(from Eric)

I was surprised to discover that we haven't written about this.  But then I started the post, and realized how hard this is to encapsulate.  However, this has been quite impacting for our whole team, so here goes: 

Depending on what missions agency you work with, there are different prerequisite requirements, quite similar to entering medical school, actually.  They vary.  Sometimes they include cross-cultural training, and oftentimes bible school or seminary classes.  WHM has a somewhat unusual set-up in that the centerpiece of their training is a discipleship program called Sonship.  In my mind, this shows great wisdom on their part, for it speaks an opinion that, for surviving and thriving in the work we are settling into, we are not predominately needing more knowledge (about the Bible, about theology, about culture, etc).  Rather we (quite desperately) need a deeper and better daily application of that which we already know.

Every week or two, for the better part of a year, we would meet via Skype with a WHM Sonship "discipler" and almost daily we would work through introspective questions.  If you think back through our nomadic lives, you can picture us rendez-vous-ing in the strangest of circumstances.

One of the core quotes of Sonship goes something like this:  "I have good news for you!  You are much worse than you think you are!"  Pause...  "and the grace of God is so much greater than you ever dreamed it was."

There have been many transformative things taken from our Sonship program, but if I had to make one central, it is the unrelenting uncovering of the sin of our heart.  The basic argument goes like this:  Deep in my heart, I really want to be able to contribute something to my salvation or goodness (or I just don't believe that God could love me), and so I need to hide most of my sins and more or less publicize my virtues (which does take a bit of the virtue out of them).  In other words, if the grace of God is anything other than free, then we have no vested interest in honesty - in the church or in the world.  We rather have very good reasons to hide the truth about ourselves from everyone, including ourselves.

Thus we may be quick to judge others, but we can't even admit to ourselves that we are hiding our own sins, much less admit what they are.

Sonship is relentless is leading the way through this into repentance, and thus into a discovery of the greatness of the grace and love of our God.  Before Sonship, I would never have said it (or even thought it), but for me, it has been honestly a shift from "God's love is so great that he loves me, an imperfect person to be sure, but overall with a lot of positive qualities and a pretty decent asset to God's team" TO "God's love is so great that it extends to me, full of pride and self-conceit, unwilling to even acknowledge my own faults and persistently rejecting the grace of God in favor of some worthless alternative that leaves my pride looking sort of intact."

The point is this:  the awareness of my sin magnifies the love of God in my heart.  But it's a bit "chicken or egg", because I don't think I would ever admit my sin to myself if the great love of God was not there to call me out of it.

Applications?  Beaucoup.

We can be honest.  We can share our weakness, and it becomes consistent that God would use our weaknesses to glorify himself.  We need the gospel every day every bit as much as any person in Burundi that we would seek to serve, so the harmful "I-versus-them" dichotomy withers.  Our work, now in France, also in Burundi, is never the basis for our worth.  Whether we succeed or fail, our worth is that God has loved us with an everlasting love...


What Response a Fire Demands

(Carlan writing) On Sunday the marché centrale in Bujumbura, capital city of Burundi, burned to the ground in what appears to be an accidental conflagration. Conflicting reports have been received as to how many were killed directly by the blaze and how many have been injured. With the aid of Rwandan helicopters the Burundian military and emergency services (5 firetrucks total for a country the size of Maryland with almost 10 million citizens) seem to have gained control of the fire, avoiding further disaster as a nearby petrol station was threatened.

Though it may not make international headline news, the scale of this disaster is difficult to comprehend for those of us who have never lived in Bujumbura. Here is a quote from Rebecca Mosley, a Mennonite missionary in the capital that gives some sense of the immediate and ongoing impact this destruction of the commercial center of the city/nation will have:

"Up to a thousand households have lost their savings and income. There will be a direct humanitarian crisis for these people. Most businesses were run on credit and those creditors won't see their funds back, in most cases. This will also affect many banks that capitalized vendors in the market [and] the supply lines for most local products in Burundi [that] passed through the central market. Vendors who work in other locations lost their supply lines. Farmers from up-country will have to reorganize also to get their goods to market... All Bujumbura transport passes through the central market [and] will all have to be reorganized...There will almost certainly be a recession in Burundi, but it's hard to imagine how the situation here could get any worse, with high levels of inflation, devaluing currency, average daily wages not at all keeping pace with the most modest costs of living."

One of our friends has sponsored a Burundian Christian family who just lost their livelihood in the blaze and has forwarded us the father's response to their loss: "My little children ask what will happen to us, and I tell them that God is faithful, but will He be this time?"

