A simple lesson in Kirundi phonetics

By Rachel


We've been in class now for a few weeks and wanted to give you a glimpse into what we're learning!  As opposed to French, where many of our readers speak (or have previously spoken, at least a little) the language we are immersed in, I doubt that more than a handful of you know even 1 or 2 words in Kirundi.  We certainly didn't.  And truthfully, we weren't even sure what to expect.  Easy?  Difficult?  Lots of obvious words?  Pronunciation?
Some blessings for us:
  1.  Everyone in the greater Banga area is excited to help us learn Kirundi.  Usually this is in the forms of gawking citizens lining the streets to watch the parade of "abazungu." (white person, similar to the Swahili muzungu)  But there are also several nuns who help to run the guesthouse who take it upon themselves to teach us new words and correct our pronunciation.  And even a few simple greetings go a long way in lighting up the face of just about everyone we try it out on.
  2. Our teacher Gilbert has been conducting class in French.  He speaks both French and English, and asked us on day 1 what we would prefer.  So to keep up our French skills, we have class in French which has been great.  I think all of us understand what he's saying and I for one feel my French speaking abilities are even improving here, which is great.  
  3. Once in awhile, there is a word that is the same in Kirundi as it is in Swahili.  That being said, most of us don't speak much Swahili. :)
Some of the challenges:
  1. French was frustrating because there were SO MANY LETTERS that no one ever pronounced.  Why are they even there?!  Kirundi has a straightforward pronunciation, sort of.  Maybe I should say it's consistent.  But at last count, there were more than 10 new sounds not in the English language.  Mw (pronounced mng), bw (bg, like a chicken), 2 types of r's (a flapped r/l combo and a trilled r) 2 snort-y kind of sounds, an "nt" and a "mp", not to mention that familiar letters like "b" and "k" are pronounced more…softly, without the big puff of air that English speakers use.  They sound more like v's and g's.  Good thing we all took a language acquisition class in Colorado before leaving for France, which introduced us to this concept of new sounds.  We were at first trying to come up with ways to avoid using many of these new sounds, but they are not exactly rare sounds….
  2. There are 16 different noun classes in Kirundi.  Huh?  Each noun starts with one of 16 different prefixes, which will then determine how you match it up with a number or adjective.  For example, umuhungu is the word for boy.  Abahungu is the word for boys.  If you wanted to say one boy, you say umuhungu umwe.  Two boys would be abahungu babiri.  But one cow would be inka imwe, and two cows would be inka zibiri.  So the word "two" (kabiri) could actually look about 16 different ways depending on what noun it describes.  Yikes!
  3. The language actually has turned out to be tonal.  Meaning, guhiga could mean to complain or to search for something depending on how you pronounce the "i".  
So, all this not to get you to feel sorry for us, but to marvel with us at the task to which we have been called, and recognize once again that our own abilities just aren't going to cut it.  And if you would like to learn along with us (Rosetta Stone hasn't released their Kirundi discs yet…), start with the traditional greeting of "Amahoro!", which means peace.  But don't forget that the r is actually pronounced somewhat like an l, with a flap of the tongue on the roof of the mouth...

Studious McCropders learning Kirundi.


Differentiating the Sarah's

By Sarah Crockett

You might be asking yourself: There are two Sarah's?  There sure are and I, Sarah Crockett, would like to bring a little clarity to our readers.  Sarah Storm, pictured below with me, is currently residing in Banga, Burundi and supporting our team by taking care of the kiddos to better enable the adults to devote themselves to Kirundi studies. 

Sarah Storm (left) Sarah Crockett (right)
Our team is widely supported and loved by various means.  Our families who sacrificially send us, our churches who support and encourage us, missionaries who have gone before who offer words of wisdom, friends who support financially, the numerous who faithfully pray on our behalf and countless others.  We as a team are beyond blessed and incredibly grateful for each of you and the role you play in supporting us!  

Having visitors for a week or a few months is another support to us.  Read more here about Pastor Bob and Ilene Lynn who visited our team in France as pastoral encouragement and Kathryn Wong who lived with us for 4 months in France learning French, loving the kids, and encouraging the adults.  What a blessing!  

