Transition Bridge

We McLaughlins just finished our three week "missionary boot camp," a session called SPLICE at the Missions Training Institute.  We're currently hanging out in Colorado Springs, CO, just south of where our classes were held.  World Harvest recommended this three week intensive class to all the McCropders, despite our previous overseas experience, and the Faders attended in December.  I wholeheartedly agree with them that it was extremely worthwhile for us.  Eric and I had a chance to debrief our past two years in Kenya and use our own experiences to enhance the teaching provided.  Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be able to blog a bit about the lessons we learned.

One important one that I wanted to write about today (mainly because I have pictures to illustrate the point) is called the transition bridge.  We talked extensively at MTI about exiting our home culture and entering into another culture.  It is a good thing for us to do, necessary even if we are to effectively minister, but it has its challenges as well, and we were encouraged to recognize our real feelings and emotions during this process.  Basically, it will not always be easy, it will not feel natural, it may even feel like...chaos.

To illustrate the point, one day we talked about the transition bridge.  This can be useful for anyone facing a change in their lives, not just moving to another culture but things such as starting a new job or school, moving, retiring, etc.  You start on one bank of the river: settled.  From there you move to unsettled, chaos, resettling, and settled (new).  We talked about a variety of thoughts and emotions during this time (excited, nervous, anxious, lost, uncertain, etc).  Then we received our practical lesson.  A team assembled of two singles and one "family" (mom, dad (Eric volunteered for this), and two kids) were attached together with rock climbing harnesses, ropes, and a telephone cord.  They then crossed a "transition bridge."  The first stage, settled, was several chairs.  Unsettled was two wobbly chairs.  Chaos was represented by three exercise balls saran-wrapped together.  And then finally, resettling was two wobbly chairs and the new settled was stable chairs.  The team all had to cross together.

 The "family" in transition.  Note that mom and dad's "connection" is quite short/tight comparatively.
The team begins the transition.  The two singles are attached to the family by a long telephone cord, meaning the connection is not quite as "rigid" as family ties.
The team as CHAOS begins!  There were a number of spotters (supporters) on either side of the bridge to provide a helping hand.

It was fun and all the kids enjoyed this immensely (they had a chance to go over the bridge by themselves at the end).  Some lessons learned from the bridge that can be applied to transition in the real world:
1.  People on the bridge usually needed help from others during the unsteady "chaos" stage.  We will likely need help from supporters, friends and family back home, other missionaries, and nationals so we don't lose our footing during this difficult period.  It's tempting to "do it ourselves" but many times we need assistance.
2.  The kids tended to hang on to the connection rope between their parents instead of others' hands.  Families will likely grow closer during these times of transition if there is a stable relationship between mom and dad.  This might result in extra stress/strain/responsibility on the parents as they not only transition themselves, but assist their kids' transitions.
3.  Kids can increase the chaos.  The little guy in the pictures above, Bryant, started bouncing immediately as he hit the chaos balls.  This caused Eric to trip and fall into someone's waiting arms.  I guess they sometimes find chaos fun. :)
4.  The team might go through transition together, but not everyone will be on the same place of the bridge at the same time.  The first teammate made it to resettled as the last teammate was just about to enter chaos...so we need to have patience with our teammates who might not be in the same place as us.
5.  Everyone started cheering once the first person was out of chaos...but the resettling stage is still wobbly and can be difficult.  We need to remember that transition is a process and might be a long one.


Don't Forget the Hot Wheels!

By Jessica Cropsey

It was 1987.  John's parents were busy preparing to go back to the United States after their first term of service in Togo, West Africa as medical missionaries.  With all the packing and boxes it was obvious to 8-year-old John that things were about to change with his family.  This was very concerning to him, so he did what most children would do.  He protected his most precious possession -- his cars.  Looking around at the chaos, he found what he thought to be the safest place for these hot rods.  John's mom was surprised when she opened the refrigerator later that day.  Puzzled, she asked John why his cars were in the refrigerator.  Logically, he had concluded that everyone needs a refrigerator, so he thought it was a good bet that his cars wouldn't get left behind if they were in there!

For the last few weeks, our family has been sorting through all our things that have been in storage for the last two years we were in Kenya.  Unlike the Faders and McLaughlins, we did not do a slash and burn yard sale before our departure in 2009.  Now there is a massive pile of boxes and things in my parents' garage (God bless them for their patience with all our junk!) that is being sorted into piles:
  • yard sale pile
  • go to Burundi pile
  • maybe go to Burundi pile (if there's enough space)
  • store here in the U.S.
At first, the kids were quite intrigued with these piles.  Toys they haven't seen in a while.  Future Christmas and birthday presents for Burundi that they weren't supposed to see.  One day in the midst of our packing and sorting, Micah came running into the garage with his tub of Hot Wheels.  "Mommy, I want these to go to Ba-rundi!"  He was very concerned.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!  Later that day when I went to leave for an errand, he cried, "I want to go to Ba-rundi too!"  The poor little guy.  I realized that I hadn't done a good job of explaining things to the kids, so we sat down with a map and talked about all the places we've been and are going.  I showed them a picture of a ship with containers and explained how our things will go to Burundi by boat and then truck.  Hopefully this will ease his mind, at least for the moment.    