It can feel trite or even false to recite those assurances of old when new tragedy strikes, but these are the very same times when Asaph and David, Isaiah and Habakkuk wrote (emphasis added):

Psalm 50:14,15 "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."

Psalm 52:8,9 "But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank You forever, because You have done it. I will wait for Your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly."

Isaiah 55:1 "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."

Habakkuk 3:17,18 "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation."

It is no small thing for God's people to pray, persistently and deliberately for Him to act. Would you join the McCropder team in praying and fasting for the people of Bujumbura and Burundi? Would you ask alongside us that somehow, in God's sovereignty, this tragedy might unite the nation, heal old wounds, and draw people to Christ? And if He moves you to some additional action of aid, please contact one of us for help in so doing.


The Impossible Loads of Africa

This has been circulating around, but if you haven't seen it, then our blog is delighted to bring it to you (click on the title:

French Culture: A Study of Comparisons

(by Eric)

I asked a question on facebook:  If I say "Swiss", you could follow with "cheese, chocolate, army knives, banks..."  If I say "French", what comes to mind?

The responses were interesting and varied.  The most frequent answer was probably "kiss", and I won't endeavor to provide a cultural exposition of that at this time.  Other notables included Braid, Onion Soup, Silk Pie, Fries, Revolution, Tips, Cuisine, Horn and Dip.

A few such answers make for a good comparison, or can use some background information.

pain perdu
1.  French Toast:  This was a very popular answer.  From what I have thus far seen, the American version of this is not so very different from the reality in France.  One might ask the question:  "They obviously don't call it 'French Toast', so what do they call it?  They don't call it 'le toast', right?"  Good question.  The French term for this is pain perdu or literally "lost bread", referring to how it is used for bread that have gone stale.  It's a fairly nice redemptive picture, actually.  Which brings us to...

2.  French Bread:  We picture a long, crusty white roll, thicker than a baguette, with a nice fluffy inside.  And though there are many varieties available, this is indeed the classic.  And indeed, one just calls it pain or "bread".  Just like that.  You walk into the store and ask for "two breads", and you can get two such delicious batons.  

La Mie Caline, a popular bakery
The French are quite hardcore on their bread.  There are labor laws restricting which businesses are allowed to be open on Sundays, and bakeries are one of the exceptions (along with pharmacies and hospitals, but not usually grocery stores).  It is remarkable how delicious French Bread is on day 1, and how quickly it goes stale, so I guess I can't argue with them.

3.  French Mustard:  I enjoy mustard, and I like dijon in particular.  Some of you may know that Dijon is actually a city in France.  Thus we look here for the authentic.  And what we find is very good, and amazingly strong (!) dijon.  And it is used for many things.  It is a bit of a challenge to find mayonnaise that does not have dijon added to it.  And it seems to be a frequent favorite for a salad dressing ingredient.
the real deal

4.  French Press or French Roast:  I haven't yet figured out all the coffee lingo.  Generally speaking, you "take" a coffee at the end of a meal, and that is referring to a small cup of espresso without milk, +/- sugar.  Cafe au lait (coffee with milk) seems to be treated as an utterly different beverage, rather than a variation of the above, and is usually taken with breakfast, in a bowl (bol) not a cup (tasse).

5.  French Dressing:  Cards on the table, I have never much liked this stuff.  And I'm not sure what it is, and I'm pretty certain the French don't recognize it either.  Salad dressing here is nothing like American "French" dressing, but usually an extremely tasty vinaigrette, often with a hint of dijon, as mentioned above.  In my experience, salads are simpler, often just lettuce with dressing, but somehow amazingly good.



(from Heather)

The airline industry may be suffering economic hardships, but the McCropder team and community have done their part this winter to keep the industry afloat.  
In the last month, 6 McCropders, 12 visiting family members, and 3 special visitors made a total of 41 trans-Atlantic voyages. 

“But wait,” you say, “41 is an odd number… so someone has not made a return flight….”  That’s right.  We have gained a delightful addition to the community here.  We are so happy to have Miss Kathryn Wong in Albertville with us for four months! 

The kids ADORE Miss Kathryn.  And the adults are equally pleased to have her here helping with the kids, participating in life here, and studying French along with us.  Kathryn’s impressive French speaking abilities have landed her in a class with 5 McCropder adults, and she reports that she loves class, which is not surprising for those of you who know Kathryn.  Kathryn and her family are treasured friends of the McCropder families who hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Kathryn is also a gifted writer who keeps a blog here to chronicle her adventures during this gap year (at an orphanage in Haiti last semester and at French school here in Albertville this semester) before she heads to college in the fall.  This girl tells a good story and documents with great pictures, as evidenced by her report of her downhill skiing adventure last weekend. 

