Book of the Month: Children's Books

It's been some time since we reviewed a book on our blog, not for lack of good and appropriate literature to comment on.  But to re-kick off the BOTM posts, I thought I'd post something for our younger readers.  And when I say "readers," I use that term loosely (most will likely need this blog read TO them).  Here goes, Maggie's favorite African books.  There are many good ones, so we just chose two for the time being.

1.  Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears.
This book is a classic that I still remember from my own childhood days.  It's about the story of a mosquito who annoys an iguana and sets off a series of events that ultimately results in the death of an owl baby.  The animals of the jungle must then get together and decide who is to blame.  The book is beautifully illustrated, and won a Caldecott medal for its efforts.  The story is fast paced and has lots of fun onamonapia phrases that are associated with each animal.  Finally, on the last page of the book, the mosquito meets with its appropriate end.  Maggie likes to demonstrate on the last page with a great smack and a "kapow!"

2.  We All Went on Safari
This book was a gift to Maggie when she was born, from Aunt Alyssa.  It's technically a "journey" through Tanzania, not Kenya, but close enough.  Also beautifully illustrated, this book features a group of Maasai children as they go on safari and encounter various animals.  The pages have the numbers 1-10 in both English and Swahili, and there is an additional section at the back that talks about the Maasai people and gives the names of the animals in the book in both English and Swahili.  Eric and I spent more time on those pages than Maggie!

We'll try to post some more recommended kids' books in the month to come, but if you can't wait and need more good African children's books NOW, check out:  Jambo Means Hello, Moja Means One, and Elisabeti's Doll.


The Eve of US Medicine...

(from Eric McLaughlin)

Tomorrow morning, I will start providing patient care at a regional hospital in Western Michigan.  I will only take care of hospitalized patients.  No ICU.  No procedures.  Lots of colleagues and specialists to confer with.  Good documentation.  Low patient-to-nurse ratios.  Only 15 patients to round on.  In fact, I could probably order a CT scan for every last one of my patients, and no one would balk.  You know, for kicks.

So, no reason to be nervous, right?

All of the McCropder docs except Rachel (who is 150% mom all the time) will be doing some US medicine this year, and in fact, I'm the last to start.  People have been curious to know how we feel about that, after having been in such a different environment for 2 years.  Most days in Kenya, probably 2/3 of what I did, I hadn't known how to do before I moved there, just to give a scale to the difference in environments.

I had orientation today.  It's so different.  "Reverse culture shock" has been finished for months now (if it was ever there).  But the difference is medical cultures is so much greater than the difference is everyday cultures.  Computers are everywhere.  Patients are in individual rooms (I barely saw any of them) watching flat-screen TVs.  Everyone is documenting incessantly.  Attention to detail is meticulous.  Planning a single discharge takes a whole team of people  There are a ton of narcs on the medication sheets.

The expectations of patients and their families are so different.  The 78 year old guy with metastatic liver cancer wants everything done to prolong his life.  The son says he just doesn't think he can care for his mother at home anymore.

And yet...

And yet the primary determinant of how well (or poorly) they feel treated will probably still be the care and kindness that they feel comes (or doesn't come) from their doctors and their nurses.  And yet the medical world around them is still terrifying foreign, full of concepts and information that they don't understand, and yet they know affects them gravely.  And yet, with all of the money, and the staff, and the easy access to UpToDate, I still can't save the world (though I might be more tempted to delude myself that I can).

I remain a man with a bundle of skills that can, at times, be quite handy for bringing some healing into the middle of disease, and by God's limitless grace, some hope into the middle of fear or despair.  I still have to strive to love and care for my patients in the way that God calls me to.  I remain a sheep with a good Shepherd, who restores my soul.  And not just mine.

He has led us here.  Let us trust his goodness.  May he be glorified.

Pray for your doctors.


Family Weddings

By Jessica Cropsey

For me personally, one of the biggest challenges of being a missionary in Kenya was being away from family.  Yes, when we lived in Philadelphia, we did miss some holidays and birthdays.  But we never missed 2 years straight of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, weddings, graduations, funerals, birthday parties, etc.  Even with the luxuries of e-mail, Skype, and telephones, it's easy to lose touch on the little details and changes in people's lives.

So, this year back in the States we are appreciating every opportunity we have to celebrate (or grieve) with family and friends.  I was so thankful to be a part of my sister's wedding this weekend.  I got to be there for dress fittings, the bachelorette party, the bridal shower, the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, and reception.  I didn't miss out on anything!  It was really special.

The McLaughlins also had the joy of being a part of Rachel's brother's wedding a few weeks ago.  Alyssa is looking forward to her sister's wedding in a few months.  What a fun year for the McCropders to celebrate these special times with loved ones.   


