L'école McCropder

By Kathryn Wong and Sarah

Note to the Reader: We opted for too many pictures because the kids are SO cute!

On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, the teachers at the French preschool and kindergarden (the maternelle) went on strike leaving four McCropder children unoccupied for the entire day – a day, it must be noted, when their parents did have school. And so that afternoon, the co-collaborators Aunt Sarah and Miss Kathryn held the first day of l'école McCropder!

Our schoolhouse consisted of the kitchen and living room area in the single's quarters. It was very sweet to see the four of them coming in through the doors, armed with backpacks, ready to go to school. We congregated with the four kiddos – Elise, Micah, Abi, and Maggie – downstairs and discussed the anomaly of Rules and what they mean and why we have them and what it looks like to follow them. It was, perhaps, a little difficult to determine what actually sunk in, for the energy levels were rather high and the attention spans a bit low as should be fully anticipated from healthy, growing children.

We were more or less able to follow the lesson plan – practicing letters and spelling names, singing songs, counting objects inside and outside, learning about opposites, practicing shapes, and reading (an exceedingly odd) French story about fish... (we later found out that the parents had been listening in on this part of school...hopefully after hearing all about fish wearing hats and going shopping and taking care of their pet shrimps and other such nonsensical things they still believe that their children received a good education that afternoon!)
Spelling names and jumping on the alphabet mat
Kathryn reading a book about opposites (French and English!
Sarah reading the exceedingly odd French book about fish

The children then did an excellent job of creating a story about two fairies living in a magical forest named Grace and Emily who were captured in a bag by the villain Mimi and there they suffered until they finally sent out a magical note to their friends, and although the note was led astray by a storm of epic proportions, it at long last was discovered by the intended recipients and Grace and Emily were saved! For a suspenseful conclusion, Mimi went through several stages of becoming good and going back to being bad again, and eventually we concluded with a good Mimi who also turned into a fairy. It was a joy to watch their vibrant imaginations, captivated in a second by the mere concept of a magical forest, tearing through this story, words tumbling out of their little mouths almost faster than they could speak. Towards the end, they were, perhaps, ready to be done with the whole school thing, and so we ended our afternoon of school with a rousing game of run/hop/crab walk/walk backwards/walk sideways/crawl down the hall and back again. All in all, it was deemed a successful day, and fun was had by tout le monde!

Proudly displaying the poster board story they wrote.

The following day, all seven of the McCropder children came over to the single's for a Valentine's Day party while the parents enjoyed some Valentine's Day time of their own. The Fader girls contributed some festive, valentine's day décor, and several families brought heart cookie cutters and thematic sprinkles for the occasion. The event got off to a somewhat rough start with little Ben McLaughlin who was quite distraught for reasons still unbeknownst to us. After a good deal of wailing, he perked up at the prospect of making cookies, and the rest of the day went just swimmingly!

Prepping the table with flour for cookie dough and cookie cutters
Uncle Carlan's storytelling
The making and decorating of the heart sugar cookies was deemed a success (no small undertaking with seven children ages seven and under) and while they baked, the kids listened (for the most part with rapt attention) to Uncle Carlan tell the story of twins searching for their lost parents. The cookies were decorated perhaps not in an entirely conventional style as there were only so many adults to stop the children from digging into the frosting and gulping it down in spoonfuls and shaking sprinkles on the table (not the cookie), licking up said sprinkles, and then repeating the process. Once the cookies were finally all frosted and sprinkled, everyone was given permission to eat two cookies each. Somehow at the end of the feeding frenzy, there weren't many cookies that made it out alive, and the math didn't quite add up with each kid eating two cookies. But such is life. The pizza lunch (sans plates or silverware. We're all about dish conservation and all that.) was greeted with enthusiasm and delight, and creativity let lose with the plethora of Valentine's Day cardstock and stickers and foamy shapes supplied by Aunt Sarah. Fun abounded in great quantities.
Valentine Crafts

The race is on for Valentines candy!
With still a good ninety-minutes left before the return of the parents, Miss Kathryn ran outside and created a scavenger hunt of Valentine's Day candy. It was a day of sunshine and warm breezes, and it was a joy to watch the kiddos tearing back and forth across the school property searching for their sugar hearts. Ben and Sammy, having not quite gained the same kind of mobility as their siblings ran excitedly behind the rest of the pack, needing to turn around quite frequently as the rest of the group tore past them, around them, and through them. Anna and Elise in particular were fans of the game, and long after the other children had lost interest, they continued to ask Uncle Carlan to hide and hide and re-hide their heart lollipops. We stayed outside until it was time for them to go home. Soon they began to show signs of fatigue – Sam slouched over his swing, almost asleep, and so full of sugar (sorry, parents!) and hopefully some good memories to boot, thus ended Valentine's Day with the McCropder kids.

Anna is an awesome cookie maker and cookie decorator

Elise perfected the heart shaped cookie. 

