Sunday, November 2, 2014

#DuncansInThailand

Jacob and I were blessed with the incredible opportunity to take a trip to the Phi Phi Islands, off the coast of Thailand. This trip was so amazing that my following words can’t even describe how great it was. But I will try… (:
So this trip was Jacob and I’s first vacation together (other than our honeymoon). We flew from India to Thailand, and then took a two hour ferry to the tropical island that we would call home for the next week. As we came up on the islands, the breath was taken right out of our lungs by their beauty. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Giant Asian mountains shooting out of the ocean to form islands.

We stayed at Phi Phi The Beach Resort. Our resort was located at the end of “Long Beach” and was made up of about 50 different bungalows. We had a “partial” sea view but our view was incredible, and so was our room, especially coming from India.


Jacob and I had agreed on a challenge for our vacation (we are both pretty competitive so it seemed right). I would try to out-adventure him and he would try to out-relax me. This made for such a great time! We spent the mornings and afternoons on the beach, soaking up the sun, reading under the umbrella and snorkeling. There were rocks and corals right off our beach. We could walk right into the ocean, put on our gear, and see everything from Angel Fish, to giant clams, to Nemo’s (clown fish)! Other paid tours were stopping at our resort to snorkel. It was such a great location!




Every evening we would go into town. To get there we would take a longboat from our resort’s beach to the pier. This took only about 5 minutes but was necessary because there were no motorized vehicles on the island. In town there were many restaurants, shops, and activities. The food was SO good, again, especially come from India. Many of the restaurants were owned by westerners. At one of the spa’s I got one (or three) of those hair braids/wrap thingys. We also went to the fish doctor where these little fish nibble all the dead skin of your feet (much needed after 4 months in India). Sounds gross but was fun. Definitely a unique experience. And of course, we did some shopping!







One day we had gone into town around lunch time and decided (my idea) to hike back to our resort. This was my chance to be adventurous. The hike back to our resort went through the jungle over a couple of mountains and down a few beaches. It took about an hour and was so much fun to explore with my adventurous husband!



Another day we did a tour. This included an afternoon out on a boat. We made stops to feed monkeys that lived on the beach, kayak, snorkel, jump off the boat into the ocean, explore another island, and go to the beach where they filmed the movie “The Beach” that Leonardo Dicaprio starred in. We also watched the sunset from the boat while we ate Thai fried rice. Yumm! It was one of our favorite days (another adventure day, I might add) and was so cheap!





Every night they did a fire show on our beach. It was awesome! They played reggae music (which I love!) and there was usually a thunderstorm off in the distance.


Our last full day on Phi Phi we got up (super) early to watch the sunrise. We hiked to the east facing side of the island and climbed down some rocks to sit on bluffs. The sunrise was so beautiful. I couldn’t help but think about all of the scriptures that talk about it. Psalm 19:1 and Pslam 113:3 are two of my favorites.



Our Thailand vacation came at the perfect time and was exactly what we needed as a couple. We had worked hard for four months in India which allowed us to rest (and adventure) well in Thailand. Our entire time we were praising the Lord for His incredible creation and thanking Him for the amazing life He chose to give us in Jesus.

