Son Andrew has just finished the first semester of his undergraduate studies in Canada. He reports meeting Canadians, and Malaysians now residing in Canada, who tell him that Malaysia is a failing state with no hope for the future. Essentially he is encouraged to emigrate from Malaysia to countries which promise a better life. It seems that in a global world, where there is so much cross border movement, the emigration topic will continue to be hotly debated. This really struck home recently when a friend surrendered his Malaysian citizenship to become a Singaporean. Some will see this as a betrayal. Others will see this as the most logical thing to do. There was a time when I would have seen this as a betrayal. But no longer.
My thinking has become less Malaysia centric. Indeed I am wary of unbridled nationalistic jingoism. Our lives shouldn’t be Malaysia centric. Or Singapore centric. Instead our lives should be Christ centric. We are asked to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). All of us need to ask what that means in relation to where we make our home. We need to remember that Abraham, father of our faith, gave flesh to his faith and obedience, by emigrating from Haran to Canaan.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household 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.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.
(Genesis 12: 1-4a NIV)
For many people in the world, emigration is not an option. They cannot emigrate even if they wanted to for any number of reasons. Usually they are too poor to do so. Many others are forced to leave their countries of origin to escape war, famine, crushing poverty, etc. If you are in a position to choose whether to go or to stay already puts you in a very privileged position. All the more we should be conscious of the fact that we are stewards of our lives and not owners. If we understand this then we know the first question we need to grapple with is not whether we should go or we should stay. The first question we need to ask is: “Lord what would you have me do?”
This past weekend we were back in Kuala Lumpur. Among the many friends we met were a medical specialist, a pastor, an economist and a speech therapist. They had all done graduate studies abroad and were highly accomplished in their fields. These are folks who could emigrate to any number of more comfortable countries. Yet here they were back in Malaysia contributing to nation building in their respective fields. These were not folks who came across as heroes. They had no illusions about the difficulties facing them in Malaysia. But they were back because of one reason — they believed that this is what the Lord wanted them to do. They were not Malaysia centric. They were Christ centric.
I also met up with an old friend, a leader of the Asia-Pacific region of a major missionary movement. He shared that the leaders of the Malaysian branch of his movement joked about starting a Malaysian chapter in Melbourne. Many of their members, including some of their top leaders, had emigrated there. I know that my friend would agree that many Western countries are highly secular and had become mission fields in their own right. But it’s one thing to go because the Lord tells us to. It is another to go because we think the grass is greener in another country.
And so I told son Andrew that running away because a situation is tough is not a mature ethic. And that it is always easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle. Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 NIV)” Above all we encouraged him to discern what the Lord would have him do. Bernice and I are not as concerned as to where our boys end up. But we do want them to live lives of faith and obedience.
Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). We do not experience this abundance by playing it safe. We experience it by trusting and obeying God. In other words the safest and most joyful place to be is in the centre of God’s will. For some of us that means going. And for others it means staying.
(NB. I am now based in Singapore.)