Hospitality: The Other Side of Homelessness

(by Eric McLaughlin)

This post has been a while in coming.  Some of you may remember the earlier thoughts on homelessness, as experienced by our family this year in the US.  No doubt, this continues to be a challenge, and we are currently thankful for several weeks of staying still here in Colorado.  However, there is another side to that struggle.

Over the past seven months, we have been hosted by no less than 30 families, maybe more.  Friends and family alike have welcomed us into their homes.  When I was a young single guy, even half of a married couple, I didn't think of myself as much of an imposition.  When Ben cries at 1am, and Maggie is up at 5:30, I no longer feel I can safely say that.  And yet, people give up rooms to us, they prepare us meals, and (perhaps the most gracious of all) they amazingly make us feel like they are glad to do it.  I have said it many times, and I could not mean it more:  Our nomadic family is sustained along the long journey by just such hospitality as this.

We have slept in bedrooms, while our hosts' kids take a sleeping bag, or even while the hosts themselves take the couch.  Multiple times, we have come to stay at a house, when our friends weren't even there.  People have rearranged schedules for us, and introduced us to their friends.  One family even scheduled Rachel and I for a complimentary professional massage!

A special mention goes to our four long-term hosts (thus far): Tim and Sharon McLaughlin, Jean Selle, and the Fader family have all taken us in for extended periods of time.  It is no small thing to bring a family into your home for a couple days, sometimes stopping everything else in its tracks.  However, after a while, if you continue as the host, life must go on, and that means that the guests become a part of your daily life.  This is another whole step in sacrifice and hospitality, and we are very grateful for it.

The fourth family is Dan and Suzanne Hayward (pictured here - I figure if they choose a photo for a facebook profile, it's fair game to share it) and their four boys.  They are going to get special mention, because no one has amazed me more with their hospitality this year.

Dan and Suzanne are a doctor-doctor couple, who had lived at Tenwek for a year, prior to our arrival in Kenya.  We had met briefly, during their visit back while we were there.  When they heard that I was going to be working in St. Joseph, MI, for a few months, they contacted me and said that they would be happy for me and my family to come and stay at their home.  For several months.  With their family.  And eat their food.  They even delayed dinner sometimes when I was working late, so that I could eat with their family.  And then there is the extra car that they let me drive.  And the dollhouse they found and brought so that Maggie would have some girly toys.  And the time they arranged a babysitter for us to attend a missions event.  And on it goes...  They barely knew us.  I'm so very glad for the friendship that resulted for this time.  And in the end, they send us on our way with a feeling that they were blessed by our presence, and that they are looking forward to us coming by again.

Really, it's overwhelming blessing.  It strengthens and sustains.

One of the universal features of missionary life is that, while living in foreign countries, you very often will play the host.  When I see the love that has been shown to us by so many, I begin to see that this is a gift of an opportunity.  An opportunity to love.  An opportunity to glorify God.

"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."  (1 Peter 4:8-11)

"Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints." (Philemon 7)


Go Team!

Last fall I was putting together some advice to give people about living and surviving in a team.  After living for two years as a team, I figured that we as the McCropders had probably learned a few lessons to share with people.  The talk never materialized but I found myself thinking back to the notes I jotted down as our team met with a potential teacher/new teammate (more on this later as things develop).  She was asking good questions about who we are as a team, what we value, lessons learned, conflict management, etc.  We have been blessed, so blessed, to have minimal team conflict.  I can't say it's all because of us or our conflict management (avoidance) skills, but I can say a big part of it is knowing that God has brought us into this community together.  It was not of our own making.  Aside from that, here are a few ideas about how to live (mostly) peacefully in community.

1.  Sharing a Garden (small things):  Let the small things go
We have blogged before about the McCropder shamba.  There were 5 garden plots behind our apartment, and the McCropders took over four of them.  We jointly hired a gardener, Robert, who planted whatever fancy struck him and we sometimes ended up with a small forest of basil.  But seriously, most of the time we had some nice produce growing:  pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatos, broccoli, lettuce.  Sometimes Robert would harvest things and bring them to Jess.  Sometimes he would bring them to all of us.  Sometimes we would go up and take what we needed.  Rarely did we take the harvest and split it into three equal portions.  Rarely did anyone complain because someone else had gotten more broccoli than they did.  Heck, most of the time we were harvesting it to bring to a McCropder potluck. :)  The point is, we didn't make a big deal out of it.  I'm sure that some people got more veggies than others relative to what we contributed financially.  But it wasn't a big deal.  And it shouldn't have been a big deal.

