Who Packed the Parachute?

by Jessica Cropsey

Our arrival in Burundi is just 100 days away!  In a sense, we are entering the front lines of battle for the kingdom work of God in Burundi.  Yet, we could never do that alone.  We were reminded of that when we recently received an article published by the Christian Medical and Dental Association entitled, "Who Packed the Parachute?"  It tells the following story:

Charles Plumb was a U.S. Navy pilot who flew some 75 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Shot down behind enemy lines, he parachuted to earth but was immediately captured. He spent six years as a POW. Eventually he was released and resumed life as a civilian in the United States.

At a restaurant one day where he and his wife were eating, a stranger came to his table and said, “You’re Charles Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down.”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb. The stranger replied, “Because I packed your parachute!” In amazement, Plumb stood and extended his hand. The man continued, “I guess it worked.” “It sure did,” Plumb responded. “If your chute hadn’t opened, I wouldn’t be here today.”

That night Plumb couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about the man who had packed his parachute...  Plumb wondered how many hours the man had spent at that long wooden table in the bowels of the ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes. With each humble act of faithful service, he held in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t even know.

All of us are incredibly blessed with a host of family, friends, and churches who support us in various ways -- providing financial support, praying for us, sending care packages/encouraging notes/e-mails, etc.  Many have invested years into our spiritual, physical, and emotional growth.  Others have been dear friends during the difficult (and numerous!) years of medical training.  There have also been many occasions where we have been aided and blessed by people that we don't even know.  Along the way, we've certainly had to deploy a "parachute" or two in order to survive some near crash and burn moments.

As we eagerly anticipate our arrival in Burundi, we feel blessed to know that so many of you have been caring for our every need, at times completely behind the scenes.  You have been and continue to be God's great provision for us.  And while we have no intention of using any "parachutes" in Burundi, if need arises, we will know that they have been well and lovingly packed.  Thank you for walking alongside us in this journey.  We wouldn't be here without you!   


Book of the Month: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly

Shortly before leaving for France, all of us met up in Philadelphia with the leadership of World Harvest Mission.  They asked each of us how they could pray for us, and Jason said, "My whole year in the US, I've been carrying around this book called...something about 'sabbath' and 'rest'... Anyways, I finally put it aside, because I knew I would have time to read it."  It stuck with me, because it typifies our lives so often.

We are so busy, too busy to rest.  The Lord commands us to rest, but he'll understand, since he values the work we are doing: caring for the sick, caring for the poor, seeking to bring his light and good news into darkness.

And I won't deny that this is a hard question.  I recently read Luke, and noted that there are 3 separate occasions where Jesus heals a sick person on the Sabbath and the Sabbath-observers criticize him for it.  That's a tough fact when every day, including every Sabbath, critically ill people are likely to show up needing help.

HOWEVER, I have come to believe that much (maybe all?) of our stubbornness to follow God's Sabbath command to rest is rooted in our belief that it is, in the end, us and not God, who will really get the necessary work done.  Also, (this is a huge one for me) our value, especially as Westerners, is found in our productivity, and so rest can make us feel worthless, and so we feel very uncomfortable with it.

Our friend Janet gave us this book and I finally got around to reading it.  Keeping the Sabbath Wholly with a great subtitle of Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting.  Marva Dawn is a PhD (Notre Dame) who was teaching at Regents at the time of writing the book.  Overall, it's a great comprehensive look at what Sabbath is and why it is so significant in the Bible and for the Jewish people, yet so often overlooked by Christians.  There are a couple particulars that I think are worth sharing here:

  • To "cease" on the Sabbath means not only to rest from employment, but from all work, so that physical and mental rest actually takes place, and we can also cease from placing our value in our own productivity.  This is in contrast to a day off work when we can catch up on our long to-do list and feel good at the end of the Sabbath that we've accomplished so much.
  • Dawn puts an emphasis on Sabbath observance regularly, one in every 7 days.  This is hard for doctors with call schedules.  However, her point is that there is value in the rhythm of 7 days, and  that we were created to function in such a rhythm, going further to challenge the reader that it is impossible to be "too busy" for Sabbath, since Sabbath rest increases productivity on the other 6 days to an extent that more than compensates for the day of rest.
  • She argues (largely from Jewish tradition) for ceremony and ritual as a way on magnifying Sabbath observance.  Special foods, special prayers, special family activities can add to our anticipation and celebration of Sabbath.  Regarding feasting, she makes the astute observation that our society does not know how to feast, because it does not know how to fast.
  • Perhaps the most significant idea she shares is from Abraham Joshua Heschel, who argues that Judaism (and by extension here, Christianity) is a faith that aims at the sanctification of time as opposed to Western civilization's primary drive to conquer space.  He points out that the first thing in the Bible to be designated as "holy" is the seventh day - a holy time, in contrast to a holy place, which is the case for most other religions.  The implication of this, for me, is profound as it runs counter to my constant desire to be more efficient.  Time is, in a sense, irreducible.  You can't spend an hour with someone in only 58 minutes, no matter how efficient you are.  And I think this inability is a gift to our society and it's obsessions with control and production.
There it is, in a nutshell.  The book is worth the read.  Missionaries, and especially missionary doctors, seem to do very poorly with understanding God's gift of rest to us.  So pray for us, that we would understand, that we would trust, and that we would obey.


Cross Cultural Medicine

I have been meaning to write a blog about my experience with the French medical system for quite some time now.  You've most likely gotten little glimpses of our experiences along the way, like the fact that our team bought and administered its own vaccinations...Being in general young healthy adults who also happen to be doctors, we tend in general to be able to avoid a country's medical system.  At Tenwek, we often diagnosed and treated ourselves because illnesses were small and it was easy to get the medicines we needed from the hospital pharmacy.  So we never had to "go to the doctor" or figure out the health care system, except in the sense of working in it.  :)  Which counts for something, but of course being a patient is much different.

It likely would have gone the same way in France...again, young healthy adults/physicians who in general don't need to see a doctor and if they get sick can usually diagnose themselves.  Even our kids fall into this category...a friend of our gave us the "developmental stages" questionnaires to give our kids, and Alyssa and John brought otoscopes/ophthalmoscopes for looking into little ears.  But for the fact that I got pregnant.  Since I am not a proponent of home births, in the end I needed to establish care with a French midwife and spend two days in a French hospital for the birth of Baby Tobias.

Just as well.  It was a good language learning experience for me, and also a fascinating look into another developed world's health care system.  I can in some ways see how health care costs are kept down.  Every month, and only every month, I went to visit my midwife.  I paid her 21 euros for my visit.  She had no nurse or receptionist...I would simply wait outside her door and she would come get me when she was ready.  She would answer the phone on her desk when it rang.  She took my vital signs herself and charted everything in the computer.  Not such a bad system, it seems.

The hospital experience was similar to being in a US hospital.  Except of course for the fact that everyone spoke to me in French.  Some interesting differences:

1.  Breakfast.  The French are known for their very minimal breakfasts.  I literally received a tray of bread and water, no joke.  There was also jelly for the bread and a tea bag for the water, but wow.  The first morning I texted Eric to tell him to bring this postpartum mama more food!

2.  Baths.  Every morning, a nurse assistant came to get me and Toby for his bath.  Daily baths, performed in a very particular ritual which involved submersion up to the neck (umbilical cord be darned) and sticking cotton swabs in his ears and nostrils.  50% of my French comprehension comes from context and I'm sure the nurse thought I was a terrible third time mom since I couldn't figure out how she wanted me to give my kid a bath.  Wait, you want me to do WHAT?!

3.  Linens.  I was expected to bring all my own clothing, and clothes for Toby, too.  I delivered in a hospital gown but no one ever gave me another (and if you've had a baby you know that you do NOT want to wear that same gown after the delivery).  Before I even delivered, the nurse asked Eric for Toby's clothes.  All I had brought was a onesie and a little going home PJ outfit, plus some socks and a random hat.  She incredulously asked if that was it.  Um, yes?  In the US, onesies, blankets, hats, etc are all provided.  They put every article of clothing on him after he was born and asked if we had anything warmer, so Eric had to bring him extra clothes the next day (also, he was not "allowed" to wear the same clothes after his daily bath!).  For me, I never found a towel to use in the bathroom and dried off after my shower with an extra blanket.  Was I supposed to bring a towel?

4.  Meds.  Every night the nurse would give me a pillbox with the next day's meds.  I was expected to remember and take them myself.  There was no UPC code on my bracelet, no one confirmed my birth date before giving me tylenol, etc.  Rather...freeing, actually.

In the end, the differences were not a big deal, although it was still nice to come home to my own bed and family.  The cross cultural differences were not big but they were present, and constant conversation in a different language was draining for me.  Hopefully I got some good education out of the experience.


Au Revoir Kathryn Photo Recap

Today we bid a sad au revoir to Miss Kathryn at the Albertville train station as she headed back towards Michigan.  Kathryn has been here since the beginning of January, studying French, helping with the kids, and providing lots of fun for everyone as she found adventures and wrote about them.  We will miss her so much!  The pictures below show some of the ways that Kathryn has been such a blessing and joy to our team during the last four months.... 
Helping with the Kids - Ice Skating
Helping in Sunday School
Reading and Entertaining Children who Adore Her

Playing Music for Chapel
Studying French
Eating Together
Traveling Near and Far
Visiting Geneva (statue of John Knox)
Playing Uno and Many Other Kid Games

Teaching Piano
Being Silly
Celebrating birthdays  (Kathryn's in this case)
Exploring France

Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing your love with our children and your joy with everyone you meet.  You have greatly blessed us during this season of our lives in France.  We miss you already.



(By Jason)
Some days I think I would have liked to pursue a career in engineering - or at least what I envision engineering to be... figuring out how things work, making things, and fixing problems.  Tomorrow I get to partially live out this dream by joining a group of professional engineers and architects traveling to Kibuye and working on creating a comprehensive long-term master plan for the hospital. 

At this time Kibuye Hope Hospital has around 100 beds, but in order to create adequate opportunity for teaching medical and nursing students, as well as for providing more medical care, the hope is to increase the bed capacity to around 300.

Many questions arise when such an endeavor is undertaken.  For example, how much space does a hospital that size require?  How much water would be needed, and where would we get that water?  How about electricity... from where, and what about a back up generator system, and might there be options for solar, hydro, or wind energy?  What building supplies are available, and what would be the cost for such a hospital expansion?  And how do you do all this in such a way that would create an organized, practical, attractive, sustainable, and efficient hospital?

This is where Engineering Ministries International (EMI) comes in.  EMI sends teams of volunteer professional engineers all around the world to work on projects such as this.  In February of this year, an EMI team went to Kibuye Hospital to do some preliminary data collecting, and the group put together all kinds of useful renderings and diagrams such as these:

The second EMI team heads to Burundi tomorrow for 2 weeks.  I am very excited to get to work with this remarkable group of engineers and architects.  We look forward to working along side the Burundian hospital and medical school leadership to envision the future as we collaborate to develop an excellent and appropriate 15-year expansion plan. 


47 Needles

Moving back to Africa within a few months means checking to ensure that all important vaccinations are up to date.  Lo and behold, this Burundi-bound bunch needed more than a few immunizations and boosters... a combined total of 47 shots.   
47 vaccinations averages about 3 shots per person, for the prevention of several undesirable diseases, all of which the McCropder doctors saw while working in Kenya, including Hepatitis, pertussis, rabies, and tetanus. 
It seemed only fair that the injection duty be shared amongst the willing parties... including Sarah, Kathryn, and even Anna, who had no qualms whatsoever about learning how to poke a needle into Aunt Sarah. 
Thinking about vaccinations and medical care just makes us all the more eager to arrive in Burundi in a few short months. 


