Book of the Month: Healing Hereafter

by Rachel

This month, I have the special privilege of reviewing a book written by a good friend of all the McCropders, Jay Dykstra.  Jay, Eric, and John were all medical students and CMDA members together.  Jay and his family now live in western Michigan, where he works as a radiologist and faithfully supports lots of missionaries.  From what I remember, Jay’s book, Healing Hereafter, came out of the aftermath of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins, where Bell argues against the existence of an eternal Hell.  Jay has worked extensively through the years mentoring high school and college students and has taken this opportunity to compile his thoughts and answers to tons of controversial and common questions raised by many Christians (both new and experienced).  Some of the questions he investigates include “Are children who die automatically guaranteed to go to Heaven?”  “Are we predestined to Heaven or Hell, and what does that mean?”  “Where do believers and non-believers go right after they die?”  “Is Hell eternal?”  “What does a Heaven free of sin mean for things such as free will?”  With admirable thoroughness, Jay spends almost 500 pages addressing these questions.

Let me start by saying that this book is absolutely recommended reading.  I may not necessarily agree with all of the conclusions that Jay comes to (not that he’s wrong, just that some things are hard to know) but the questions he writes to answer are important things for Christians to consider.  He spends some time at the beginning of the book arguing why the response of “God’s ways are higher than my own and I can’t hope to understand them, so they will just stay mysteries and I’m OK with that” isn’t a good way to look at things.  It was a good challenge for me to not just shy away from things that are confusing or uncomfortable and instead examine the evidence in front of me.  That being said, I still maintain that all of our logic is not going to get us to God; just because something “seems logical” to me does not mean that it is true of God, and that God’s infinite being and His infinite wisdom are beyond my complete understanding.

I realized as I was reading this book how many of my beliefs about the afterlife are not necessarily based on the Bible, but instead on what I would like to be the case.  I would like there not to be an Eternal Hell.  I would like that everyone goes to Heaven.  But Jay spends a lot of time reviewing Bible passages to see what is actually contained within on the topics of Heaven and Hell.  And I have to say that some of it was quite surprising to me, a lifelong Bible reader.  There was more than one occasion that I exclaimed out loud, “That’s in the Bible?!” and immediately double checked.  Jay is very thorough and goes over many arguments and counter-arguments as he works through his questions in a logical and systematic manner.  It’s quite a tome, not exactly light reading, but he does include several Cliff’s notes versions in the back, a condensed and ultra-condensed version of his arguments.  You might not like some of the conclusions he comes to, but he has spent a lot of time doing his homework on this and it’s all from the Bible.  Of course, two people can read the same passage and come to two different conclusions, but Jay’s reasoning makes sense.

I’m not much of a theologian.  I like to think in terms of practical and concrete.  I can’t sit down with Jay and have a deeply theological conversation about his conclusions.  But I know that the book helped me examine my beliefs on Heaven and Hell, come to some different conclusions than I had previously, and expand my knowledge of Scriptural teachings.  And on a brief side note, all the proceeds from this book will be donated to various charities supporting orphans, women, and families, so that alone is worth the purchase price. :)


Westgate Mall and Psalm 46

(from Eric)

Here in rural Banga, we are fairly out of touch with international news.  But Saturday, when news trickled in about a shooting in a Nairobi shopping mall, we had to find out more.

As it currently stands, it would seem that a group of armed gunmen from Al-Shabbab in Somalia, walked into Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killed more than 30 people, and are currently still in a stand-off with police.  Expatriates are among those dead.  Reports include a story of letting all of the self-identified Muslims among the captives go free, before starting to shoot the others.

We spent eight hours on a marathon shopping trip at Westgate Mall our first day in Kenya in 2009.  We've been there dozens of time.  We were there seven weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, eating an omelette in the upstairs Java House restaurant, before enjoying some frozen yogurt.  We would buy groceries there.  Baby clothes.  Phones.  They have an awesome indian restaurant.  It's quite a luxurious place, always quite a surreal feeling being there after months in rural Kenya.

The pictures of evacuated victims are deeply troubling.  It's hard to be much closer to home.  That storefront, that entrance, that book section in the Nakumatt store.  That bronze elephant statue that the victim is hiding behind.


This morning, sitting on a wooden stool outside our front door, I'm reading Psalm 46.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."  It's an amazing description, to choose to highlight the "very present-ness" of the help of God.

"Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam."  I wonder what made the first ancient Jewish writer of these lines say such a thing.  I look out at the mountains across the valley. I picture them being torn into the sky, and launched into a roaring sea.  I feel the trembling that would be my heart, my body.  Nothing is sure.  The mountain under my feet?  What could happen there?