Although, it was kind of weird going from one culture that is not our own, but we are living in, to another culture that is not our own. On our other trips to Asian countries, especially India, we had researched the culture a little bit. But for some reason, we didn’t think to look up anything about Thai culture before we went. So we found ourselves in the airport in Bangkok, water bottle in hand, wondering if we should put the water to our lips or just pour it in our mouths like we do in India. It was silly things like that but many situations where we weren’t sure what was “culturally appropriate.” We have many more stories to share with you about Thailand when we get back.
But to end this post, I wanted to share a story that happened a few days after we got back to our life in India:
This just happened the other day so I wanted to add it on here. Jacob and I were in this area of town called New Market. It is an area where there are a lot of shops. You can basically find everything you need there from mattresses for your bedroom, to clothes, to hardware shops, to juice bars. There is also a Hindu temple and a mosque in this area. We had finished shopping and crossed the street to wait for our auto wala to come pick us up. We were sitting on the steps of Indian Coffee House when I noticed a woman holding a baby. I could tell by the way they were dressed, lack of shoes, dirty clothes, messy hair, and lack of hygiene, that they were beggars. The woman went up to a few men who were also outside standing around and put her hand out asking for money. While she wasn’t looking I reached into my purse and pulled out 3 rupees in change. That was all the coins I had, which was only 5 American cents, basically a nickel. I was surprised that she didn’t come up to me right away. Usually when I see beggars, I walk the other way because they come up to us foreigners and won’t leave us alone. It makes me sad. But this lady kind of wandered her way around until she was at the man who was standing a few feet from me. I watched her and finally we made eye contact. She set her baby down, and took a few steps toward me. I stood up as she stuck out her hand and then put it towards her mouth, asking for money. I leaned in close and asked her, in Hindi, what her name is. She smiled and replied with something that I didn’t understand. So I asked again to clarify and she pulled up the sleeve of her shirt to show me something. There, on her forearm, pretty small, was her name tattooed in Hindi. I couldn’t read it, but just smiled at her. I looked over at her baby who had walked a few feet away, picked up an empty bottle off the ground and put it in his mouth. I asked her if the baby was her baby. She said yes, and I asked her what his name was. She said something in Hindi that I couldn’t understand so I asked “what?” and she repeated herself. That time Jacob understood her and told me that she said that her baby didn’t have a name yet. I just smiled as I handed her the change. I sat back down on the step, touched the sweet baby’s face and hand, and then they wandered away to some other people nearby. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but to continue to think about her. Thoughts kept running through my mind: “Was that really her baby? Why was her own name tattooed on her arm? If that baby was old enough to stand and walk around, why didn’t it have a name?” So many sad possibilities of answers also came to my mind. I felt sad for her. I wanted to help her in any way I could. I had no food on me to give her. And I didn’t know what else to do, so I asked Jacob if he had any small bills. He gave me a ten rupees bill and as we walked to the auto I stopped to give this sweet young beggar the money. I placed the money in her hand, told her it was for food for her baby, and said the only other thing I knew to say, “Yeshu Masi” (Jesus in Hindi). She gave me the biggest smile as I walked away. I couldn’t help but to continue to think about her the auto ride back and so many other times since then. So many unanswered thoughts. So much more I wish I could say. So much more I wish I could do. This story is the sad reality of many people’s lives in India. I felt so helpless, all I could do was pray that God would put someone in her life that could share the G*spel with her and her child. Maybe she would remember His name. Maybe it was the first time she had ever heard it.

We only have a month and a half left in India. PLEASE continue to pray for us and the people here. And as always, your words of encouragement seriously mean more to us then you will ever know! Thank you (:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

India: A Diverse Culture

This month I (Jacob) had the opportunity to travel to a small town (pop. 300,000) in the eastern part of our state. To get there, I took an overnight train roughly eight hours. The train car has numerous "apartments" on either side of a central aisle. Each apartment has 4 beds, two sets of bunk beds. It is wise to sleep with your belongings at your head in the case of your "suite-mates" feeling nosey. You will undoubtedly wake up dozens of times from the occasional train stops, rocking of the train, suite-mates getting up to use the bathroom, or any number of other reasons. It was a good, legit, Indian experience. 


My destination had no malls or familiar food restaurants - just a very simple town. We ate delicious homemade Indian food of roti, rice, vegetables and curry - much better than Indian food made in restaurants. I was there 2 days and 1 night observing some leadership development trainings (which were completely in Hindi) before taking another overnight train back home. It was the first time Sarah and I had been apart overnight since we've been here, and I was worried that Sarah especially would have a difficult time, but God was gracious to give us both peace until I returned. 

After over three months here (can't believe our time is over halfway gone!) we began feeling a growing negativity towards this place - the pushiness of the people, the bad smells, the filth, the constant noise, the poverty, just to name a few. It became quite hard for us to love the people or feel compassion towards them. The romance of a new culture and new experiences wore off and was replaced with the hard truth that this place is not romantic, living here is not a 6 month vacation, these people are not always easy to love. It gave us a greater respect for those people who have committed to making this place home until their job is done - even if that means years and years from now. We can't help but think, however, of all that Jesus gave up, all the rights and privileges He set aside to become weak and poor, lonely and far from the Father, misunderstood and hated, to live with people who were so difficult to love, so that He could give them the greatest joy they could know - fellowship with God. Our own failures prevent us from loving them and feeling compassion towards them. But, remembering the love Jesus has for us moves us to love these people the same way.



To correct our negativity towards this place and people we have started exploring the culture and people more than ever before. We want to learn to see the world more from their perspective. We want to know their histories and their hopes for the future. We have been exploring the city and meeting people more intentionally. In doing this, we will be able to know more and more what are the cultural bridges and redemptive analogies that God has sovereignly developed within this culture that will allow the gospel to come to this people with power and conviction and in a way that actually makes sense to them.

We visited a very large Jain temple at the highest point in the city. From the temple the view is beautiful! You can see a huge part of our city of 2.5 million people. There are only a small number of Jains in the city, so we do not know much about their beliefs and practices, other than, they have a high-value of all life and most attempt to live very simply.





We were also able to visit a fairly large Hindu temple called Birla Mandir. We visited the temple with two Indian friends who are now in faith. They began to argue over whether or not it was ok to eat coconuts that had been offered to idols. After lots of arguing, we all studied 1 Corinthians 8 and concluded that both of our friends were right and both were wrong. Sarah and I were also wrong for bringing a brother who came from a past filled with idol worship to a temple in the first place. We all learned that for the sake of other believers, we have to be cautious not to enjoy something that might cause them to go against their conscience, even if we are free to do it in Christ. Everything we do has to be for building one another up.
 If that means we don't eat a fresh coconut because another believer thinks its wrong, then we don't eat it. And we know the same came can be applied in America too. Lesson learned.



We also visited the largest mosque in India. We went one day after Bakra Eid, the second major holiday of Muslims. During this holiday Muslims sacrifice a goat to commemorate the story of God providing a sacrifice when Abraham was about to offer his son. The goat skins were piling up outside to be sold or given to the poor, but the inner court of the mosque was immaculate. The two minarets we see from the roof of our apartment complex kilometers away were enormous 18-storey octagon towers with marble domes. Qurans and Islamic literature were stacked nicely on tables throughout the interior. It was very impressive. 





You can see a glimpse of the great diversity of faiths in this place. Even on a micro-level, most people within the same faith tradition have very different ideas of what it means to be Hindu, Muslim, or Indian. With so many people developing their own ideas about reality, we long to see millions of people in this place come to know the fullness of truth that God has revealed in Christ and to be unified in faith in Him. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

#DuncansInIndia - He is Faithful

Our Father has been doing some really great things here in India and we want to share them with you! 

First off, we are FINALLY over being sick! Our Father has healed us and he gets all the glory. Living in India is tough, but especially when you aren't feeling good. But we are feeling back to normal, well as "normal" as possible. (:

We moved into our new home a couple weeks ago. We are so blessed to live in this new flat! The view from our rooftop is amazing. We can see so much of the city because our flat is on top of a hill. Jacob and I were on the rooftop one evening when i realized something kind of crazy to me. Just on the other side of the wall that surrounds our complex is a pretty large slum. In America, most people live in the area of the city that they do because of their socio-economic status. Here, in India, there are slums right beside what would be considered "upper class" homes. I look at the way these people live and I am humbled. They walk to get water and they use the restroom outside. When I am right next door with not just running water, but HOT running water, and three bathrooms. India is such a unique place. Our Father is teaching me about His compassion for people.

"The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." Psalm 145:8-9



Jacob and I have been spending one day a week at a children's home on the far side of the city. This area feels like more of a village then the city. We take an auto the 30 minute ride to the home, spend a few hours there, and then take an auto another 30 minutes back home. It makes for a long cultural day but it has been totally worth it. There are about 20-25 kids who live there and they range in age from 3 years to 13 years old. The kids are either orphans or they come from families who are too poor to raise them. There are no local children who live there, they all come from places outside of the city. The kids have a pretty strict schedule that goes something like this: 5am wake up and have a devotion/study the Word; have breakfast and go to school; after school they do chores and have free time; in the evening a tutor comes (this is common in India) and they do homework; then there is dinner and bedtime. Then the next day they do it all over again. During the free time in their schedule is when Jacob and I get to come and hang out. So far we have played games with them, trying to get to know them. But we plan on doing crafts and sharing stories from the Word with them also. Most of the children speak Hindi and only a couple of them speak broken English. So being involved there has been very motivating in our attempt to learn Hindi. These children are just precious!






We have also been spending a lot of time with our friend (we wrote about him  briefly in our last post). He is doing so well and we can see our Father growing him daily. His joy is contagious. We truely consider him our brother. 



Jacob and I have begun trainings in leadership development. Father has been so faithful to provide people to train and we are excited to see how He plans to use these people. Our most recent training was about 20ish people including about 6 ladies! I was incredibly excited about this! Keep lifting up these trainings please.





This week we are out of town. We took a three and a half hour bus ride to the next major city where our friends live. This week we are focusing on learning Hindi. We are attending a mini Hinidi intensive. It is intense (: We are spending four hours straight each day in a Hindi class. We are hoping and praying that this time of learning will really help us understand the language better and help us to speak it more confidently. Language learning has been a challenge for us.

This past week our sweet friends from FBCH were here! Our time with Bruce and the other guys was so encouraging but also challenging. You can be lifting us up as we seek how and when exactly Father will have us serving overseas in the future. Unity between Jacob and I in this is important. Overall, having Bruce here was truely like having family visit. We couldn't have asked for a sweeter time.



There have been so many exciting things going on lately back in the states! Maddie, our sister left for college, our best friends got married, another one of my best friends got engaged, and we have some more of our really close friends getting married in next month or two. Father has blessed us with incredible family and friends back home and we rejoice in all the great things He is doing in their lives. But, it is also incredibly hard being away and missing out on these things. We (mostly me) have had some sad days where we really miss family and friends and home. So it has definitely been a struggle. But something special has also come from it. When you are in a place where you literally feel like you have nothing, our Father's presence is more than enough. Because we are on the other side of the world and I can no longer depend on the love of my family and friends to get me through each day, I have been led to our Father and experienced His love in ways I never have before. He is more than enough and I have found so much encouragment in His truth. Praise Him because He is constant. Praise Him because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! Praise Him because He is faithful and His love truely never fails. I honestly could not live in this place without His love and faithfulness. No matter how alone I feel, I can be confident that He is with us always. Though these past couple weeks have been really tough, I am thankful for these struggles because of the things that He is teaching me and the ways He is growing my faith in Him. All for His glory. 

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18



"Praise The Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of The Lord endures forever. Praise The Lord." Psalm 117

Well, thank you for taking the time to read this post. We ask that you continue to lift us up. Your prayers are crucial to the work here. As always, email or message us anytime! Your sweet words mean more than you could ever know.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Challenges & Blessings

So I have this ongoing mental list of things that I miss, besides the obvious of friends and family (and puppy!), or things that I feel like I took for granted in America. Here are a few of them:
1. Driving
2. Communicating SO easily with everyone
3. The simpleness in doing daily tasks
4. Cow's milk
5. Knowing what is socially appropriate
6. Having things that are familiar to me
7. Exercising in public

I've come to this conclusion: It is so much more challenging to "live" in India than to "stay" in India. I think this is true for just about anywhere in the world. Anyone can "stay" anywhere for a few weeks. But when it comes to "living" anywhere, that is a lot more challenging. I literally have to ask for strength from my Father everyday just for the living challenges, and even more so spiritually in this place. I'm not saying that this place is terrible because I love it. And I'm not saying that each day of living here is horrible because it definitely is not. We have been blessed in so many ways since we have been here. But we just want to share a completely honest post with you about life here. There are many challenges of living in a culture that is not your own. But the blessings of living here outnumber the challenges by so many! So here we go..

COOKING
If you haven't guessed, cooking can be a challenge. Just about everything I cook (or at least want to cook) has to be made from scratch. For example, I made veggies (corn and zucchini) in the skillet for dinner the other night. Sounds simple enough, right? 
This is the process.. Go to the market and haggle prices with the workers to get the veggies that you need without getting totally ripped off. Come home and wash my veggies with filtered water and bleach to clean them. Then rinse them with filtered water. I want to have corn so I need to shuck it and get all the little hairs off. Then I boil them on the stove to cook them and then let them cool enough that I can touch them without getting burned (learned that the hard way). Once cooled I use a knife to cut the kernels off and put them in the skillet along with the peeled and chopped land gourd (that I thought was zucchini).
Not too difficult just time consuming. But through learning this new way of cooking, I have found out how much I LOVE baking from scratch! Snicker doodles, brownies, banana bread and oatmeal cookies are just a few things I've baked so far. I have yet to master anything requiring yeast that needs to rise... But cooking is the challenge and learning how much I love baking from scratch is the blessing!!



