Emigration As In The Bible: To Run Or Not?

Editor’s note: In the last year or so, many Christians have begun to consider leaving China and making a life elsewhere. One Shanghai pastor who observed the phenomenon wrote this pastoral letter to his congregation to help guide them as they decide whether or not they should leave. This is the second section of that pastoral letter; the first section can be found here.

In this section, “Chariot of Fire” points Chinese Christians to the Bible and its examples of believers who left their homes and went to a new land. He is personally unwilling to say whether or not safety calls for Christians to leave China, but instead points Christians to biblical principles found in the stories of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the Exile to Babylon, the Incarnation, and the Book of Acts. This translation has been edited and condensed from the original for both clarity and length.


The Situation

Many people in Shanghai are now thinking about emigration, because they think things are getting worse. Of course, different people have different opinions. But please consider: are things truly getting desperate? In addition to the economic situation, it is also important to think about the larger environment. I fully understand Christians in Ukraine who have chosen to leave their homes and flee for the safety of their families and themselves. In the face of a full-scale Russian invasion, that is a perfectly understandable choice.

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“The situation has gotten worse. Because of this, do we have a biased judgment magnified by inner fears? Or do we possess more information that leads us to believe things have become so critical that we need to emigrate elsewhere for the sake of our personal safety?

My question is: are we in a similar situation? The situation has gotten worse. Because of this, do we have a biased judgment magnified by inner fears? Or do we possess more information that leads us to believe things have become so critical that we need to emigrate elsewhere for the sake of our personal safety? I cannot answer this question; I am in the midst of considering it myself. However, I hope believers will take a more neutral view of the current situation.

Counting the Costs

Since this is a matter of wisdom, people inevitably think about the costs and benefits of this choice. People are biased, and choose what they want to believe. Humans have blind spots and choose to believe only in the benefits of one choice, while ignoring or not considering the costs. A wise person, however, will not do this.


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As someone who lived overseas for some time, I know the challenges of living in a foreign country. It is not easy to integrate into the community of another country, including the church in other countries. Looking back on our time overseas, we had a relatively smooth integration, but there were still many challenges. We have also talked to other Chinese, who had a more difficult time integrating into society.

But emigration is not only a geographical uprooting; it is also a relational uprooting. Although some relationships can be maintained through the Internet, that is different than living alongside one another. That is a cost of emigration. There is also a financial cost. Moving from one country to another requires certain resources. This should be considered, so you do not put yourself in a situation where you might not be able to make ends meet.

Many people emigrate because they are dissatisfied with the status quo of society and want an easy way out. But the reality is it is not easy to live anywhere. Going to a foreign country can mean even more hard work in order to make ends meet. This is reality; I do not want emigrating believers to entertain unrealistic, idyllic fantasies.

Biblical Emigration

When thinking about emigrating, you should start with the Bible, which has many emigrants. I will cite a few typical examples to illustrate some important principles in this regard.

Abraham

Abraham left Haran at age 75 when God commanded him to go. Because of God’s leading, Abraham left his family and home. Hebrews tells us Abraham did not see what God promised until his death. Abraham’s migration was from Ur, a more developed place and the birthplace of Babylonian civilization, to Canaan, a more “hopeless” place.

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“When thinking about emigrating, you should start with the Bible, which has many emigrants.

Abraham’s migration shows God’s guidance and Abraham’s faith, which led Abraham to believe God’s promised land was better than the Mesopotamia plain and the Jordan Valley, which stretched richly as far as the eye could see. Faith gave Abraham peace as he believed in God’s goodness and faithfulness, even though he did not see the promise fulfilled. Faith also made Abraham willing to submit to God’s leading.   

The Exodus

The next famous biblical migration was that of the entire nation of Israel, when Jacob’s whole family went to Egypt to escape the famine. (This is an interesting example that shows emigration is an option in an emergency.) However, I want to focus on Israel’s return from Egypt to the Promised Land. After Israel was in slavery for 400 years, God was gracious. Through Moses’s leadership, he brought them out of Egypt. For Israelites of that time, Egypt was their “home,” the place they were born and raised. Egypt was also rich. This is why later, in the wilderness, the Israelites grumbled it would be better for them to go back and be slaves in Egypt.

God told Moses to bring the Israelites back to Canaan to bless them, but the Israelites did not believe this. Again, we see the importance of faith. God returned Israel to the Promised Land so they could be witnesses of his glory. The emigration back to Canaan was not only to bless Israel, but also for the glory of God himself.

The Exile

The next emigration was a tragedy. After Israel was divided into a northern and southern kingdom, the northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, and the southern kingdom was destroyed by Babylon. The entire nation was taken into captivity in Babylon, a foreign land. This was a forced migration. Obviously, the people were reluctant. But this captivity was God’s judgment and discipline. In that foreign land, Israel was reminded of the beauty of the Promised Land, the consequences of breaking the covenant, and of God’s holiness.

Although this emigration was unpleasant, it was necessary. Israel had fallen into idolatry and forgotten the true Sovereign who had real power. God used that exile to discipline Israel so they would desire God’s kingdom, God’s holiness, and God’s glory instead of their own.

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“In the Bible, there are a few key factors when emigration is pictured: faith, God’s glory, love, spreading the gospel, and the expansion of God’s kingdom.

The Incarnation

The greatest emigration in the universe was the incarnation of the Son of God himself. Although he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself to come into this world. His migration was made out of self-sacrifice and love so he might bring salvation.

The Acts of the Apostles

The disciples who followed Jesus also imitated their Savior. In Acts, the disciples were persecuted and scattered. But that emigration was for the sake of spreading the gospel and fulfilling Jesus’s command and will: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The entire book of Acts revolves around this verse.

In Acts, we see the disciples emigrated for the sake of spreading the gospel, for the glory of God, and out of trust. In the Bible, there are a few key factors when emigration is pictured: faith, God’s glory, love, spreading the gospel, and the expansion of God’s kingdom.

Finally, the book of Revelation points us toward the final consummation of salvation, when we are given our eternal home and no longer need to wander and migrate. In that day, we will live forever in the best place of all: the holy city of Jerusalem, where God himself dwells among us.


Chariot of Fire is a pseudonym for a house church pastor in Shanghai.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray that believers considering emigration will have wisdom to judge the times and to consider God’s leading on their lives.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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