COTW: Celebrating Resurrection

Several of us have been reading "Surprised by Hope" by NT Wright, which, among other things, asserts that we under-celebrate resurrection. He says we should be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after Easter, for at least as long as we celebrate his sufferings prior to Easter (i.e. Lent). In the spirit of this, I thought I would share a story of resurrection.

Cherotich is a little baby, who was admitted to our NICU at about 3 weeks of life. Unfortunately, her mom had died shortly after birth of overwhelming infection, and this lack of mom has severe implications for the health of the newborn. In a world where formula isn't anywhere near affordable, and even preparing cow's milk cleanly is problematic, neonatal health outcomes go from bad to worse when mom is gone. She came in with trouble breathing and signs of neonatal sepsis, or widespread infection. We promptly started antibiotics and IV fluids for her, but knew her prognosis was poor.

We were puzzled on examining her to find that her legs were very stiff. I would take hold of her leg and try to bend at the knee, but found it very difficult. Our first thoughts were for meningitis or potentially a severe electrolyte imbalance, but on checking, these were not present.

Unfortunately, our work here being what it is, I have had ample time to observe a similar phenomenon, which is that, in neonates, in the hours (maybe a day or two) before they die, their limbs become waxy and tight, not unlike the changes of rigor mortis, but occurring just before death, instead of after. Having looked into other possibilities, and taking into account Cherotich's severe condition, we concluded that this was the most likely diagnosis, and it further supported her grim prognosis.

Slowly by slowly (as they say here), and much slower than usual, she stabilized. Then she began to improve. She could tolerate some formula through an nasogastric tube. She was weaned off oxygen. She started to take some formula from a cup. And all the while, over the course of more than 2 weeks, her rigor mortis legs loosened up, eventually returning to normal. She was discharged home in the care of her aunt.

Several weeks later, I had been paged to the clinic to try and answer some questions for the clinical officer (i.e. P.A.) working there. Walking by the row of patients, a young lady caught my attention, and told me that the little girl with her, proudly decked out in her second-hand sequined-dress that she'll maybe grow into in another 4 months, was the very same Cherotich. This is her on that day (in a ridiculously angelic pose, to boot).

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Please pray for this little girl, who, though brought back from the brink against all expectations, still has the challenge of being raised without a mom.

"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." - I Corinthians 15:19-22

"...in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay..." - Romans 8:21


Eye Unit Retreat & Bible Storying

Have you ever thought or even known God was speaking to you?  Perhaps it was to share a warm meal with a homeless person shivering on the city's unforgiving winter sidewalk or to do something crazy, like, move your wife and young children to Africa.  Over the past several months, I have felt God encouraging me to share His WORD in new ways with those we serve in DEED in the eye unit.  I began to plan a spiritual retreat for the eye unit staff with this in mind but wasn't quite sure what it should look like.  I remembered hearing about missionaries using "Bible Storying" with remote, illiterate tribes to effectively communicate who God is and how man and the world relate to Him.

Let me explain a bit.  Using story telling, you start with creation and the fall of man and work your way through the key biblical stories.  At the end of each story, thought-provoking questions are asked of the audience (ie what does this teach us about God, creation, man...) and the story is repeated multiple times until it can be told perfectly by the audience (this is how oral cultures transmit their history, knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation).  The meaning of the narratives are largely self-taught as the group ponders together and sees how they are all part of an overarching story of God's redemption.  It might take a year before you even get to Jesus, but the audience truly understands their desperate need of a Savior just by the time you are leaving Genesis 3.

As this idea was pinging around in my head, the Kenya director of Christian Blind Mission (the eye unit's founding partner) paid me a visit and happened to mention a friend of his using "Bible Storying" with the Maasai.  I took this as a Divine appointment, and, to make a long story shorter, his friend, George Mixon, agreed to be our retreat speaker, along with Julius, a Kenyan pastor he works with in the Nairobi slums.  So, the day after returning from Burundi last month, I took off in the eye bus with the eye unit staff for a 3-day retreat in the Kakamega Rainforest (about 4 hours away).