"…we will not fear…"  Really?

Then the image switches from a roaring chaotic sea to a life-giving river and its streams.  "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…God is in the midst of her…God will help her…he utters his voice, the earth melts…The Lord of hosts is with us.  The God of Jacob is our fortress… Be still and know that I am God."

My first reaction to this is to try and reassure everyone (and myself) that we are fine and that these crazy events could happen anywhere and have no relevance to our security.  I want to point out that, though everyone was more concerned about Burundi's security, Kenya has had two major events since our arrival here (the other being the airport fire in August).

But these small and false hopes only give an illusion of help.  They don't bring me a speck closer to the heart of the psalmist, which is quite far from my own heart indeed.

Am I safe because of where I am, because of my own spin on the machinations of international political groups of which I am largely ignorant?  No.  So should I fear because one truly never knows when something like this could happen?  

Or is there a God in the midst of us who lifts his voice and the earth melts?  One who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth?  And if he is with us, then he is a fortress, and the roaring oceans, consuming the mountains, can even become a life-giving stream, making glad the people of the city.

Pray for Nairobi.  Pray for us.  Pray for us all, that our faith would reflect what we proclaim.  Come, Lord Jesus, that our faith would be sight.


Weekend in Buja

One nice feature about living in Banga is that we are pretty close to Bujumbura (only an hour and a half instead of 3 hrs from Buja to Kibuye) but still enjoy all the benefits of being “upcountry”.  Namely, the 10-20 degree temperature difference!  Our team is currently borrowing an 8 passenger Land Cruiser while we wait for our 15 passenger van to arrive from Toyota Gibraltar.  So every weekend, different teammates get a chance to spend the weekend in Buja.  What’s the appeal?  Well...

The Food!  While Bujumbura is no Nairobi (which is no fill in the blank American city), there is still good food to be had, especially when we are on a fixed diet for these 3 months in Banga.  The guesthouse food is good, but my sweet tooth gets restless.  We have been excited to find a brand new French cafe in Buja, called Cafe Gourmand.  It is very reminiscent of our local French bakery, with awesome bread, pastries, smoothies, etc.  We’ve also tried out an Indian restaurant, pizza place, and various other cafes.  One of the little grocery-type stores in town sells ice cream, too, at 50 cents per double scoop.  (we will save the post about grocery stores for another day, perhaps when we are shopping for more food, but I will say that our days of pushing big shopping carts around are mostly in the past)

Ice Cream at Mutoyi

2.  Connecting with the Buja community.  There is a close community of people here in Burundi and it has been fun to get to know some of them, including several we will work with.  On Friday afternoon, Rachel and Carlan were asked to "consult" on an ultrasound problem at Hope Africa's Van Norman Clinic.  While neither of us are boomed technicians, we have enough ultrasound experience that we could trouble shoot a bit.  Afterwards, Dr. Joel Miller gave us a tour of the brand new facilities (Eric and Rachel, during their first trip here in 2010, watched the ceiling/second story floor being built, so it's fun to see the project completed!).  We probably won't be working here much, but who knows?

Lab facilities at the VNC 

3.  Fun times...being able to do things we weren't necessarily expecting to do in Burundi. For example, we stayed with a great family who had three little kids...and a slip and slide from the US!  Given the higher temps in Buja, Maggie and Ben sure did enjoy a chance to spend the afternoon in the water.  Carlan and Alyssa played some frisbee with a big group of Ultimate players, and we all enjoyed a French-English church service on Sunday.  I'm sure we will be able to explore many parts of Buja in the months to come.


Somewhere Between the Iron Age and the Information Age

by Carlan

Walking down the dirt path that somehow exists more or less in the same place it has for generations despite being washed out annually, I cross three women climbing the hill. They chat amiably one with another in their formerly-bright colored wraps, now dusty with time and toil. They carry hand-fashioned hoes over their shoulders - a broad metal blade with a smooth eucalyptus pole inserted through an eyelet, held in place by a single nail. This is farming as it has been practiced for a thousand years. But when one woman pulls a cellphone out from some hidden fold of her garment, we are instantly transported to the 21st Century. The Iron Age meets the Information Age in Burundi.

The little ironies abound. A young woman in skinny jeans and a second-hand designer blouse carries a big basket of vegetables on her head shares the road with a girl in her school uniform carrying a laptop bag in the same fashion. Villagers struggle to have reliable, clean water but somehow always have Coca-Cola available for purchase. A truck that looks like an early 1960s model pulls up and twenty bright-faced soldiers toting shiny AK-47s pile out. The ancient language handed down from Bantu predecessors now includes words like "ordinaturi" for computer (ordinateur in French) and "Internet". We live in a paradox.