Thanks from the kids

We (the McCropders) have spent a lot of time these past few months sharing our story with whoever will listen to us.  Churches, small groups, friends, parents, parents' friends, medical conferences, radio stations, waitresses, you name it.  We have a presentation prepared for any occasion (if you'd like to book us...).  One of the more fun types of presentations we give is to kids.  We (Rachel and Eric) have done a number of chapel services and Sunday schools over the past few months--due in large part to the fact that Rachel's entire family is composed of Lutheran school teachers.  Last week we spoke at my aunt's school in Burbank, CA.  The kids made us a bunch of thank you cards, which we absolutely loved.  We wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

One of the favorite parts of our presentation seems to be our retelling of the Maggie vs. baboon story--the kids absolutely love that part.  Hence, many of the thank you cards dealt with that topic.
 "Thank you for showing the pictures of Kenya and the baboons.  I think baboons are funny.  I think your kids are so Adorable!"
 "No eat my food!" (presumably, this is Maggie talking to the baboon)
 "I'm sorry I accidentally did this card upside down"
 (the inside of the card)
And our personal favorite, "Thank you Dr. Eric and Dr. Rachel McLaughlin for showing us what you did in Africa.  It made us want to put in a offering.  To bad I forgot to bring my money but at least I'll pray for them."

Awesome. We hope to get more in the weeks to come.


The Legend of Gustav

It was September of 2010. Eric and I had just arrived in Bujumbura for the first time. We were waiting for our luggage with our hostess, L'Charitie, and making small talk. We wondered aloud about things to do in Burundi, unique features of the country, etc.

"Well," she said, "We do have Gustav." Her voice was hushed, almost reverent, shocked when we stared back with blank looks. "You have not heard of Gustav?"

She unfolded a tale of epic proportions, a tale where the lines between fact and fiction blur, a tale of a legend. Gustav, it seems, is a crocodile. Not just any crocodile, mind you, but a massive crocodile that has hunted along the shores of Burundi and DR Congo for over 60 years. His size (according to the wikipedia article) is over one ton. He hunts not just normal crocodile prey, but humans as well...a "man eater," like the lions of Tsavo. And, adding greatly to the legendary status, he has eluded death at the hands of hunters many times--he has four bullet scars on his body, has escaped traps and cages, and has disappeared for years at a time, only to resurface later on a different shore.

It's a difficult story to swallow. It sounds like a "dark and stormy night" tale, or a campfire ghost story, and Eric and I were left wondering if this was just a Loch Ness sort of thing. But no. No, indeed. Gustav is real, and apparently no longer even at large. Check out this youtube video below from September:

Incredible. Mind boggling. And it does put our hearts at rest for the years in Burundi to come. I have no idea what they will do with Gustav now that he is in captivity. Tourist trap, anyone? Perhaps there is still a chance for escape...


DMV vs. Busia

I had a truly delightful experience at two DMV offices this last month. Heather and I decided that we would need a second vehicle due to my work schedule, and shortly thereafter I found my dream truck: a mid-90's Toyota Pickup with a lot of miles on it, in need of a little care. I bought it that afternoon, added the vehicle onto our insurance with a 3 minute phone call and spent just 20 minutes the following day at the DMV in Wisconsin getting a temporary plate so I could drive it to its new home in Michigan. The following week in Michigan I spent 30 minutes at the DMV getting registration, title, and plates. Done. Anna has affectionately named the truck Blueberry Pie.
In contrast... two years ago I bought a motorcycle from my brother. He was leaving Uganda after a couple years with the Peace Corps there, and I was living in Kenya. He inquired about the necessary proceedings to transfer the motorcycle into my name in Kenya, and the process seemed doable. So he packed nearly all his earthly belongings on the bike and proceeded to the Uganda-Kenya border. The border officials appropriately cancelled the registration on exiting Uganda, and then my brother went 100ft to register the bike in Kenya and enter in through the Kenyan border at Busia. He was hoping to get to our house that afternoon, stay with us a few days, and then leave for the US. He was told that he had received some incorrect information about transferring the motorcycle, but he was assured that it could be corrected and he could be on his way.

3 DAYS later my brother was still stuck at the border, unable to acquire the appropriate paperwork. He had a plane to catch, so he left the motorcycle in storage (a closet somewhere on the Kenyan border) and took a night bus to our house. He gave me a synopsis of what had happened and what needed to happen to get the bike out, drawing maps detailing where the various people are that I need to talk to, and then he went on that same day to Nairobi to catch his plane. It was a week before I had a day off work to go back to the border and (hopefully) get the bike. I took the seats out of our van and headed for the border one early morning.

I found my brother's contact there in some back alley, and we proceeded together to various offices. To make a long story short, I eventually got the motorcycle out of the closet by that evening, heaved it into the back of the van, found a place to stay in this border town of Busia, and drove back the following morning. Soon thereafter I started in on the process of getting it registered in my name. This necessitated multiple trips to Nairobi, and eventually I gave up and paid someone to do it for me.

We discovered many things in the process, including that this was actually a stolen bike from Japan, that I did not have the right paperwork to own a motorbike in Kenya (so we put it in John's name), and that there are serious rules about parking in downtown Nairobi (I got a hefty parking ticket on one trip). Overall, the experience made me so grateful for the efficiency and order of the DMV... and yet somehow from this vantage point, it now seems like it was quite a fun adventure!


