Back From Burundi

John, Jason, and I (Jess) returned from our 4-day trip to Burundi on Wednesday.  We were joined by Scott and Jennifer Myhre (Africa field directors for World Harvest Mission, currently working at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya).

The night we arrived, we crashed a going-away party for a group of visitors who had been in Burundi for 10 days.  There were a variety of organizations represented at this event, and it was encouraging to see their cooperative spirit.  The highlight of the evening was a performance by a Burundian drumming group.

We were very thankful for Wayne and Barb Vibbert who graciously spent a lot of time with us.  They've been working in Burundi for decades and were a wonderful resource.  (Notice that the new student center has been named in their honor!)  

Hope Africa University is located in the capital, Bujumbura.  Currently, there are approximately 4,000 students.  The medical school is located here, but there are plans to move it closer to Kibuye Hospital sometime in the near future.  We will not live in Bujumbura, but will likely visit frequently to give lectures.

Bishop Elie Buconyori (President of HAU) organized a meeting with all the faculty currently involved in the medical school.  We were able to hear where they are at with training and ways that they hope to improve in the coming years.  

On Monday evening, we enjoyed dinner at a resort on Lake Tanganyika (the world's longest lake and 2nd deepest).  This place will serve as a haven when we are feeling weary!

On Tuesday, we drove approximately 2-1/2 hours from Bujumbura to Kibuye Hospital which is where we will be living.  We had a thorough tour of the hospital and were able to talk to some HAU medical students who were rotating at the hospital.

The hospital is currently 100 beds, with the vision to expand to 250 beds in the next few years.  Below is a picture of the new maternity ward currently under construction.

John was really excited to see the rooms that will be dedicated to the eye unit.  (The picture he's pointing at is a small eyeball.)  


The trip went very well and we were really encouraged to continue pursuing Burundi as the long-term location for the McCropders.  

So, what's next?  World Harvest Mission is the agency that we are hoping to partner with long-term.  Scott and Jennifer will write a report based on the findings of our trip to present to the WHM board.  They have to approve Burundi as a new field at their board meeting in April before we can move forward with them.  The McCropders plan to return to the U.S.A. in August/September 2011 and attend orientation week with World Harvest Mission.  At that point, we hope to be officially accepted as WHM missionaries and begin the fundraising process.  We are anticipating that will take around a year.  We hope to head to French language school in the fall of 2012 and then to Burundi in 2013.  We still have a long road ahead of us with lots of preparation and transition in between.  Please continue to pray that God will clearly direct our steps.  


The Problem of Good and Evil

I'm on call again this weekend. It's not been too bad as things go around here, but the numerous tragedies are ever-present. A two-year old had meningitis and subsequent problems draining the fluid around the brain. We had a neurosurgeon visitor at the time, and were able to place a drain, but things are tough to keep sterile here, and he ended up with a worse infection. He hasn't spoken in days, and it's only a prayer that maybe, somehow, he might again. A three-year old has a brain filled with strokes, and we're supplying oxygen and not much else of benefit, but this is what the family wants. I'm not expecting anything to get better, and so I guess I'm waiting on something to get worse. Trust me, the list goes on and on.

Sadness is the predominant image. Tragedy. But it's more than that. There is evil in the sadness, some sense that things could have been otherwise. Should have been otherwise. I don't have the strength to stare at it all day, every day. But it's there whenever I open my eyes.

Philosophers and theologians have, for years, debated the “problem of evil.” The reasoning goes something like this: How can God be all-powerful and all-good, and yet there is evil in the world? If you accept the contradiction and hope for some resolution, then you can (a) reject that God is good and/or omnipotent, (b) reject the reality of evil, or (c, seemingly the most popular option) reject that God is there at all. Actually, there are other options out there, and I would assert that some of the proffered Christian answers out there hold some decent water. However, they may or may not satisfy the intellect, but they will rarely satisfy the heart, when you're staring at a mom and her sick child.

And yet recently, I can't shake the feeling that there is a missing piece to the discussion. As I write this, little Maggie, growing every day, is repeatedly crawling up on top of her dad, just for the fun of it. A cool wind blows on a sunny day. A friend is only too glad to help. In fact, though we see our fair share of wailing in the hospital, if you could walk through it, you may notice that the predominant sound is laughter and friendly conversations, not just from the families whose loved one is getting better, but from the others as well. And not just because we can't bear to look at the sadness for too long (though I certainly vouch for that phenomenon). Rather, there is the simple fact of all the goodness around us all the time. Shattered and mixed up, like one would expect in our fallen world, but emphatically there nonetheless.

What do we make of this? Mostly we ignore it, but one could say it creates the philosophic “problem of good”, whose reasoning goes something like this: If God is not there or not good, then where in the world did all of this goodness come from? And thus, the suggested answers to the “problem of evil” may be creating another equally-challenging question. The presence of good is certainly subjective, but no less subjective or real than the presence of evil.

I'm not suggesting ignoring the evil or the sadness. Jump into the middle, in the moments where we have the strength, and take it on. But celebrate the small and forgotten graces. Celebrate the large, overarching blessings that are too big to keep track of most of the time. Celebrate the strong and holy goodness of God.


Two Great Photos

As a quick diversion, I thought I'd share a couple of photos.

