Seasons Change, His Love Remains

Greetings from Rocky Valley Camp!

We were overwhelmed with the many emotions we were experiencing as we spent the week debriefing and preparing to say goodbye to the beautiful country and community that has stolen our hearts. We started the week by debriefing our time in South Africa, and ended it by searching for the big five on a safari. This week was also filled with silent reflection time and intentional time spent to keep building relationships by playing games, lazing in hammocks, pool time, and watching monkeys.

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The first few days of the week were spent debriefing the last three months. We started off by mapping the semester week by week, sharing memories from each place we stayed at. We were reminded by Chris, our leader, how faithful God is, and were encouraged to look back at the last seven months to reflect on how God has remained faithful throughout our journey. One challenge with going home is knowing how to tell your story, so we spent a session looking at ways to make it easier to integrate and tell our stories well. We ended debrief with Johan, a country partner who has joined us throughout South Africa, looking at ourselves before Outtatown and comparing how we have changed. He challenged us to think of ways to take those things we learned back home and how not only to look at the near future, but also think of how we want to travel through life to become the person we want to be.

Johan always tells us that we are given two ears and one mouth for a reason. This past week we were given the opportunity to apply his lesson through the sharing of personal testimonies. Each person spent fifteen minutes sharing what the past seven months looked like in their eyes. They spoke of their favourite memories and what they learned about themselves, God, and the world. This was a time of mixed emotions as we laughed at the happy memories and cried during times of encouragement. We were reminded of how much each person brought to the team, and that we would soon be saying goodbye. The two days of testimonies were a good reminder that each person has their own story, and how important it is to listen and validate the stories we hear.

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The end of the semester felt very near as we went to a market for a day as a last chance to buy souvenirs and then went on the safari we had been waiting for all semester. We were all buzzing with excitement as we arrived at the resort we would be spending the night at. We kicked the safari off at four in the afternoon and soon saw our first animal, an elephant. We were all in awe as we watched and felt the greatness of the gentle giant move past us, so close we would have reached out and touched it. We drove through the park for the next three hours, encountering all but one of the big five famous animals, amazed by the uniqueness of each one we saw. After three hours on the safari, we went back to our rooms to prepare for an early morning as we would once again go out at six to see some more animals.

As we look forward to our last few days together, we are excited to celebrate with our friends and families, the closing of this season of life. Thank you to all of you that have supported our team through your thoughts and prayers. We are so excited to see where God takes all 22 of us in this next season of life!

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Ngiyabonga,
Carolyn and Megan

Love, Sweat & Curry.

Our week started with a service day at Project Gateway. We finished up painting the surrounding wall and adding vines to cover up blemishes. Some of us also got the chance to put out gardening skills to work, while others caught praying mantises.

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For a break after our service day, MCC partners guided us on a nature reserve hike, where we were given time to quietly reflect on God’s creativity and ponder questions that we have for God. We saw and felt God’s character in the lush bushes, the reddish dirt, and in the stunning wildlife that occupied the expansive landscape. That night we were treated to a Zulu night, where we were served traditional Zulu dishes such as pap (maize), Amaheo (a sweet corn drink), and chicken feet. The cooks from the kitchen taught us a few Zulu songs, and together we danced and sang Shosholoza and “there’s no one like Jesus”. Many laughs, smiles, and memories were shared by our group and with the loving Project Gateway staff.

For our remaining time in Pietermaritzburg, we partnered with MCC’s Peace Clubs, programs for school kids and youth groups which teach children about peaceful alternatives to violence within their communities. We got to sit in on a couple of the Peace Club meetings with children from ages as young as 4 all the way up to teenagers, and prepared lunch for those involved. We had a lot of fun facilitating games and activities for the kids, and building relationships with them while playing together. Some of us got in touch with our cabin-leading sides as we led the kids in the classic repeat-after-me songs that we tend to sing around campfires.

IMG_5936.jpgFrom Pietermaritzburg we drove to Durban for our weekend homestay with local Indian families. After our warm welcome we were quickly treated to some spicy snacks. Here
we learned about how apartheid impacted the community in Merebank, and heard personal stories from people who spoke out against the oppression in Durban. Entertainment for the weekend included traditional Indian dancing (with volunteers pulled from the audience), along with Indian music and traditional Indian cuisine (which also turned into a very hands-on experience). We enjoyed a variety of curries and had Indian bunny chow (a curry stew served inside a loaf of bread) and learned some Afrikaans words from students from local youth groups. Some of the girls had the opportunity to wear saris to church and, after another delicious curry meal, we headed to the Beach.

