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

“Lost in Translation”

I’d like to start by apologizing to all the parents who have been keeping up with this blog and have been left hanging (hi mom!!!). It’s been a busy couple weeks and updates have been few and far between. Better late than never though, am I right? 

This post will roughly cover January 17th through 28th. We’ve been living in San Juan Del Obispo, a 20 minutes chicken-bus ride from Antigua. Each student is staying with a different host family. 

My family consists of a mom, a dad, a sister (16), a brother (13), and a small curly white haired dog. Weirdly enough, this is identical to my Canadian family, even down to the dog (I function as the 19 year old Outtatown student in both families). Other people have different family setups including, but not limited too, the addition of cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all living under the same roof. 

For the most part, our host families don’t speak any English. We are learning Spanish, but it is a slow process and often we make mistakes. Sometimes things just get lost in translation:

“We got a tour of San Juan and visited a few mini businesses, one being a chocolate shop. As I went home that evening I explained to my host mom what we all did. I tried to explain how we went to a chocolate shop and had hot chocolate. We went our separate ways and a few minutes later she comes and gets me saying that the hot water is ready to make hot chocolate. Being very confused, I realized that I probably said that I had chocolate to make hot chocolate instead of saying that I had a sample of hot chocolate. Trying my best to apologize she said “Don’t worry” and took me down the street to a different chocolate shop. In the end we had a cute date sipping hot chocolate.” (Nina Dyck)

Guatemalans are very family oriented. They love asking about your relationship status as a way of finding out who you’re connected to. Sometimes students will accidentally volunteer (mis)information on the topic without prompting:

“One day I was eating with my host family. It was a long day and as much as I love practicing my Spanish with them (which mainly consists of us looking up common words in the dictionary and laughing) I was very tired. So the Spanish word for tired is “cansado”, but as I tried to tell them this, I ended up saying “I am casado” instead. Cue all the surprised, and confused looks from my host family. To respond my host mom starts playing with her wedding band and pointing at me. It was only after my host sister looked at my notes that they all realized I wanted to say “cansado”. For you see “casado” is the Spanish word for married..” (Keefe Spence)

The food here is different; Fresh tortillas, papayas, avocados, plantains, ketchup/mayo on every sandwich, and just the sheer volume of bread consumed is fantastic. Some of us are loving it. Others of us are finding the transition a little more challenging:

“Breaking the barriers of politeness has been quite the trial of having a host family. Food, in my experience, has been the height of this. Don’t get me wrong, the food has been delicious. However there are two reasons why meals make me a bit paranoid. One: my host grandma sits, not even eating herself, and watches me (just to make sure I like her food). Two: because of cultural reasons, I need to finish whatever is on my plate. One fateful day, I was served a fairly simple dish of green beans, hot dog, and a sauce. I was going through it and I found a limp and stringy herb in the sauce, which I pushed to the side a bit. When I looked up, I became aware once again that my Grandma was watching my every move, and saw me push it to the side. And so I just scooped it up onto my fork, and ate. It was in that moment, a moment when it was too late to turn back, that I realized the extent of my mistake. I had just eaten a massive dead spider. I can’t begin to explain my disgust, but it didn’t make it better when I realized that my Grandma just watched me do it. She sat there, looking shocked, but silent. She knew. I knew. But in the midst, I guess I was still polite?” (Kelsey Bonney)

Fun Guatemala facts: Fireworks. Guatemalans love their fireworks. They set them off for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers.. you name it. Plus they love music. Exceptionally loud music. Why exactly they feel the need to combine the two at 3 in the AM everyday of the week is beyond me, but I appreciate that they like to have a good time. 

– Emma McCallum

“It’s Not Weird, It’s Different!”

Hola from Guatemala! If you weren’t already aware, we landed safely and are thoroughly enjoying the warm spring weather. Our first week has been one full of new experiences and routines. From trying new foods, to meeting our host families, to communicating through the language barrier, we have seen so much in a very short amount of time.

We had the opportunity to spend our first four days in Guatemala at beautiful Camp Adulam. It was in this tropical paradise that we got to reconnect as a team, learn about the country’s cultural expectations, and practice some basic Spanish to help us get around. There were also multiple memorable moments, including having a cat find its way into our room in the middle of the night, fireworks going off in the evenings, and Spanish music playing all through the night from a nearby party. Each of these events adding to the list of interesting differences between Canada and Guatemala. Having grown up accustomed to our home culture in Canada, we often walk into a new culture seeing everything as “weird”. We learned in orientation that it is important to recognize that much of what we experience is not going to be the same as at home. Thus the phrase “it’s not weird, it’s different” came into play.

I think one of the highlights of our time at Adulam was the afternoon that we went down to the local soccer field and played with a few of the kids in the neighbourhood. It was probably quite a sight to see 24 white people walking down the streets of the small town to the soccer field inviting people to play with them, but there were a few kids that decided to join. As a group of us organized teams and began the game, others talked with two girls from the town and started a game of tag. Soon everyone was running around and laughing, high five-ing and having a grand old time under the warm afternoon sunshine. Later we got an early Spanish lesson from the two young girls, who had joined us beside the field. We pointed and asked what certain objects were called in Spanish, and in turn shared what some of the English words for them were as well. They seemed to really enjoy teaching us a little bit of their language, and hearing some of the funny sounding words that English had.

Soon enough the weekend arrived, which meant that we were about to meet our Guatemalan host families and begin our journey into the Spanish language. We spent that Sunday in Antigua. We went to a Spanish/English church, drove up to the famous Cross on the Hill that overlooked Antigua, explored the central square in Antigua, and then drove up to San Juan del Obispo to meet our soon-to-be families.

We were all a bit nervous (some more than others!) but when names were called and people saw their “moms” for the first time, there were lots of smiles. As many can attest, the remainder of that night was pretty awkward. Sitting at the dinner table with a family you don’t know, a language you can’t understand, and sometimes food you’ve never eaten is daunting. But we all managed to make the best of it. You learn that “when in doubt, use your hands” is quite a true statement. Gestures make a world of difference with language barriers.

The next day brought us to Mundo Spanish School, where we were put in groups and began to learn basic phrases and words. I really liked the way that we were taught. It was interactive and got us to use everyday scenarios to help us remember the words. There was one game in particular that I remember quite well. We were learning our directions (up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards) when the teacher brought out a paper sheet with a picture of a fruit basket on it. It was basically pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but fruit basket style. Someone would be blindfolded and given a paper cutout of one of the fruits, and it was our job to direct them to the correct spot using the Spanish direction words we had just learned. I won’t be forgetting those words any time soon. At the end of the day we got to celebrate Guatemalan style – with a Minion piñata. A few people took turns hitting the piñata as we guided them in Spanish, until finally it broke and we got to grab some candy. It was quite a fun ending to our first day.
It’s been a great week and we are all looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead.

¡Hásta Luego!

An Act of Rebellion


Personally, I have found it hard to recognize the things in my life that control my actions and that guide my thoughts on a daily basis. I think that is also a pretty universal problem for our society. Have we ever really considered what causes fear, withdrawal, and anxiety in our lives? I know I haven’t. At least not until now. 

Sitting in the beauty and wonder of the mountains, Nathan Rieger came to us with interesting stories about his experiences within cultures focused on polytheism (that is worshipping multiple gods). I think a lot of our community could vouch for this, that the stories didn’t seem to have much connection to our lives here in North America. But after our second session, he began connecting his experiences to life at home. Have we ever realized that our North American culture actually has many idols? 

Standing in a convenience store after returning from Thailand, Nathan shared how he he came to the realization that our culture is definitely not excluded from idolatry. Seeing the face of a supermodel on the cover of a magazine, he realized that people idolize the so called “perfect” image of a woman or man. Body image is a huge idol for many of us. I’m sure you can think of plenty more if you really focus on it. Where many cultures have physical statues of gods and idols, we have more disguised in visible, invisible, heavenly and earthly realms. I was blown away by this realization. We are definitely not exempt from idolatry. 

In our last session with Nathan, we were given the opportunity to share with the group our personal idols. The goal behind that being that when you bring inner struggles into the light and speak them out, they suddenly lose power over you. This was so evident for me. Sitting in that circle I felt this uncomfortable gut wrenching feeling that I needed to share mine, but at the same time something was holding me back. The very idol I needed to vocalize was holding me back from speaking it out. But that moment when I did brought unbelievable freedom, and weights from years of suppressing it fell away. Sharing those deep parts of you with a safe community is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only does it give you freedom, but it enables others to gain the confidence to speak out their own struggles.  

Nathan taught us that there is a positive act of rebellion when it comes to your personal idols. Realizing your idol is definitely a huge step, but after that you need to figure out how you are going to beat it down; how you are going to rebel. For some it’s easy and obvious, for others it may take a while. But when you figure that out, it opens the door to freedom from that idol, and for God to speak truth into that part of you. 

We were given a day to use the steps Nathan gave us to work through rebelling against our idols. For me that meant a lot of reflection time — looking back at my past, and dreaming about the future. What might it look like for me to live in freedom? What experiences can I take from my past to help me grow in the future? Having a dedicated time to think through those things and listen to what God has to say about them was a beautiful opportunity. One that I, and certainly many others, will continue to use in our walk through life. 

So do I have it all figured out now? No way. That’s a lifelong journey. But I definitely have a good head start. So what’s your act of rebellion? How are you going to positively defy the social standards? It’s a question we need to ask ourselves often. But we must always remember that with God by our side, we can overcome anything.