Support-Raising Update

Our (roughly) monthly support update.  As of the end of December (yes, I realize it's not really the end of December anymore), the McCropders as a team have recieved (or pledged):

  • 53% of our needed ongoing monthly support
  • 44% of our one-time start-up cost
Here is last month for comparison.  Thanks so much to all of you who have been a part of this.  Donation info link is here.


Being Homeless (Like Jesus?)

When you are a missionary, the question "Where are you from?" or "Where do you live?" gets very complex.  This year, it's even more difficult for us.  In 11 months in the US, we will "live" in Tennessee 3 months (but gone half the time), Arizona 2 months, Michigan 2 months, Colorado 6 weeks, and Baltimore 4 weeks.

After arriving home, we bought ourselves a sturdy little car to get ourselves around this year.  I called up the insurance company to get all my ducks in a row, and explained that we had just returned from living abroad.  The agent asked if I would be needing homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance.  My reply: "Well, you know that CR-V you just insured?  That's our home for this year."  His response: "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir, and I do hope that things improve quickly for you."  Serious and tactful to the point of funny.

We are functionally homeless.  We depend on the generous hospitality of others.  We have bedrooms and maybe a bathroom, but not a home.  One day (on the road), Maggie asked, "Where is our home?"  Silence ensued.  We will not have our own home this year, other than our car, pictured below, packed to the hilt.  

This can definitely be challenging.  When you lose something, it is gone.  We unpack and pack a lot.  We are always a guest.

Jesus once said that "foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8)  In fact, for a long time, various segments of the church have chosen to describe Jesus as "homeless".  The Franciscans in particular, for a very long time, engaged in long dialogues about whether Jesus even owned the cloak on his back (the idea of his being homeless being a foregone conclusion).  Anyone would agree that he traveled light. ("take no bag for the journey or extra shirt" he told his disciples.)

And yes, since Jesus emulated this, there is a virtue to be found in this.  I thought that is what I was feeling all of those times when I would go off with a single backpack, containing everything I needed for the next two months.  And maybe it was, sort of.  But I still had a home to go back to, at the end of the journey.

At one point in our journey, Rachel and I concluded that:
  • Yes, we are living "like Jesus" in our homelessness, BUT
  • No, Jesus did not carry all these loads of stuff around with him everywhere he went
And thus the joys of "traveling light" are not ours.  We wonder about this.  Should we just trust that, wherever we show up will have a place for Ben to sleep, and thus the pack-n-play is unnecessary?  Should we just trust that Maggie will have clothes waiting for her when we get there?  Or maybe we'll just show up under-dressed to every quasi-formal event for the next year on the grounds that we will only travel with 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 1 sweater, and 1 coat?

It's funny, because our lives in Africa have led us to reduce our possessions pretty dramatically.  And it continues to do so, as we know that we are not in a position to be acquiring much of anything.  I mean, there's no room in the car.

And yet, "the stuff" still has an element of burden to it.  We still feel how it creates a gap between us and the life of Jesus.  That doesn't mean that it doesn't also serve as a benefit in other ways, but the benefit is not without burden.

And so, oddly enough, we look back to our apartment in Kenya, full of hand-me-down furniture and borrowed kitchen utensils, as well as looking forward to a student dorm apartment in France, for a sense of home.  Not in the "home culture" or "friends and family" sense.  But in the "place to rest your family in their own space" sense.  And in the meantime, we will keep moving across this beloved homeland of ours, pursuing what we believe God has called us towards, incredibly grateful for the homes of others, opened to us as we sojourn on.

(Below: Ben jumps into the sneaker-car at a McDonald's in Gallup, New Mexico, during a pit stop, showing that he can never get enough of the open road.)



One of the topics that we studied at the Mission Training course last month was the subject of making major transitions between continents and cultures.

While the adult class learned all about transitioning, the children learned an age-appropriate version in their classrooms. Anna, our six-year-old, can now tell you about the five stages of transition:
The blue sticks at the beginning of Anna's bridge (transition) show the Settled stage. Leaving the solid ground of home, the bridge begins to feel a little unsteady in the Unsettled stage. The red sticks in the middle, where the sway of the bridge can feel most turbulent is called the Chaos stage. Note that during the unstable Chaos stage, we know that the love of God holds us up. Beginning to settle into new ground is the Resettling stage. And finally we should establish a New Settled in Burundi.

Anna got the concept. When the three week course was over, she was tearfully saying goodbye to her new best friend Cordelia (pictured next to Anna below). As Cordelia drove away after the course ended, Anna wailed with sadness. After a moment she found words to explain, "I'm in CHAOS!"

Abi also had a new good friend at the course, but these little kids do not verbally process the impact of transition as much.

Our family's current transition is underway as we are settling back into our home in Ann Arbor for the next six months. We are so excited to be here in this community again! Having gratefully received help from friends through this transition, I encourage all of you to reach out to help someone near you who is transitioning.

More transitions next week: Anna transitions from homeschooling with me to attending first grade in a local school, and Jason begins working in the USA. We appreciate prayers for these upcoming changes and also for the whole McCropder team as we continue to make preparations for transitioning to Burundi.