We couldn't have been at a better place for learning how to tell the story of creation and the fall of man.  Kakamega is as close to Eden as you'll get on this earth.  It might have been there!  We really enjoyed learning how to share these biblical narratives as well as how to get the audience actively participating.  We all agreed a modified, bare-bones curriculum could work for storying in the eye unit.  We decided on 7 stories to share over a typical 36 hour patient admission, and we divided up into teams of 2-3 people.  Each team was assigned a story and a time slot to share it.

Monday Night - Creation of the Spirit World and Creation of the Physical World
Tuesday Morning - Creation of Man and Fall of Man
Tuesday Afternoon - Noah and The Birth of Christ
Wednesday Morning - The Crucifixion and The Resurrection of Christ

The cycle can repeat itself Wednesday Night - Friday Morning for the next wave of admissions.

The staff and I have been so blessed as we've shared these stories with patients over the last month.  We have seen many things in a new light ourselves.  The patients enjoy the stories so much that if we are late for the next round, they begin to ask, "Hey, what happened to the story I was supposed to be told next?"!  Below is Emily Keter, our nurse-in-charge, sharing a story in Kipsigis with her teammate, Richard Tonui, translating into Swahili for the out-of-tribe patients.

Below is a cloth we use, depicting in chronological order 42 key, biblical stories.  Sadly, we only have time to do a few of these.  The Western equivalent to this cloth is the stained glass windows of Europe's Medieval cathedrals.  They too tell the stories for a time when our culture was largely oral.

Pray that we will continue to see our lives and the lives of our patients transformed by the powerful message of hope, reconciliation and redemption we find in the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Because He is Risen, all things are being made new.

Easter Pictures

Cheerful Children
Egg-Hunt Extravaganza
Candy Consumption
Sunrise Service
Celebrated Cross
McLaughlins' Meal
Family Photos
Excellent Easter!


Burundi Prayer Requests

Here are some specific prayer requests to remember for the country of Burundi:
  • Good governance:  President Nkurunziza & cabinet, the Ministry of Health, and other leaders -- that they would serve as instruments of righteousness (Romans 13:3-4); pray for moral integrity, wise advisors, and spiritual grace to do the right things in the right way.
  • Healing, restoration, and forgiveness along tribal lines -- that the church would lead the way in this area; pray for genuine respect and cooperation as the two tribes build Burundi's future together.
  • The surplus of firearms from decades of conflict contributes to the sudden rise of violent crime.   Pray for the effectiveness of disarmament and gun amnesty programs, many of which are run by church bodies; pray for people to hand in their weapons and pursue peace rather than lawlessness. 
  • Widespread corruption persists, with bribery all but requisite for transactions of almost any nature.  A 2008 survey ranked Burundi among the top states where corruption is worsening.  Pray for the lasting change only the gospel can bring.
  • Internally displaced people and refugees to be able to return to their homeland.  For those who are educated and potential leaders, pray that they will have the burden to come back and help restore their country.
  • Hundreds of children who were once child soldiers, now demobilized – pray for them to become part of families, to be healed, to live in peace, and to be able to go to school.


Jellybean Massacre

It is a known truth that the life of a missionary must, by its nature, require some sacrifices. We have come to learn this, but still sometimes you can be caught off guard by the sheer magnitude of the sacrifices asked of us. And this was the case yesterday...

Growing up, my parents would fill the fake easter grass of our baskets with an assortment of goodies, but as we got older, they realized there were only three things that any of the kids really cared about with any significant ardor. Cadbury Mini-eggs, Reese's Peanut-butter eggs, and Starburst jellybeans. And so, from them on, a package of each was placed in each basket, which really simplified things, though it took away the pleasure of searching your Easter grass diligently, and maybe finding a random bean from the year prior.

In a generous effort, my parents decided to send these three valuables with some visiting friends to us here in Kenya, so that living in rural Kenya would be no excuse for not celebrating Easter properly. We were particularly excited about the jellybeans, which are apparently not a holiday staple around here.

And then, disaster. I opened our cupboard yesterday to find the shelf with the candy playing host to more-than-the-usual number of ants. I feared for the worst, and removed each bag, inspecting it closely. I was shocked to discover that the Starburst jellybeans had the most ants on it, despite never being opened. However, there was a tiny hole on the side.

Thinking that I could scare a few ants away and salvage the beans (a few ants not being a reason to lose some good jellybeans here in Kenya), I opened the bag and poured the contents on the countertop. In addition to the beans, at least 100 ants started crawling over the counter. I had to act fast. This was no time for compassion. I grabbed the can of Doom and started spraying, killing all the ants, but the beans suffered from the crossfire, which may have been just as well.

Later, in attempts to console and minimize the chance of developing PTSD, it was suggested that I should have taken a photo of the carnage. Of course, we are not afraid of graphic photos on this blog, such as Jason's worm surgeries and almost anything in John's OR, but we have to draw the line somewhere, in the name of some baseline propriety. However, I did commission Anna to recreate the scene with an artist's touch, and I display the results here below.


Sacred Head

I had posted this a long time ago, when few of you likely read it. It seemed timely.

Several years ago, in northwestern Zambia, I was called in to see a woman who had just arrived. She was married young, and after years of abuse, left her husband. He got high, and attacked her with an axe. 7 scalp lacerations and 4 skull fractures. I stood there in shock for a minute at this magnitude of brutality, and the words we so often utter in theory, "Jesus is the answer" became foundational and existential. What do we have to offer to someone facing so much tragedy? The words of a medieval hymn came to mind. I don't know if she found what she needed. But I do think that the sufferings of Christ still serve to console in a profound way.

Blessings to your Good Friday.

Sacred Head

O Sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame bowed down
her blood is flowing freely
and pools upon the ground
you told him you were leaving
his rage like axes fell
mercy stunned and weeping
eclipsed by the cries of hell

Five years did he beat you
five years did you die
then, one night, darkness hides you
and silently you fly
Aroused, the titan's furor
burns in hot pursuit
jagged rusty fractures
mark his bride subdued

Hands of grace come near you
wiping clean your eyes
that you might see your Saviour
so swift to hear your cries
like you, his brow is wounded
his royal head so torn
so did he cry "forsaken"
by whips and nails and thorns

So lay your head, dear daughter
resting still your chin
in the strong arms of your shepherd
cry your tears on him
find solace in his sorrow
to order terrors cease
in his love find shelter
and in his scars find peace.

Updated "Media that Informs Us"

A long while ago, at the very inception of this blog, we put together a list of "Media That Informs Us", and put a link on the left sidebar. The link remained, even as the list became more and more outdated. We have updated it now, and added links to a few reviews we have done. When we feel a need to share another review, we'll add the link to the list.

P.S. We're always open to suggestions.

A short list of books and movies that at least some of us found enlightening, inspiring, or at least thought-provoking:

No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
What is the What? by Dave Eggers
A Distant Grief, by F. Kefa Sempangi
Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder
Africa Friends and Money Matters, by David Maranz

Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson
Peace Child, by Don Richardson
Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper
Don't Waste your Life, by John Piper
Miracle at Tenwek, by Gregg Lewis
Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright
Generous Justice, by Tim Keller

The End of Poverty, by Jeffery Sachs
Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder
The White Man's Burden, by William Easterly
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond
When Helping Hurts, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett

The Wycliffe Cookbook
The More With Less Cookbook
Wit, by Margaret Edson
The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom
Music by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, especially Paul Simon's "Graceland"
Article: "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God" by Matthew Parris The Times, click here

The Mission
Invisible Children
The Devil Came on Horseback
Amazing Grace
Blood Diamond
War Dance
The Ghost and the Darkness
The Constant Gardener
Hotel Rwanda
The Lion King (we'd be lying to say it didn't inform us)

Recommended but Minimal Relevancy to Africa:
Toto's "Africa"
The Gods Must Be Crazy (I and II)
David Wilcox's "Johnny's Camaro"
The Tawny, Scrawny Lion, by Tengreen
The awesome action sequence in Madagascar at the beginning of "Casino Royale"


The Inside of a Prison Cell

Well, it wasn't really a prison cell, and I wasn't there for very long, but I did go to jail on Friday. I had been driving to a surgery conference on Wednesday with two of my residents when I got caught in a speeding trap. I was apparently clocked going faster than our vehicle can go, but that is a different story. After a long discussion with the policeman going through the various "options" he said I needed to go to court on Friday at 8am.

Friday morning I arrived at court, but the traffic papers from Wednesday had not arrived, so I waited until noon when those arrived. During this time I sat in the court room with about 50 other people whose cases were being tried in front of everyone. It seemed like the guilty people went through the side door while the non-guilty folks went back the way they came. At some point my name was called and I went up to the stand. My charge was read to me and I pleaded guilty (still wondering how our van could go that fast, but unable to return another day for an appeal).

"Any mitigation?" asked the judge.

"Uh, no," I replied (not knowing what mitigation was).

"OK, then you will be fined 1,500/=."

And then I was ushered out the side door. I found myself in a courtyard with 20 or so prisoners, some in handcuffs. I approached the gate and asked the guard what happens next.

"The person who came with you goes to pay your fine, and when they bring the receipt, I let you go."

Hmm, I guess I missed the memo about bringing a friend with you to court.

Fortunately, I had spoken earlier with a guy who knew the system, and he knew that I didn't come with anyone, and so he soon showed up at the gate and offered to pay the fine for me. I handed over the cash, praying that he would indeed come back with the receipt and not enjoy a nice dinner on my gullibility. He came back shortly saying that the cashier had gone to lunch and would not return for another hour.

While he had been gone, a group of the prisoners approached me and were pressing me for money. The guard at the gate decided that it would be OK for me to wait in my car until the cashiers office opened after lunch. So that's what I did.

It was an interesting experience overall, with many occurrences that I am not at liberty to mention in this forum. Suffice it to say, I'm glad it's over, and I pray for justice here in this land and around the world.


Retreat to the Coast

Each year, the long-term missionaries from Tenwek Hospital join with other missionaries from their organization for a spiritual retreat on the Kenyan coast of the Indian Ocean. This year, the McCropders were privileged to participate.

The retreat structure included morning and evening sessions, which incorporated worship/ singing time, teaching from a pastor, community activities, and small group discussions. The afternoon free-time mostly involved napping, swimming in the pool, and enjoying the Malindi beach. It was so lovely.

1. The pool and the ocean. The McCropder kids absolutely loved the water! The pool was warm; the ocean was gorgeous. The crabs and moray eels (above) also fascinated the children. Anna and Elise participated in swimming lessons, and the little ones enjoyed floating around, too.

2. The worship sessions. I absolutely loved singing praise songs and hymns with the crew of about 40 missionaries, several of whom are gifted musicians.

3. The conversation time. We really enjoyed talking with various people from other areas in Africa and from other missions.

4. The vacation relaxation. While we really love what we do here at Tenwek, it was good to have a time to step back and rest from our hospital work and house work. I particularly enjoyed eating all those meals without having to prepare them. We all appreciated the chance to enjoy a change of pace together as families and community.

The McLaughlins even spent some quality family time in the middle of the nights, as their children did not do quite as much night-time sleeping as they would have preferred. Ben wakes up in the night as expected for a 1-month-old. And poor Maggie had a tough time adjusting to sleeping in a new place, but who can blame her, since she had not spent a night away from her Tenwek crib since October.

Really the only major mishap of the Malindi trip was our failure to administer Abi’s motion sickness prophylaxis prior to our flight from Malindi to Nairobi. The picture of the damage is too awful to share. Below are some of the regrettable results.

We have now returned home and resumed regular life, as evidenced by the full McCropder laundry line.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to rest, reflect, worship, and enjoy this retreat. Many thanks to our WGM friends for inviting the McCropders to Malindi.

Coughing Up Africa (or Central America) in Los Angeles

She is 62 years old, hunched over from chronic lung disease and with that anxious look of someone hoping for a little more breath than she has. As I settle into the standard ER interview protocol, "What brings you to the hospital today?" "When did it start?" etc., I sense this is not going to be a standard interview. Her condition started a year ago when she saw her doctor for "coughing up little animals." To hear her recount the story of various physician visits with varied responses, from psychiatric referral to additional pulmonary function testing, one gets a sense of her exasperation. "I even put some in a paper towel to show my doctor, but they got all dried up and you couldn't see them that well." Today, she had done one better. She had folded up these slender, white creatures into a moist towel and placed it in a plastic bag, which she proceeded to offer me.

"I think it is Ascariasis," she says. I glance at her semi-shocked, mostly-impressed. "This is how they live, they enter your stomach. The young ones crawl to your lungs and you cough them up. Then, you swallow what you coughed, and they start over." This tiny 62 year old woman with little formal education just summarized the lifecycle of Ascaris lumbricoides for me. I drop a couple of the best specimens into a jar of formalin and label it for pathology review. After about an hour I have the results of her liver function tests but am surprised to hear that our pathologists no longer review parasite slides for identification - the specimen has to go to the LA Public Health labs - that takes about a week to get results back. In any case, I'm convinced that she has a worm infestation and give her the treatment (Albendazole) and a prescription for a few additional doses to take at home.

"Will you see this often when you are in Africa?" she asks as I
explain her treatment.
"How did you know I was going to Africa?"
"That other doctor told me."
"Oh, that's Dr Jain, he's one of my favorite bosses (my word for
attending physician). And yes, I'm sure I will."


Fun with ClustrMaps

Some of you may have noticed the little picture at the bottom of the right sidebar. ClustrMaps is a little free blog widget that maps out all the visitors to your blog. According to them, we have logged over 28,000 visitors in the past year, and our map has grown to look like a bad case of varicella. It resets once a year, so it will likely soon be totally blank again, as it starts over. You can click on the map on the right sidebar to get an enlarged view with all the details.

A few fun facts:
-Obviously, our top country was the ol' USA with over 22,000 visits, coming in second is Canada with just a few more than Kenya.
-The UK is #4, which is not unexpected, though I'm not sure who we know in the UK. However, I do find it odd that Italy is #5.
-Burundi is around #30, low but I guess we're just happy they have internet.
-And then there is the fascinating host of places that I can only assume found us by accident or something. Random countries like Cyprus with 4 visits (just above Togo with 3, sorry John) or Saint Kitts and Nevis. And even more random territories like the Isle of Jersey (extra credit if you could find it on a map, and partial credit if you even know which map to start looking on), Greenland (which I wasn't totally convinced was inhabited) or the isle of Reunion.

So, if you are one of those random visitors from Malta, Uzbekistan, or Brunei, please leave a comment and let us know who you are and how in the world you found this blog.

And the rest of you, check back soon, so that your home can get some representation on the newly reset McCropder clustermap.


Board Approval!

We got a call this morning from Scott Myhre (Africa field director for World Harvest Mission, who, along with his wife, accompanied us on the most recent scouting trip to Burundi).  He told us that the World Harvest Board unanimously approved the proposal to open Burundi as a new field.  We are so excited to hear this news!

The next step for us will be to attend World Harvest's A&O (Assessment & Orientation) week at their headquarters outside Philadelphia in September.  At that time, they will decide whether to approve us as individual missionaries.

Thank you for your prayers.  God is continuing to open doors as we follow the path towards Burundi.


Missing the Littlest People

As we live in a different culture, often our hearts are gripped by the big things in life. Other times, it’s the littler things, like missing the littlest people.

Last week my sister gave birth to her first baby, our first niece, Lydia. She’s beautiful. Eric and Rachel also have a brand new nephew born to Eric’s sister, and John and Jess have a new nephew born to Jessica’s brother. Also within the last year, Eric’s older sister and Alyssa’s younger sister both had new baby girls. And Jason’s sister is expecting a new baby by adoption anytime now as well. That makes six new McCropder nephews and nieces who will likely double in size before we get to meet them.

How is it possible that we miss these little nephews and nieces so much when we have not even met them yet?

We keep reminding ourselves:

A. Our absence really matters not one bit to the babies themselves.

B. Email, skype, and digital photos allow us to admire their sweet little features from afar.

C. Someday we can provide our nieces and nephews with a cool place to send their elementary school Flat Stanley projects.

D. We can definitely pray for these babies now, even from 10,000 miles away.

Lydia, Liam, Christopher, Sierra, Emma, Unborn Baby Niece, and all our older nephews and nieces, may the Lord bless you and keep you. We love you.