A Trip Back to Tenwek

(from Eric)
There is nothing like banana trees to make you feel like you've been gone awhile.  It's due to their capacity to grow so quickly.  Behind the apartment building where we all lived for our two years in Kenya, we had a shamba where we grew lots of produce, and we had transplanted a few banana saplings there in the first six months or so.  Towards the end of our term there, we took this picture.  You can see a few banana trees in the background, spindly and a bit solitary.

Several months ago, someone sent us this picture of the same plot, now with a veritable forêt of trees.  Wow, I guess has time has passed.  And when I look at the picture of Maggie above, I must admit that small children have the same effect as banana trees.
The end of our time here in France is within 3 months.  Some of our team members will have need to travel back to the states afterwards (weddings and such), and so we set a month hiatus before we are all due in Burundi at the beginning of August for the next phase of this journey.

What to do?  After some deliberation, it was decided that my family and Jason will be spending the majority of that time at Tenwek Hospital.

We look forward to a time of getting back into medicine, seeing old friends, renewing contacts, showing off the interim growth of our family, hiking down to the waterfall, and of course, checking out the banana trees.  We will even be staying in our same apartment, which happens to be vacant at the time.

Maybe it's the time that has passed, or maybe it's the end of an alpine winter, or the lack of medical practice for a while now, but it seems that the nostalgia of our lives at Tenwek is at an all-time high.  When we think about visiting so many colleagues and friends, sharing a mug of chai, waking up at precisely 6:15 to a cacophony of birds, it's enough to send us into the third heaven.

Our time there was a time of great joy.  And yet we know (and if you have been reading this blog, we hope you know as well) that, as life always is, it was so much more multi-dimensional than that.  It was joy and sorrow.  It was routine and frustration.  It was smooth and so very very difficult.

So, what to do with all this nostalgia?  Ride the wave until you crash on the rocks of reality, i.e. when you remember all the other dimensions?  Stifle it down to avoid the disappointment?

Because living cross-culturally involves such cycles of emotions with regards to one's host culture, I think the question is an important one.  And it strikes me that such nostalgia has at least a chance of being a time of great gain.  A time of truly loving and enjoying the blessings of a place and its people, while letting the frustrations roll of one's back a little more lightly.  Maybe something that can linger, or even last.

We'll let you know.  But for now, we're excited to shake a million hands, greet people in Swahili, keep a warm chapati in one hand and a bottle of Stoney Tangawizi in the other, and enjoy our trip back to Kenya.


A Hero Fallen: Remembering Bishop Elie Buconyori

By John Cropsey

When we received word that Bishop Elie had passed away from cancer on Easter Sunday 2013, our hearts were brought low.  A truly great man was lost in Burundi that day, one who had been used of God to do so much for his country.  He was the catalyst for many, including the McCropders, to dream great dreams for what God could do in Burundi and surrounding Central Africa if one was willing to join God on a bit of an adventure.  I had the tremendous privilege to attend his funeral on behalf of our team this past Friday in Bujumbura along with fellow World Harvest missionary, Randy Bond.

When war erupted in Burundi in 1993, Elie Buconyori was already in Kenya as a pioneer missionary.  The numbers of Burundian refugees rose in Kenya as the genocidal war raged on in his homeland of Burundi.  God put a passion in his heart for the education of Central Africa's youth fleeing conflict in not only Burundi, but Rwanda and Congo as well.  He began organizing make-shift schools in Kenyan churches starting with primary and eventually working his way up all the way to a university.  

Hope Africa University was born in 2000 with a first class of just 4 students.  In 2003 as the war began to wane, HAU was transplanted to Burundi.  God blessed it abundantly.  Today it has well over 5,000 students with a vast array of undergraduate and graduate programs.  We will be joining the school of medicine to aid in the development of their primary teaching hospital at Kibuye.  In a country ravaged by over a decade of war, it cannot be understated what it means to Burundi to have a Christ-centered university producing young professionals who our champions of reconciliation and peace, just as their Rector, Bishop Elie was.

