Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can Christians Emigrate?

There are some Christians who take the position that one should never leave the country they were born in. Their argument takes the position that if you were born in a particular nation, the Lord intends for you to stay in that nation. For example, if God caused us to be born in Malaysia, it must be because this is where God has called us to serve Him and we should not move out.

Another argument against emigration states that the Scriptures specifically discourages ‘emigration’, through Jeremiah 29:5–7. It was at a time after the Babylonians had deported a large number of Israelites as punishment for rebellion. Many of the Israelite exiles in Babylon were unhappy in a foreign land where they had little citizenship rights, and would have emigrated back to Judah given the first chance. But God asked them to “build houses…plant gardens…marry and have sons and daughters…seek the welfare of the city to which I carried you…pray to the Lord for it…”

A utilitarian argument claims that emigrations results in a brain drain of some of the best and brightest and the consequential damage to the economy and society. The damage also affects the church because the people who left could have been playing key roles in the Church in Malaysia. This argument further extends that emigrating only solves the problems for oneself and his/her family, but does not solve the problem for the nation, the Malaysian Church, and in particular, for those who are too poor and unqualified to have the means to leave. By leaving, we leave the country and the Malaysian church in a state of even greater need than before because often, it is precisely those who leave who have the training, resources and ability to alleviate the needs of the country and the Church.

However, I would like to propose a counter argument to the question, "Can Christians emigrate?" My view, based on missiological and biblical perspectives, God's sovereignty in history and God's leading to safety, is that Christians can emigrate out of their nations.

Missiological and Biblical Perspective
From a Missiological and Biblical point of view, God's perspective is global. In the Old Testament, God is the God of all creation and of all nations. From Genesis 1 when God created man and woman, He gave them the social mandate of replenishing the earth and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it...." v.28 All people of the earth, from every nation, tribe, language comes from Adam and Eve. After the great global flood, Noah's sons comprising Shem, Ham and Japheth who themselves had sons after the flood (Gen. 10:1) were commanded by God to migrate and populate the earth. The Table of Nations (Gen. 10) recorded their names and the regions they were to occupy and the Bible recorded that "From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood." (Gen. 10:32)

Incidentally when they had one language and decided to settle in the plain of Shinar and build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, God came down and confused their language and scattered them from there over all the earth (Gen.11:4,9).

As Christians we are God's family and community on earth and our perspective have to be global. Galatians says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) Similarly, in the New Testament, God's evangelistic and social mandate is global. The Great Commission is Global and Jesus says "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mk. 16:15) In the Early Church, Jesus commanded his disciples to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and "you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judia and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

In Acts 8:1 it took persecution to scatter the believers from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. Even Peter had to have a dream and a divine visitation to break out from his Jewish world to the gentile world by ministering to Cornelius. (Acts 10) It was not until Acts 11 that Early Church believers break their Jewish world into the Gentile world through the Hellenists (Greek speaking Jewish believers) who preached the gospel to the Greeks at Antioch. (Acts 11:19-21)

More than a million Filipinos are working overseas and because of this diaspora, Brother Eddie Villanueva, a brother who is close to me has planted churches in 43 countries of the world besides those in Philippines and in countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Israel, where they are the biggest church there. Currently the Jesus Is Lord Church comprises of more than 3 million members worldwide. Can it be that God is using Malaysians, the Filipinos and other Asian nationals as a new wave of modern missions? Like the Greek speaking Jews (Hellennists) to the Roman world, God is using them as a bridge to other cultures and nations.

It must be noted that the Great Commission was not given to a select few (apostles and those in full time ministries) but to all disciples.

God's Sovereignty in History
Abraham was asked by God to leave the Ur of Chaldeans "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the Land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Gen. 12:1-3.

Those who are against emigrating would use this verse and argue that for Abraham to migrate out of Ur to an unknown place is acceptable because he was moving from security to insecurity, in other words, he was moving to a worse place in obedience to God. However, I beg to differ because Abraham have the hope that he will be blessed and become a great family compared to where he was. Similarly, the intention of those who emigrate is to move to a better place, a place of great promise by God.

Another biblical reference that is quoted by those who are against emigration is Jeremiah 29:5-7 where God asked those who were in exiled after the Babylonian captivity to "build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage; so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of that city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

My response is that this verse refers to God's people in a foreign land. This is a point in time after they have emigrated and are living in a land they were not born in. If God was against emigration, then He might as well tell them to pack up for He would raise another Moses that will tell the Babylonian King "to let my people go". But here, God in His divine will believed that His people could be the agency for nation transformation in that foreign land because He is the God of all nations. In other words, if you emigrated, this verse could apply to you to mean that you should settle down, marry and have children in that foreign land.

You could be like a Joseph in that foreign land. Joseph did not ask to be taken to a foreign land of Egypt and to be sold as a slave by his own brothers. Yet, while becoming the next in command to pharaoh in Egypt he not only blessed the nation with a God given economic anointing, that enabled them to survive the famine which swept throughout the entire region, but he was also able to bless his family and save them from famine. (Gen. 37-47)

God's Leading to Safety
In Matthew 2:13-18, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to take baby Jesus and Mary and escape to Egypt because Herod was going to search for the child to kill him. Thus, they (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) emigrated to Egypt for a number of years until the death of Herod before they could returned.

Demos Shakarian related in his book "The Happiest People on Earth" how the Lord led them by a vision of a map of America from Armenia to the United States. Those who followed the Lord's leading survived and many who remained behind were killed during a period of ethnic cleansing. Later he prospered in business and founded the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship.

God may lead some people to leave their nation for a period of time for their safety. When God warns his people this way, who are we to question His leading to those people? Are we willing to be responsible for their children's and their children's children future when such calamity strikes them at the worst or when many of their rights as citizens are taken away because we persuaded them to stay?

In 2 Kings 8:1 the prophet Elisha even commanded the Shunammite woman whose son he restored to life to "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years." Why not stay put? Why did God encourage that woman to go away for a seven year period? At least Brother Diwa Guinigundo, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines was wise to encourage his fellow citizens to go abroad to study and work, to gain experience and expertise and one day come home to develop the nation of Philippines. He realized that the country could not absorb them for the time being, but in the near future perhaps things would have changed both in economic and political terms to absorb such talents.

In conclusion, the position of the Latter Rain Church (LRC) with reference to those who are in Malaysia is that there are three segments of people, all are called by God and have different roles to play in the days ahead.

A. Called to stay
There will be many people that God may call to stay in Malaysia to do His work here. There will be those who are called by God to bring righteousness and justice to Malaysia and they should stay and be involved in nation building. In Sarawak, we, the LRC plan to plant and build church buildings for 100 churches over the next 10 years. Those who are called to stay need to be true to their calling to do His work in Malaysia.

B. Called to emigrate for a season
There will be those who are called to emigrate for a season and the duration of this season can be as short as a few years or as long as a few decades. This can be for any combination of reasons including religious freedom, career opportunity, better quality of life, education for their children, health care, or calling to transform that nation. Just as the Lord is a good shepherd leading Abraham to a land of promise, in a similar way, He can divinely lead others to a land of promise for their lives and their family. When the time is right, the Lord may call them back to Malaysia.

C. Called to emigrate permanently
Like the Celts of Ireland from the 5th to the 12th century A.D. and the Moravians of Europe during the time of young John Wesley, where whole families and communities were involved in missions, spreading the word of God, it is my desire to see LRC members be missionaries to other nations of the world. Today even more so I see the urgency to go to other nations to plant churches and also to be God's vehicle for nation transformation. Countries that God has used in the past as missionary nations like Britain, U.S.A. and Australia are becoming more and more secular, godless nations. We have a debt to pay by bringing the fire, passion, and power of God back into their nations to turn it around for God's kingdom.

The Latter Rain Church will support all three of these segments of people with different callings of God on their lives. We will pray, support and work alongside them in ministry, whether they are called to stay in Malaysia or emigrate to other nations. God's destiny for your life could be different from others and we will be supportive of it.

This paper was published HERE.