Ann Arbor also sent us another blessing recently as Pastor Bob and Ilene Lynn came for a visit last week.  The adults really appreciated good talks with the Lynns, and the kids appreciated their attention and story-reading as well.

We are so thankful for Kathryn and for the Lynns and for the love that they bring from our awesome home church in Ann Arbor.


"Ministering From Weakness"

(from Eric)
Every Monday and Thursday morning here at the school, a student gets up in front of the forty-or-so other students.  Sometimes haltingly, sometimes with great animation, they impart a little message to the rest of us.  In French.

Last Thursday was my turn.  Heather and Alyssa have already gone, and John (a.k.a. "Jean Valjean") is on deck for this week.  It was a good exercise and I enjoyed learning the vocabulary and phrases of a topic that is dear to me and that I anticipate talking about in the future.

I have three favorite topics for such occasions:  Suffering, Weakness, and the Kingdom of God.  Rachel laughs at my uncommon choices (at least for the first two), and I guess it's warranted.  But I hold to their necessity and for a bunch of adult missionaries stumbling around making countless mistakes and feeling often the fool, weakness seemed an a propos topic.

If you read the mission statement of our agency, World Harvest Mission, the most unique thing you will find is the phrase "ministering from weakness".  More and more, I'm coming to believe that this is the ground on which we stand.  Truly, it must be, since there isn't any other.

We come to France and we become like little children.  We can no longer have basic conversations.  We sit in the classroom and say the wrong things again and again.  And we trust that Jesus actually meant something valuable when he said that we need to become little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.  It's a good lesson.  But later we will learn French.  We will re-enter our professional roles.  And we will be tempted to think ourselves strong again.  Because we have to be, right?  In order to accomplish the work God desires?

2 Corinthians 12:9 records God telling Paul that, in the midst of his problem, his "power is made perfect in weakness."  For a long time, I assumed that this meant that, despite my weaknesses, God will use my strengths and virtues to show his power.  However, the idea of "ministering from weakness" fits the quote better.  God can demonstrate his power through our weakness, our mess-ups, our failures.  (World Harvest has a great little story on their website to demonstrate this.  I used it in my talk and you can read it here.)

When this happens (and when we accept it as a phenomenon in our lives), there are several implications:  God is glorified, and we are not, because it is very clear who the goodness belongs to in the situation.  This is in opposition to ministering from strength, where there is greater temptation to praise the person.  Also, we become God's tools, but with no reason for pride, since it is our very weaknesses that are the tools.  

And perhaps most significantly, this frees us (like Paul) to celebrate our weaknesses, to hide nothing and speak the truth about our weakness and our sin, because we trust that God is stronger than our weakness.  In a general sense, the church suffers from the idea that God's strength and glory is wholly dependent on our own strength.  This can lead to a serious aversion to being honest about my own failures and problems.  However, the realization that God's strength is made perfect in my weakness means that I can humbly and boldly live, knowing that it is God, and not me, who is going to complete the work that really matters.

As I write this, I feel my own insufficiency once again, since this concept is bigger and deeper than something I can wrap up in a blog post.  But, by my own explication, that is surely OK.  We desire to live this out in our lives and work, so I'm sure you will find the topic resurface over and over (such as in John's broccoli story).

And for those who are eager to use our lives here to vicariously resurrect their own French studies, you can read my French devotion by clicking here.


"Four-plex" Progress

As some of you already know, when we last visited Kibuye Hospital in Burundi, one of the issues that came up was housing.  There were minimal places for guests to stay, and nowhere for 16 McCropders to live!  We plan to build homes upon our arrival for each family, but what to do in between our arrival and the actual completion of our homes?  And what about all the visitors we hope to accommodate some day?

The obvious solution was to start work on a guesthouse with multiple small apartment-style units that we could live in while our homes are being built, and also a space for visitors--now and later.  Friends of Hope Africa and some generous supporters from our home church donated funds and work has been ongoing.  It is exciting to see progress being made.  The first of four 2-bedroom apartments is almost completed (as of these pictures taken by a visitor in December) with the other three units partially constructed.  One never knows how quickly things will progress in Africa, but things look good for being completed by our arrival this fall. :)


The Haircut

By Jessica Cropsey

While Rachel and Heather have been getting their hair cut by their spouses for the entirety of their marriage, I have held on to the luxury of getting my hair done by a professional.  In Kenya, there were enough mzungus (white people) in the country to supply plenty of experience and business for multiple hairdressers throughout Nairobi who were accustomed to our tresses.  Last year in the States, I reconciled myself to the fact that it is highly likely that John will need to become my professional hairdresser in Burundi.  So, he accompanied me on my last U.S. haircut in August.  We explained our situation to Diane and she happily agreed to schedule a longer session for us, instructing us on what she was doing each step of the way.  We arrived armed with our camera, ready to video everything for future reference.  Unfortunately, our memory card was nearly full, so we had to settle for snapshots instead.

That was 4 months ago.  Now we are in France and I am in desperate need of a trim.  Of course, there are plenty of "coiffeurs" around here, yet someone wisely advised me to let John get some practice here so that at least there would be someone to fix things if necessary.

Last night, with some fear and trepidation on both our parts, we took the plunge.  You have to remember that John is a microsurgeon, which means that he is a perfectionist and also has a keen eye for detail (with certain things).  I took some comfort in this fact.  We set up the computer with our pictures and began.  I decided to play some "Blitz" on my i-Pad.  (I equate this to a certain someone I know who chooses to read while her husband drives.)  I started to get more nervous as the tedious process of John figuring out how to layer wore on.  There was a lot of hair on the floor and I was hearing comments like, "Disaster--get outta here!", "I just don't understand how you get rid of this hair without making a mess of everything!".  Nearly TWO HOURS later (after I had earned enough coins on Blitz to buy some really great bonus features), I was examining the final product and made a comment about a particular section that was a tad uneven.  John replied with, "Well, you don't want the Dumb and Dumber look, do you?  It's kind of nice to have it a little uneven."

I am happy to report that there doesn't appear to be any reason to visit a French hairdresser.  John told me this morning that he's actually looking forward to the next one.  Since he isn't practicing ophthalmology this year, I guess this is a good way for him to keep up his surgical skills to some extent!  Thanks, Diane, for teaching him so well and thanks John for caring enough to spend two hours of your evening to give me, as you would say, "a perfect layer of natural beauty".   


Song For a New Year: Ordinary Day

I love Christmas, but I generally let New Year's slide.  In fact, after Rachel and I got married on New Year's Eve 2005, we were both secretly happy for a ready excuse to never watch the ball drop again.

But for those for whom New Year's provides an opportunity for stepping back and examining one's life, then I think it can provide a real virtue.  How do I want to change?  What do I want to see done this year?  Where do I want to be a year from now?  In that spirit, I offer a song and the thoughts behind it.

If a life is pictured as a line, with a series of peaks and troughs, then the vast majority of it is spent in the grand in-between time, the daily grind.

We look back at a year for it's cardinal events, like a Christmas letter: we got married, we graduated, we retired, we bought our first house, our child was baptized.  And yet most of the year was none of those things, and I would argue that most of the significance of the year was none of those things.  It was instead the time and relationships that are so ordinary they are almost invisible.  However, their invisibility does not mean that their power is any less.  It is just unseen.

And I think this is good news, because I believe that God is always at work in these small moments.  It is here that we are changed, that we become who we are, and our presence in the world is most felt.

In Kenya, a new visitor would often stagger at the idea of our daily life, but the biggest surprise for me was just how wonderfully ordinary it really was, in the end.

And this reminder couldn't be more timely for us here, laboring with inch-by-inch progress in French, another trip to the supermarché, another conversation with my kids, another walk to church.

And so, if your new year is providing you with perspective, think on the vital but invisible ordinary days.

I wrote this song in Kenya to try and highlight this idea.  I wrote it about an ordinary day at our home with a hike up the nearby Mount Motigo, realizing that what was ordinary for us would sound exotic to others, but that was the whole point.  I owe the central idea to Walt Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow.

(download here)

you and I today
red dirt underneath our shoes
walking in the afternoon

stop awhile and stay
on the edge of a concrete porch
drinks in hand and laughter in our mouths

ordinary day
all that keeps the darkness still away
come what may, come what may

you and I tonight
sitting on the front porch
a touch of silver light

tinge of charcoal in the air
music from the girls' school
rolling up the hill to echo off our chairs

ordinary love
all that keeps the darkness still undone
as it ever was, as it ever was

you and I right here
baskets in the tea fields
equator sun comes near

they wave as we pass by
Maggie shakes a wrist and all
the mothers of the roundhouse village smile

ordinary grace
all the keeps the darkness still at bay
come what may, come what may