2.  Sharing a Vehicle (medium things): Be flexible/be organized
Oh, Jolly Green Giant, you were a great van.  All three families purchased an equal share of our faithful van. Jess then put together a Google calendar with "van reservations."  Once in awhile, all the families would go somewhere together in the van, but usually one family at a time was taking it.  Almost every weekend, the van was out with one of us, in Nairobi, the Mara, etc. We signed up with a first come-first served policy, and once in awhile there were two families that needed the van the same weekend.  We always worked it out though--someone would try to find a ride with another family, or we occasionally hired a vehicle.  Sometimes trips could be rescheduled for a different weekend or weekday.  Usually, we talked over scheduling conflicts and came to an easy decision, instead of falling back on a "well, I signed up first so too bad for you."  I never counted up the weekends we all took the van, but I would guess it worked out pretty evenly in the end.

3.  Sharing a Calling (big things):  Unity
The hardest decision we ever made as a group (so far) was, where to next?  As you may remember from following our blog, we had three main options:  Burundi, Madagascar, and Liberia.  All had their plusses and minuses.  And in the beginning, people had some pretty strong feelings about which country should be our new home.  We were not all on the same page.  But it was very, very important to us not to just put this to a vote.  If, for example, the vote ended up being 4-2 in favor of Burundi, what about the two no votes?  Had God called THEM to Burundi?  In the tough times would they look back and say, "Well, I didn't vote to come here..."  Did it take longer?  Sure.  It required a lot of patience and a lot of communication.  But ultimately, we all reached the same conclusion.  Whatever our individual desires, it seemed clear that God had called us into this community.  And God was calling the team to Burundi.  We were willing to lay down our individual wants for the team.

Do we have all the answers?  No.  Will there be team conflict among the McCropders?  Probably.  But has it all been worth it?  Absolutely.  I would highly recommend going as a team to any missionaries out there.


Train Up a Child...

It is our hope as parents that, through the international experiences that we are giving our children, they will grow up with a sense of the global.  A sense of the bigness of God's world, and the intimacy at the same time.  That they will be able to see many viewpoints, and to love many people, many nations, many cultures.  That the life we have chosen for them will be worth all the goodbyes they will have to say, all the time away from family, all the American experiences missed out on.

All that to introduce a little "stupid human trick" that Eric filmed Maggie doing last month.  I'm not sure if someone taught her this (we certainly didn't) and I can't even say this ability is as a result of her growing up in Kenya, but it was fun to see none the less.  The following scene unfolded in the Fader's dining room...


John's Uganda Trip

After wrapping up a great visit in Burundi, it was time for me to head off to Jinja, Uganda, for the World Harvest Africa Team Leaders annual meeting.  I was certainly the green horn in the group, so I arrived not knowing entirely what to expect.  I knew I would have to give a report on behalf of the Burundi Team to the whole group and I would be meeting with the "Samaki Mkubwas" (Big Fish) of WHM with scheduled 1 on 1 time (actually 3 on 1).  Yikes!  But the welcome sign at the front of the Kingfisher helped to calm my nerves.

Without delay, I found my bearings thanks to the helpful signs below.  If by "Beach Volleyball" they meant crab grass patch down by the bank of the Nile River, they were spot on.  The "Crazy Golf" I didn't have a chance to check out.  I'm sure it was tougher than any hole at the Masters.

My accommodations were pleasant.

My room came complete with a full set of frogs inside and out which kept the insect population well under control.

Barbara Bancroft, Josiah Bancroft and Bob Osborne (back three on the left below) led us each morning in times of spiritual edification with focus on personal renewal with God and in our marriages.  We were reminded of how critical it is for us to stay connected to the Living Water in order for God's blessing to flow out of us to our families, teams and all those we minister to.

Late morning was a time to hear the reports from the countries represented:  Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi.  Mid-afternoons were free unless you had your scheduled 1 on 3 time with the Samaki's.  This was a time for the team leaders to share more deeply about their struggles and successes with direct access to the WHM brain trust who also happen to be gifted pastoral counselors.

The evenings were spent working on more of the nuts and bolts of running a team.  Specifically, we worked on a draft of what a team covenant might look like.  This would potentially be something each team member would covenant to with their other teammates.  

The electricity usually petered out towards the end of the night.  Dr. Scott Myhre's water assisted illumination technique was quite effective.

All of these meetings were enough to make your brain swim and your tush hurt.

So we had to resort to having some fun too with fine dining and assorted activities on the Nile.

When Micah saw these pictures online before I returned home, he was very eager to hear if I had been chased by a crocodile.  A legitimate concern that was also high on my list of ways not to meet my Maker.  I was glad to arrive home alive without even so much as a nibble from a West Nile crock.  The meetings were highly fruitful and it was a blessing to get to know my WHM colleagues in deeper ways.  Thank you all for your prayers.


MedSend Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

MedSend has been a vital partner with the McCropder team over the last few years.  MedSend provides grants to healthcare professionals serving overseas in order to cover their education-related debt.  Before MedSend existed, educational loans were a big hindrance is getting missionary doctors (and other health professionals) to the mission field quickly.  Often, those interested in missions would have to practice for several years to pay off their loan, but find after those few years that it was difficult to pick up roots, leave a practice, etc.  The majority of those initially interested in missions never made it to the field.

Four of the McCropder docs were MedSend grant recipients while in Kenya, and we hope to continue our partnership with them while in Burundi.  This year, MedSend is celebrating their 20th anniversary.  Check out the short video below for some testimonials.  The video includes lots of Tenwek folks as well as 4 McCropder docs.    

The McCropders want to say a big "thank you" to MedSend and all their donors for helping to make our work possible!  May God grant you many more years of "enabling global healthcare in Christ's name".


John's Burundi Trip

My trip to Burundi and Uganda was a smashing success.  All of my travels went smoothly, no disabling diseases were acquired (at least not that I know of to date), and all of my meetings were fruitful.  Hope Africa University (HAU) was found to be flourishing with enrollment now threatening to exceed 5,000 students.

Snazzy New Sign Out Front

The main purpose of my trip to Burundi was to draft the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between HAU and World Harvest Mission.  My meetings with the Rector of HAU, Bishop Elie Buconyori, were quite helpful in shaping the final language of the document.  I did bring a small gift for the Bishop which bore a Maze block M (pictured below) to ward off the Spartan and Buckeye expatriates vying for the Bishop's good graces.   

An MOU is like a contract that spells out things like mission, vision, core values, duration of partnership, authority structure, ownership and use of property, etc ...  Lots of details with lots of room for disagreements, but God gave us all a wonderful spirit of unity on every matter.

I had a wonderful time re-uniting with Victor (pictured below), my personal translator from Tenwek Hospital, Kenya.  He is now a first year medical student in Burundi at HAU!  Click here to read more of his amazing story.  

 I was also able to take a quick day trip to Kibuye Hope Hospital where we will be living and working in central Burundi.  Since we were last there, much has happened.  Below are some much needed additions to the lab.

Thanks to a visit by a water engineer, running water is now flowing to the whole hospital again, including the OR scrub sinks pictured below.  We also have word that the government has given permission for HAU to go ahead and drill for water on the hospital property, a major answer to prayer.  The current supply is from a spring fed source that will not likely provide the massive amount of water needed to run a major teaching hospital that we pray Kibuye will be in five to ten years.

The fact that an open fire is being used to sterilize the OR instruments does remind us of the work and infrastructure development that still remains ahead.

Below is the beautiful building promised to me as the future eye unit's home.  Other than the asbestos roofing, I couldn't be more excited for the potential this structure has.  

Probably what the McCropders were most excited to hear about was the progress on our future home.  Below is the booming construction being done on the quadraplex that we will all be living in once we arrive at Kibuye in 2013.  We hope to later build individual dwellings and free-up the quadraplex to become a guesthouse.  They are doing a beautiful job on the construction.  Thanks to the Knox Docs in Ann Arbor and the Friends of HAU, funding for the project is nearly complete.

Back in Bujumbura at the main HAU campus, the Van Norman Clinic has just been dedicated.  This "clinic" is more like a small hospital with two ORs and several large wards and private rooms.  The craftsmanship is impressive throughout.  We will likely hold occasional clinics here in addition to our work at Kibuye.

 I also had the privilege of networking with most of the key eye care providers in Burundi.  In fact, one day I was able to tag along with Dr. Paul Courtright to do a "field study" in a northern province of Burundi.  Dr. Courtright is one of the leading researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa in the area of eye care and he "just happened" to be in the neighborhood while I was there.

Other adventures included scoping out the appliance and building material scenes to evaluate what is available in country and what might be a good idea to ship on the container Jason just bought for the McCropder crew.

Check out the commode on the top left row.  This puppy puts you in the "lap of luxury" at just enough of a recline that you may never want to get up.  American toilets don't stand a chance.  On that note, I'll wrap up this report.  More to come on the Ugandan adventures that followed the week in Burundi.