Strength in What Remains

Almost no one knows where Burundi is. Usually the first response when we tell people where we're headed next is "where's that?" or "I had to look that up on a map." Many people have never heard of the tiny country before. In fact, I googled images for Burundi maps the other day and one of the first hits was actually THIS website. So, imagine my surprise when several months ago Eric and I were telling a friend about our trip to Burundi and he replied, "I'm actually reading a book about Burundi right now!" What? People write books and see movies about Rwanda, not Burundi. He went on to tell me about the book, which I just recently finished reading.

The book is called, "Strength in What Remains," and if the title alone doesn't make you want to read it, let me review the book briefly. It's a story about a man named Deo, a Burundian who was attending medical school in Bujumbura in the mid 90s when the genocide started, and his journey. He initially escaped to Rwanda, then back to Burundi, and finally to New York, where he had a horrible struggle trying to survive. Deo eventually made it back to Burundi and has opened a clinic in the southern part of the country. I couldn't put this book down. It was written by Tracy Kidder, who also wrote one of my favorite books "Mountains Beyond Mountains" about the work of Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti (and elsewhere). He tells Deo's story in powerful fashion, making it real and personal and inserting himself as a character travelling home with Deo, full of fears and doubts about this recently post war country. He asks hard questions, as does Deo--why did God let this happen? Why did Deo live, when so many others died? But ultimately...there is hope and redemption in his story as the war ends, and Deo gets to return, and is trying to help his people rebuild a nation.

It's incredible to me to think that right at the time when we become interested in this tiny country of Burundi, a national best seller by a Pulitzer Prize winning author comes out about a Burundian man who is in the MEDICAL field and has returned to open a clinic. Perhaps our paths will cross with Deo's one day. If you are interested in learning more about the country we will hopefully spend the next years of our life in, it is a fantastic book for more info and background. Even if you don't care about Burundi in particular, it's a great book about human struggles and triumphs and emotions, written by a talented author. Hope you enjoy.


COTW: Standing in the Gap

It's an image burned into my mind. Young mother and father, standing on either side on a ICU bed, standing in the gap.

Their baby, 3 months old and occasionally opening her eyes, labored breathing, fitted with a BiPap mask that's made for an adult, but it's getting the job done for the time being.

Mom, standing on the left, maybe all of 30 years old, and all things considered, the years of worries are wearing pretty lightly on her. She has apparently known a lot of them. Besides the obvious poverty shown by her clothing, I'm told that she herself had been sick. Really sick. The doctors had decided against even trying to resuscitate her if she stopped breathing. And yet here she is, alive and full of faith, now for her baby. And full of a type of joy, as well.

Dad on the right, ragged suit jacket and teeth yellowed before their time. At mom's request, I had waited until dad returned to talk to them about the difficult prognosis of their child. I needed a nurse to translate, since dad has never had the luxury of much of an education. He eagerly drank in the news of his daughter's malady, and at the end (as I usually do), I asked them if I could pray. Eagerly, dad and mom snatched up mine and the nurse's hands. It was unusual, and the nurse and I cast each other a surprised glance before we realized their heads were already bowed in fervent anticipation. I gave a prayer in English. When we finished, I relaxed my hands, and dad grabbed them again, starting in with an incredibly charismatic prayer in the local language here. When he finished, mom did the same.

A few minutes later, that was how I left them. Mom on the left, dad on the right. Eyes closed, eager chants and petitions repetitively offered to heaven on behalf of their little girl. To the God who had spared the mother. If they were more educated, perhaps they would have been trying to figure out the problem, or analyze what they should do. If they had more social connections, they probably would have been outside on their mobile phone, calling their network of family and friends to provide finances and support for this time. Instead, they were there, praying their pentecostal intercessions, standing in the gap for their little girl, because that's who they are, and who they are is what they have to give for her.

She died on Sunday. She fought for days without improving, and finally succumbed. Sometimes I ask the "why" questions. But not this time. Not because I know the answer, but because I don't think asking will provide me with an answer.

Nevertheless, this I believe. These prayers of the faithful, offered by the weak in their weaknesses, the same as all the truest prayers, were not wasted. They were heard. And they were loved. And for me, there is a beauty that lingers in the mental image that I keep of these parents, giving their pieces of copper, all that they are and all that they have to give. Small in the eyes of the world, but more than all that many others gave put together.

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21:1-4


Prayer Requests

We know that it can often be difficult to pray for someone if you don't have regular interactions with them and know what their life is like.  So, we wanted to give you some specific things to pray for us over the next few weeks and months.  Thank you to those of you who pray for us faithfully already.  We know that your prayers have sustained us in ways that we don't even realize.

  • Unity in vision, decision-making, relationships with each other
  • Clear guidance about which French language school to attend (we are hoping to decide on this soon so that we can register our large group early)
  • Remaining time at Tenwek - that we would continue to serve with enthusiasm and dedication
  • Good transition to life back in the USA for a year; quality time with family & friends
  • Scheduled speaking engagements (Global Missions Health Conference in Louisville, Prescription for Renewal Conference in Asheville, & others) - that God would speak through us
  • Financial provision for the year back in the USA (part-time jobs/moonlighting opportunities)
  • Clear guidance about which McCropder should be chosen as team leader in Burundi
  • Humility & perseverance in the support-raising process; God's provision to raise funds in a timely manner
  • World Harvest Mission board meeting scheduled April 3-5 at which they will decide whether to open Burundi as a new field
Thank you so much for your prayers.  We are hoping to post new requests every week or two.

Philippians 2:1,2 "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose."

Psalm 90:17 "May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us -- yes, establish the work of our hands."


Party Week

Party #1 -- Thursday, March 10th in the afternoon (Elise's 4th Birthday)
  • My little girl, Elise, turned 4 years old!  We had a small party with three of her friends to celebrate this momentous occasion.  The most exciting thing about turning 4 is that she can now have a WHOLE Flintstone vitamin instead of just a 1/2.  

Party #2 - Thursday, March 10th in the evening (Rachel's Surprise Baby Shower)
  • The ladies of Tenwek planned a surprise baby shower for Rachel.  Typically, we have Bible study on Thursday nights, so Rachel thought she was coming for that.  Our first task was making sure that she was going to come.  Most women wouldn't venture out for Bible study 4 days after delivering a baby, but as you know Rachel walked home a mere 4 hours after delivery.  We figured it was a safe bet that she would show!  We had a fun night of food, prayer for little Benjamin, games, and presents.  We even managed to pull off a diaper cake in rural Kenya! 

Party #3 - March 14th (Pi Day)
  • My 7th grade math class had our second annual Pi Day celebration.  We enjoyed pizza pies again this year.  The kids labored over a pi trivia quiz and some math problems while the pizzas were cooking.  We closed out the event with apple pie, cookie pie, and ice cream.  I proudly displayed a photo of the pi symbol etched into a hippo that I saw while on safari.  

Party #4 - March 17th (St. Patrick's Day)
  • The final celebration of the week was for St. Patrick's Day.  We pulled off a very last minute shindig, complete with green punch, green Rice Krispie treats, green popcorn, and (homemade) green Oreo mint ice cream!  The younger kids put together decorations during their art class.  We played a few games and concluded with the Veggie Tales movie about St. Patrick.

It was a busy week and I'm partied out, but no one can accuse us of being party poopers here!  


Song: Wisdom

I actually wrote this song awhile ago, in medical school. Interestingly, the seeds of the songs were written in Balfate, Honduras, in my first experience in developing world medicine. In short, it's a plea for wisdom. The decisions we make, both in quantity and severity, can sometimes weigh heavy.

(click here to download free)


Fearful eyes on me
Waiting pain
World is straddling
It stands or it falls on what I say

Life is hidden flame
In the night
A key that's locked away
Behind the same-shaped key-holed door
That's sealed so tight

Savior, I cannot save this world
Lover, little love do I sow
Wisdom, take us where we should go

Hiking darker vale
Starless sky
Leading down the trail
Followers that somehow made me their guide

Thickest fog just fell
All around
Could I ever tell
Where this path leads?
I need you now

Needy, we are stumbling on
Grace, fall and lead us to dawn


The Lynntelnoster

The McCropders are blessed with a wonderful home church in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- Knox Presbyterian.  Way back in 2007 when we first started kicking around the idea of becoming the McCropders, three individuals emerged as our advisors.  Bob Lynn is the missions pastor at Knox and was an obvious resource for us.  Steve Telian is an otolaryngologist and elder with a keen interest in missions.  He and his wife served as mentors for John and Jess during the 4th year of medical school.  James Paternoster works with InterVarsity at the University of Michigan graduate schools (law, business, medicine, dental) and had frequent interactions with all the McCropders during medical school/training.

Without asking their permission, we dubbed them "The Lynntelnoster" using a combination of their last names.  Over the years, they have served as our collective, 3-headed brain, providing much needed encouragement and advice.  This past week was a historical event.  Steve Telian came to Tenwek as the third and final Lynntelnoster to visit the McCropders since our arrival in Kenya.

Bob and his wife Ilene visited us in July for about 2 weeks.  They dove right in, following the docs around on the wards and in the OR.

James Paternoster came in October to lead our Post-Resident retreat in Mombasa.  Unfortunately, he wasn't able to make it out to Tenwek, but we are looking forward to having his daughter come for a visit this summer!
Steve Telian's visit this past week completed the triad!  Steve was able to hear more about our plans in Burundi and even perform some surgeries at the hospital.  The last few days, he's been at Kijabe Hospital working with their ENT surgeon.  He flew back to the U.S. on Wednesday night.

We know that each of the Lynntelnoster made significant sacrifices financially and stepping outside of their comfort zones, so we really appreciate the extra effort.  Thank you, Lynntelnoster, for all that you have invested in us over the years!  We feel well loved and supported.


COTW: Club O Neg

Given that the rest of the McCropders are too polite to want to post after the birth of our baby, I guess it falls to us to resume some normal pattern.

Tenwek is blessed with a blood bank. A few of its units are kept in the lab for ready use, but most of its bank is running around inside the circulatory systems of its donors, who double as the staff and students at the hospital.

And one of the lesser recognized assets that the McCropders bring to the table is not one, but two potential O negative donors. Jason and I (Eric) are blessed to have erythrocytes that know no antigens.

A brief review for those who have forgotten how this works: AB+ people can get blood from anyone, but give to almost no one. O- people are the universal donors. Their blood can go into anyone, which is great if you're an altruistic sort of bloke, but a bit of a tough one if you need blood, since only other O- people (~7% of people) can donate to you. And Jason and I, along with a handful of other people at the hospital, are in just such a club. So we are quite useful to the blood bank. And, if I ever do need a blood transfusion, then I have Jason to donate for me, and vice versa. In fact, I've thought of asking him to refrain from any donation so as to be ready for me in an emergency, but that didn't seem in the missionary spirit of things. Plus, I've never needed a transfusion, so the odds are low.

Thus, every 3 to 5 months, either Jason or I will encounter a patient who needs blood. Bad. But there isn't any, we learn, because the patient is O negative, and the blood bank doesn't have any. Give me a minute, we say. Then, we page the other person and compare notes. Whoever has been the longest without donating heads to the lab.

And this was me the day after Benjamin was born. Jason called me because a young man had been involved in a RTA or "Road Traffic Accident" and suffered a depressed skull fracture. They needed to take him back and elevate it, but were very concerned that he was going to need blood if this was going to work. His blood type: O negative. And so Jason placed the call and reminded me that he had donated a few months ago for the guy with the bleeding ulcer and hemoglogin of 3. And so I found myself on that table again, needle in arm, chatting with the surgical resident who had been sent to await my blood and hand carry it to the theatre, where the patient was waiting.


COTW: Kipruto McLaughlin

(For Rachel's perspective, click here)

I was not on call last night. For that matter, neither was Rachel, Alyssa, or the Popps.

Nevertheless, at approximately 1:30 a.m., a phone call was made in regardless to a multiparous mother at term with an otherwise (thankfully) uneventful pregnancy. She was in labor.

And so, Rachel and I walked (slowly) up the big hill in the high altitude, pausing in the dark (the pitch dark, as the power was out) for her to breath through contractions. We were met there by the Popps, who had graciously offered to come in for the delivery, and Alyssa, who was there to receive the baby. The timing was perfect. We opened up one of the operating theaters for maximal privacy, and within 30 minutes, our baby boy was born.

Benjamin Kenneth Kipruto McLaughlin was born at 8lb and 5oz, and was totally healthy, as was Rachel. His first middle name, Kenneth, is after Rachel's dad, and his second middle name, Kipruto, is the Kipsigis name for a boy born while traveling.

As soon as he was born, a notable burden lifted, making me realize that there were unclaimed fears about the unknowns of delivering here. But God has been faithful to us, and we rejoice in the goodness and grace that he has shown us.

We stayed at the hospital until 5:30 a.m., and then walked home (still in the dark), carrying our bundle with us. Special thanks also to the Faders, for watching the Popps' kids, and to the Cropseys, for watching over Maggie. Maggie is (at present) quite enamored with "Baby Ben", and we are hoping that it will continue.

The morning after, all the other McCropders kids came in to meet this addition to their ever-expanding ranks.


Another Take on Burundi

Drs. Scott and Jennifer Myhre of World Harvest Mission, who accompanied Jason, John and Jess to Burundi, have put up their own account of the trip, along with some phenomenal background info. Find it here.

Another Random Conversation

Rachel and I walked down to the waterfall today, because even term pregnant ladies need to stretch their legs or go stir-crazy. It's at a remarkably low level due to the lack of rain around here (which continues to affect our electricity). But this also makes for a lot more Kenyans hanging out at the bottom of the falls, maybe because the calm waters make for better fishing, I don't know. At any rate, one of them came up to us and we had the following conversation, in a mix of Swahili and English, sprinkled with the random Kenyan English-isms that I irresistibly fall into when talking to local folks here:

How are you?

Fine. Are you catching any fish?

Yes, we caught five. Do you want?

No, thanks. I don't need.

Do you eat fish?

Yes, we do, but we don't need any now.

Do you eat frogs?


Do you eat prawns and crabs? (this took some repeating until finding his meaning)

Yes, they are very good, somehow sweet.

Really? (expression of mild astonishment) You are from England or USA?


So Obama is your president?


Did you vote for him?

(part of conversation skipped in an effort to refrain from overly-political tone in our public forum here.)

I want to ask you one more thing. You know wrestling on television?


Yes. Is it real?



No, it's not real.

No? The people, are they real? Like Big Show?

The people?

Yes, are the people real, or they are from a computer?

I don't know Big Show, but the people are real, but they are actors.


Yes, they are real, but they are not really hurting each other.

So, I've been paying all this money to watch Big Show, and it is not real.

It is not real. Are you a student?

I just finished high school, and I am going to University this year.

Wow, great. What are you studying?



Well, nice time.

See you.