Geo Roncy talks to Seban and Sheena, parents of seven children, on their choice to be open to a big family, on Seban’s commitment to the Music Ministry and total surrender to God’s providence.

Sebastian Andrews (Seban) and Sheena live in Houston, Texas. They migrated to the US fifteen years ago and lived in New Jersey till recently. Seban is a full time music minister and Sheena works as a nurse practitioner in Texas Children’s Hospital. They have seven children, Hannah (high school freshman), Joanna (7th grade), Sarah & Emma (6th gr), Ava (3rd gr), Noah (4yrs) and Maria 8 months.

Can you share about your initial encounter with Christ and the Jesus Youth Movement?

Seban: I grew up in a traditional Catholic family that was very involved in the local parish. Naturally I was an alter server and was active in Sunday School and church related activities. I got involved with the Christeen Ministry as a teenager and in turn Jesus Youth movement. At a young age I was aware of my talent in music and found joy in using it for Christ. As I grew my relationship with Jesus deepened and Jesus Youth played a major role in it. I took a decision to sing only for God and He has blessed me to be faithful to it. Later I became part of the Rex Band and have enjoyed being a member of the Rex Band family and ministry for the past twenty years. Early on, I started supporting various charismatic retreats through my music and found my special call in it. I still continue to do that as my personal ministry and Jesus Youth movement has been very supportive of that.

Sheena: I was introduced to Jesus Youth by a friend, Rani, who is still my best friend. She took me to the Jesus Youth prayer group at Kottayam Medical College,Kerala, South India, while I was a first year BSN student. I met a lot of like-minded people there and encountered Christ through them, which was strengthened when I attended a Charismatic retreat the same year. I grew in faith and personal relationship with Christ through the movement while I was in college.

What aspect about the Jesus Youth movement captured your heart and made you want to be part of it?

Seban: In the Jesus Youth movement I met a group of people who were burning with love for Jesus and the desire to attain souls for Him. I wanted to be part of that group and we all were ready to sacrifice anything for Jesus Christ.

Sheena: I see Jesus Youth as the time-tested Catholic youth movement, which is a work of the Holy Spirit. What attracted me as a young girl was the informal nature and welcoming spirit. Jesus Youth, over the years, took me on a spiritual journey that I see as God’s plan for my life and family.

How do you work as a family for the kingdom of God?

Seban: I made it clear to Sheena very early on that the ministry was my first priority in life. I was sure about my call to serve Him through music ministry. This helped us to stay focused and adjust our lives to the demands that came with it and be flexible. We have experienced through so many instances how God provides for everything we need just because we said yes to that call.

Sheena: I see Seban’s music ministry as our family’s mission. I support him by working full time and managing kids and house while he is away. Although I realised being married to Seban meant not having him at home all the time, I learned to offer the additional demands on me as loving sacrifice to God and not to complain about it. And we see God return that love in several folds in every step of the way.

What was the inspiration for a big family?

Sheena: I loved kids so much as a young girl and longed to be a mother. But we experienced a period of infertility because of my polycystic ovarian disease. But God healed me through the hands of the late Dr. Sr. Marcellus who was a prominent pro-life doctor at that time. This helped us put into perspective that parenthood was a call and God-given gift. So we decided to be open to as many children God willed to give us.

Seban: We believe the number of children you want to have is a personal choice and decision you make with God as the head of your family. God prepared us before each child was conceived, either with a strong desire for a baby or a specific message. It was like he was waiting for our permission to give us a child.

How did God help you through the medical complications in pregnancies?

Sheena: Each of my pregnancies had different challenges like preterm labor, six C-sections, pre-eclampsia, etc. But God kept His promise each time by blessing us with a healthy outcome for mother and baby. This kept us assured that God was in control of our lives and gave us the courage to stick with Him forever. As a nurse practitioner in the NICU, I see every possible complication in pregnancies like mine. I have been questioned and ridiculed for the choices I’ve made being a medical person, by my fellow workers and obstetricians. But because God is the center of our life and family and because He is faithful we have been proved not wrong in standing for a big family.

Can you share specific ways you have been led by God in saying yes to Him?

Seban: After six children all through C-sections, we were wondering if God would want us to have another child. But we were given a message through a spiritual leader that God was planning to give us a seventh child.

Sheena: During the period of infertility, while praying for a child, I heard the story of Hannah in the Old Testament praying and crying for a child, one day during mass. I grew closer to Hannah, hence our first daughter’s name is Hannah. When Seban told me about the message, I had a Thomas moment, I wanted a personal sign to confirm it. So I kept praying and looking for it. A few months later, during Holy Week readings I heard Hannah’s story again. This time she was back in the Temple with Samuel and singing. She said, the barren woman will bear seven sons (1Sam 2:5). At that moment the Holy Spirit clearly led me to trust this as God speaking to me. A few months later we conceived our seventh child, Maria.

How do you manage work, family responsibilities and the movement?

Sheena: It is a balancing act, it is always a work in progress. We prioritise things so that nothing comes before responding to our call to God. We try to divide and conquer the family responsibilities. One of us tries to be home all the time. We help each other out beyond the traditional father/mother division of housework.

Seban: Devotion to Mother Mary has an important place in our faith and family life. We both feel her presence and protection in our day-to-day life. Just as how a child reaches the father for his needs through the mother, we also have that shortcut through Mother Mary.

What are the challenges you face in dealing with these different responsibilities? What do you do to overcome those challenges?

Seban: The challenges: Social/peer pressure (both kids and parents), Overcrowded schedules, financial struggles.

The one parenting principle we live by is, we are called to do the best in whatever situation we are placed. We try to understand each other’s limitations and also the limitations of the children, and try not to push beyond that. We limit extra-curricular activities of the kids to whatever they are really interested in doing. We give family prayer, church and Jesus Youth activities priority over other things. Children have assigned house chores, but when they have a busy day we help out. We make the best use of what the church and Jesus Youth movement has to offer in raising our kids by encouraging them to participate in church activities and Jesus Youth programmes.

Sheena: When Seban is away, I try to manage by myself and kids pitch in. The Jesus Youth friends around us have helped a lot in those situations. When I work a few days in a row, Seban helps with cooking, caring for younger ones and managing the house routine. We have a great partnership. Although we have to care for a large family with limited income, God has shown His great providence by giving us what we need, when we need it.

How do you control the children’s technology and media use?

Sheena: It is really hard to completely avoid technology in this day and age especially in the background of the pandemic, when most learning is through technology. Our goal is to equip the children with good decision making skills in an online environment or social media. For older children, we delayed giving personal phones as much as we could and used parental controls.We also delay their having personal social media accounts. As they prove to be responsible users we ease the controls. For younger children, we try to limit screen time and encourage outdoor play. But the key is to have good communication with them. We make sure they know what our expectations are, and we reward them for the positive behavior. When they watch a movie or play a game we try to sit down with them and try to understand the take away from those. We encourage them to watch Catholic movies and shows.

We also try to be not too rigid with the rules. Because they go to public schools and get exposed to all kinds of ideologies and life choices, and the pressure is to prove you’re a ‘cool’ kid, we set limits they can achieve without hurting their social and emotional wellbeing. We try to explain what the reasons are behind each rule and expectation.

Seban: Another parenting principle we live by is we are co-parenting with God. He is our father as well as our children’s father. Trusting in God as we raise our children and taking one day at a time help us to take the pressure off.

What is your message for young families?

Your life partner is part of God’s salvation plan for you. Marriage is a beautiful sacrament that unfolds over so many years. Your children are not yours to possess, they are God’s gift for you to enjoy, take good care of and lead them to their Heavenly Father.

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