I have known Sarah Storm and her family since before she was born, so I am overjoyed at her support of our team in this season of focused Kirundi language studies.  Sarah spent 6 weeks in Sierra Leone summer 2011 with Royal Servants and became interested in pursuing future work in francophone Africa.  She decided to delay university to gain further experience in missions within francophone Africa.  During this season she is enjoying reading loads of children's books to Ben, kicking the soccer ball with Sam, working on puzzles with Micah, playing dress up with Maggie & Abi, and watching movies in French with Anna & Elise. 

We are grateful for our families, churches, friends, the Lynns, Kathryn, Sarah, and each of you for the love and care you selflessly give to our team.  Each of you are a gift from God to us! 

Alyssa and Sarah Storm in Banga, Burundi

How do we differentiate the Sarah's?  Well, I am stateside being blessed by extra time with family, friends, supporters, and ice cream.  So, as the Banga blogs refer to Sarah, the reference is to Sarah Storm.  I will join the team later this fall and I'm sure we will have no problem creating nicknames to distinguish the two Sarah's.  

In the 80's, the decade I was born into, Sarah remained in the top 5 baby girl names and so I have known many Sarah's in my 28 years of life.  In college to distinguish two Sarah roommates, I got Big Sarah simply because I was taller.  In the 90's, Sarah Storm's decade of birth, the name Sarah remained in the top 10.  By 2012, Sarah is no longer on the top 20 list.  Whew!   Here's hoping our team can do better than big and little Sarah.  I'm confident with John Cropsey, we won't be lacking in originality for nicknames. 


Tracking Big Packages

By Jason
One of the really fun aspects of living overseas is that we have opportunities to be involved in some unique spheres of society.  This past year I have enjoyed the world of shipping containers (this coming from someone who still enjoys Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks” book).  If you have been following the sub-plot of our shipping container on this blog, then you will know that the container was picked up last month from a farm outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, after John had packed it to the gills.  As it turns out, we can track the container, just like a UPS package, only hopefully it is harder to lose.  So I went to the tracking website and plugged in the container number and found that it had been put on a train in Detroit and traveled by rail to New York.  It was then placed on the MSC Toronto (pictured below) and is on its way to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, via Salalah, Oman.  It is due to arrive in Tanzania sometime in October.  At that point, it can travel over land to Burundi.

A Google search about “MSC Toronto” yields all kinds of information about the boat (built in 2006, managed by someone named Reederei Claus-Peter, max speed of 13.4 knots, length of 325m), and better yet, I found that I can get real-time information about the position of the boat and its path.  The picture below shows that the MSC Toronto is currently docked in Richmond. 

You can bet that I will be watching carefully when this vessel heads down the east coast of Africa in some weeks… hopefully no pirates are reading this blog who would be interested in all the books and peanut butter stashed away in our container!


Power and Water

by Eric

Here in Banga, for the past week, we have had running water less than half the time, and we have had electricity less than half the time. And not necessarily for the same "less than half the times".

This morning, we woke up and discovered the water had started running during the night.  Quickly, because who knows when it will stop again, we fill the two large plastic buckets in each bathroom. We fill the water filter tank for drinking water.  Sarah and Alyssa come over to finish hand-washing the laundry in our tub.  They had started it yesterday, but had to stop when the water did.  It was good that they finished it, since now the water is out again.


The electricity has been out all day.  When it flips on, we quickly plug in our computers and our phones, in hopes to get them fully recharged to make it through the next outage.  The nuns who run the guesthouse lent us a solar lantern.  We put it out each morning, and it makes a little circuit around the house as the sun goes throughout the day, so that our walk down the hill to dinner after sunset can
benefit from its light.

In short, our fairly Western lives are fairly poorly adapted for living in such circumstances.

We often refer to "power" instead of "electricity", as in "the power's out", or "I hope I have enough power to finish this."  It's probably accurate in more ways than we intend.  What we do, what we accomplish, is often so dependent on electricity that the lack of it creates a feeling of immense powerlessness, and if that doesn't immediately lead to frustration (or something worse), then it is simply the grace of God to us.

In short, the frustration in our hearts is due to lack of control. Probably all humans suffer from some form of this, but Africans are notably more accustomed to being out of control than we Westerners.
God is in control, right?  I don't have to be, right?  I shouldn't be, right?

And suddenly, I'm not in control, and I'm amazingly not OK with that.

The term "creature comforts" doesn't really do it justice.  It's communication with family, it's work that needs to be done, it's baths for the children, it's a nightlight for a scared kid in a very dark
equatorial night.

In the end, though, it's just the same.  Is it enough for God to be in control?  He who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies.  He whose "power" has not been cut off.

Paul writes about finding contentment in all circumstances in Phillipians 4.  He calls it a secret, in fact.  He says "Rejoice in the Lord always."  Rejouissez-vous en tout temps de tout ce que le
Seigneur est pour vous.  I read the French version this morning in church.  "Rejoice at all times in all that the Lord is for you."

I read it sitting in the Catholic church next door, where we are invited to worship on Sunday mornings.  The power is still out.  There are two candles on the altar.  There are two traditional drums in the left corner.  The song leader stands up and with a small flick of his wrist, the choir erupts in harmony.  The wall of music is taken up by the rest of the church and washes over me. No power.  Immense power. Things were not what they seemed.  "Rejoice in all times in all the Lord IS for you."

The service goes on.  Everyone is staring at us again.  I'm zoning out for lack of comprehension.  The priest is 40 minutes late.  Rejoice! Rejoice!

There are precious treasures to find in what we lose in this life of ours.  It is in giving that we receive.  BUT, it is in dying that we are born again.  And that's good, because there is no romanticized
simple life.  The blessings of such things are a gift to us, but it can feel like dying.  Dying to our selves, to our productivity, to our idols of worth.  But it is in such dying that we are born again.

Pray for us.  Pray that this would be seed sown on good ground, for it is not always that way.  Pray that it would produce much fruit, in us and through us, for the glory of our Lord, who has died for us.


Book of the Month: Ministering Cross-Culturally

(By Alyssa)

As we’ve mentioned previously on the blog, our training at Mission Training International has been invaluable to us. We’re especially putting into practice these days the concepts and exercises learned at the language acquisition course (PILAT) as we begin a new language with completely new sounds and utilize language partners to learn out of the classroom more than most of us did in France. The second course we all took at MTI (SPLICE) also included very valuable information and reflections for us such as insight into how we handle stress, deal with conflict, approach transitions, rest and keep the Sabbath, grieve losses, build community, endure and enjoy paradox, and face cultural differences. One book highly recommended relative to the last point was “Ministering Cross-Culturally”. I bought the book at MTI in May 2012 and finally read it on the plane to Burundi. :) But, I did find it fascinating and extremely relevant, so I thought I would review it here: 

The authors utilize Jesus’ incarnation into the Jewish culture of His day as an example of how we can become incarnational in the cultures we serve. We will never fully become Burundian but we can sacrificially adopt language and certain cultural ways of life to more effectively live out the gospel in community with them. That won’t be possible if we don’t first understand our own cultural background and biases and then also humbly observe and study the new culture’s values before passing judgment. Part of our time here at Banga is dedicated to observing the rural Burundian culture in addition to beginning language learning. The challenge is that language (of which there are four in Burundi) is just one of ten primary message systems found in every culture! 

After providing a basic values self-assessment, “Ministering Cross-Culturally” highlights 6 basic value categories where cultures tend to emphasize one side or the other of the spectrum. We don’t yet know experientially where the Burundians will fall in most of these categories, but likely significant differences will manifest themselves as we observe and function in the culture. We pray for grace to give and receive especially in those tensions! 

