Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Theological Perspective on Emigration


This topic was being discussed vigorously at the forum, and WP How undertook to summarise and synthesize the results. Your feeback and comments are most welcome.

The First Emigrant

"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." This was the promise given to Abraham in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. In those days, no one left the place where they
grew up. People had a cyclical notion of time based on the seasons of agrarian life. Seeds were planted, the rains came, plants grew and were harvested, and the cycle repeated itself. Sacrifices were offered to the gods and goddesses of nature to ensure that nothing disrupted this cycle. To attempt a break from this cycle, to find a new place to live, is to risk disaster. Yet Abraham heard a call, to leave, to go. He also heard a promise, a ludicrous one at his age, or more precisely, the age of his wife. That he would have innumerable descendants. So Abraham, the father of faith, prospered through his migration, not merely in wealth, but moreso in faith and in God's favour. There could be no better outcome from his decision to emigrate. Although well known for being the first emigrant father of faith, Abraham is not the most famous emigrant. That distinction belongs to another.

Jesus the Emigrant

"From heaven you came, helpless babe." Thus begins the lyrics of The Servant King, a popular Christian song. Jesus went from the first class country of heaven to the lower class country of the world. He came not as a powerful ruler, but as a dependent baby; he was not born into riches but into the relative poverty of a working class family; he grew up not in the centre of secular power, Rome, but in a distant outpost; he grew up far from the religious centre of gravity, Jerusalem, in the remote region of Galilee. The description of Jesus' emigration is that of Philippians 2:5-8. It is a downward movement, from a comfortable place and one of hardship leading to death. And we are called to follow in this pattern.

Emigration and the Great Commission

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The disciples stayed in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They remained in Jerusalem until persecution broke out, led by none other than Saul. The believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, and preached the gospel wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4).

Emigration and the Family

Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (Matthew 7:9)

Scripture seems to contradict itself. Are we to love our families or hate them? How do we resolve this seeming contradiction? One solution is to love our families well, but to love Jesus so much more in comparison, so that our love for family seems like hate.

In 1979, after Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" Her answer: "Go home and love your family." There are some who find it hard to provide enough for their families and have to emigrate for love of their children. They face many hardships adapting to their new country but it is for the sake of their children's future. Some love their families solely and forget about the world. Others think of the greater good but neglect their children. We first need to provide for our families and then be in a place to give to society.

At the same time, we are not to idolize our children. We need to commit them also to the Lord. They are God-given guests in our home for a season, for whom we have a responsibility to extend hospitality, love, and nurture, then let go back into the arms of God.

Emigration and Talents

[The kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them . . . . each according to his ability...

'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

We all have been entrusted with God-given talents, not to be buried in the ground and ignored, not to be abused for selfish gain, not to be adulated as part of our self-identities. What do we have that has not been given by God, be it beauty and brains, health and wealth, and opportunity? Talents are not solely for me and my family, nor my race and country, it is for all God's people and to accomplish His

Therefore, Christians of diverse talents ought to work together for the good of the body of Christ; each neither coveting nor belittling the other's talents. Parents who love their children and appreciate their unique talents rightly encourage them to exercise their gifts.

Exhorting our children to do their best is good. The problem is when we limit the scope of service to self and family instead of extending the scope to God's kingdom.

So ask not what gain my talents can bring me, but rather what God is doing in the world, and can my talents be used to serve His purposes. We are called to stewardship of our talents.

Emigration and Citizenship

The question a biblical steward will ask is not how can I achieve personal gain with these gifts, talents, and resources, but rather, how can I steward them so as to loose the vision of God in the world?

But citizenship, of course, is more that just a relationship with a land. It's a relationship with the people of that land and a vision for society. It is quite biblical to love your land and your people.

As people of the Bible, our particular love is always for the sake of the whole (Tama Ward Balisky, Stewarding Citizenship).

In the light of the kingdom of God, Malaysian citizenship does have its advantages: it provides access to closed countries. Beyond that,
citizenship also calls us to nurture a wholistic vision for society, beyond our own benefit to God's shalom for all. God's shalom needs to be extended by the church to the poor, the foreigner, and all those in the underbelly of society. Those who emigrate and adopt a new country are entrusted with stewarding a new citizenship. In both cases, those who grow up in a multicultural Malaysia have a unique contribution to a world split asunder by many conflicts. It may be to give voice to a way of living peacefully with Muslim neighbours. Muhibbah is a uniquely Malaysian notion. It is not easily appreciated in societies that idolize the individual. Where intellectualism prevails, being right is prized and the community spirit of muhibbah is lost. As Christians, our identities are rooted in Christ, not defined by our
nationalities. So let us use our passports for the Kingdom of God.

The following is a true story of an Indian Christian family. The father stayed in India; the son went to Canada. They were Christians and they were partners for the gospel. In India, the father built hospitals for the poor. In Canada, the son started successful businesses, channeling profits for the father's charitable work. So those who emigrate need to have a wholistic vision, and those who stay too need to see that we all belong in the Kingdom of God. Together we can partner with God in the work He is doing around the world.

Spiritual Emigrants

No matter where we live and what passports we hold, we are emigrants from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. In essence, the question that must be answered first is whether I am a good steward of my heavenly citizenship. Stewardship is responsibility with a trust. It entails practical things we do, how we order our priorities. When it comes down to it, the way we live our lives announces to the world our true citizenship. If we are loyal citizens of God's kingdom, we allow our Lord to direct which country we should live in.

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