The largest newspaper in Burundi recently ranked Bishop Elie as one of the five most important people in Burundi and he was given the nation's Medal of Honor last year.  Why?  Here are a few amazing facts about the Bishop.

  • He was a key advisor behind the scenes at the Nelson Mandela-led Arusha peace accord that officially brought the war to an end.  
  • He was asked to be president of the transitional government but he declined as he felt God had called him to continue his ministry of rebuilding the country through the church and education.
  • He was an important leader of the nation's reconciliation initiatives post-war.
  • At his funeral on Friday, a major boulevard in the capital was honored with his name and he was decreed a national hero by the state.
  • Many current national leaders are graduates of HAU.
  • He was a close friend and advisor to the current President and his wife.

  • Bishop of Burundi's Free Methodist Church
  • President of the World Congress of Bishops of the Free Methodist Church
  • President of the Christian Church Forum of Burundi representing 80% of the population

  • Founder and Rector of HAU, the largest private university in Burundi with a mission of "Facing African Realities" through Christ-centered education.
  • Elected Chairman of the Inter-University Council of East Africa in 2011.
  • Received his PhD from Trinity Evangelical outside of Chicago.

Education was clearly this man's great passion.  Knowing that angels are not omniscient, it was joked at the funeral that the first words to come out of the Bishop's mouth when he met God on Easter Sunday were likely, "God, can we open a school up here for the angels?"

Everyone was at the funeral to pay their respects to this great man who helped bring peace between tribes, dialogue across religious divides and much, much more.

He leaves behind his widow Joy and four adult children.  As you can imagine, all are very well educated and capable, but losing a husband and father, especially in Africa, is a big deal.  He also leaves behind a church, university and the McCropders not knowing what the future holds.  As worry or fears try to take hold, we remember that we trust in a God who knows how to bring life from death.  Our future is not founded on a great man who is now gone (even though that is very tempting to think and feel) but it is anchored in Jesus Christ.

Please pray for the the Buconyori family, the Free Methodist Church, Hope Africa University and the McCropders as we find our way without Elie Buconyori, a man who provided us vision and endless optimism for what God could do.  Many important decisions regarding future leadership will be taking place in the coming weeks.  Please pray for wisdom, discernment, humility, peace and divine guidance for all those involved.  


Tobias Timothée McLaughlin

Over four months ago, Rachel told me that the ideal date for our baby to be born would be April 1.  She didn't want another March birthday (she and Ben are in March), but she didn't want to wait any longer than necessary, and that way, true to McCropder tradition, the baby could share a birthday with Sarah.

Never mind that it was 8 days prior to her due date, and thus 15 days prior to her French due date (they use 41 weeks for some reason).

Yet, lo and behold, months later, more or less during Sarah's birthday celebration, the contractions kicked up in earnest.  Several hours later, Tobias Timothée McLaughlin was born at the Albertville hospital.  All has been well.  Rachel will provide her take on being a patient in the French system later on.

It may be remembered that Ben has two middle names:  "Kenneth Kipruto", the first being Rachel's dad's name, and the second being his Kenyan name, meaning "boy born while traveling".  Timothée (pronounced Teem-o-tay) is in fact the French spelling of my father's name, thus keeping the same pattern, but combining both elements into one.

Questions from the peanut gallery:
  • Was he a chunker like the others?  8lbs 9oz, in between the others
  • Does Tobias has a really cool-looking French birth certificate?  No, it is in fact the most underwhelming legal document I have ever seen.
  • Is he eligible for French citizenship?  No, you must have a French parent to be eligible for citizenship.
  • Could he be president of the United States?  This was actually the first question he asked me after being born.  It's funny how the answer to this doesn't seem to be straightforward, but the most reliable answer I've been given is that, since he acquires citizenship at birth (by virtue of being born to American citizens), that he could be president.
Thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.  Please continue.

Psalm 126:3 - "The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy."