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Posted on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 1 p.m.

Ann Arbor connection draws three families to mission life in Africa

By Pam Stout

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The McCropder clan, from left to right: Jason, Abi, Heather and Anna Fader; Rachel, Eric and Maggie McLaughlin; John, Elise, Micah and Jessica Cropsey

At first, it was a casual joke. It made sense that four physicians-in-training who happened to all attend the University of Michigan, go to the same church and share an interest in medical mission work would float the preposterous idea that they should join forces on the mission field. But they didn’t seriously believe it would happen.  They completed their medical degrees and went on to specialty training around the world for the next couple of years.   

Then one night in September 2007, John Cropsey (specializing in ophthalmology) and Jason Fader (surgery) decided, as described in their blog, Word and Deed, “that maybe we weren't joking. Maybe there was, in fact, an inexplicable sense of God's call in how three families and four physicians, from three different medical school years, completing training the same year, with compatible life goals, in four different but complementary specialties, happened to meet in the same place and become friends.”

They pulled in Eric and Rachel McLaughlin (family practice and obstetrics and gynecology) and convened at a Global Health Missions Conference in November 2007 to solidify the plan. As the first three-family team to apply to World Medical Mission’s two-year Post-Residency Program, they eventually found placement at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya.  As one of the largest mission hospitals in Africa, Tenwek was one of the only places large enough to accommodate the three surgeons and a family practician and also provide housing for the families. 

Thus the “McCropder” clan (a term combining the McLaughlin, Cropsey, and Fader family names) was formed, and all 11 members - six adults and five young children - made their way to Kenya last fall.

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Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya

Currently the group is a few months into its two-year assignment at Tenwek Hospital, where John Cropsey, Jason Fader, Eric and Rachel McLaughin care for patients and extend their post-specialty training mentored by veteran doctors.  Tenwek provides primary health care to 600,000 people in the area and serves as a referral center for a much larger region, including some traditional ethnic groups. The range of ailments is very broad, since many from the far-reaching areas delay medical care until they are in dire straits. 

The doctors' families are housed in apartments, where Jessica Cropsey and Heather Fader care for their young children and manage the countless responsibilities of family life in a foreign country.  According to Jessica Cropsey via email, the transition has been fairly easy to date. Eight other families with children of all ages are currently stationed at Tenwek. Most school-age children are home schooled, sharing classes to lighten the workload. Cropsey, a certified secondary teacher, helps with middle school math. The high school students attend a boarding school outside Nairobi, about three hours away.

The separation from family has been the greatest challenge, especially during holidays and special family events. Despite e-mail and Skype conversations, Internet connections are inconsistent. This story was compiled via email conversations over several days to work around the eight-hour time difference.  Each family is looking forward to visitors in the next few months.

Yet the opportunities to serve in an area of great need overshadow the negative aspects of the work. The McCropder blog, Word and Deed, chronicles part of the impact these young doctors are making.  Along with everyday family news and observations, they describe stories about such things as removing one teen’s 25-pound tumor, rescuing mothers and babies, and, at times, tragic loss.

Recently John Cropsey traveled with the Tenwek Eye Unit on a surgical expedition to Akot in Southern Sudan. The trip was postponed briefly due to intense tribal clashes, but the team flew in as soon as the fighting subsided. Hundreds of villagers lined up to receive treatment for cataracts and other eye problems. In one week, the team performed 101 sight-restoring surgeries. 

John Cropsey receives a rooster from a grateful patient | Photo courtesy of John Cropsey

Cropsey described the Sudan expedition as “the stuff dreams are made of." He wrote about performing surgery barefoot in the blazing heat, curing a blind grandfather who had never seen his grandchildren, receiving a grateful hug, song and dance from a tribal Spear Master and getting paid in livestock (a beautiful rooster). Not to mention avoiding the boys with AK-47 assault rifles who greeted his plane upon its arrival.

The McCropders certainly wouldn’t have been able to have such experiences had they not chosen to forego a comfortable lifestyle for the adventure of missionary work. The team credits three leaders at Knox Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor for mentoring them through the process: Pastor Bob Lynn, U-M Professor Steve Telian, and campus pastor James Paternoster (affectionately named the “LynnTelNosters”).

Lynn, the church’s pastor in charge of missions, helped coordinate congregational support and will visit the group in Kenya in June. Telian, professor of otolaryngology at the U-M, mentored some of the team members as they navigated medical school and life choices. Paternoster, who grew up as a missionary child like Cropsey and Fader, helped guide their vision of combining multiple skills and talents to make an impact on the developing world.

Knox Presbyterian has continued to provide spiritual and financial support. Describing the commissioning service the church held in September, McLaughlin reflects on their Web site, “One of the things that has been so important to us as a group of families is the idea that we are all coming from one church, sent out from an existing community, and we hope to continue to partner with that community. The church has already contributed a large portion of financial support, and more importantly, prayer and encouragement.”

After the two-year stint in Tenwek is complete, the McCropders are exploring opportunities to continue their work as a team. They aren’t sure where it will lead them, but they know they want to work as a community of families long-term in Africa. They’re thinking big, considering the possibilities of educating African doctors or even starting a new hospital someday, and they want to partner with people of different disciplines - churches, universities, and other organizations - who have a common vision to affect change. 

As Pastor Bob Lynn told this reporter, "The three couples already came to Knox with a passion to serve the last, least, and lost where the world is most broken.  It has been our joy to support, encourage and pray for them as they work out the most strategic way to use their gifts and talents." 

For more information on the McLaughlins, Cropseys, and Faders, visit or

Is your faith community doing something interesting to serve others, either locally or around the world? Contact to share your story. Pam Stout coordinates Faith and Home & Garden coverage for



Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 2:06 p.m.

Wow!!! What an incredible story about an amazing group of people. God bless you all!