The Broccoli Beat-Down

by Jean Valjean

As many of you have experienced, learning a new language is a humbling process.  If it isn't enough that you make a fool of yourself most times you open your mouth, there is the added dimension of concurrent “existential chaos” (as Carlan puts it).  After experiencing highly productive professional roles as physicians and teachers, we are now bumbling language beginners desperately wanting to learn as fast as we can to alleviate the pain and suffering. 

Ah, but there are a few obstacles frustrating the resolution of my identity crisis.  The call of the progeny hits me like screeching nails, “I’m hungry, Can somebody wipe me?, I don’t want to go to school…”.  I find myself all alone.  It's Jess' study block.  She too is a full-time student which means we attempt to split the domestic responsibilities 50/50, and I try to keep my finger in the dike while she's gone.  Schizam, there goes ½ of my desperately needed study time.  God’s good blessings (my wonderful wife and kids) quickly begin to feel like obstacles between me and my deep desire to study more French.  Frustration and internal angst build.

With that as a back-drop, I tell you this story.  It was a gray, Friday afternoon post classes, and we found ourselves in desperate need of groceries.  Note, the shopping is now in my jurisdiction, and I typically haul the goods with a bicycle that I found in the apartment basement.  This basement (literally “la cave” in French) is full of stuff dating back to the mid-60’s that not even missionaries wanted to keep.

Providentially, "my" grocery getter is outfitted with a make-shift plastic tub strapped to the back which I can pile high with milk, diapers, canned goods, etc, in addition to the over-sized backpack I wear for the occasion (thanks Mom Birk).  At times, the shear weight can border on the edge of being untenable (it is crucial to padlock the front tire to a fixed object during loading and unloading).  Thus, it was with great joy on this particular day that I accepted an invitation to go grocery shopping with another student, Tom, using his car (the McCropders are going “sans voiture” in France).

I got right to work at the store so as not to keep Tom waiting.  Of particular interest, in France you have to weigh your own produce and then print a sticker for each item.  That is when it happened.  As I quickly weighed my fresh fruits and veggies, I remember glimpsing at the broccoli sticker and thinking, “Hmm, not bad, only 86 centimes ($1.07) for 2 heads.”  In a flash I was off to procure the rest of my shopping list.

Tom was already waiting by the car when I arrived at a long line at the cashier.  As I went to pay my bill, it seemed unusually high.  Then my credit card wouldn’t work.  After several failed attempts to fix the problem, the natives were getting restless behind me and the cashier gave-up and sent this American putz and his confangled visa card to the “help” desk to have them straighten me out.  The lady there got my card to work in an instant and I was out the door.  With all the hullabaloo, I never looked at my receipt. 

The next morning, as I’m eating my newly purchased granola, I suddenly remember the expensive grocery bill.  I get out the receipt and quickly hone in on the “CORNICHONES” costing 86€ (euros).   That's over $100.  I happen to know that "cornichone" means pickle from a silly French song we listened to in class.  Yikes!  Those were some expensive pickles.  But wait a minute, I didn’t even buy pickles.  After some careful investigation, I find "cornichones" on my broccoli sac at a cost of 99.99€/kilo!  

I sheepishly return to the store with my bag of broccoli.  At the "help" desk for idiots, I explain in my best French that I somehow made a mistake weighing my broccoli, and yes, I paid over $100 dollars for it without noticing.  The nice lady began laughing hilariously and announced to the row of cashiers sitting en face, "This American paid 86€ for broccoli!"  She merrily credited back my money and asked with a giggle if I would still like to buy the broccoli.  I said yes, but was then faced with having to re-negotiate the scales of humiliation.  I pressed the little button with the picture of broccoli, and with no problem at all it produced a sticker labelled "broccoli" for a total of 2€.  That's more like it. 

It was a week or so later that Jessica investigated the scene of the crime and had the insight to push the blank button next to the broccoli.  Out came "cornichones" for 99.99 €/kilo.  Doh.  At any rate, it was fantastic broccoli.

I continue to learn day after day just how much of my identity is still wrapped up in things like productivity, speaking intelligently and not paying $100 for broccoli.  Jesus continues to call me to find my identity in being God's child, not in my French or in my ability to use the scales of humiliation.  As I rest in Christ, I find that my internal angst fades, I'm able to love my family again and I'm set free to continue on the journey of learning French by making my prerequisite one million mistakes.  Thanks in particular to Jessica, the McCropder guys, Steve Telian and my mom as you've walked through these months of transition with me.


Umbuntu Bg Imana

Many thanks to our pastor Chuck Jacob for pointing me to a little book by Sinclair Ferguson, which is loosely structured around a 7-stanza hymn entitled "How the Grace of God Amazes Me".

It just so happens that this hymn was translated about 60 years ago by a Rwandan missionary.  It was written in Kirundi by a Burundian pastor named Emmanuel T. Sibomana, and it's original title is "Umbuntu Bg Imana" or "The Grace of God".

The fact that we will later be learning Kirundi scares me a bit when I see a little word like "Bg".  It's also lovely for us to hear such an expression of grace from the heart of a Burundian, and hopefully we can find people who already know this hymn when we get to Burundi.  I was quite taken with the meter structure and, since I don't know the music, I set it to a little tune.  I'm putting it here for you to enjoy.  (My recording gear is on a big red box packed for Burundi, so this was done on my phone in a veritable "Wow-modern-technology-but-this-has-terrible-quality!" moment.)

May God's grace amaze you as you head into the advent season.  As the book says, if you aren't being amazed, then you're not experiencing grace.  It's just that incredible.

(click the play button to listen)

O how the grace of God amazes me
It loosed me from my bonds and set me free
What made it happen so?
His own will, this much I know,
Set me, as now I show
At liberty.

My God has chosen me, though one of nought,
to sit beside my King in heaven's court.
Hear what my Lord has done
O, the love that made him run
to meet his erring son!
This God has wrought.

Not for my righteousness, for I have none.
But for his mercy's sake, Jesus, God's Son,
suffered on Calvary's tree-
Crucified with thieves was he-
Great was his grace to me,
His wayward one.

And when I think of how, at Calvary,
He bore sin's penalty instead of me.
Amazed, I wonder why
He, the sinless One, should die
For one so vile as I;
My Saviour he!

Now all my heart's desire is to abide
In him, my Saviour dear, in him to hide.
My shield and buckler he
Covering and protecting me;
From Satan's darts I'll be
safe at his side

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer, your grace impart;
When evil thoughts arise through Satan's art,
O, drive them all away
And do you, from day to day,
keep me beneath your sway,
King of my heart.

Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears, and voice
Join me, creation all with joyful noise:
Praise him who broke the chain
Holding me in sin's domain
And set me free again
Sing and rejoice...



(From Alyssa)

Thanks especially to Jessica and Rachel's hard work organizing our feast, we actually enjoyed a pretty traditional Thanksgiving this year here in France. Having now celebrated three Thanksgivings outside the U.S., it seems that we actually try harder to carry on the traditions while living in a foreign land. We certainly miss family time (and football :)) but the other ingredients are here - thankfulness, friends, and culinary delights. :)
 Sarah planned a story and crafts for the kids about thankfulness - creatively using her elementary school teacher skills
 Listening to the story
 Making pilgrim hats
 Micah modeling his pilgrim hat
 Thankful charts - all the kids are very thankful for their mommy and daddy and Jesus. Even the littlest ones drew pictures. 
 Ben and his buddy Josiah with their hats
 Maggie and Abi

John explained the story of Thanksgiving and did his best to incorporate all the nationalities represented at our feast into the story - he got a little stuck with Slovakia, though! (We have classmates from Holland, England, and Slovakia and of course included some French friends and professors at the feast.)

 Carving the five enormous turkeys - too big for the ovens, even. McLaughlin's oven actually began to flame in the process of cooking one of these birds. Thankfully they remembered where the fire extinguisher was and quickly put out the fire before anyone (including the turkey) was hurt. 

 Everything tasted delicious and we enjoyed sharing this time together. We have so much to be thankful for this year - being all together in one place as McCropders again, Rachel passing her OB/Gyn boards, happy and healthy kids, safe travels through thousands of miles this past year, God's strength for learning a new language, and especially the provision of God of so many partners in this journey making it possible through prayer and support for us to continue on this path towards Burundi. Dieu vous bĂ©nisse (God bless you).  


