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 first section of that pastoral letter. In this section, the pastor clarifies that the decision to emigrate is not a matter of sin, but calls for much wisdom. He begins to lay out several principles which he believes Christians should lean on to guide them as they think about their future.
This translation has been edited and condensed from the original for both clarity and length.
I am writing because, recently, many believers have asked: “to run or not to run?” Should they emigrate from China or work abroad? Because of the recent Shanghai lockdown and the negative news that has broken out in many places across the country, many people have become increasingly disillusioned with our society. Many desire to leave this bad situation. It is inevitable that Christians, who are caught in this same tide, will also ponder such options.
One Chinese website had many entries on the run tide. One entry called “What Is Run?” had more than 8 million hits. A netizen responded to that post saying, “Chinese young people have three choices: roll, lie, or run.”
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Because so many members of our church are concerned about how to think about emigration and whether or not they themselves should emigrate, I have written down some thoughts to admonish and guide. I pray the Lord will guide all of us.
In today’s society, many people have two basic premises when they think about leaving China.
First, they want to immigrate to a more developed country. Shanghai is cosmopolitan, and is one of the best cities in China. Many people are considering emigration because they are disappointed or despairing about the city and the nation. People want to move out of China, to someplace better than Shanghai.
Second, those who are able to consider emigration as an option, by default, have the ability and resources to do so. Not everyone has the “freedom” to choose such a path.
Not a Sin Issue; a Wisdom Issue
It is important to clarify: emigration is not a sin, but a matter of wisdom. Christians cannot judge or despise other Christians who choose to emigrate.
At the same time, every Christian who is considering leaving the country should, out of godliness, carefully consider which choice is the best way to honor God and live a godly life. Do not be too hasty. Instead, think about the essence of the law: love God, love others. Root yourself in God’s word; pray persistently; ask for counsel from church members; and be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart, especially any hidden motives. He does this as you quietly meditate and pray in God’s presence. We must be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, for he often helps us see, urging and encouraging us to seek God’s glory and love others. But we must also be alert to temptation, for the human heart is deceitful above all things. We must come to God honestly and ask him to help us see the true fears and desires in our hearts.
Each person and family has their own unique situation. Some worry about their children, because they see the increasingly dire situation in public education. They don’t want their children to be brainwashed, but to receive a good education. After losing their personal freedom during the lockdown and witnessing the Xuzhou woman in chains and the violence in Tangshan, others long for safety and freedom. Some people oppose government ideology and totalitarian oppression and want to live in a more democratic society with rule of law. Some, especially those with special health needs, see the limited and deteriorating environmental, air, water, and medical conditions. They are considering countries with more abundant resources. Still others want to pursue careers overseas because the economy here continues to worsen. Finally, there are those who simply want a more comfortable and enjoyable life.
The point is: do you want to emigrate and move abroad because you are trusting God? Or do you want to escape a difficult situation? You might answer that it’s hard to say. If that is your answer, then now is not the right time to decide. There are still too many things you have not considered.
If you know you are driven by avoidance and yet still want to emigrate, you are free to make that decision. In the end, you are accountable to God. While this is not a sin issue, heart motives are more important to God than outward behavior. If you believe emigration comes from godly motives, then be bold and trust God’s leading.
Still, allow me to make some more thoughtful points to help you see what godly purpose means.
Motives are not the only thing to consider; principles are also important. In matters of wisdom, it’s easy to make excuses and say that any choice is right. Yet often obvious, biblically clear principles are overlooked. The general outline of the law is to love God and love others. If I emigrate, am I considering the rest of my responsibilities? If I skip out on my responsibilities so I can achieve my desired goals, then, clearly, this is not God’s will.
For example, am I concerned about spiritual growth? Have I fully considered whether there are good churches that can shepherd me if I emigrate? Has God given me a burden to bless others in my current church? When you leave a job, you prepare in advance for the transition of responsibilities so the process will be smooth. In the church, you should consider whether God has entrusted you with responsibilities that are not yet ready to be handed over. Ought you to serve awhile longer? God undoubtedly leads us to a church specifically so we can edify one another and equip the saints. It is not that we cannot grow without others – for God causes us to grow – but that God wants us to commit to a community.
The core family should not be separated. If a couple is separated for a long time, this is a hindrance to the marriage and can lead both parties into temptation. If the cost of emigration is the sacrifice of family time and long periods of separation, this is a sign of God’s hindrance.
Do your parents need care? Each situation is different. Some have healthy parents who do not need financial help. [In China, adult children are expected to provide financially for their parents.] But some parents need a lot of companionship and care. Our generation is full of only children. For us, the responsibility of supporting our parents, providing for them financially, and accompanying them emotionally is unavoidable. Have we thought about this?
Some of those considering leaving do not have the means to do so themselves. However, if their parents support them financially, emigration becomes an option. Yet the Bible clearly says we should leave our parents. When we become adults, we are to be financially independent. Our parents may be willing to give, but God does not call us to spend their money however we please. Instead, we must honor them and consider their good. My parents are reasonable, and do not ask for the return of their money [i.e. the money they spent raising him and investing in his education], so there is no conflict. But this is not a good starting point. A good starting point is always: how can I love others?
A wise parent understands boundaries, and knows the best blessing they can give their children is to teach them to take responsibility for their own lives. Think about this biblically. If your closest family does not support your decision to go abroad, this is within God’s sovereignty. Submit to it.
Our theology does not advocate looking for suffering; Christians should not actively seek out suffering. But, when the situation deteriorates, that is the time to test our hearts, and challenge ourselves to love God and love our neighbor.
Chariot of Fire is a pseudonym for a house church pastor in Shanghai.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christians considering emigration to have God’s leading and biblical perspective as they consider.