IMG_4595Our time with our homestay families was short, but we’re grateful to have gotten to spend time living with them and learning from them. As our parting gift we were reminded of how precious Outtatown relationships are as one of our hosts reminded us that every time our group comes to visit we leave a small part of our hearts with them and they send a small piece of their hearts with us. Community is such a beautiful treasure and our Merebank families were a perfect example of how beautiful community can be.

Ngiyabonga

Jubilee & Kensy

 

Climbing Mountains and Ladders

Greetings from Pietermaritzburg!

We arrived at Project Gateway, which is also known as the ‘Old Pietermaritzburg Prison’, on Monday afternoon. The prison was functioning from the years of 1862-1989 and was transformed into what is now known as “Project Gateway” in 1991. Their mission statement is, “To change people’s lives by helping them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We aim to uplift people and their communities through job, business, and life skills. Reaching all people without prejudice showing the compassion and care of Jesus Christ and honoring our Creator.”

Project Gateway works towards this mission through several educational organizations, church support, and empowerment. We had the opportunity to get a tour of the facilities and the museum of the Old Prison.54514173_1032677046927468_5531727554362212352_n

This week our goal was to assist the organization in any way that would be helpful. This included spending a full morning scrubbing and washing a wall to get it prepped for the afternoon where we painted the wall. We also renewed a garden that had been abandoned, to provide some fresh fruits and vegetables for a local community member.

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On Thursday morning we piled into our bus and headed to the beautiful 54355998_317467428841996_7096323546896400384_n.jpgDrakensberg Mountains! Once we arrived, we packed our backpacks and headed up the mountain to be introduced to our new home for the next three days: a cave. Twenty-two tired bodies made ourselves right at home with the stunning scenery in plain view. After being filled up with ramen noodles, and quenching our thirst at the nearby river, which is also the third cleanest water source in the world, we all got our thickest and warmest clothes on and headed to bed in the chilly cave. After being awoken by the sound of chirping birds and rushing waterfalls, we hyped each other up as we prepared for a 14 km hike to the top of Rhino’s Peak (3000 meters above sea level). After the exhausting hike we celebrated with a powerful time of worship, where we took time to give up our expectations to God and let Him truly take control of our lives. On Saturday morning, we got up after a somewhat restful and cold night, to head back down to our beloved Tata bus that would take us back to Project Gateway. When we arrived back in Pietermaritzburg, we all crashed and took some much needed alone and quiet time.

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To finish this exciting week, we joined together with other brothers and sisters in Christ, at Grace Generation Church to worship and meditate on God’s Word. We also spent some time admiring a waterfall, relaxing, shopping, and reflecting on our past week.

We are all so excited to see what this next week holds for us as we head into Durban to experience our last homestay before we start our debrief and trek back home.

Ngiyabonga,

Megan and Ryan

 

When the Leaders Leave

Greetings from Camp El Olam!

This past week the Outtatown, students have had the opportunity to relive the camp experiences of their youth at Camp El Olam, while the site leaders went on a three-day retreat in Durban to get some well-deserved rest. The students got treated to a camp surrounded by a sea of sugar cane fields and the very hospitable El Olam camp staff. El Olam has been a beautiful and secluded getaway from our busy Outtatown experience.

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After arriving on Wednesday, the leaders headed out the next day and we were given the daunting task of cutting down a gum tree to replace a diving board at the camp’s pond. With some engineering and lots of swimming required, the new diving board was in place and ready to go. Later, we were introduced to what El Olam called a “pig walk.” With ten people per vehicle, we loaded into the back of two small bakkies (South African slang for trucks) and set off into the seemingly endless, dark fields of sugar cane.  After what locals call a short walk and what we would call a hike, we reached the top of the hill and shut all our headlamps off and hushed in an attempt to try and hear the ‘pigs’. About ten seconds later we were ambushed by three of the camp boys who pretended to be a sounder of pigs ambushing us. Some of us screamed, some ran, others hid behind friends, others claim to have never been scared at all, but no matter how brave we were (or weren’t), the night ended in laughs and many stories as we drove back to camp.

We were excited to have the opportunity to do service projects at a farm school near the camp. It was welcoming to feel the love and acceptance that is shown to us from the kids as we read with them and got to know them during recess. The school was in the middle of expanding its library and freshening up some classrooms, so we lent a helping hand in both areas. We loved getting to know the children and the teachers as we worked together on the books and fresh coat of paint.

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In the midst of our service projects and fun at the camp, we also focused on learning about several Zulu traditions. Since the camp is based in a farming community, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, we took a tractor ride to a homestead and tried a refreshing “umahewo” drink. The camp also gave us a short lesson on Zulu culture and, later on, had the El Olam youth choir show us how to sing and dance properly. We quickly learned that most of us don’t have that talent. Our supper was put into our hands on Friday as we were given some instruction on how to make ‘potjie’, which is a small pot of stew cooked over a fire, and put into groups for a cooking match. Other traditions we had the chance to take part of were beading and, of course, playing an intense soccer match against the farm team.

We had an amazing week and are looking forward to our next week in Pietermaritzburg. In Pietermaritzburg we will be doing some more service projects as well as our trek into the famous Drakensberg mountains!

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Sincerely,

Ruby and Carolyn

 

 

Feelin’ Coastal

Greeting from, Mdumbi

At this point along our adventure we’ve hit a couple significant milestones. We reached our “one month till our flight home”. Some of us willingly chose to jump off the world’s tallest bridge (for bungee jumping) and I believe it’s safe to say we’ve all come to terms with the fact that the Tata (the bus we have spent endless hours travelling in) is one of a kind, to say the least. Our past week has been filled with endless amounts of chances; chances for growth, new experiences, and for a little bit of much needed self-care time.

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From kayaking up a lazy river to surfing the famous waves of Jeffrey’s Bay, our team has managed to pack a lot into this past week. We started it off with a unique chance to spend two nights in individual tents and having all of our meals cooked over the fire. We spent the days kayaking, swimming, and jumping off whatever swing-like obstacle imaginable. After our two nights in Bonnievale, we got an early start on the day as we headed out in search of our next adventure, and it didn’t take us long to find. About six hours into our bus ride, Baba pulled over for a break and the insane opportunity to jump off the highest bungee jump bridge in the world. And a majority of the team had willingly signed up for it! Some jumped, some made it look more like a fall, and some of us needed a little extra push once we got to the edge, but everyone who did jump came back up with an eager grin from cheek to cheek.

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Once we had fulfilled our hunger for adventure, we climbed back on to our trusty Tata and continued along the beautiful coastline to Jeffrey’s Bay. Our four days in J-Bay were a perfect balance of adventure and community growth opportunity.

At the start of our time in surf central, we were challenged by our leaders to take time out of our day for three separate people from our group on three separate occasions with the goal of just getting to know them a little bit better. To those of you back home this might seem odd seeing as we’ve been living in community for the past several months, but a cup of coffee and a little catch-up on life has never hurt anyone. While getting to know each other a little bit more over an iced coffee or a long walk on the never-ending beach, we also snuck in some sweet surfing, sand boarding and horseback riding.

We ended the week with a twelve-hour drive to Mdumbi Backpackers Hostel. The beautiful accommodations are located right by the ocean, with grassy hills surrounding us, as an endless number of cows and goats passed by us.   53280702_2378787718822441_5666664431686254592_n.jpg

These few days we were encouraged to focus on taking time to care for ourselves and to rest before the final, busy month of learning and growing experiences. We also embarked on a breath-taking hike, accompanied by several cows, filled with jumping into life filled tidal pools, discovering caves filled to the brim with bats, and ending it all off with mouth-watering pizza in Coffee Bay. We are excited to continue our journey with a jam-packed upcoming month and more opportunities for growth, learning, and service together. This next week we will be spending time at El Olam Camp, learning more about the Zulu culture, serving the camp and local village, and hanging out together as students while our leaders enjoy a well-deserved, four-day retreat.

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Sincerely,

Megan and Kens

Grace and Hospitality

sa 14.2

Greetings from Bonnievale!

As fun as it is to live together in community and share a common space, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to split off from the big group, camp setting. This past week we enjoyed the comfort of a home while continuing to build deeper relationships with each other and with our homestay families.

We arrived in Strandfontein on Sunday morning and attended the church which our homestays are connected to. Strandfontein is a community largely made up of Coloured people, in the terminology of South Africa. While in South Africa we’re spending time building relationships with each of the main ethnic groups. At the church service, our group performed the song “Freedom is Coming” for the congregation. Following the lovely sermon, we met up with our host families. For the rest of the afternoon, students spent time settling in to their homes for the week and getting to know their new families. My family immediately made us feel comfortable as we spent hours chatting about life as a local in Strandfontein. The following day our team reunited for ‘Knowing Yourself’ sessions led by our site leaders. We learned about our Enneagram types, how to have healthy crucial conversations, and Idols of the Heart. Our group enjoyed learning more about how we can grow as individuals and as a group and what makes us each unique and lovely in the eyes of God. When the sessions were finished we played games and laughed at the shenanigans that ensued.

sa 14.1.JPGOn Wednesday morning, we walked the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, exploring local shops and watching seals swim through the bay. We had the amazing opportunity to visit Robben Island and learn about its fascinating and tragic history. At Robben Island, we saw the prison cells of Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners. The ferry ride to and from the island provided stunning views of Table Mountain and the African coast, along with whale and dolphin sightings.

sa 14.0We furthered our knowledge on the history of South Africa and their journey towards reconciliation as we listened to the wise words of Ghalib Gallant and Derrick Ronnie who we connected with through Mennonite Central Committee. We also visited the District Six Museum with in Cape Town. Ghalib and Derrick introduced us to a few films focusing on boycotting during apartheid and the effect on the economy, as well as the recent student riots for the fees of tuition to drop known as #feesmustfall. We continued to dive into this country’s rich history at the District Six Museum where we got to learn about the people who were impacted by the forceful removal of their homes within District Six in Cape Town during apartheid.

The museum had lots of information, however, talking to the people who experienced it firsthand put a face to a story and made it that much more impactful. Some of the people whose homes we were staying in for the week were those who had lived through this experience. As we learned more about the grace and forgiveness that the people impacted by apartheid and District Six exhibited, we could very easily see that grace reflected in the homes of our homestays as they continued to serve us and feed us with amazing food and as well as spiritual knowledge.

Sincerely,
Ruby

Kayamandi Sweet Home

This week officially marks the halfway point of the semester and of our crazy South Africa adventure! Already we have heard and seen so many wonderful things through God’s people and creation. This week we had the privilege to continue seeing this beauty in both Kayamandi (meaning sweet home) and Stellenbosch. Although these places are very different from each other it was not hard to see that God is doing great things within each community.

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After an intense soccer tournament between small groups on Sunday, our site put on our freshest pair of clothes and headed to church. We attended a service at the same church we had visited last week in Stellenbosch. The church is targeted towards the young adults and university-age students within the area, so we were in our element when we were surrounded by a couple hundred university students who are also on fire for Jesus.

If you have not already, I highly encourage that you read last week’s blog, as it touched on the main goal of our community development projects and the planning needed to make a sustainable change in Kayamandi. To recap: our three teams of six were given the opportunity to build relationships and community through our own service projects within the Kayamandi Township. On Monday of this week, we were able to turn our previous planning and preparations into action, as we worked towards the “real project” of building relationship.

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A few materials were needed, such as paint, wood, seeds, and cake. However, our partner Johan put a great emphasis on the fact that the materials and budget we were given were simply tools. These tools would not always be sustainable but rather emphasized the sustainability of relationships and community. The second day of our service projects was a full day of pouring our energy and hearts into our groups, projects, and the people we were working with. Some worked with creches (day cares), trauma centers, and families to make a change that would last even when our teams weren’t there to help. For me personally, by the end of the day I had realized that I wasn’t just helping a family, but that family was also helping me with my faith through their wise teachings and stories of their faith in God’s grace and presence. Finally, as we wrapped up our projects, ate cake, finished painting, and said goodbye to the new connections we had made, our local guides who had journeyed alongside us joined as we celebrated with a beach day.

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The next few days in Stellenbosch were times of rest and reflection. Our partner Johan began by leading us through a reflection and evaluation session, asking us some daunting yet important questions that allowed us to be honest with ourselves and the progress we had made. In another session, Johan spoke about God’s calling in our lives, which seemed fitting for most of us, as we start to think about what we will do after Outtatown. Johan’s words of relationship and community resonated deeply with our team as we spent more intentional time as a group lifting each other up in activities such as foot washing and prayer for one another.

We are sad to leave behind the connections we have made but are excited for the new ones to come as we enter a week of building relationships with our homestays in Strandfontein.

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Sincerely,

Kaitlyn