Creative Giving

(from Eric)

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this is another sort of a tribute post.  (Other examples here and here)  Our goal on this blog is to describe, as realistically and holistically as possible, our lives and work.  An extremely real facet of this is the countless people who support us in countless ways.  They make this happen, and they inspire us and blow us away.  Many of you reading this are among those.

"Creative Giving"

What I mean is people who have supported and encouraged us in ways that were outside the box, and in most cases, amplified the effect of their gift.  These Creative Givers always impress us in how thoughtful and wise they are in their gracious participation in our lives.  A few examples to ponder and demonstrate:

  • In 2009, before leaving for Kenya, a realtor friend who really believed in what we were doing volunteered to list and sell our house in Michigan, foregoing his commission and absorbing the listing cost.  In addition to monetary savings, this was an incredible encouragement to us in a difficult time.
  • Carlan's friend who is a professional photographer offered him a free photo session with free digital files to use for his prayer cards and such.  Now you know why he always looks so debonair.
  • A friend of the Cropsey's gave Jessica Lasik eye surgery, at a significant discount.  Not having to deal with eyeglasses and contacts while living in the African bush is a gift that cannot be overestimated.
  • Similarly, our dentist in Ypsilanti decided I needed a bite splint, which insurance usually doesn't cover. He had expressed interest in our work, especially given that his son is Peace Corps in northern Kenya.  When I expressed concern regarding the cost, he decided to absorb the cost himself.
  • (Did we mention that we love Pacific Rim?!)
  • And we also would mention the numerous people who have utilized their personal friendships and professional relationships to connect us to a larger circle of interested individuals.  Hosting dinners for us, introducing us to friends, sharing our stories even when we are not there.

As a bit of a center point of this, I wanted to tell our readership also about Will Lee.  Will and his wife Ellen are good friends from years at Knox Church in Ann Arbor.  He's a very sharp guy, an alum of one of the nation's top business schools, and a personal finance expert now based out of New York state. 

He called me up a couple of months ago to offer his services to any of our McCropder connections, with the proviso that he would be giving back a portion of his fees garnered from such clients back to our work and ministry.  The creativity of this is patent.  It can amplify his capacity for giving, as well as provide an opportunity for others to render support to us through utilizing his financial services.

If you're interested, you can contact him directly at 914.225.5491.  Or email him at will.b.lee@morganstanley.com.  He does full-spectrum personal finance management, with an emphasis on tax planning, retirement planning, and risk management.  He is licensed for any US state.

These are the examples from the top of our collective head after just a couple years of being in this work.  It's a blessing to us, and we thank you all.



As the seasons change here in Albertville, the weather has been crisp and clear.  The snow-capped mountains surrounding us are stunning.  What a great background for a team picture.
"Pleeeease can we do silly faces..."

A growing second generation of McCropders

"Just scoot back a little more..."


Board Certified

Or, "Again, It Takes a Village..."
by Rachel

This post has been waiting for a long time.  Several years ago, I wrote a post about what it means to be Board "Eligible."  Every branch of medicine has their own way of ensuring that their physicians are properly certified to practice medicine.  For OB-GYN, as with most surgical specialties, that certification includes an oral examination.  My timeline went something like this:

June, 2009: Graduation from residency, pass written exam (which made me eligible to apply for the oral exam in 2 yrs)
July 2010-June 2011: Collect information on EVERY patient in OB and GYN that I take care of at Tenwek (a "case list" used for the examination)
May, 2011: Realize I missed the deadline for applying for the oral examination for that fall.  Panic.  Email the board requesting an exception.  Get denied.  Ask if I can at least use my same patient list that I have been collecting at great effort for the last year.  Get approval for this.
February, 2012: Apply to take the oral exam for fall of 2012.  Get accepted.  Pay lots of $$.
July 2012: Submit my case list to the board for approval.  Pay lots more $$.  Find out my test will be sometime during the first week of November.
October 2012: Get my official date for the exam; book travel from Paris to Dallas, TX (more $$)
November 8, 2012: TAKE MY BOARDS

So you see, for me, this process was more than three years in coming.  It culminated in an examination that lasted only three hours, one that was incredibly challenging and left me wondering if I had really studied anything for the past six months.  It left me honestly wondering, as I walked out of the testing center, if all had been for naught, since I was pretty sure I hadn't passed the exam.  But lo and behold, 4 days later the Board notified me that I had passed.

I learned a lot during this experience (not the least of which was a lot of information about OB-GYN which I'm sure will be extremely helpful in year to come)...more than enough for several blog posts.  I learned a lot about what my worth as a person is based on.  But what I want to focus on today is that I do not, and never really have, work alone.  I was only able to pass this test thanks to the efforts of literally hundreds of people.

1.  My awesome husband, who spent more than his fair share of time watching the kids and taking care of house stuff while I tried to study as much as possible.  Along those lines, my McCropder teammates who also volunteered many times to watch the kids or have us over for dinner so I could study.  Eric, Alyssa, and Jason also graciously gave me "mock" oral exams so I could practice the format.
2.  The nurses at Tenwek, who spent a lot of time recording the information that I needed to collect for my case list.
3.  My OB "consultants," Bryan and Toanh Popp, who reviewed my case list, provided advice, and encouraged me along the way that it was possible to pass the exam.
4.  My friend Christina, who graciously loaned me her 1100 page syllabus from an OB-GYN review course to aid in my studies.
5.  A number of Tenwek missionaries who spent a fair amount of time tracking down the right people to sign the right paperwork at the hospital, then scanning and sending it to me.
6.  I have no idea, but I'm guessing there were probably close to 1000 people in at least 7 time zones praying for me during my test.  That knowledge alone carried me through.  Really.  The night of my test, as I lay in bed thinking of all the answers I had probably gotten wrong, all the things I should have said, the only way I was able to calm down and fall asleep was knowing that...1, I felt like I had prepared all I could to take the test; 2, I felt like taking the test was the best stewardship of the abilities and training God had given me; and 3, There was a body of believers lifting this up in prayer.  What more could have been done?

So thank you all for getting me through this major milestone.  I will never have to do this again!  Praise God.
Love and thanks,
Rachel McLaughlin, MD
Diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology



Preparing for an upcoming oral presentation in French, I feel not unlike this....
except that our teachers are very patient, and they laugh along with us as we flounder in French vowels. 


Walking in her Shoes

(from Heather)
Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday, a day each year on which thousands of churches around the world pray specifically for orphans.  While watching some videos on the Orphan Sunday website (which conveniently also has pages in French), I was reminded of someone. 
One summer in Kenya, I put a pair of my old shoes in the donations closet.  The donations closet holds a supply of clothing and shoes for hospital patients or other visitors in need of those items.  Within a few weeks, my old shoes were given to someone.  I will never forget seeing my shoes on her feet.

My shoes appeared on the feet of a 14-year-old girl who came to the hospital with two sick children.  The children were hers, a one-year-old girl and a baby boy.  The 14-year-old girl wearing my shoes was an orphan who, for various sad reasons, had run away from the orphanage where she was living at age 12.  With no one to take care of her, she fell into several heartbreaking episodes of abuse.  At age 14, she landed at the hospital, bone thin, with two sick little kids and a detached sort of blank stare.

She did not lift her eyes to make eye contact, and anyway, I could hardly look away from the shoes.  The irony left my mind spinning.  This girl and I wore a common pair of shoes, and yet the paths on which we walked were strikingly dissimilar.  I had used those shoes to go running for fun in good health while my loving husband cared for our healthy well-fed children.  Her daily walk looked quite different.    

There she was walking literally in my shoes, while I could not even imagine walking metaphorically in her shoes.

Thankfully, the Son of God came down and walked on this earth where we all walk, showing how he redeems brokenness.  And he invites us to participate with him in bringing goodness and redemption out of broken situations.  So tomorrow, on Orphan Sunday, please pray for this girl and for her children (who are realistically at high risk for becoming orphans themselves) as you pray for orphans around the world.