But isn't it true that God has placed us exactly here? Not just geographically and vocationally, but something else. I read David's description of the wicked disappearing like grass that burns up and I think of the traditional Burundian method for preparing a field for planting. I read of a Jewish carpenter washing his disciples feet and recall that peculiar reddened wash that comes off my own feet every time I take a shower. Because our God is eternal, our faith is ageless - somehow at home in modern, medieval, classical and ancient epochs alike. And as I sit typing on my computer by candlelight, I settle into a durable stillness that though times may change, our God remains.


The Creatures of Banga

by Jess Cropsey

We’ve enjoyed interacting with the nuns, children, and other folks that we see on a regular basis at Banga.  We have also had the opportunity to make acquaintances with some of the local “wildlife”.  Most of these encounters haven’t been as pleasant!    

After our second night at Banga, I woke up with bites around my waist that were eerily reminiscent of our “scabies/bed bugs/we don’t know what” epidemic from Kenya.  I was devastated as the memories of endless laundry, countless applications of permethrin cream, doses of ivermectin, and eventual fumigation of our house came to mind.  Fortunately, John had a conference in Kigali, Rwanda shortly after our arrival and was able to purchase a medical grade mattress cover for our bed.  I am thankful to report that it has successfully suffocated whatever was feasting on me and I’ve had no bites since then.  

Wasps and mice are currently sharing living space with us.  The wasps haven’t really bothered us (other than initially alarming some of the children).  The mice are a little more disruptive since they commence most of their activity at night and we can hear them scurrying around the attics of our apartments.  Many of us are now using ear plugs or sound machines to drown them out.  Our family finally purchased a trap -- the kind where the mice can climb in, but not out.  We caught our first victim within 24 hours.  We’ll see how many of them are up there!  

Just last week, we became aware of a critter called a “jigger”, otherwise known as a sand flea.  These delightful creatures burrow under the skin (usually near your toes) and lays eggs.  In fact, they are famous enough that they are in the 12th lesson of our 1975 Kirundi language study book, even before the introduction of words such as “mother” or “sister”.  Unfortunately, three members of the team have already had personal encounters with them.  Here are Jason & John extracting the egg sac from Micah’s toe.  He wasn’t too thrilled about it, but I have now added a new Kirundi phrase to my vocabulary:  “Umuhungu wanje afise imvunja mu kirenge ciwe.”  (My son has a jigger in his foot.)   

Of course, there are quite a few cows, goats, and chickens around here.  Sammy gets pretty excited about them, which the Burundians find quite amusing.  We have yet to see any dogs or cats.  Having pets when there isn’t enough food for people is a luxury that many here can’t afford.  We hear that rabbit is a tasty treat here.

Flies and spiders (like the "little" guy below) are a common sight.  Fortunately, we are at a high enough elevation here that mosquitos are not a problem.  Rachel saw a snake the other day on the road, but that’s a rare occurrence due to the cooler temperatures. 

A few weeks ago, John, Jason, &  I made a trip to Bujumbura to prepare a container of mostly medical equipment for transport to Kibuye.   Much to our chagrin, we discovered that termites had invaded and really enjoyed the wooden crates that things had been packed in.  They also enjoyed some books that were on there.  The Burundians were a fantastic help in fumigating and cleaning out the container and salvaging most of the items.  We lost a few books, including Tim Keller’s Meaning of Marriage (note below the live termites crawling around in the middle!) but are thankful that damage was minimal.  


Towards a Biblical Rest Ethic

by Carlan

Though I am the seventh generation to be born in the US, I come from a fairly strong German heritage. The Wendlers didn't change their last name in WWI or WWII. Grandpa Wendler was 100% German as is Grandma Wendler. In fact, I am the first non-thoroughbred generation and the first to neither speak nor understand the German language. Though not particularly proud of Germany's propensity in the 20th Century to initiate global conflicts, there are several things I grew up feeling proud of in my patrimony. Who defeated Rome? Germans. Who kicked off the Reformation? A German. Who has the only growing GDP in Europe during the present economic crisis? Germany.

Time-discipline is quintessentially German. I can still remember my dad jingling the keys to get us out the door on Sunday mornings as we headed to church. (Not quite von Trapp family order, but being late was unacceptable.) Another "classically" German value was work ethic. Why was Germany able to dig out after losing two world wars? Hard workers. Why did East Germany bounce back from years of Soviet occupation within a decade? Hard workers. Why does Germany produce the best cars? Hard work. It seemed that working hard was supposed to be part of my genetic makeup.

By God's grace, I have had the opportunity in my three decades to get to know people from various other backgrounds. And as I reviewed attitudes towards work this week while reading "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" by Marva Dawn, I realized that every culture I know prides itself on its work ethic. My Mexican-American neighbor growing up started his own successful air conditioning business and worked long hours on scorching Southern California roofs. My friends of Chinese descent have occasionally referenced how the workers of China have been so much more faithful to work than their leaders have been to lead. Friends from Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Dutch, Italian, British and African descent have all proven to be quite diligent and proud to be hard workers. Even the French boast one of the highest hour-per-hour productivities in the world (despite their 35-hr work week and 90 min lunch breaks). These experiences have conspired to challenge any notion that Germans have the market cornered on hard work.

But this is exactly where a book on sabbath rest is needed, for as a German-American Protestant physician-teacher, my work ethic has been exercised for years, but it feels like starting from square one when asked for my "rest ethic." Though I cannot claim to be any good at ceasing work and celebrating God's goodness and faithfulness one day in seven, I can say that I am excited to plumb the biblical depths for the theology and practice surrounding Sabbath. It seems that God values rest pretty highly too (He put that command ahead of other big ones like "do not commit murder" and "honor your father and mother".) After all, the world's greatest expert on Sabbath was a Jewish-Divine carpenter-healer-preacher-king who already accomplished everything I would ever need done for all eternity, and He invites me to enter into His joy & rest.


Learning a 2nd (or 3rd) language

By Sarah

In my extended time stateside I am putting in my fair share of 'nose in book time'. There is quite a bit of literature in the missions world about missionary kids and since missionary kids are my primary ministry, I figured I would do some reading on my people. Many of these books I have skimmed during my years teaching at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, Jason's Alma Mater (though he graduated a few years times 3 before I arrived to teach). 

In Raising Resilient MKs I was reading a few chapters on language learning for children, a topic that greatly interests me because all of the McCropder kiddos (except Anna) are non-readers and are being exposed to many different phonetic sounds in their language rich acquisition years from French to Swahili to Kirundi to the 44 phonetic sounds of English. I so resonated with the introduction to Second Language Issues for MK's in National Schools.  

"Few missionaries forget the day they arrived on the field.  It generally ranks right up there with their first kiss, the day Kennedy was shot, or learning the truth about Santa, in terms of their recall power.  Often equally accessible in the memory bank of missionaries is the first day of language study.  Regardless of all that mission agencies do to prepare a fledgling missionary, the first encounter with a new language often arrives like a punch or a bucket of cold water, even when one has been forewarned and forearmed."

The McCropders in Banga, Burundi have now been in country for a month and that is certainly worth celebrating!  I'm sure Kirundi continues to hit "like a punch or a bucket of cold water", so please be praying for our team as we, at times, trudge through learning new languages. I continue to work on French from the states and am amazed and grateful at the numerous French speakers who willingly submit themselves to French conversation with me. Language partners is key to language progress. 

  • Pray for our language helpers who so patiently assist and encourage us in our language endeavors.
  • Pray for humility of heart as learning language hits our pride and sense of identity. 
  • Pray for a great sense of humor in language learning. 
  • Pray for encouragement along the route that at times seems to take 2 steps back for every step forward. 

Just for fun:
If you are interested in listening to some Kirundi, let me recommend one of my favorite language learning tools.  www.bible.is has online Bibles in many languages and options for listening.   Listen to John 3 in Kirundi to have an idea what the McCropders sound like during their Kirundi classes.


Back to School in Banga

by Heather

“I like school in English!” and "Please can we have school again tomorrow?"  These are indeed actual quotes from the McCropder children as we have started their first school year here in Burundi. We hope the sentiment continues.

VoilĂ  our temporary school room.  We start school days here with prayer, calendar time, and Bible class all together.

Then the 4-year-olds (Micah, Maggie, and Abigail) work on shapes, colors, letters, and handwriting with Aunt Jessica.  And Elise and Anna have social studies class with me, Aunt Heather.  After those classes, all head outside for recess.
Next Miss Sarah reads to the younger kids while Anna and Elise work on math and language arts.  Note: While I don't feel exactly qualified to teach these 3rd grade subjects, it comforts me that our real elementary school teacher can fill in all the holes of my teaching when she gets here. : )   

Daily home ec class is Anna’s favorite subject.  She likes to sew, sweep, and hand-wash the laundry.

Uncle Carlan rounds out the curriculum with his art class for Anna and Elise on Wednesdays. 

Science-learning is an all-day affair here.  That subject warrants its own blog post at another time. 

For adults and kids alike, learning about life in Burundi is really a primary objective during this time.  Every day, the kids keep exploring this new culture with us.