Ben (much happier)

Work is more productive with the tongue out

Abi enjoyed many, many, many sprinkles. 

Pizza and friends - Life is Good!


Before any of the 4 adults noticed, Ben enjoyed multiple spoonfuls of frosting. 

Micah spelled his name with cookie dough - creative genius!

Sammy joined us in time for pizza. 


Standing on Shoulders

by Rachel

Dan Fountain died last week at the age of 82.  Many of you have never heard that name before.  Dr. Fountain was a missionary surgeon who served for over 35 years in DR Congo with his family.  But perhaps just as significantly, after he returned to the US he spent his entire retirement teaching and training the next generation of missionaries and missionary doctors about community health, whole person care, and other important lessons he had gleaned from many years of service in Africa.  Eric and I heard him speak at a Louisville medical missions conference in 2003 and were struck by his insight and creative ways of thinking and teaching nationals.  Most of us McCropders listened to his DVD course on Whole Person Care as well, thanks to MedSend, an organization that pays our medical school educational debt (and an organization that he helped co-found).  And we have since heard him speak at a number of conferences, including a CMDA "deployment" conference in 2009 for young medical missionaries.  Dr. Fountain's life is certainly one that touched many people around the globe, and his legacy will live on through the thousands of people he helped to train.

Hearing about Dr. Fountain's death made me start thinking about what lies ahead for me.  At the age of 33, I have almost my entire career in front of me, and potentially a retirement as well.  I have been called to go to Burundi...a country I had barely heard of three years ago.  And yet already in the country there is a missions hospital and a medical school.  Someone started these places.  Someone planted seeds many many years ago.  Missionaries from all over the world have been working in Africa for hundreds of years, bringing the Gospel, bringing education, bringing health and hope and healing.  I can go to Burundi because of some of them.  Other missionaries have invested in young lives--teaching and encouraging youth, medical students, residents.  I can go to Burundi better equipped and better prepared because of some of them.  Our whole team stands on the shoulders of people who have sacrificed much to go before us.  Some of these people are unknown, and others (like John and Jason's parents) are quite close.

I remember at times like these that we are a body of believers; we are a community in Christ.  We do what God has called us to do not by ourselves, but because of and with those others who have also been faithful to the call--people who go, people who give, people who pray.  People who went before, people who are coming after.  Dan Fountain was one of those people who spent a lifetime investing not only in the NOW but in the future, and I pray that through my life, my career, and yes, my retirement, I can be one of those people too.

The McCropders at the 2009 CMDA conference...Dan Fountain is pictured at the left of the group


Looking Ahead and Looking Around

(from Heather)

This coming week, a team of nine engineers, architects and surveyors through EMI (Engineering Ministries International) is traveling to Kibuye Hospital in Burundi to carefully evaluate the current facilities (buildings, water, electricity, land).  In a few months, when this information is processed, another similar team can use this information on another trip to Kibuye to develop a comprehensive long-term (10-20 year) plan for how the hospital can develop into a 300-bed teaching institution.  This is a big step of planning for the future of the hospital.  

Evidently our children have caught the excitement for drawing up plans for Burundi.  Anna, Elise, and Abi recently took on the task of designing the schoolhouse for Aunt Sarah’s McCropder kid school.  Here is the schoolhouse design committee meeting:

Elise (wearing an “I USA” t-shirt while sitting here in France drawing plans for Burundi) created plans for a dream playground.

Anna mapped out a multi-room schoolhouse, the highlights of which include a reading corners for everyone, a rest time area, a time out corner, a large number of bookshelves, and a snack shelf.

A few days after this looking ahead to Burundi, the kids found themselves looking around here in the Alps.  On Thursday our school took a field trip to the nearby mountains to experience an important aspect of local culture:  skiing. 

 Others went sledding (Cropseys in the foreground, Maggie and Rachel in the middle of the picture)

or snowshoeing.  

All enjoyed the opportunity to look around at the beauty of creation.

He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth--the Lord God Almighty is his name.  Amos 4:13

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  Psalm 95:3-4


Beyond France

(from Eric:  Today's post comes from our special guest blogger Kathryn Wong.  She is a friend of ours from Michigan, and a blessing to our families, as she visits and studies with us for a few months.  She is also a great writer, and so we thought you might enjoy hearing from her as a different perspective on our lives here.  Read her own blog here.)

Here they are. Three families, three singles, and seven – soon to be eight – kids living in the Alps of Southeast France. Living in this land of baguettes, cheese, and wine, of majestic mountains and rich history. Living in a land that displays culture and cultivation at its finest.

But it doesn't take long to figure out that this year of living in France is really not at all about France. You walk down Le Chemin des Galibouds, what seems to be a very normal, peaceful, residential little French street until you arrive at the blue and green sign that reads: Centre Chrétien d'Enseignement du Français. Turn into this driveway, and you'll find a collection of connected, faded white, somewhat weathered buildings with dark brown roofs surrounding a small parking lot. And here in this place, people live with a purpose, for the most part with a purpose decidedly beyond France. People going to Mali, to Togo, to Chad, to Burundi.