LEFT vs. RIGHT
Which side of the street do we drive on? Which side of the set of escalators in the mall takes us up? Which side do you move to when you are walking straight toward someone? In America the answer is right. You always go to your right. In India, the answer is left. Or really wherever you can find room. Needless to say, we have made lots of apologies after running into lots of people. I guess it's a good thing we don't drive here. (:



MISSING THE FAMILIAR
At times it can be overwhelming that everything in India is new to us. New food, new places, new sights, new smells, new home, new ways of doing things, new friends, and new family. We are finding that new definitely isn't bad, it's just new. We have new "normals." When I'm having one of those days when everything seems foreign to me (because it is) and I just want to see something familiar I look up. No matter where I am in the world the sky always seems to be the same. Whether it is the sun and the clouds or the night sky with bright stars and moon (which we actually saw the other night!!), it is familiar to my eyes. And even more so than the sky, one thing we can trust to be constant when everything else is new and different is our Father. He is the same in America and in India, and in the rest of the universe. He is doing amazing things here and now, the same time He is doing amazing things in the states. How awesome is that? I find so much peace in knowing this simple truth.



SPIRITUAL
We have shared some pictures, but the spiritual state of this place is magnified compared to the states. On literally almost every corner are Hindu temples filled with stone idols. At the highest point in the city is a Jain temple. One of the largest mosques in the world is located in our city. If you are having a conversation with someone you just met and it doesn't turn spiritual, some might consider that to be weird. Religion is everywhere and in your face here. From the buildings to giant statues, and from the jewelry people wear to the incense burning in most shops, you can't miss it.
We are reminded of Psalm 115:2-8,
"Why do the nations say, 'Where is their God?'
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them."
This is the sad reality. But we have hope in what Revelation 7 proclaims.
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
            ‘Salvation belongs to our God,
            Who sits on the throne,
            And to the Lamb.’”



Just a couple of weeks ago, our friend, who comes from a "Cousin" background, became our Brother. Praise Him! Our hearts overflow with joy because of the things we get to see our Father doing here. Keep lifting us and the people here up!



There are so many more things we want to share with you that we are blessed to witness our Father doing here. We can't share them on our blog so we will have to share them with you when we return! 




I want to end with something Father has been teaching me...

Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding..."

This verse is one of those verses that everyone has memorized. It's one that I knew before I even stepped foot into a church. I've known it for years but over the past few weeks God has really been teaching me what it means... 
This verse says to "Trust in the Lord." Okay, I trust Him, He is good right? The easy part is to trust Him. But then there is the next part, "with all your heart..." To trust Him with all your heart is a little bit harder. That means without any doubt in our hearts we have to trust Him. We have to trust Him completely and wholeheartedly. That's more challenging. And finally this verse says to "lean not on your own understanding." Now that part is like a slap in the face for me. Because I can trust in the Lord and I can even trust in Him with my whole heart.. But to trust in Him with my whole heart and to lean not on my own understanding is HARD.
So many times, even when I'm trusting the Lord, I'm still trying to figure it out, to understand the situation. Especially since I've been here in India. I trust that God is good and that He is sovereign over everything.  He has shown that to me over and over again in my life. Praise Jesus for that! But I still don't understand why some things are the way that they are. I don't understand why some people believe and some don't even care to listen. I don't understand why God allows the enemy to have such a grip on this place. I don't understand why God allows us to be attacked by the enemy when we are here for His glory alone. I don't understand so many things.. 
But then I can hear the Lord reminding me... "Sarah, you don't need to understand. That's the beauty in trusting Me. You trust Me with all your heart, knowing that I'm totally sovereign." And if I really trust that, then there is no need for my human understanding. Understanding doesn't and won't satisfy my heart. He is the only one who satisfies me.

We love India. Things that I am thankful for here:
1. New friends
2. Hot showers
3. Encouraging husband
4. Joy even in challenges
5. Uncountable blessings