  1. Tensions about time: Time versus Event orientation - concern for punctuality vs concern for the details of the event no matter how long it takes, concepts of lateness, etc. No question as to where most Americans fall on this spectrum! However, “our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus, to satisfy the time and event priorities of others before considering our own.”
  2. Tensions regarding judgment: dichotomistic vs. holistic thinking - black/white judgments vs. open-ended judgments.
  3. Tensions associated with handling crises: crisis vs noncrisis orientation - anticipating crisis and emphasizing planning vs downplaying the possibility, delaying decisions, and focusing on actual experience. This will be interesting to observe in the hospital setting. In Kenya, there was certainly more of a noncrisis orientation and a lack of a sense of urgency that led to cross-cultural conflict at times. Developing relationships went a long way in narrowing that gap, though, so we begin to pray now for friendships with hospital staff. 
  4. Tensions over goals: task vs. person orientation. The conflict is clear there! “Wherever we serve, our objective should be to live in such a way that we respect, love, and share our very lives (including our priorities and goals) with those to whom we seek to minister.”
  5. Tensions about self-worth: status vs. achievement focus - prestige (often identity) ascribed by birth and social status vs by one’s own achievements. Of note, “Jesus rejects both orientations as inadequate!”
  6. Tensions regarding vulnerability: concealment vs willingness to expose vulnerability/ error/ failure.

Thankfully, we interact with these differing cultural values in the people God has placed around us only “empowered through faith and freedom in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit and not in the flesh.” 


My Little Slice of Insanity

by Carlan Wendler

Do you ever wake up in such a daze, perhaps after a 30-hr call or long week of work, and look around for a minute just to figure out where you are...wondering the whole time if it is evening or morning? Sitting in my bed at the Banga Guesthouse that bizarre but somehow familiar feeling sweeps over me. Where am I? How did I get here?

If you’ve followed our story for long, you know that we’re a group of teachers, doctors, and kids moving to Burundi to serve with Hope Africa University and Kibuye Hope Hospital. I’m the single male on the team, and thus have the privilege of pinch-hitting at “baby-holding-at-the-dinner-table” and a host of other uncle-ish activities. I also have the unique opportunity to interact with this community in a freer, more time-intensive way than a parent or single female would.

I don’t want to make any generalizations or judgments about Burundian culture yet, but so far I have had a lot of help in my language acquisition from passers-by on the 200 m walk between the family homes and the dining hall/guesthouse (where I live). It is easy for me to talk with the plenteous soldiers who mill about the tiny garrison town of Banga. I was even “invited” by an older Burundian gentleman to share a drink yesterday afternoon in the guesthouse lobby (I say “invited” because you know who was going to be buying the drinks).

But with that said, the realizations of life adjustments wash over my heart and mind like waves lapping on the lakeshore - electricity, running water, cellphone and Internet, transportation, snacks, medicines...all of these are substantially less reliable or easy than even they were in France let alone the US. I am a Millennial (born in or after 1980). I am used to having the worldwide web at my fingertips (true story: I had to look up online what the birth year cutoff was for Millennials). Burundi is going to be hard for me. Burundi is going to be good for me.

The rest of the team, apart from the toddlers, have spent from two to twenty years in Africa already. And though I am beyond grateful for the heritage I have from my dad’s minister-dad and my mom’s missionary-dad, this is my trial by fire in African missions. Will I survive? Will I thrive? How did I get here?

In some moments I look around and feel like I’ve awoken in the deep end of Lake Tanganyika. But to my great relief, rest, and joy, I quickly see around me a team of men and women of like, precious faith. It can’t be insane if eight other educated, rational adults have decided to take the same plunge, right? I mean, people don’t go crazy en masse, do they?

In all honesty, having a team of brothers- and sisters-in-arms isn’t necessary to be sane  nor will it be sufficient to shield us from the difficulties to come from language and culture learning. But I take heart from the numerous examples of “insane” faith that went before us, men and women who challenged giants and empires, who survived fiery furnaces, lions’ dens, and attempted executions, and who knew the truth deeper than the surface logic - it is always the most rational and beneficial choice to follow Jesus. Always.


Safe in Burundi

By: Eric & Rachel McLaughlin

Amahoro!  Not only has our team reunited in Burundi, but we are now safely installed in our home for the next three months.  Individual travel sagas may be coming soon, but we wanted to share a couple images of our world here.

