Motigo at Sunrise

On the morning of our departure from Tenwek Hospital, I managed to squeeze in something that I had wanted to experience for quite a while.  Believe it or not, it was definitively not to take a "pikipiki" (or motorcycle) ride with Jason.  Rather, it was to see the sunrise from the top of "Mount Motigo", which is the nearby hilltop, and the nearest peak around.

Right on the equator, the sun always starts to rise around 6:15 AM, and the walk is about 45 minutes.  But on the back of Jason's bike, we made the trip in under 15 minutes.  We got to the top just in time.

The lights of the Tenwek Community and Hospital down the hill.

This is what I had really wanted to see, which is the clouds settled into the valleys over the hills.

As I write this, 9 hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time, the New Year is fast approaching Motigo Hill and Tenwek Hospital.  A small village full of people we love.  An hour later, Burundi will welcome the new year.  May the Lord bless 2012.

Happy New Year.


State Race

I have been accused of creating competitions with others that they did not even know they were a part of. This may be a case in point. In any case, since I am winning I thought I would share it!

The McCropders have done a fair amount of travel in the past few months and we have covered well over half of the states in the US through those travels. Most of the travel is related to seeing family and friends, raising awareness about Burundi, speaking and attending conferences, and speaking in churches. As it stands, the Faders have been to the most states as seen in the graph below.

In full disclosure, I must admit that when we were visiting my cousin and her family in New Hampshire, we travelled an extra few miles off the necessary path since we were literally 1 mile from Maine and we just couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Combining all of our states shows that we have just a few more to go. The states in red below are the ones that at least one of the McCropders has been to since September.

create your own personalized map of the USA

I may or may not post an update to this blog in the future, depending on how the Faders are doing :)


Christmas Song Video

I love carols.  I love how some of them are really old, and connect us to generations of Christmas celebrators from years past.  And I love the great lyrics.  Many of them express the source of sustaining hope that keeps us going in our work.  And some of them are buried somewhere in the 3rd stanza, where they don't get a lot of attention.  So I wrote this song, piecing together some of my favorite Christmas lyrics.

My recording gear isn't working so well, so here's a video.  If you think of a name for the song, pass it on, since it doesn't have one yet.

Merry Christmas!

(For bonus Christmas geeky points: there are 9 carols referenced in the lyrics.  Can you name them?  The prize is knowing that you are awesome.)

O Come, O Dayspring, come and cheer
For we all are late in time
And our world lays long in darkness here
For the hope of all the earth to shine
the hope of all the earth to shine

Silently comes a wondrous gift
Mild, he lays his glory by
Deep anthems now the earth does lift
Born that man no more may die
Born that man no more may die

A half-spent night, a midnight clear
Held fast, our world in darkness bound
the silent Word is pleading here
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

Look for now, glad and golden hours
and swiftly, healing in his wings
He makes the nations prove his powers
of the life and light to all he brings
the life and light to all he brings.



Almost without a doubt, the number one question that we get asked after finishing a presentation (of which there have been many these past few months) is, How safe is Burundi?  That's a difficult question.  It's difficult on many levels--we don't really know, we maybe know but don't want to put the country in a bad light, we want to reassure family and donors, and then again, why does it matter?  People want to know because they are curious, because they care about us, because they've heard stories.  Really, Burundi was engaged in civil war until just a few years ago.  Can it possibly be a safe place to be?

The answer we give is that we think so, and the country seems to be at peace so far.  Before deciding on Burundi we spent a lot of time talking to ex-pats and Burundians about the political climate, stability, danger for citizens and residents, etc.  We are not knowingly taking our small children into a dangerous place to live, where there is guerilla warfare or drug trafficking or kidnappings happening every day.  Will war come again, and will our lives be endangered, and will we have to be emergency airlifted out of the country to safety?  I suppose these things are always a possibility.  But at this point they do not seem likely.  And we have weighed the risks and decided that there is always some danger no matter where you live, be it in a large US city with muggings, a high school where some random kid could come in with a gun and a temper, or a small town with a railroad crossing where people are occasionally killed in auto accidents.  Is there more than average danger in Burundi?  Perhaps, but not much.

We felt incredibly safe these past two years in Kenya.  It's been one of the most stable countries in Africa for the past 40 years.  And yet.  Remember the election violence that suddenly erupted just a few years ago.  Things happen.  One never knows.  But despite that, we never felt like our lives were in any danger at Tenwek.  Our kids played in the front yard.  We drove around the country with impunity.  There were cautions we took, of course--no driving after dark, avoid certain roads known to be "dangerous," don't travel by yourself.  So there is an element of, be smart as an American living abroad, and you will probably be fine.

