A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
Ironically, just the day before Emily gave birth, my class was discussing the growth of world Christianity and demographic changes. We read a chapter of Philip Jenkins’ popular book, The Next Christendom, which looks at how Christianity will grow in the 21st century because of large, growing countries with majority Christian populations, like Congo, Brazil and the Philippines. Taiwan’s birthrate is among the lowest in the world, so this discussion met with some anxiety. I find that often my older teachers were one of four or six siblings, but I don’t know any Taiwanese of my generation with three children. A country that grew from around 3 million people in 1900 had nearly 23 million by 2000, but will probably be smaller by a fair fraction in 2100. This means that a family church that in the previous generation often had 20 or 30 children might today have 5 or 6. Congregations are aging with the society, and they aren’t sure they like it. Taiwan is grappling with what its future will look like, with how to balance an aging population and a love of children. This is probably a good trend for one of the most densely populated countries on earth, but it provides ample opportunity for reflection. In class we read some humorous slogans for a national poster competition to encourage people to have children and talked about theology and the family and how family changes have affected Christian growth in different places.
The slogan that cracked me up the most was幸福很簡單,寶貝一,二,三!! “Happiness is very simple: babies one, two, three.” (It rhymes in Chinese.) Emily and I were thinking of ourselves as a “two kid” family, so when we heard we were going to have twins, in addition to our toddler, it shook up our world. On Friday, October 29, at just over 35 weeks, Emily gave birth to Eva Helen and Eli William, taking our family from three to five members. They came into the world weighing just over five pounds and moved immediately to the NICU, where they’ll be for at least this week. They are both well and are receiving great care and a lot of attention.
In Taiwan there are many customs surrounding birth. Traditionally, there’s a “Month of Sitting,” where the woman drinks hot liquids and soups and avoids strenuous activity. As we sit in our room, we can often hear our neighbor’s mother-in-law instructing her on which soup will be good for replacing blood or what might be good for developing her milk or helping her recover. Taiwanese are often horrified that American mothers do things like chew on ice during labor or shower soon after giving birth.
The babies’ early arrival threw us off our normal schedule, but in the long run we may see it as a very good thing. From the time Emily’s water broke, we’ve been reliant on neighbors and friends. Lulu, the wife of a teacher, met us at the hospital and helped me fill out the forms in Chinese twice, once for each twin, and to navigate the different administrative departments. A teacher, Tsong-Sheng, drove us to the hospital, even turning around when we realized we’d forgotten an important document. Yak-Hwee, our Singaporean colleague and friend, stayed with our toddler Sam the first night, and then Sam stayed the next night with another teacher and friends, Shang-Jen, Mei-Lun and I-Hung Chen. People have also written encouraging notes, dropped off little presents and showed kindness in many ways. The hospital where Emily gave birth is very close to the church we often attend in Shilin, “Famous Mountain Presbyterian Church.” So on the Sunday after the babies’ arrival, the pastor, pastor’s wife, an elder and several of the young people came to see us and pray for us. Co-workers have visited several times, and once we had more than a dozen visitors in the room, with friends from the General Assembly, seminary and church all visiting. Emily’s parents arrive on Sunday, but in the meantime we’re very grateful for the support people have already given us. We’re often aware of how much we receive here.
Although we are on a short break from language school, we are also getting a lot of language practice in an area we do not know so well. We are learning words like “incubator,” “injector,” “blood pressure,” and “wheelchair.” They’re not words that regularly appear in daily conversation, and yet they are now vitally important to us. We are home now and will hopefully bring the twins home in the coming days. By all accounts, our older son, Sam, is handling the transition well, although he has yet to meet his siblings.
We’re grateful to have a good community, excellent medical care and insurance. Nonetheless, it’s still a bit terrifying to take on such responsibility, seeing a daughter and a son born. Pray for the little ones entering this world by the thousands and millions, for those tubed and tied and struggling to learn to breathe and eat. Thank those who deliver them, care for them, protect them and help them. Pray also for the parents who want nothing so much as to do right by them.
(Emily, Jonathan, Samuel, Eva and Eli)
P.S. pictures of the two are up at our photo page, which we plan to update regularly.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153