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.
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.
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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.