We are 1.5 hours from the capital and about 2 hours from Kibuye Hospital, here in a little village called Banga.  It is deep in the Burundian highland hills, where the end of the dry season is only weeks away.  There is a Catholic guesthouse here, and they have two houses, a restaurant, and a classroom (among other lodgings) that we are using for the next three months to start learning Kirundi, the heart language of all of Burundi.  We will be using French as the language to learn this next foreign language.  We found a teacher in a local high school teacher currently on leave, and the community is perfect for starting (awkward) conversations with complete strangers.

The two houses are on the hillside, and our view is quite nice, only to get nicer when the rains come.  The view below is from the porch of one house, and the little building in the center is the guesthouse campus where we walk to class and meals.  The sunset is great.  There is a Catholic church next door with simply stunning a capella music.


Here is one of the two houses.  (The other is identical.)  A living room, three bedrooms, each with a bathroom.  No kitchen, since one is not expected to eat there.  Both electricity and running water are quite intermittent, but candles, flashlights, and large buckets of water reserve are in place to get one through the gaps.  Overall, this place is an answer to prayer:  Safe and open for kids to play.  Friendly community to learn language with.  Peaceful, in a location where we are all together.  A restaurant so that we are not spending all day learning how to prepare meals in a new culture (which yes, can take all day).

Slow internet is to be had via USB modems that work through the cell network.  So more to come soon!


Crossing the Jordan

by Rachel

The time is finally here.  Almost three years to the day after we first visited Burundi, we will return.  It is a different country now; we are different people.  Our team has grown from 11 to 17, we have crossed oceans, we have floundered through French, we have grown from trials and joys.  I feel like I have spent the last three years of my life telling people about Burundi--from where this tiny country is located to what kind of vision we have for the hospital.  When we get there...I think this is how it will be...I would expect that...I have no idea.  That can change now.  We can start to know instead of guess, experience instead of infer.  And it's simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  I am realizing that I have very little idea of what awaits us.

I can't help but think about Joshua during this time.  What must he have been feeling the night before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land?  Was he excited?  Scared?  Doubtful?  Wondering if 40 years of wandering in the desert could possibly have been worth it?  Remember, Joshua had been there before, too.  Had 40 years changed the Promised Land?  For the better?  After all the preparations and all the "hype," all the witnessing to the Israelites about their calling...it came down to this.  What if it didn't meet expectations?  What if their enemies defeated them?  What if the Israelites disobeyed again and God turned them back around for another 40 year march through desolate places?

God knew Joshua's heart.  God knows our hearts.  And so He lovingly, gently, affirms once more.

"Into the land that I am giving you."
"I will not leave you or forsake you." 
"Be strong and courageous."
"The Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Our team is crossing our own Jordan this week...because Burundi is our promised land, the land that we are clear beyond a doubt that He has called us to.  And in the end, that's what matters.  We will face challenges that we expected, and we will face totally unanticipated challenges.  It will not meet our expectations.  It will be harder than we thought it would be.  But it will be better, too, because this is the land and the life to which we have been called.  It is new and unexpected, but God goes before us.  And may we rejoice once more at His faithfulness, His calling, His love for us and for the people of Burundi.

Pray for us.

"...so that all peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever." --Joshua 4:24


Tanked Up & Ready to Go!

by Jess Cropsey

Our family has been blessed to be back in the States since language school finished in early July.  The wedding of my youngest sister was the primary motivation to return.  Elise & I both had a lot of fun being in the wedding party, and John served as the M.C. for the reception.  We had gorgeous weather and it was a very beautiful outdoor wedding at my parents' house.  We treasured every moment with our family.   

Getting our team container ready for shipment was another top priority.  The container is now on its way to Burundi.  (Click here for a previous blog post of this adventure.  Make sure you watch the video!) 

Another important to-do item for John & I was some scheduled rest.  Each of us set aside 3 days for a personal retreat to refill our emotional and spiritual gas tanks before heading to Burundi. 

As an introvert with three small children, the idea of 3 days by myself sounded like pure heaven.  And, yes, it was very much like that. My aunt & uncle gave me the use of their wonderful cottage on Lake Huron.  I enjoyed some leisure activities (a couple videos, Blitz on the Ipad, walk on the beach, lots of sleep), but also spent a significant portion of my time praying, listening to sermons, reading Scripture, and journaling.  My soul was both challenged and refreshed. 

I also saw this as an opportunity to "tank up" on all the food goodies that I anticipate missing when we move to Burundi.  In case you're curious what those food items are, here's a sneak peek into the very unhealthy (but yummy!) menu of this Africa-bound missionary during my retreat:
*Reese's pieces, peanut M&Ms, & Twizzlers
*Boboli pizza crusts with lots of cheese & pepperoni
*bagels & cream cheese
*Sun Chips (Harvest Cheddar)
*Ruffles & French onion dip
*berries, grapes, & yogurt
*deli meat & provolone cheese with pitas (I was crushed that the croissants were sold out.)
*bacon -- lots of it!
*Dr. Pepper
*Swiss Miss hot chocolate

Our departure for Burundi is now less than 3 days away.  Our last few days in the U.S. will be full of many hard goodbyes since we do not anticipate returning as a family for 3 years.  My beautiful little niece and brand-new nephew will be close to Micah's age next time we're back! (As you can see, Evie is very concerned about this as well!)

We're already grieving the many special events that we will miss in the coming years.  And yet, we are confident that this is the journey God has called our family and team to.  Please pray for us in these final days and for our precious families who so graciously send us even though our choice to go becomes their sacrifice. 

Your prayers for our travels and transition would also be much appreciated.  (The McLaughlins & Jason leave from Nairobi on Monday, Carlan leaves from somewhere in Europe on Tuesday morning, and the rest of us leave from the USA on Tuesday afternoon.)  We're not sure what our internet situation will be in Burundi, so don't be alarmed if there are no blogs for a little while!           


COTW: 2=4

by Rachel

Our time at Tenwek has come to a close, too soon as always.  Thanks to the support of my gracious husband, who stayed home with the kiddos so I could work, I spent 11 days and took 6 calls on maternity.  I performed about 20 C-sections (from perfectly basic to quite challenging), half a dozen hysterectomies (one ranks in the top 5 largest uteruses I've ever done), and an assortment of minor GYN cases, in addition to remembering lots of clinical decision making and OB management.  It was perfect.  I was initially a little hesitant about taking six calls when I have a 3 month old who isn't consistently sleeping through the night, but grace is provided to those who need it!  Due to some governmental changes in health care here in Kenya, Tenwek's delivery numbers are down from the last few years (free maternity care provided at the district hospitals).  I don't know if that played into my calls, or if my "white cloud" came through, but many nights I didn't get called after 10pm or so.

My last call was on Wednesday.  I rounded with my team in the morning and in the antepartum room there were three women pregnant with twins.  All were doing well, none were in labor (although all three had come in with contractions at some point in time, and we planned to induce one that was post-term), and it gave me a chance to provide some teaching to the interns on one of my favorite topics.  I joked with them that this was actually quite timely, since I was giving the lunch time lecture that day on Twin Management.  It was a nice practical application.  Around 5pm I got my first call.  One of the ladies pregnant with twins had shown her self to actually be in labor, and her twins were both breech.  So up I went to the hospital and pulled out two beautiful babies via C-section, one boy and one girl, both by their feet (although the girl kept trying to come out arm first).  What a deal, I thought...a 25 minute surgery resulting in two healthy babies!

Three hours later I got my next call.  The mom with twins who we had induced that morning was fully dilated.  Unfortunately, she had been so for several hours and the first baby was not yet delivered.  I came up to assess the situation and decided she too needed a C-section.  Back to theatre, where two little girls emerged into the world, one head first and one feet first.  Another 25 minutes, another two healthy babies.  That was my last call for the night.  How blessed am I to have this job?  Less than an hour of work and two simple surgeries resulted in four babies.  That's a good return for my work. :)