First Days in South Africa

Greetings from South Africa!

Site 2 arrived safe and sound in Johannesburg on Tuesday, January 10, after two full days of travel or more. Exhausted from long plane rides and layovers, we were relieved to be taken straight to a retreat centre to spend a week relaxing, reconnecting, and easing into life in South Africa. Rocky Valley Christian Camp and Retreat Centre near Johannesburg treated us well with amazing food, gorgeous scenery and hikes, and refreshing manmade and natural pools.

The first thing we all noticed when we stepped off the plane was the heat. Coming from up to a few feet of snow and temperatures as low as -30, the bright sun and nearly +30 degree weather brought smiles to everyone. Over the week we would learn how to dress for the weather, as the sun woke us up at 5:30AM, fried our skin and drenched us with sweat throughout the day, then set suddenly at 7PM for a cool evening. Sunscreen quickly became part of our daily routines (more than once), and our normal hikes for adventure turned into searching for the best watering hole to cool off in during all our free time. The camp has a pool right in the sun, and a creek that runs past the camp with many gorgeous waterfalls and naturally formed pools along the way, that were put to use many times every day. We also learned that along with sunscreen and swimming, a very important part of bearing the heat is drinking water. Hydration is key to survive the African summer, so we carry our water bottles everywhere, and are very grateful for the clean water wherever we go.

The next thing we had to adjust ourselves to was the time. When we landed it was about 9:30AM, and staying awake for the rest of the day turned out to be a much bigger struggle than we could have imagined. Unfortunately, sleeping through entire flights is unrealistic, and we had people running on as little as 40 minutes of sleep in 2 days, going on 3 days as we tried to beat jet lag by staying awake the first day we were in South Africa. Traveling from home to South Africa, students and leaders were now anywhere from 6 to 12 hours ahead of their normal time zone, and we struggled to help our bodies catch up to the new time. It took a few days to beat the jet lag, but the first day was the hardest as we strived to stay awake until supper, and then everyone crashed as soon as they could afterwards.

Despite the few struggles in adjusting to a new country, we have been very blessed with our new surroundings. Rocky Valley is exactly what it sounds like: a valley between many rocky hills and cliff faces. The adventurous in spirit were easily able to find much solitude in hiking the ever-changing terrain, climbing up rock walls, and exploring what felt like a whole new world. We found monkeys, lizards, bridges, naturally formed pools, waterfalls, and rock climbing cliff faces, and admired the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets from the top of the hills.

This past week also provided us with a wonderful environment to reconnect with each other and be introduced to some of the South African culture. We had lots of free time to catch up with our friends, and some organized times in small groups and PMGs to share about our breaks. We had amazing meals all week that were usually seemed pretty normal to us but were just a little bit different (ex. they don’t have ketchup; they have tomato sauce), and we got to observe and experience a small taste of South African culture as we drove through Johannesburg and went to the mall to try out their cash and phone systems. We also had lessons from each of our leaders, a South African partner, and Paul Peters, on topics like the stages of adjusting to a new culture, being aware of our privilege, and owning our own stories.

Our week in Rocky Valley was refreshing and exciting, and as we drove into Soweto on Saturday and were greeted with dozens of eager, smiling little faces, and tiny waving hands, we knew we were in for a whole new type of adventure, and couldn’t wait for it to start.

(Pictures from Rocky Valley to come soon!! We have come to learn wifi isn’t always the most accessible or speedy. In the meantime- check out our instagram page!!)

Semester 1 Highlights

As the first semester of Outtatown comes to a close, our site has spent the past week debriefing all that’s happened since we drove off from CMU 3 months ago. While we pause to remember where we’ve all gone and what we’ve all done, we’re also taking the time to reflect on what we’ve learned this semester, and how that’s impacted us and caused us to grow. Since we’ve all been living, learning, and growing together, it can be hard to identify how we’ve changed individually, and it can be even more challenging to reenter back into our regular lives that haven’t changed in the same ways we have. Our goal is to have a smooth transition back into our lives at home, while continuing to remember all we’ve learned and retaining the growth that has happened within us.

To start off debrief week, we all collaborated to create this timeline to remember all that we’ve done and learned. The colours represent what happened this semester (black), what was good (orange), what was challenging (red), and what we’ve learned (blue). The timeline starts with the adventures of the first Outtatown students arriving in Winnipeg on Saturday, September 10th, the day before registration, and continues all the way until our site’s arrival at Alberta Pioneer Camp on Monday, November 21st to start debrief week. The following week included many sessions from our site leaders on reflection of the semester and reentry into our lives at home, learning about South Africa through songs, research presentations, and movies, information for next semester, and events such as a silent morning, horseback riding, and indoor rock climbing. Our next few days were spent in Canmore, Alberta to go skiing and snowboarding, enjoy a lot of free time together, and say our farewells before traveling home this weekend.

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To highlight the amazing experiences so far, each member of the Outtatown South Africa community was asked to share a favourite memory or quote from the first semester:

“The canoe trip and hiking.” -Adam

“Ski days, and ‘I’m not a keeper of time but we are late.'” -Joey

“The sweat lodge at the Roseau River Reserve.” -Alexa

“Lake Louise.” -Alyssa

“The last week in Canmore and Banff: hiking and being out in the mountains was so amazing.” -Amani

“Vancouver free weekend.” -Andrew

“‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.’ -Ecclesiastes 3:1,4a,6a,7b. God waits for me and so I shall wait for him.” -Bailey

“Outtatown is like a roller coaster it has its ups and downs it has its parts that can make you scared and nervous but also parts that make you excited and fearless but once you get off it you get right back in line to ride it again because it’s the best roller coaster at the park!” -Ben

“The Vancouver Urban Plunge, particularly holding out free prayer signs and praying for people and also seeing different kinds of poverty among the people in East Hastings and then on the West end.” -Beth

“The canoe trip, Vancouver Urban Plunge, and mudlympics.” -Brianna

“Worship: it was always so great to come together as a big family and praise God.” -Cole

“Harmonized humming in a pile while tired during guys week.” -Daniel

“Listening to God’s Voice week with Steve Klassen, and Leon from East Hastings.” -Danielle

“Sunny pow day at Lake Louise, all the great people, all the great hikes, skiing with friends at Sunshine, learning things, when I saw snow, and worship.” -Eli

“Listening to God’s Voice week with Steve Klassen, and spelunking.” -Hadiya

“Be still.” -Hannah

“Hunny.” -Holly D

“The know yourself days, especially Rianna’s, and seeing the northern lights at Roseau.” -Holly V

“The girls vs guys soccer game at Camp Arnes.” -Jana

“Hikes, spelunking, rock climbing, and generally having fun with the many great people I get to call my friends!” -Jessica

“Grouse Grind and Vision Quest, skiing at Sunshine, making music, free weekend in Vancouver, and teaching the whole group 4-part harmony for Come Walk With Us.” -Jonah

“Climbing mountains and seeing the Northern Lights.” -Josh D

“The canoe trip, Northern Lights, Vision Quest, and the free weekend in Vancouver.” -Josh T

“Spelunking.” -Katie

“Impact day with my PMG.” -Lyds

“#jellysjourneys” -Naomi

“Inspiring.” -Reanne

“All the hikes, including Vision Quest, Grouse Grind, and Hope Mountain.” -Sean

“Let’s get it.” -Sid

“Doing crazy spontaneous stuff with crazy spontaneous people.” -Silas

“Sid’s picture on top of the vans of the Northern Lights.” -Skye

“Steve Klassen, Nathan Regier, Lake Louise, and Banff.” -Tez

“Outtatown has been a great way to get closer to God and gain new friends.” -Tim

“Driving the mini van. #soccermom” -Jannelle

“The girls vs guys keep away game at River’s Edge.” -Julien

“The times of laughter within our community. I love how laughter tears down dividing walls and gives people a sense of commonality. Laughter is a unifying force!” -Justin

“Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good.” -Rianna

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Small group photos from the Christmas banquet at Camp Squeah

The Idol Talk

Bailey Cressman

Last week at Camp Squeah in Hope, B.C; we had Nathan Regier come and speak with us over the course of three days. Nathan is an incredible man. We were all inspired by him, and I cannot wait until we meet up with him again while we’re in South Africa. The title of his lecture series was “The Jesus Revolution”, though it was more known to us as “The Idol Talk”. Nathan taught through stories. He would give us the main points of his lecture, and then share how he’s experienced these in his own life. One idea that really impacted me was Nathan’s way of explaining idols.

He told us that all idols were originally gifts from God that sin has twisted. The things that God had made for us to enjoy became something that we leaned on to receive love from. All idols fall under the headings of Value, Power, or Pleasure. Nathan made us realize that what these idols offer us is “love if…” We will receive our desire if we reach the next rung on the ladder. But it is never enough.

He taught us so much in the few days that he was with us, and I really felt God move in our group concerning idols in our own lives. At the end of the week, we gathered together and shared what we learned, and what our idols are. It was really impactful for me, and I’m sure for many others. As we finish this semester of Outtatown that week with Nathan Regier and the conversations we had with him will continue to stand out in my memory as a turning point in my life.

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View from a hike near to Camp Squeah in Hope, BC

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We went spelunking in caves near Hope, BC

Vancouver Urban Plunge

By Skye Wagenman

Last week we all participated in the Vancouver Urban Plunge. For three days we went out onto the streets of East Hastings and learned about the people living in that area. We learned about poverty and about how God worked in areas that may seem difficult.

The Urban Plunge was a wonderful opportunity to learn about poverty and how God works through it. One of my biggest learning moments was when I came to the realization that it’s not our job to fix poverty. It’s not our job to go into an area and assume that we need to teach them about God. He is already present and working through the people there. I found that I learned so much more about God and the work he has done this week than in everyday, comfortable living. God was working with the people in East Hastings in such remarkable ways and there was so much faith everywhere; it was truly inspiring. Everyone I talked to gave me a beautiful insight as to how God has worked in their life. Their faith was raw and real. The people I met on the streets weren’t afraid to talk about their struggles with faith and how they sometimes got really angry at God. I learned that despite their anger or frustration, they still put their full trust in God and they talk very highly of Him and His impact on their lives.

I felt very impacted this week by the many different people I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know. One of the most impactful days for me was the ‘Impact Day’. On the Impact Day we were split into our peer mentor groups and each group was given an envelope with a different amount of money in it. The goal was to use that money in a way that impacted others using all the things we have been learning this semester. The group I was in decided to use our $40 to buy helium balloons, attach encouraging notes to them and hand them out to people on both the East and West side of Vancouver. So off we went to the dollar store to buy some balloons and note paper. We then spent the next 2 hours writing over 50 encouraging letters filled with words of encouragement, bible verses, quotes and compliments to attach to these balloons. Once that was done we walked out onto the streets, starting in the East end, and handed the first balloon to a man who called out asking for one since it was his birthday. As soon as people noticed we were giving out free balloons they came from every direction and we were very quickly left empty-handed. We didn’t even make it to the West end. The best moment was when a woman who had recently taken a balloon from us, came running back filled with complete joy as she read the attached letter. She explained to us that she was having a really hard time and that our letter made her so happy. She then hugged us all and proceeded to tell everyone who had a balloon that the balloon was nice, but the letter was even better. After that we walked up the street into the West side and put letters everywhere with a simple, one sentence encouragement. We hoped that the people who walked by, would feel encouraged and we hoped to reach as many people as possible. By the end of the day my peer mentor group felt so happy with everything we had done. It was so inspiring to see the joy and happiness of the people we were able to personally impact, and the one woman who hugged us definitely left us all feeling good. All in all, it was a really impactful day for us. We went out expecting to impact others but in the end, it was the opposite. We were blessed to be impacted by the people around us and the Impact Day will definitely be a day I remember.urban-plunge-response

Guys and Girls Week with the Guats

Girls Week

Normally, the Guatamala and South Africa groups are only able to see each other once in a while, but on Girls and Guys Week, all the girls

get to spend a week together, and all the guys get to spend a week together. It’s an opportunity to get to know each other, as well as talk about purely “girl stuff” and “guy stuff”, in a context where everything is open and questions can be answered through the help of a speaker that gives us lectures over the course of the week.

Jana Enns

What mountain did you hike?

  Us girls went to the popular tourist sight of Lake Louis for our hike. We got to experience the beauty of the lake and were very shocked at the blueness of the water and the beautiful white and grey back drop behind it. The mountain we climbed had freshly packed snow on the trails and was ice the whole way up. All the slipping and sliding was worth it though for the amazing view up top.

What was your experience hiking this mountain?

  A couple of us went on a hike called the Little Beehive. It was a snowy hike and out in the open all the way to the top. It was also very steep, and coming from the prairies of Saskatchewan, it was a bit of a challenge. As I said before though, the view was worth it. When we finally reached the top we were looking over the whole mountain range and Lake Louis. It was absolutely breath taking. A couple of us sat at the edge of the cliff and just sat there, content, admiring God’s work. And all I could think was “if my mother could see me now…”

Was this your first time hiking a mountain?

  Even though I have grown up in Saskatchewan, I have climbed a couple mountains in my life. This hike was a little easier and more fun than the ones I have done before. This hike was a bit different as there were actual paths up until they broke off. And because it was a tourist sight, there were other people also hiking the main path with us. I have also never hiked up a mountain that was completely covered in ice and snow. Again, that was very interesting. One of our girls slipped and fell back only to found she had been caught by a complete stranger! And of course it was a young man and she was teased for not asking for mouth to mouth.

Who was your speaker?

  During the week, we had Darlene Enns-Dyck as our speaker. She is from Altona Manitoba and is the pastor of the Seeds Church there. She has a husband and two teenaged kids. Dar was very wiling to help out and participate in the wacky activities that we did throughout the week.

What did she speak on during the week?

  Darlene spoke to us on the topic of sexuality and spirituality, and how the church often gets those mixed up.

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Guys week

Daniel

  • What Mountain did you hike?

Our mountain did not have a name, however the area and the trail that we went on was called Vision Quest.

  • First Time?

This was not the first time I’ve climbed a mountain. I’ve climbed a mountain at Banff where the path went super zig-zaggy to the top (unfortunately I’m not aware of the term, sorry fam).

  • Experience?

It was quite a fun time and probably the most intense mountain that I’ve ever climbed, because personally I did not get to the very top. I had gotten to the false summit, and it was still pretty sweet.

  • Who was your Speaker?

Our speaker was Matthew Dyck. We all just called him Matt. He’s a pretty cool guy.

  • What did he speak on during the week?

He spoke a lot about connections to the Bible, from Old Testament and New, as well as sexuality/pornography, and the difference between temptation and trial. He also spoke about dealing with your past and how the Devil affects (or tries to affect) your views on God. He told stories about his family, his past, as well as his struggles. His main point though, was being “created to create”. He lectured us on how we reflect God and we have a different and significant role in the world. For example, God created nature: the land, the gardens, animals, etc. We’ve created planes, buildings, cities, and we’ve learned how to use electricity to our own advantage.

  • What Impacted you the Most?

One of the first things we were told was that we were “created to create”, and then told to repeat it to ourselves. Connected to this, another thing we were told to repeat was “God is for us, not against us”. This hit me pretty hard personally, because at the time I was having some doubts about my beliefs as a Christian person; it also didn’t help that I was having a pretty rough day with an early morning combined with not enough sleep from the night before, as well as being in a community with only men (which for another male, can be very intimidating). So in short, I was having (what seemed at the time) a really rough time just being there. And I was praying something along the lines of, “God, if you’re out there, then it’d be nice if you could stop the bologna that I’m feeling/going through, cause that’d be real nice about now”. Then he says and tells us to say “God is for us, not against us”. Coincidence? I think not. Seems like Divine Intervention to me.

  • Highlight/Funny story of the week?

It’s very easy to say that our group of men can be very odd. To expand on that, one of the strangest—and funniest—moments during the week was one night that we weren’t really doing anything and we were just tired because it was a pretty long day of doing things. So we all just piled on top of each other and started to hum as if we were trying to imitate the sound of a chainsaw or somebody who may be horribly out of key in a song. We ended up trying to harmonize while still humming, but we were raising pitch. We ended up practically screaming, while lying on top of each other—still trying to harmonize. I believe we can all say it was a strangely entertaining night.

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Listening to God

By Danielle Brockman

On October 18, 2016, I began my relationship with God. It was the first day Steve Klassen was with our group teaching us how to listen to God. He told us many stories about different peoples’ experiences of encountering God and how things that may seem to be coincidences can really be God speaking to us. Now before coming into Outtatown my faith was weak, very weak. As a kid I would test God by asking Him to just give me a sign that He was real. Every time nothing happened and I was left more hopeless than ever. I thought, “God I’m giving you a chance why can’t you just do something so I no longer have to doubt?” Yet each time I was left empty-handed. So when I heard that we were going to spend a week focusing on our personal relationship with God I knew I couldn’t need it more. The one thing we focused on in this morning session was a poem called My Rule For Life by Doreen Kostynuik. It goes like so,

Follow Jesus around the scriptures—be an observer
Watch how he looks
Watch how he touches
Watch how he is present to people
Watch how he prays and takes time out

Let him look at you
Let him touch you
Let him hold you
Let him heal you
Let him be present to you

Then become the look
Become the touch
Become the presence

He told us a story about a guy who, after having read this poem, laid on the floor and just let God look at him. I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. As he continued to tell more stories one word kept sticking out… SURRENDER. We then had our hour of solo time which Naomi and I decided we really just wanted to find a room and listen to worship music. Once we got to the room, I laid down just as the guy in the story had with my arms out wide. As I lay there listening to the music the words hit me hard and I quickly grew emotional. We listened to “As We Listen” and that’s exactly what we did. I’m not sure where this came from but I found myself asking Him, “God I need you to hold my hands.” But nothing happened. So again I said, “No seriously God I need this. Hold my hands.” And just as I was about to give up, my hands started to curl in and I could feel something there. That feeling was one I will never forget. Then the word surrender came back to mind and it wouldn’t leave. Then it hit me; I knew I needed to surrender myself to Him. Out of my mouth came the words “I am yours”. I continued to repeat this over and over again while I just lay there and wept. The feeling of relief was overwhelming. I told him to do what He needs with me and that my faith is completely in His hands. My past, present and future is His. At that moment it felt as if He had just taken any previous barriers I had in the past and hit me over the head with them. I then decided to look at the poem line by line. As I read the first stanza I remembered back to the urban plunge when that was the first time I actually saw God in people. Up until these past two weeks God was never a thought on my mind unless someone else brought Him up. Yet now whenever talking to people about why things happen I’m the one bringing God into the conversations. When I got to the second stanza where it says, “Let me hold you” I decided to try testing Him again. I said, “Ok God I need you to give me a hug right now.” But nothing happened. So I tried again, “No seriously God I need this; let me feel your warmth in a hug.” But again nothing happened. I sat up so disappointed and confused as to why He had held my hands but wouldn’t hold me. I then opened my eyes and in front of me was a huge painting of a little boy being held by God. I began to cry, then laugh, then cry some more. This was a moment I had been waiting for my whole life and it was finally happening. What made me so mad was that by the time I left the room, doubt was already creeping in. However this doubt was so different from what I experienced in my past. I have now realized that the doubt I feel is coming from the evil one and that it’s not my fault. Up until this point I blamed myself for not having the relationship with God I hoped for. It now feels as if the weight has been lifted off my shoulders and that I can give myself grace for the doubtful thoughts in my head. Satan brings down those that are the closest with God. From that moment on, my ears have been opened. This past week God has shown Himself to me daily. I was listening to a song the other day that said, “I was there in the darkness.” That line hit me hard because I didn’t get why it took till now for God to actually show Himself to me. Then I realized, He had been there the entire time it just took till now for me to open my ears to hear Him. When I look at life now I no longer see “luck” or “coincidences”, I see God’s works. As I went to bed that night I was exhausted from such an emotional yet unforgettable day. I struggled for 45 minutes of not being able to sleep. I looked back on my day and realized, I never thanked Him for all He had done. I laughed knowing He had been waiting for that. I prayed and praised Him for everything and to be honest I never did finish that prayer, but the next thing I remember is waking up the next morning.

God is truly incredible.

Urban Plunge in Winnipeg’s North End

Two weeks ago (sorry we’re a little behind!), our group participated in an urban plunge led by MB Mission in Winnipeg’s North End. Students had the opportunity to learn about poverty and homelessness in Winnipeg as well as learn from and work with different organizations. This was Jonah Thiessen’s experience:

Where did you go on your two service days, and what did you do and learn there?

“The first place I went to was Union Gospel Mission. In the morning, we helped set up for their drop-in lunch. What astounded me was the amount of wasted food that was still left on the plates, and I thought beforehand that homeless people would be hungry and want to eat every morsel—every single thing on their plates. But thinking back on it now, after experiencing the mission, it makes perfect sense that they can choose what they want to eat—they may not even be that hungry- there’s so many reason why they didn’t have to actually scrape their plates clean. And so, it was really sort of shocking… like a whole new experience seeing that in action.

In the afternoon I helped with handing out clothes that had been donated to the mission. We had counters and windows that they would come up to and they would ask for a sweater or a jacket, a pair of pants, that sort of thing. So we’d look through what we had and find the best we had to match sizes, colors, all the options that were there. It was limited choice because it was all donations, so it was very interesting to see, because going in I thought we’d be hanging things out really fast and that if you’re giving a homeless person a sweater they’d be happy and just take it, but of course, thinking about it, they have the right to choose. So if we have a really ugly sweater, they’re not going to just take it, and go with it, when they can see that there’s a whole stack of other sweaters, and can assume that there’s a better one, because we just pulled this one off the top. And so that was very interesting to be holding a whole bunch of sweaters in one hand while this homeless person we were giving free clothes to was like “No, I don’t want that one, can you find another one?”. Another thing we found shocking was that with donations, of course you can’t expect there to be a whole ton of options, but there was almost no regular, like 32-sized pair of men’s jeans. There was none of those, and often a man would ask for a pair of jeans that size and we’d just have to say “Sorry, we don’t have any of that size”. And then of course, because winter’s coming, they’d be quite disappointed, which is just sad to see. Same thing with men’s underwear; there was only one pair and it was tiny, so we could never give that away which was again, sad to see when someone would come up and ask, and then have to leave disappointed. That day was a very humbling experience, and great to see the work that missions does up close and in the action.

The Second day I went to the Salvation Army, and we sorted toys into boxes depending on age and category like “Boys, 5-7” or “Girls, 0-3”. There was so much stuff in there that we couldn’t tell the difference between before and after, but we still managed to fill up 25 boxes worth of toys, which was really cool to see, since you know that all these toys will be going to someone and someone will be happy to have them. But it was also interesting to look in the same room and see that it doesn’t look at all different, because there was just so much stuff back there.“

What advice would you have for someone who doesn’t know a lot about people that are outside the margins?

“I’d like to say that going in, I had a whole bunch of stereotypes about homeless people. But just going into the urban plunge I got to see it up close and see the difference in where the stereotypes come from and why they’re wrong or why they’re right. The advice I would give is just to go and make conversation, and ask them how their day is going—offer to buy them coffee, or something like that. Get the conversation started, so you can hear their story and why they’re in this position and that kind of stuff. It can make their day a little better, and bring a smile to their face. It’s very intimidating at first to talk to someone who you’ve never spoken to or never really looked at, or have seen as intimidating or scary in the past. But up close… some people will definitely not want to be talked to, and you can just move on, like you can say “Oh, sorry” and walk away, but there are some people who are just bursting to tell you their story, and it’s so great when that encounter occurs, just to hear them break out into their story.

So one example is, we were eating pizza at a pizzeria in the north end, and we were trying to decide what pizza to buy. And this man, who was sitting behind us, just started out “Oh, eat pepperoni, it’s really good” and then we just talked to him for about 10 minutes. And while the pizza was being made, he told us about his story and how he’s found Christ and now he’s a Christian, and now God sends him on his way, as God’s soldier. And it was just such a cool experience to talk to this man we’d never met, and who we’d never suspect if we just passed him on the street, but here he was preaching us the gospel, and it was a super fun experience. Just the reward of having a great talk like that totally outweighs the wariness that you might have going in. I can say that I was very wary going in, definitely intimidated by the people that I was handing clothes out to, or handing food to, but if you just overcome your fear and just start a conversation, it can go super well. Most of them time you can walk away with both parties feeling great.”