Living with the focus beyond France manifests itself in a multitude of different ways. Hardly a day goes by when I don't observe something – different actions, words, gatherings – directed towards what is yet to come.

Aunt Sarah practices the alphabet with Abi each week. I watch them hard at work – jumping from letter to letter, Abi receiving stickers as a reward for her endeavors. A preparation for and a mere foreshadowing of what's to come. She is now learning who each of these little people are, and her role in the lives will be enormous.

Pastor Bob flies across the ocean to visit the McCropders. Why? To discuss Christianity in the context of French culture? No. To look forward. Ahead and into the future of life in Burundi. To wrestle with issues of how to present the gospel in a transformative way to the Burundians. Not a word of France is mentioned. Eleven adults, crammed into the Cropsey's apartment, focused on what is yet to come.

Not all McCropders are natural language learners. Some enjoy it, but not all. For many it's a struggle synonymous to scaling Mount Blanc (and indeed some may prefer that more physical challenge!) Yet they persist in le discours indirect, in mastering les pronoms compléments, in the mind-bending game of communicating correctly with the subjonctif, conditionnel, imparfait, passé composé... Why do they willingly subject themselves to the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of learning an entirely new language with all that it entails? To studying extensive, imaginary dialogues in their textbooks between rather petty, shallow French women celebrating their thirtieth birthdays. To essentially putting themselves back in the shoes of a child, just learning how to speak. Why? Because of what's to come.

On Sunday nights they gather as a team. This time crammed in the Fader's apartment, they enjoy the Galette des Rois – a French epiphany cake – whilst they listen to sermons and work on the aspects of their team covenant, articulating in words their mission statement for beyond France. They pray for and with each other. They're preparing themselves for life in Burundi by learning the language, but underneath the constant verb conjugations and new vocabulary, they're preparing themselves in many more ways than by simply learning the language.

A common refrain is, “It's on the container.” Yes, there is a piano that the McLaughlins packed...I don't have that book with me here, but I do think we put it on the container...Yes, yes that's on the container...No, we don't have that with us here, but it's on the container... They are even materially focused ahead. They will never use this furniture again. They will never use many of these bulky winter clothes again. They will not use these dishes, or these French coffee presses, or this silverware once the year is up. The future of their material lifestyles is packed up, sitting somewhere in Ann Arbor in a big metal container. Eyes are focused on what is yet to come.

The marketplace in Burundi burns to the ground. Attentions are riveted on this event. Something has happened hundreds of miles away, and according to google maps 6,000+ miles, that has powerfully impacted their future. There is a detachment from the place that they now live, from the current events of the locals; there is a deep connection with a place some of them have never been to before.

Lest you get the wrong impression, however, let me assure you it is by no means all detachment from France. Each Saturday many a McCropder hits the ski slopes, fully aware that this may very well be the last opportunity for winter sports that will present itself in decades. On Friday, the célibataire McCropders enjoyed a delicious, French raclette dinner at the McLaughlins. Crêpes and cheese and French bread abound in great quantities. McCropders help out with French Sunday school, they attend Friday night Old Testament Bible Studies with the French church, they're involved in the French youth group. As time and children allow, they travel, exploring the vast amounts of history and culture and legacy that surround them. And so they do embrace France and the great opportunity that a year in Europe presents.

And yet something brews within these walls that is much more than just learning a new language and living in a spectacular country.

Toujours, the McCropders look ahead.


A Few Words from our Children

With actual video footage to prove it, we affirm that the McCropder kids are learning to speak French.  Elise's vocabulary is expanding…

Let’s see if Abi and Maggie can try that…

Anna "loves French" and speaks in sentences which, despite grammatical errors, actually do make sense....

Micah even sings in French….



Song for Sonship: If Not For Your Love

Coming off the last post, here is a song I wrote to try and express the same sentiments.  Again recorded on my phone, please forgive/enjoy the simplicity of the recording.  In light of what I wrote before, I hope that it bears no further background, though hopefully it fills out the ideas a bit.

The bridge is taken from Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection, which you can read here.

Seize a few better things, then buttress them high with stones
and bury deep all else beneath
Where perhaps I maybe could believe
That these are not part of me

If my virtues will make you love me
Then I have no vested interest in honesty
So I lie, and tell myself that it’s true
For I fear the same of you
That you’d flee if you knew

If not for your love, 
then I would never bear the truth about myself

And I can’t even admit to myself
That this is what I do
For none could love the blackguard that’s making bold his plea
That how I am is really what you see
Just don’t dig too deep

And this means the death of pride
And means all my worth is lavished on me from outside
Staring into this dark space
Falling out of this chase
To rest an object of grace

And it’s left but ash
But in a flash, at a trumpet crash
I am all at once what Christ for he was what I am
And this jack, this joke, 
this poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond
Is immortal diamond

If not for your love, 
then I would never bear the truth about myself