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..

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!!

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. (:

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.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Puja" - Worship

Over the last few weeks we have visited multiple places of worship in India, including two of the four primary holy sites for Hindus and numerous Hindu temples. We saw and heard many unfamiliar, sometimes disturbing things. The Hindi word for worship is "puja". Puja varies remarkably, but is generally an attempt of an individual or family at making a connection with the divine.

Our first experience immersed into Hindu religion was at a holy site called Ujjain. This city sits on the banks of the Kshipra River and houses a very large temple used for corporate worship as well as numerous temples for individual worship. We were asked to remove our shoes before entering the complex. We entered a room with stadium-style seating which could hold a few hundred people. This particular room is devoted to a fertility god, so people hoping to bear children often come to this temple. Puja began as priests (shirtless men in orange pants) began ringing large bells to awaken the god at the front of the room. The Hindu people watched as the priests anointed the stone idol with fire, flowers, and coconut milk. The priests began playing drums and cymbols in somewhat of a haunting rhythm. Other priests began chanting followed by the the crowd returning chants and clapping along with the rhythm. Mothers taught their children to bow down to the idol. The "service" lasted roughly 15 minutes after which the crowd made its way to the front of the room to give offerings of flowers, sweets, and coconut milk to give to the priests and their behalf. People then exited the room to a courtyard where about 20 other idols were set up for individual worship. Many people in the crowd were far detached from what was happening, almost going though the motions. A few, however, were very passionate about the puja they were performing.


At another temple in Ujjain, we watched as people offered bottles of liquor to a demon-god known for his drunkenness. The people offer liquor to the priests who pour it into special bowls and down the mouth of the idol. It was incredible to see people honoring a god with such a major personality flaw as drunkenness. Yet, the people we talked to said they continue to come to this god because he answers their wishes. To see so many people bound to this idol and even honoring his flaws was extremely sobering.

Our next visit was to a second holy site called Haridwar. This city, particularly the Ganges River running through it, is believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of Shiva (one of the top three most worshipped gods in all of Hinduism). Because of this belief, Hindu people flock by the thousands to Haridwar to ritually bathe in the river to wash away their sins. However, because people continue to sin, they must keep coming back to the river to wash. It was at Haridwar that we faced the most resistance to the good news: I was asked by a group of young men to go away while I was in the middle of sharing; they then followed and interrupted me as I was introducing myself to a couple of guys to share with them. Sarah faced similar resistance as the ladies were unable to share with women because they were constantly being surrounded by men. The city boasts a 100' statue of Shiva at the edge of the river. It is a stronghold of Hinduism.

A final experience happened in Delhi at a place called Kalkaji Temple. This temple is dedicated to a goddess named Kali. As we entered the temple grounds, we walked down a market area where sweets, flowers, and other offerings were sold for people to offer to Kali. In this area, we were approached by a Hindu cross-dresser. These people typically go to places where large groups are gathered (like temples or a child's first birthday party) and demand money from them. If money is not paid, they antagonize and disrupt the event until they are given money. If people refuse to give money, the cross-dresser places a curse on them. Many people are so afraid of being cursed that they give money; others give because they are greatly annoyed. We did not given money, and so he began to speak curses on us. We walked away unharmed but more than a little uncomfortable. Another group went into the temple and witnessed a demon-possessed woman.

Our experiences were shocking realities of the spiritual state of millions of people in India. Psalm 115 truly comes to life in this place. Please read and pray.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


We have been in India about a week and it already feels like we have done so much yet so little at the same time. We are getting over jet lag and trying to keep our days straight. It's Wednesday right? 

Our first full day in India we met our supervisors, Paul and Sarah, who are really great! We have already been blessed by their friendship even in our short time here. Our second night in India we got to attend house fellowship. This time was filled with worship, teaching, and fellowship. It was such a sweet time and we are looking forward to many more of these! 

Our first experience in India culture...
So Jacob and I stayed a couple nights in a hotel in the middle of the city. We decided to get out of the comfort of our room and walk about a half mile to the KFC down the street. Let me paint the picture for you... Cars, big trucks, autos (rickshaws), motorcycles, bicycles, cows, and often times wild dogs, all share the road together. There are no sidewalks so there are also people, lots of people, walking down the street right along with the vehicles. That's where you could find us that afternoon. In all of the craziness, I was more afraid of the cows (of course) then getting hit by a car. But, we made it to KFC, which is delicious in India, and we made it back to our hotel. This was one of the most stressful things that we've experienced since we've gotten here. 

That night we were invited, along with Paul and Sarah, to have dinner in an Indian family's home. I learned a little bit of Indian cooking, which was SO fun! And Jacob ate with his fingers.


The next day we spent with an Indian couple about our age. They took us ALL around the city, by auto! Here is a video of what riding in an auto is like...


We also went to the zoo where my lifelong dream of seeing a white peacock came true!! We also saw a white tiger which is native to our state in India. Fun fact - our state was the setting for Disney's "Jungle Book!"

We also visited the historic king's palace and spent some time at the mall.

This week we are focused on learning language. We have been able to participate in the Hindi intensive along with other workers from this area of the country. We have met so many awesome people and heard so many incredible stories of what Father is doing all over India. It has been a great week so far!

We are planning on doing a home-stay beginning next week. This will be with an Indian family. We will be totally immersed in the culture and be able to practice and learn more Hindi!

One thing Father has taught us already is the importance of community over here. Back in the states, specifically Bolivar, something we lacked was community. I guess because we were in a different stage of life then a lot of the people around us. But anyways, when we struggled with things or went through trials, we would just handle them on our own or with each other. That was as much help as we needed. And that worked fine for us, there. But here is a totally different story. With all the added stress here and the way things pile up, we are learning that we can't just rely on each other, we need that support and encouragement and love from our team members who are our friends and the people we fellowship with as well.

Continue to lift us up please! You have no idea how essential your words with Father are in. We appreciate it so much! We love you friends!

Jacob & Sarah

Monday, April 21, 2014

Preparing to live in South Asia!

So our departure date, June 16th, is a little less than two months away and we could not be more excited!

We've found that there is only so much preparation you can do to be ready to live in a foreign country and the rest we will just have to learn once we are there. But there are a few ways we have been preparing. 

First, we are taking a class called Survival Abroad (helpful right?). Recently, we've had Phonetics teachers coming to class teaching us how to learn a new language. During our time in India we will be learning Hindi so this will be extremely useful! Something I never realized before was how many sounds there are that we don't use in the English language but are common in foreign languages. These classes have been difficult at times and really funny at other times. Something we keep hearing over and over again when it comes to learning language is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself (or each other) because you will mess up. But that is something we are good at, laughing together.

Also, 3 nights this week we will be participating in a Security Training. This will include things like how to stay safe while living overseas, what to do and not to do if something scary and serious might happen, and ways to travel safely.

We have studied, read books, and watched videos about India. We've learned things like their history, many common beliefs of Indian Hindus, and things that they like and are important to them.

One way we've been preparing (kinda by accident) is through my cooking! I really like experimenting and creating new recipes but recently they are each turning out to be extremely spicy! Like I couldn't even finish it. We know Indian food will be quite spicy for us so I guess its good to eat some spicy things now.

So I grew up in St. Charles right? While I love this town, I've found that is not the best place to have grown up to be prepared to live in Asia. So we've been doing outside things like hiking, fishing, going on long walks, walking in the rain in our rain jackets, and smashing the spiders I see in our house all by myself (I know, right!). Jacob also occasionally makes us ride in the hot car without the AC to help prepare us for the Indian heat. I especially hate this when we are going somewhere important, but I know he is right, India will be hot!

As many of you know, we've been raising financial support for our time in India.We are a little over halfway to raising the amount required. It has been so awesome and encouraging to see Father provide and we are confident He will provide the rest!

While we are beyond excited to be a part of the Work in India, there are a few things that we are nervous about. If you are wanting to pray for us, here is a need at this time:
- It will be hard to be away from our families (and Dunkie), not be at some of our best friends' weddings, and just miss those people that we are close with. So pray for comfort, for us and our families, and for us to trust we are exactly where He wants us.

We are so grateful for our family and friends who have been so faithful to support us! We pray that He will bless your lives as well! (:

Jacob & Sarah