This article is for all Christians who are thinking about emigrating somewhere else. My fellow OCF returnees, and the current OCFers all over Australia at the moment, would find this especially relevant. While I find most of the points is this article agreeable, I still think that this issue depends a lot on personal convictions. God has many different plans for each one of us. I’m just praying that all of us will be obedient to God by going (or staying) to wherever He sends (or places) us. May His will be done!
Its long, but worth every single minute you soend reading it. Do tell me your personal opinion on this ok?
Should Christians Emigrate?
By Bishop Rev. Dr Hwa Yung
November-December 2006 Issue
HWA YUNG is Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia.
This article in its current form first appeared in the Kairos
publication, “Emerging Church Issues” (October 2006). It is excerpted
and updated by Kairos Research Centre from the original publication,
“Christian Thinking on Emigration” published by Graduate Christian
Fellowship in 1987.
According to the 2001 census, at least 35 percent of Malaysian immigrants to Australia
were Christians. This is a highly disproportionate figure in view of
the fact that Christians form only 9 percent of the Malaysian
This is, of course, part of the wider problem of the emigration of many skilled professionals from the Third World
to the West. The resulting brain drain of some of the best and
brightest, and the consequent damage to the economy and society, is a
The damage is also felt at the church
level. Most of us can easily draw up a long list of people who were or
could have been playing key roles in the Church in Malaysia,
who have left the country over the last 30 years. For those who are
seriously contemplating emigration, the issue is often a sensitive one.
the same time, the issue is not a neutral issue but one that is at its
very heart, moral. Therefore, despite its sensitivity, it needs to be
discussed openly, objectively and frankly. What are the reasons why
some Malaysians would consider emigrating?
The attraction of the West
The first reason is the general attraction of living in the more
prosperous Western world, as all who have experienced living in the
West would know. Higher standards of living, greater efficiency of the
system, amenities of a wealthier society such as social security and
better healthcare, and greater opportunities for jobs and children’s
education, are all part of the package that exerts an irresistible pull
to the West.
Lack of professional fulfilment
Some who are highly intelligent and motivated find that there is no way to achieve professional fulfilment in Malaysia.
Where can a theoretical chemist, a nuclear physicist, a brilliant
pianist and the like, find a happy niche to pursue his or her career
Racial and religious factors
National Economic Policy (NEP) has left many non-Bumiputras feeling
that they do not belong in this country. The resurgence of Islam in the
1970s, and its continuation into the present, has aggravated this sense
of alienation for those who are neither Bumiputras nor Muslims. “Why
stay when we will always be treated as pendatangs and will never be
allowed to fully claim our rights as citizens of the land?” so the
Erosion of confidence
has also been a growing loss of confidence in the ability and integrity
of the government. The many financial scandals, rampant corruption at
all levels of society and the government’s seeming failure to deal with
it, increase in money politics and the struggle for power that led to
this, plus rising crime rate, cause many to fear for the future.
How Some Christians Justify Emigration
the above factors may be good reasons that have led many to consider
emigration, they may not be sufficient reasons in themselves. Many
recognise that these reasons arise out of putting as our top priorities
our own comfort, security, careers and families, something which, in
the final analysis, is rather centred on oneself. Not all would agree
with this but most Christians would. The result is that amongst those
who have emigrated or who are considering emigration, there is often a
feeling of guilt which they rationalise away with the following
“We can serve God anywhere!”
This is the most common argument put forward by those emigrating. On
the surface, it seems a strong argument but problems appear upon closer
examination. It depends on what we mean by “serve.” In the general
sense of “service,” it is true that we can serve God anywhere. But in
Scripture, “service” is linked to need and calling.
example of Paul. He was happily settled in Tarsus when Barnabas pulled
him away to help meet the evangelistic and teaching needs of the church
in Antioch (Acts 11:25–26). Later, when it became evident that there
was a desperate need for workers to evangelise the wider Gentile
Graeco-Roman world, Paul and Barnabas responded to that need (Acts
However, the question of “need” in itself does not
constitute the command to go. There has to be a “call” from God as both
passages indicate. The truth is that there are always needs everywhere,
but we cannot humanly respond to every need.
The Christian thereby
functions on the basis of two principles: “Where or which are the
greater needs?” and “Is God calling me to meet that particular need?”
the first principle to the question of emigration, we immediately
recognise that both spiritually and socio-economically, the needs are
far greater in the Third World than in
the West. As regards the second principle of “calling,” I must confess
that I know of very few people who justify their emigration in terms of
God calling them to specific work abroad.
On the other hand, God in his sovereign wisdom caused us to be born in Malaysia,
and surely it is because this is where God has called us to serve him.
Recognition of this simple truth would mean that we stay unless he
calls us out to another place, like Abraham, or to another area of
service, like Paul.
The fact that emigration invariably means
moving to greener pastures of the West and never to poorer and
spiritually needier countries belies the argument that “we can serve
”The Bible allows emigration”
It is not certain what people mean when they claim that the Bible
allows for emigration. While it is true that Abraham emigrated from Ur,
it was in response to God’s call (Genesis 11:2–12:1). It was not a case
of moving from insecurity to greater security; rather it was exactly
is in fact a passage in Scriptures which specifically discourages
’emigration’, if it may be put that way: 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.
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…”
Properly understood, this passage enshrines
the fundamental principle, that we must learn to trust God’s
sovereignty in history, and where he has placed us, there we are to
remain to pray for and seek the welfare of the land. If this were the
case, then it would be most unwise to claim that “the Bible allows for
”What about the prospects of persecution?”