First, here is (I believe) the oldest known photo of 2 (non-married) McCropders. This is John and myself, just before Christmas in 2002, my first year of medical school. Pictured also are Jay Dykstra (radiology), Peter and Sarah Bast (ophthalmology), Priscila Ribeiro (now Cummings, OBGYN), and Matt Nehs (general surgery). Good times.

Also, a new add to the favorite signs collection. This was actually just down the hill from us, where apparently someone found some scriptural scrap wood when building a chicken coop, and decided to use it as a moral reminder to any would-be chicken thieves.


Jetting to Burundi

A contingent of the McCropders (Jason, John, and Jess) will be heading out for a scouting trip to Burundi on Sunday, February 20th.  We will be accompanied by Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre who are the Africa field directors for World Harvest Mission (the agency that we hope to partner with long-term in Burundi).

The primary purpose of this trip is to gather more detailed information to present at the World Harvest board meeting in April.  Burundi has to be approved by the board as a new field since there are currently no WHM missionaries there.  We plan to spend some time in Bujumbura at Hope Africa University as well as some time at Kibuye Hospital.

Please keep these specific requests in prayer over the next few days (we return on February 23rd):
  • Safe travels to/from Burundi as well as in the country itself
  • Good communication with the leadership and administration of Hope Africa University and Kibuye Hospital
  • The beginning of good relationships with Burundians
  • Clear direction and vision for our team
  • That John would be able to connect with current eye care providers in the country to get a better feel for what their needs are 
  • Heather and the girls while they hang out in Nairobi with a friend 
  • Elise and Micah as they stay with trusted friends at Tenwek
  • That Rachel doesn't have her baby while we're gone!
We'll post an update on our trip upon our return.  Thanks for your prayers!  


Dziuban Visit

We often joke around here that we are in "Little Ann Arbor." Between the McCropders and now the Popps, and all of our joint visitors, there are often close to 20 people from not just Michigan, but specifically the greater Ann Arbor area of Michigan here at Tenwek. This happened again this past week. Friends of ours from Knox, Eric and Keri Dziuban, were in the area and "swung by." Eric is currently a pediatrician working with an AIDS clinic in Swaziland. Keri is a special ed teacher working for the Swaziland Ministry of Education. They are currently (we hope) halfway up Kilimanjaro. Because Tenwek is relatively close to Kili, they stopped in for a three day visit before heading south to Tanzania.
It was great to have them here! We played games, shared stories, showed them around, and dumped our kids on them. :) Always nice to have visitors...and especially visitors from home who are also living in Africa! We wish them good luck on the Kili summit in days to come.


Thine is the Power

During these past two weeks here at Tenwek, we've experienced the worst series of power outages since our arrival. The water level over the dam is very low due to a long dry season and a rainy season that seems rather delayed. Because of our reliance on the hydroelectric dam, when the water is low our power can get more sporadic. Also, when a part breaks (as happened last week), the power stops working. The backup system is the national power company, KP&L (Kenya Power and Light, which some people less than affectionately refer to as Kenya Power and Darkness) which either cuts off power randomly or has power that is not a high enough quality to allow into our system. We don't want our appliances fried, after all. The other backup system is a large diesel generator that runs the hospital itself and some of the outlying buildings (but usually not our house).
Every day for the past 2 wks the power has gone out for some amount of time. Sometimes it's all day. Sometimes it's 20 minutes. Sometimes it's at 8am, sometimes at 4pm, sometimes at 7pm. It's usually right around the time that we a) start a load of laundry b) want to make dinner or c) need to put the kids to bed. Whenever it happens, it always seems to be the worst possible time for the power to go out. And because we never know when or how long, it seems to encourage a sense of lethargy and inertia. Our stoves and ovens are gas, but who wants to cook anything? I mean, it means opening the fridge or freezer. I could start some laundry now (or fill in the blank of an activity requiring electricity), but what if the power goes off in the middle? Our computers can run off battery for awhile, but the internet routers need power to connect us. Meal times: don't want to make anything new, leftovers usually need a microwave...PB&J again anyone?

And yet, and yet. Our stomachs are full. Our clothes are clean. We are still able to communicate with friends and family. None of our food has spoiled. Things are not as bad as we make them out to be. Minor inconveniences, although they seem to have a big impact on our attitudes. Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever the circumstances. I guess I'm not there yet. Sometimes it seems easier to be content with the BIG ISSUES that we deal with, and less content with the "no internet" issues. And my minor inconvenience is actually, in other parts of the country, causing famine--no rain = no crops. I was thinking about a title for this post and the first phrase that popped into my head was "thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory." His ways, His timings, to learn His lessons for our lives. Pray with us as we struggle through some of the more minor inconveniences. We pray that the power situation will get better, that the rains would come, that Kenyans would have enough food...but ultimately, that His will is done. Hopefully I can remember this today, whenever it is that the power goes out.
Photo from Friday night when, to our delight, we opened up an awesome care package from our friends the Tangs, in the dark. Above is what it actually looked like. Below, with flash, you can see us huddled around. This lifted our spirits IMMENSELY in the middle of a 4 hr power outage at night. Thanks, Tangs!

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
--Philippians 4:11-13


Tenwek Toddlers

Practically oblivious to the hospital around the corner, the happy toddlers of Tenwek spend their days like this: