8925026I am no chess buff but everyone knows that Garry Kasparov was world champion. Wikipedia tells us that “Kasparov became the youngest ever World Chess Champion in 1985.” What some of us may not know is that in recent times he has become a leader in Russia’s pro-democracy movement. This game is much more dangerous than chess. Kasparov has been arrested for his pro-democracy activities. 

Now here is a man who could easily leave Russia and be welcomed and feted anywhere in the world. Why does he stay to take part in a movement whose chances for success seem hopelessly slim? In an interview he gave to Newsweek, he shares some of the reasons he made the switch from chess to pro-democracy politics.

“My feelings about chess itself were the least significant element in my decision to quit. Chess had been my life for many years (I started playing at 6), and it will always be important to me. Far more important, however, was the need to make a difference.”
“Apart from the natural desire to fight on the side of human rights and democracy, there was a more personal impetus behind my decision. I grew up under the methodical oppression of the U.S.S.R., coping and fighting inside and outside the system for much of my life. The thought of my son, Vadim, born and raised in Moscow and now 10 years old, having to suffer similar treatment still sends chills down my spine.”
(Newsweek, June 11, 2007,10B.)

I do not know what are Kasparov’s religious affiliations. I do know that the Christian community in Malaysia and Singapore could learn a thing or two from this Grandmaster, especially on the issue of emigration.

Emigration continues to be a hot topic among Christians in Malaysia and Singapore. Many will cite reasons as to why things have gotten worse in their country and that it is time to think about going to a better place (Australia? America? Canada?) so that they can continue to enjoy a certain quality of life, and to ensure a certain quality of life for their children.

Since I minister mostly to English-speaking faith communities, many of the people I come into contact with are educated middle/upper-middle class folks. I cannot help but be struck by the ironies. The folks who talk most about emigration are those who have the know how and the resources to live a good life where they are. Those who are really hurting in the system, the poor and marginalised, do not talk about emigration because they do not have the capacity to do so.

The folks who talk most about emigration are also people who have been blessed greatly by the Lord. The bible says that to whom much is given much is expected. It would seem to be biblical to expect that folks who have been blessed so much would live life with a deep sense of gratitude, looking out for how they now can be a blessing to others. Instead many seem to be more concerned with protecting their blessings and defending their standard of living.

Many genuinely seek to emigrate for the sake of their children. They actually have a more comfortable lifestyle where they are (maids!) but undergo much discomfort for the sake of their children. I have four boys of my own and I want the best for them. I want them to have the freedom to develop into their full potential and to be physically and emotionally secure.
But I also need to leave them a spiritual legacy.

By my choices I am teaching my children values, and what we do speaks more loudly than what we say. Is it for their good that I teach them that, when the going gets tough, and if you are rich enough, go to a more comfortable place? Is this the spirit of the Christ that calls us to carry our crosses if we want to follow Him (Luke :23-24)? At the very least we need to be clear as to what “good” means before we make decisions for our children’s good.

As I have written elsewhere, I do not take a legalistic view on the matter of emigration. I know that God has different plans for each of us and I cannot use my own pilgrimage as a yardstick for the journeys for others. But when I hear people listing down their pros and cons as they decide whether to stay or to go, I just want to ask them one question: “Have you asked the Boss? What does He think? Have you inquired of the Lord? Does the Lord want you to stay or to go?”

A basic tenet of the Christian faith is that we are not our own. We were bought with a price (1Corinthians 6:19-20). And we now belong to Jesus. Paul reminds us that we are soldiers. We do not do what we want. We obey the orders given to us by our Commander (2Timothy 2:1-4).

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus shows us the intimacy possible between a child of God and God the Father (Mark 14:32-42). Abba is a term of deep intimacy and love. Yet Jesus also shows us that the only relationship possible with God is to submit to His perfect loving will whatever our personal preferences. This is authentic Christianity.

Perhaps we have already been too seduced by the consumer spirit of the age. As Benjamin R. Barber argues in his book, CONSUMED (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007), in a world shaped by “hyperconsumerist conditions (p. 339), private choice is the number one virtue (pp. 116 – 165). But as Barber notes, “Privatization reverses (the) journey to maturation. It re-privileges the ‘me’ and stands with rather than against narcissistic childishness.” (p. 160)

Barber the social prophet uses hyperbole to make his points. Nevertheless, he is right when he points out that the message from a consumer culture is “you choose.” In a day and age where we have choices undreamed of by our forefathers, the marketing and advertising folks tell us that finally the choice is ours. In this approach to life there is no place for God and little place for the needs of others outside our immediate family. This is totally antithetical to the heart of Christianity which is defined by the twin loves of love for God and love for neighbour (Luke 10:25-37).

The final irony is this — when we submit to the will of God it is for our own good. It is to be truly alive. When Jesus submitted to the Cross, there was pain yes, but the Cross was the pathway to Glory and to the blessing of many. We do not lose when we ask the Lord what He expects of us. And obey.

So, should I go or should I stay? Ask the Boss! Some may want to stay but the Lord says go. Some may want to go but the Lord says stay. Trust and obey. It’s still our best move.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan