A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
It’s hard to believe that our son Samuel came to us three years ago on Good Friday. The night before he was born, when Emily’s water broke, I emailed my short homily to Karen Hernández-Granzen, our pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, and she signed up our friend, David Byers, to read the passage for me for Westminster’s Seven Last Words service. Although I’ve forgotten what I wrote then, the words of Jesus on the cross that I most often remember are those to Mary, “Dear woman, behold your son” (John 19:26) and to John, the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother.” On the cross, Jesus still directed his mother to care for his disciple and friend, John, and he wanted John to care for his mother.
This is one of the signs of Christian community — that we become mothers and sons to those around us, who themselves are often in the midst of suffering. In the hospital with Sam three years ago, before our parents arrived from the Midwest, we were relieved to meet Tekla, a nurse from our church. Tekla assists with traumatic births, so it helped to know that we knew someone who would help if we encountered serious troubles. Often in life when we’ve felt alone we are grateful for the real presence of the church around us and with us. “Behold your mother …”
For us, the biggest challenge of mission work is probably the distance from family. Most of our family has yet to meet the twins, and it’s been a year and a half since they saw Samuel in the flesh. My parents understand this, and they often joke that they did the same thing to their parents when they served in the Congo in the 1970s. Skype and phone calls make life easier, but they’re not quite the same. It’s a real loss and we’re grateful for the communities that nurture them in the States and for our adoptive mothers here in Taiwan.
A few weeks ago we visited one of the congregations in Taipei we love. Sam played in the library (he calls the church “big school” because it’s kind of like his nursery school, but even larger, and he gets 100 percent attention there). Eva and Eli were both passed around and took turns drooling on strangers. We ate a meal without having to hold the babies. We were greeted by familiar faces. Yak-hwee, another teacher at Taiwan Seminary, gave Sam a piece of candy. We talked to Cecelia, who has often been a mother figure for us and helped us understand church life when we first came to Taiwan. We saw Pastor Peter, who always wants to know about Sam and how he’s doing, and who will soon be a father himself, as his wife, Melody, is seven months pregnant. It was nice to be in a gathering of fellow disciples. We’re glad our children are surrounded by people who love them. In Chinese, any older woman becomes an aiyi (aunt) and any man becomes an a-be or a shushu (uncle). Children become brothers and sisters. Often Sam does not know people by name, but he is learning to greet them as family.
It’s often said that the church grows out of the period after Easter, but in a real way it was cemented at Good Friday, as surrogate mother and surrogate son ministered to the dying Christ and to each other. When Jesus himself could not comfort them, he gave his disciples to each other to be the church. The church is never a perfect institution, but at holidays we’re especially grateful that we can always find a congregation that will welcome us. It means a lot to be able to go to a church, even one new to us, and to sing and pray with others, to gather at the cross, and to comfort and be comforted. Theologians have sometimes said that we live on Holy Saturday, the day after the crucifixion and the day before the resurrection. I love the days of Holy Week because they remind us of the deepest mysteries of faith. If Christians are tempted by escapism or defeatism, the cross stands before us as an alternate symbol.
We pray that the beauty and mystery of Easter will be with you in the coming days. If you are missing parents or children, remember that God has entrusted you with people to love. Behold your mother. Behold your son.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153