In the history of the church, emigration as a result of persecution has
often appeared to be the proper course of action to take. But do these
historical facts necessarily justify the emigration movement involving
Malaysian Christians today?
One can hardly describe the present
situation in terms of persecution. Despite certain restrictions by the
government, freedom of religion is still enshrined in our nation’s
And we should certainly pray and work through all
lawful means to help create a social climate in this nation so that the
forces of extremism seeking to remove such constitutional safeguards
would be held in check or removed altogether.
It has to be
admitted that the pressure towards increased Islamisation will
continue. Many are fearful and for some, the fear is too overwhelming
for them to consider staying on.
Factors to be considered:
A QUESTION OF NEED
of the above reasons are valid. But the question is whether they
constitute a sufficient cause for leaving. I have suggested that they
do not because from the Christian point of view, leaving for these
reasons only solves the problems for myself, and perhaps, my family. It
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.
It will mean that in the face of genuine
spiritual and socio-economic needs, which are far greater than those in
the West, we turn our backs and walk away like the priest and the
Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.
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. If this is so, then emigration cannot be a viable
option for the Christian.
As for the question, “What about my
children’s future?” the answer is two-fold. First, those who can afford
to emigrate usually are rich enough to give their children an overseas
education anyway if necessary, and thereby to give them a sufficient
start in adult life.
Secondly, and more pertinently, surely just
as we are called to trust God for our own security, we are called to do
the same for our children. We must dare to trust him and take seriously
His Word, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness
and all these things (all that we truly need) will be added to you”
GOD’S SOVEREIGN WISDOM AND HIS CALLING FOR US
must learn to believe that God is all-wise and that He has a definite
purpose for us in placing us in Malaysia in this day and age. It is our
responsibility to seek His will concerning this purpose and ask Him for
grace and strength to fulfil it. Thus, ultimately, the question is not
whether to emigrate or not to emigrate. Rather, it is: What is God’s
will or calling for us, and what is our commitment to Him and His will?
Christian life is built upon an eternal covenant between God and us,
which involves God committing Himself to us, and we, in response to His
initiative, grace and love, committing ourselves in return to Him. Many
of us, however, seem not to have grasped this point, that the Christian
life does involve a definite commitment to God and to His will for our
We still think of Christianity in the way many
non-Christians think of their religions. God is like Santa Claus, and
if we are good, we can expect God to bless us with comfort, health and
wealth. And we often forget what our commitment to Christ requires of
us in terms of obedience, self-denial and sacrifice.
is that we often end up walking the path of least resistance in life,
spiritually and emotionally, and many justify emigrating after praying,
“If you give me the visa, I will take it that it is your will for me to
We forget that such oversimplistic approach to guidance
will justify the emigration of almost all our Christian professionals.
But is that God’s call? I am not saying that God does not call some of
us to emigrate. But such calling appears to be the exception rather
than the rule.
SETTLING IN THE WEST IS NO FINAL SOLUTION
in the West does not necessarily provide an escape from all the
problems we hope to leave behind. Which country is safe these days? Is
racism in the United Kingdom or Australia less ugly than its
counterpart here? How would you like your children ogling at nude
bodies making love on the TV screen and growing up desensitised to
In the light of these questions, we must ask:
“Is the West safer and more secure than here?” Western civilisation is
on the decline, and the influence of the Church in the West has also
been marginalised in an increasingly pluralistic post-Christian
society. The ‘war on terror’ has also made Western countries vulnerable
to terrorist attacks.
As such, despite its superficial
attractions, all is not well with the West. Those seriously
contemplating emigration should first take a good look at where they
are thinking of going. Otherwise, they may find themselves jumping out
of the frying pan into the fire! The Gospel is the power of God for
salvation to everyone who has faith (Romans 1:16)
Most of the
time, we allow the negative circumstances around us to determine the
course of action we take in life. Often, we fail to begin with God,
with who He is – the Lord of history – and of what He can do through
His people who trust Him.
The gospel is indeed the power of God
unto salvation to those who believe, as Paul wrote. And this is not
just in the narrow sense; God’s salvation will necessarily have
socio-economic and political implications for the nation as well.
need to take our eyes off the negative circumstances around us and
recognise that if this is where God has called us to be, then He will
also make available to us His power, to proclaim His gospel of
salvation, to build His church and to transform the society in which we
live into something better. We need grace sufficient to grasp afresh
such a vision of God.
If this is the vision that we need, what
concrete shape will it take? Dr. Isabelo Magalit, a respected Christian
leader in the Philippines once wrote an article entitled, “I have a
In it, he spoke of seeing, coming out from the Christian
student world of this present generation in East Asia, men and women
who truly know God and His Word and whose lives are fully yielded to
From amongst such men and women, he sees many going into
full-time ministry as pastors, evangelists and theologians, labouring
to build God’s church in East Asia. Others amongst them would enter the
professional fields such as law, business, engineering, politics and
government, and journalism, and from within these professions exert a
positive and powerful Christian influence in our society in Asia, and
turn it towards a more righteous and just and godly direction.
he sees Christian homes springing up all over the region shining with
the glory and beauty of the gospel in the dark world around them.
Finally, he spoke of the pouring forth of the next wave of overseas
missionaries from Asia into all the world. Towards the end of Dr.
Magalit’s paper, he said, “Share my dream. Take your place in it. Stand
up and be counted for Jesus.”
This is the sort of vision we all need to recapture today.
* courtesy of Melalyn Ng