling weeds, sitting in on agriculture lessons to Mayan school children, assisting the construction crew with the new building they were working on, and dragging freshly cut, full eucalyptus tree trunks out of the forest to use as support posts for the new building. I was lucky enough to both sit in on these lessons with the kids, and later haul giant logs out of the forest with 14 others. By the end of our time there I think we managed to pull about 15 logs out of the forest with sheer man-power. Oh the fun stories we will have from that experience!

Now not all the time was spent in physical labour. Saturday the 20th and Sunday the 21st of that week we piled into a small bus and visited some remote villages around the area. Saturday was a little rainy, making the ground into a mud soup that sloshed with every step. Thank goodness for rubber boots – although, our pants didn’t fair so well by the end of the day. Nevertheless we made our way to the home of a Mayan family Rob and Tara have worked with for a couple years. They welcomed all 24 of us into their home, served us sweet coffee and stuffed frijole tortillas, and told us about what they have been working on in their village for the last few years. The hospitality of these people, strangers frankly, was heartwarming.

On Sunday we found ourselves in the city of Cobán at a Dominican monastery learning about the history of the Mayans before and after the Spanish invasion. We then attended the main Catholic Church in Cobán’s Parque Central for their evening service. It was an interesting experience seeing the difference between what I know as church at home, to what Catholics know as church. It was very much more a strictly religious practice with many traditions formulated to weave in and out perfectly. As Outtatown does best, we expanded our world that day to open our minds to understanding what life outside our own bubbles is like. 

Well I would have loved to say that was the extent of our busy week, but that would be very far from the truth. After our time at the conservation site, we were sent off to our Mayan homestays in the village of Cebop. We were matched up with our host siblings before hopping on the bus and a few in the back of a pickup to drive to the village. We soon arrived at the base of the village, grabbed our backpacks, and followed our hosts on foot as they guided us higher and higher up the steep slopes of the mountain. 
I think we were all incredibly thankful for the hiking experience we had a few days prior, otherwise I know I personally would have collapsed at some point on that climb. My host family lived on the very top of one of the shorter mountains. Giving them an incredible view all around. For each of us, the rest of the day was spent interacting with our families. In the morning everyone hiked up to the local school with their host siblings where we witnessed a bit of a presentation before heading back to our homes with the task of making a trilingual picture dictionary with the kids. Fun times came from that and each of us has our different stories. All in all I think the time we spent with these families was incredibly valuable. We felt incredibly welcomed from the moment we met them, and made memories that will last a lifetime. 

So that about sums up our week in Cobán. Our next week gave us a much needed retreat from the physicality of the one before. We headed to Lanquin where we stayed in a hostel on the edge of a river for a couple days. It was nice to be able to spend the days to ourselves lying in hammocks, eating home-like food, and sleeping a solid 8-9 hours on an actual mattress undisturbed. We took a day trip into Semuc Champey where they have the famous layered pools/waterfalls that you can swim in. The day brought us the adventure of caving in waist deep water, tubing through the fast current of the river, the opportunity to jump off a short bridge into the water, a 30 min hike up to a cool viewing place for the pools below, and then time to swim in the water while having little fish try and nibble at you. It was the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation. 

Our final destination during our travel weeks was a beach hotel on Lago Ixobel called Denny’s Beach. A few hours drive from Lanquin, and then a 20 min boat ride across the lake brought us to this secluded little getaway. The water was so warm in comparison to other places we had swam, that the moment we got our rooms, everyone dawned their bathing suits and jumped into the lake as we watched the sunset. This weekend brought us back to first semester days when we had two Knowing Yourself sessions with two of our leaders. In the morning we completed the Enneagram personality test. In the afternoon we talked about on the importance of diversity within the church and in community through scripture, and then expanded that through small interactive activities.

 It was good to take some time to devote to ourselves and understand what’s going on in our hearts and minds. Although the next two days were un poquito rainy, that didn’t stop us from enjoying time together as a community as we visited hot spring waterfalls across the lake, cracked open a couple of coconuts, and sat around the fire singing until the rain sent us running for cover. 

It’s been a crazy past few weeks but I wouldn’t trade the experiences we had for anything else. I am encouraged day in and day out by our community, and growing in the knowledge that God is ever present in the midst of it all. 
Adíos for now!

Karissa Enns

Language & Culture


After our work week spent in Panajachel and well needed weekend break on Lake Atitlan, we are now back in San Juan with our host families. Although a change of scenery was nice, it feels good to be back in our homes that we’ve become so attached to. This week we continued with our Spanish classes. After being away from it for so long, I found that I had forgotten a few things and struggled at trying to speak it properly on the first day. It was very choppy and I don’t think my Spanish teacher was too impressed with me but by the next day it all started coming back and I was surprised at how much I actually remembered.

After our first class of Spanish we had our cultural activity. We took a bus to San Antonio and met with some Guatemalan women who talked to us about their many cultural traditions. We learned about the poncho which is more than just a blanket. It has many uses such as carrying a baby or twisting it around the top of your head to make it easier for baskets to balance. We got the chance to balance baskets on our heads after and some of us got the hang of it pretty quickly and were able to walk speedily around the room. I, however, was not one of those people and could barely walk a few feet before feeling like it was going to fall off. Guatemalan women definitely need more credit for this because it’s a lot harder than it looks.
 After this we learned about traditional Guatemalan weddings. Women would wear a garment to show that they were single and men who saw this would go up to them if they were interested and ask them out. After about a year they would get married. A few of us from our group re-enacted this and it was quite funny to watch our friends up there. Our day ended with us having multiple attempts at making tortillas and eating a delicious traditional chicken soup. Overall it was an amazing cultural experience and I learned so much that I didn’t know before.

– Alexis Ogaranko

“The being, rather than just the doing…”



Well we had quite the incredible week in Panajachel near beautiful Lago Atitlan; about 3 hours away from our homes in San Juan.

This lake that Pana rests by is known to draw many people who feel lost and are searching to find something – anything. Pana is known as the “Hippie Capital” of Guatemala.

  In Pana, we stayed with and worked with an organization called Porch de Salomon. And wow what amazing work Porch is doing there. From music ministry to being a food bank, they seem to do it all. And this past week we got to be a part of their home building ministry.

They build about 12 homes a year, multiple at a time, and we had the incredible opportunity to start one of those houses. And another super cool part of that was that we got to start the partnership that Porch was making in the rural indigenous community that we worked in; it was their first time ever building there.

(This is normally something that short term mission teams would be doing so it was a bit of a different feel for us but the same idea for the people from Porch who were leading us.)

So because of this being their first time in this village, they encouraged the relation side of the project, the being, rather than just the doing (more than usual). And I especially loved this about them.

We met the mom and her son who were living in extreme poverty and right away she welcomed us as her family for the week. I saw Jesus so much in her. And her son, 6 years old only, was so small but had incredible amounts of energy.

We also got to interact with many of the other village kids as they were always interested in what we were doing there. They loved the attention and they also were quick to help us with what we were doing.

And as for the doing, we had the chance to do some of the things that are very necessary for the building of a house but things that would take weeks for the few workers to complete on their own.

So since we aren’t actually qualified like they are and we also don’t want to take paying work away from them, we moved supplies including cinder blocks, sand and gravel, as well as dug trenches for running water and the foundation. Some of us also bound rebar contraptions for the walls of the house and also dug a very deep hole for the septic tank.

By the end of the week I was feeling quite exhausted but also so incredibly blessed. The workers appreciation as well as the appreciation of the woman, who’s house this is going to be in 8 weeks, was amazing.

What a beautiful week of being reminded how all we really need is Jesus and also what it looks like to rely on Him for everything (for most of us that mean physically for the week).

We also got to appreciate what it meant to be back in community since we were back together once again.

And as we are feeling so blessed, we aren’t meant to keep that for ourselves but instead share it with others.

Although this was just one week out of our months here, I’m hoping to allow it to continue to impact the rest of our time as well as the rest of my life and how I view short term mission trips.

– Mikaela Friesen