The question remains, what if there is more than average danger in Burundi?  Would that dissuade us from going?  What about all the need in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, DRC, northern Africa?  If God called us there, would we not follow His leading?  Someone once said, the safest place to be is at the center of God's will.  We seek His will, and step out in faith.  We count the cost, but consider it a privilege to lay down our lives for Him, no matter what that looks like.  I can't say right now if our team would stay in Burundi if things became unstable.  It's something we will have to decide as doctors, as parents, and as missionaries.  We pray that things will always be safe and peaceful, that our families will be kept from all harm and sickness.  You can pray that with us, every day.  And if someday that changes, we will continue to seek God's will and follow His leading.

"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." --Psalm 4:8


How much do you weigh?

Our family has spent the last 3 weeks at Mission Training International (MTI) outside Colorado Springs. We have learned a number of really helpful things about working cross-culturally. Our class topics included cross-cultural differences, conflict resolution, major transitions, stress management, grief and loss, cultural integration, healthy families, third culture kids, and resting in God, among other things.

We have also enjoyed a lot of time for introspection and retrospection. Most of the retrospection has been reflecting on experiences/interactions that we had at Tenwek these last two years. It is not unlike watching a recording of a football game that I just played in to identify what I did well and what I did not-so-well so that I can improve in the future. This whole process has been immensely helpful, and I am glad that all the McCropders will be going through this "missions boot camp" of sorts this year.

Some of what we have done here is identify our own expectations of cultural norms which may not be universal. For example, the instructor called up two young, healthy ladies the other day and in front of the whole group asked one of the women how much she weighs. No reply. He asked again. She flat out refused to give her weight. As did the other lady. Then the instructor asked those in the audience as well as their husbands to guess at their weight. Nobody dared, until one of the husbands suggested 95 lbs. as a good guess (the women probably weighed at least 135 lbs each, but don't tell them I said that).

How strange it is, really, that weight is such a taboo subject in the American culture. And yet there are certain situations where the ladies would divulge their weight (a doctor's office). And then there are situations where women would write their weight down, but the written number could easily be 10 lbs less than what they really weigh (on a driver's license). And the women were obviously flattered that someone under guessed their weight. But that would be an offense in many cultures where a certain amount of meat on one's bones indicates health and even wealth. In those cultures, the husband should have guessed 190 or 200 lbs, just to be safe and to compliment his wife. All that, and then there are some women who will readily give you their weight. Hmmm.

All this to say that if there are so many unwritten rules and potential for harm around such a small issue of asking a woman how much she weighs, how many other such stigmas are there on unpredictable issues in the cultures we are going to? And it is not that discussing one's weight is a moral or theological or political issue - it is just the way it is in this culture. The point, obviously, is that I will need to adapt to the cultural posture on any number of issues as we enter a new culture in France, and then Burundi.

By the way, is that your real hair color?


Missionaries Are Rich

Many Americans have the impression that missionaries are poor.  There may be a bit of truth in this if we are compared only to our North American friends.  As missionaries in the developing world, however, we are frequently confronted with the real truth that no matter how much we have "given up" to go to Africa, we have so much more than most people in the world.  I remember being very sobered when I realized that the ball of mozzarella cheese that I bought for our Friday night pizza in Kenya cost more than most Kenyans make in a day.

Someone recently brought to our attention the "Global Rich List".  On this website, you can type in your annual income and it will tell you how you stack up with the rest of the world's 7 billion.  According to the Department of Health & Human Services, the 2011 poverty guideline for a family of 5 is $26,170, putting such a family in the top 9.39% richest in the world.  Put another way, some American poor are richer than 90% of the world.  This is just a small taste of how wealthy we are as Americans.

While cruising Facebook yesterday, I came across the picture below.  The "Black Friday" harried scrambling for more stuff is a stark contrast to the poverty seen around the world.    

I've always considered our lives as missionaries rich in many ways, but I have come to realize that we are rich financially as well.  We have all we need and a whole lot more.  During this season of Advent in which we anticipate the coming of Christ as a baby, let us remember the One who left the riches of heaven and chose to live the poor and humble life of a carpenter's son.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-20 (ESV)


McCropder Support-Raising Update

As you, O reader, likely know, all the McCropders are currently back in the US, enjoying friends and family and cream cheese, but also raising the necessary financial support for long-term work in Burundi.  We are 100% donor-supported, and these donations go through our agency World Harvest Mission.  We have two goals, an ongoing monthly support goal, as well as a one-time start-up cost goal.

Many people have been wondering how we are progressing on this, so we are going to aim to update the blog monthly as we progress.  The number posted will be the average of all five families/singles.  We are resisting the urge to have a "red-thermometer" icon on the sidebar to track our progress.

OK, so as of the end of November, the McCropders have recieved (or pledged):

  • 38% of their needed monthly support
  • 36% of their needed one-time start-up support
For more donation info, you can click here.

"Africa" in Texas

As many of you know, I have been collecting the awesome signs of Kenya.  Click here for the collection.  We are in the midst of a long road-trip from Nashville to Phoenix, and day #7, we pulled into Amarillo, Texas.  Now, there is not a whole lot in Amarillo, save hotels, "Free-if-you-can-eat-it" 72 oz steaks, and a flatness that is majestic, yet easily wearisome.

However, on pulling into town, we discovered the "Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center".  That's the name.  And the theme carries through their decorating.

Now the merits of such forms of Christian expression are certainly a good topic for debate, but the whole thing warmed my heart for a very different reason:  It reminded me of Kenya.  Not just the overtly Christian business name.  But the giant signs, and the generally wordy nature of everything.  And thus I had an excuse to share some more signs with you.  Witness the "Hossana Cosmetics and Salon":

And one of my all-time favorites, the "Jesus the Fountain of Life Church Total Transformation Centre The House of Worship".  Thank you, Kenya.  Thank you, Texas.


Of Solstices, the Equator, and Advent

Nashville is on the eastern edge of the time zone, and Daylight Savings is past.  The upshot of this is that it is completely dark by 4:45pm.

One year ago in Kenya, I gave devotions to our medical staff on advent, and discussed the idea of the winter solstice with a bunch of Kenyan colleagues, and they were pretty shocked.  When you live less than a degree from the equator, and the sun always goes down at the same time, the idea of these shortening days is strange.

Imagine moving to Michigan from the equator some year in August, and watching the extraordinarily long days slowly wither away.  The sun is failing, and the darkness is encroaching.  Sometime around the beginning of December, you might being to despair of ever seeing daylight again.  And you wouldn't be illogical to think so.  Just wrong.

Sometimes it felt like that in Kenya.  There was a lot of light shining, but sometimes it felt like a long night only getting longer.  Sometimes it feels like that here.

And so it went, that when the ancients were setting a date to celebrate Jesus coming into the world, they chose (what they thought was) the winter solstice:  the world's longest night, and the beginning of the steady advance of the light.

And this encourages us in our weary world, because it tells us that the trajectory of society, of our failings, of the human condition itself is not without recourse.  In fact, if we look at Christian faith, we find it tells of a God who is always bringing light out of darkness, love from hatred, life from the dead.

As we come into the season of advent, this odd celebration of expectation, may we know the hope that transcends even the beautiful and tragic Human Spirit.  May we know the God of Resurrection and hope in the strength of his light in the darkness.

No more lets sins and sorrows grow, 
or thorns infest the ground.  
He comes to make his blessings flow, 
far as the curse is found.


Life on the Highways

This week at a conference, someone asked us to draw a picture of what our lives look like these days. I drew our family driving in the car.

In the last month, our family has driven over 5000 miles. Other McCropder families are traveling similar paths. We welcome your prayers for safety and sanity in the car as we traverse the country to attend conferences and courses, to speak at various events, and to see friends and family.

We are figuring out some of the tricks of handling life on the road:

We utilize free wi-fi and free refills at many a McDonalds.

We try to coordinate pit stops with friends when we travel to the same locations. This may not happen again for several months, but Maggie and Abi did enjoy playing together at this playground in Ohio a few weeks ago.

At a McDonalds in Connecticut, we learned to suggest simultaneous straw drinking so that we can get back in the car faster and keep driving.

We encourage children to entertain themselves quietly in the car, even if that means letting them practice photography skills with the digital camera. This is Anna's best photograph from New Hampshire.

You may notice that Abi is holding a bag in the picture. Perhaps you recall a disaster or two with her carsick stomach in Kenya. We are extremely thankful to report that she has only been that carsick once in the USA so far. I'll always remember central New York for last week's clean-up effort.

2000 miles later, our family is now in Colorado for a course at Mission Training International. Here we are enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and we feel very thankful for all the wonderful people we have been blessed to see all across this beautiful country.