Thursday, July 01, 2010

Should Malaysian Christians Emigrate?

In 2007, according to census, about 35% of Malaysians who emigrated to Australia are Christians. This is significant when about 9% of Malaysians are Christians. Bishop Hwa Yung in his article Should Christians Emigrate? published in Nov/Dec 2006 issue of Berita NECF suggests that Malaysian Christians emigrate because of the attraction of the West, the lack of professional fulfillment, racial and religious factors, and erosion of confidence in the “ability and integrity” of the government. He further notes that the justification offered by those who are or are about to emigrate include “we can serve God anywhere,” the Bible allows emigration and the “prospects of persecution.”

The good Bishop concludes that emigration should be an exception rather than the rule because of the great spiritual and socio-political needs in Malaysia both in the country and in the Malaysian churches. The exception is a true calling of God for the individual or family to leave. Preempting the question, “what about my children future?” Hwa Yung gave a two-fold answer. Firstly, those who emigrate are usually well off enough to have sent their children overseas and thus their children already have a good head start and secondly, if they can trust God for their security, should they also not trust the Lord for their children’s security? There are many people who see the Bishop’s comments as being biased and legalistic.

The Agora, a blog managed by City Discipleship Presbyterian Church in Petaling Jaya discussed this topic of Should Christians Emigrate? and the comments the post received are worth reading. One comment is

“It will mean that in the face of genuine spiritual and socioeconomic 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.”

Another comment is

“I used to think it was very selfish and self-centred as Christians to migrate and only think of themselves but I have since changed my mind for a number of reasons :-
1. Just like the prophets of yesteryear, there may come a time where we may all need to migrate somewhere else in order to see God more clearly (especially with the current Islamisation of M'sia )
2. I do not see anything wrong in migrating if you are called by God to do so for various reasons - Abraham to find the Promised Land, the Israelites to Egypt to avoid the famine and later to return to the Promised Land from slavery
3. History has shown us that not only [C]hristians has fled when there are persecutions, war, famine, natural disasters, etc
4. Leaving for another country whether it is for better job opportunities or our children's education is a personal matter between the individual [C]hristian and God. Hey, remember the founder of CK Tang of Singapore. He came to Singapore from China with only a Bible in his luggage and God told him to buy up the land where CK Tang is today - at Orchard Road. At that time it was a graveyard!!!!”

Rev Tan Soo Inn, writing in his weekly GRACE@WORK MAIL 16/07
[April 20 2007 Edition] To Go or To Stay? has this to say,

“There was a time when I would be angry at Malaysian Christians who chose to emigrate or who refused to return to Malaysia after their education abroad. Islam was the official religion of Malaysia. It was increasingly difficult for non Malaysian missionaries to enter the country. Surely it was God's will that Christians in Malaysia remain in the country to fulfill the Great Commission. Those who chose to leave were cop outs. I received many invitations to remain in Canada to minister after my theological studies there. The needs there were real. But I had been called to minister the Word in Malaysia. I came home.

I am glad to report that I am no longer that condemning angry young man. (I also need to disclose that I am residing in Singapore at the moment.) I have changed for two reasons. One is my growing conviction that the New Testament is totally against any form of legalism. I now use the preface "you must" very reluctantly apart from clear biblical commands. Secondly I have come to terms with the sheer diversity of God's dealings with His children. His journeys for each of us are so different. I repent of any attempt to use my own journey as a bench mark for anyone else. What I need to do is to be true to my own calling.”

Soo Inn concludes,

“Maybe emigration is not the real issue. The real issue is the issue of faith. Do we really believe Jesus' promises? What does it mean to seek first the kingdom and its righteousness? For ourselves? For our children? If we have some clarity as to the answers to these questions then we should be able to begin to answer the other questions of life including the question of whether we should emigrate or not.”

Both Hwa Yung and Soo Inn have highlighted the core issue concerning Malaysian Christians emigrating. It is an issue of faith. Does Malaysian Christians (myself included) have enough faith in God to remain where we are and be engaged with the country and help Malaysia prosper? It is our country and we are born here. It has fed us, clothed us, sheltered us and protected us. Hearing the voice of God is often subjective and Jeremiah has pointed out that the “heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV Jer. 17: 9) It is possible to justify our emigrating with a hundred different reasons. Yet deep down, I believe that many know that it is not for these reasons but a lack of faith, and a desire for security and comfort rather than obedience and trust in God. There are numerous verses in the Bible to support emigration but there are equally enough verses to suggest staying and helping the country to prosper. Here I must add a caveat that I do know of a few Malaysian Christians who are really called by God to emigrate.

Malaysia is undergoing a difficult time now. There is a crying need for moral people with integrity and nation building skills. If Malaysian Christians are emigrating, and these are usually the brightest, most highly skilled and well educated (the receiving country already has vetted and selected only the cream), who will be left behind to be God’s people and help develop Malaysia (Jer.29:7)? Who will be the “salt” and “light?” Who will speak for God? Who will be God’s people in the expansion of His kingdom in the country? It will be ludicrous to think that God will send His brightest and best people away at the moment when the present need in Malaysia is great.

Malaysian Christians should be encouraged to remain in Malaysia, if not because it is their homeland, then it should because they are to consider Malaysia as their mission field. We have a cultural legacy of economic and social emigration. However it may be time to be counter cultural and decide and commit for our migration to end and stay in Malaysia. This is a commitment to living by faith for the present and the future.

A concerned Malaysian Christian wrote this prayer,

“Dear Heavenly Father,

From one man you created each nation. It is you who determines our boundaries and decides when we should rise & fall (Acts 17: 26). In this day & age, is there a country in this world where we can ’sit under our own vine and fig tree & drink water from our own wells. And we can invite our neighbours to sit with us peacefully?(Micah 4:4; Zech 3:10)

We confess the sins of immorality, injustice, corruption, murder & all manner of evil that has defiled Malaysia . The land is vomiting out its people (Lev 18:25-28). People are leaving Malaysia .

Lord, we the church in Malaysia want to stand in the gap. We will cry to you until you cleanse this land of all the wickedness & defilement. You have given us this land so that many may seek you and find you (Acts17: 27). We thank you that you have given us people willing to give their lives for this land. You have died for the people of Malaysia , Your blood can cleanse us from all forms of defilement, Your spirit can empower us to fight the giants in this land.

Deliver us from being refugees in another land trading the talents & gifts you have given us for a home. Let not our people be scattered. Let the people of Malaysia rise up to fight for our land and not allow the enemy from stealing our peace, harmony and richness in cultures and natural resources. We claim this land for your kingdom and for the generations you will bless because we trust in you.

Let our people not be scattered abroad and our children not know the intention You had when You formed this land. From a bunch of immigrants you made us into a nation. You gave us a name and call us a people when we were not a people.

Let our children know that there is a God in Heaven. We are not struggling alone. You are watching over us. Help us not give up the land to those who want to devour and destroy it. Send us reinforcement and aid us in the fight against wickedness and corruption in high places.

You only need Gideon & his 300 men to defeat their enemies.

Save Malaysia , O Lord. hear our prayer.

In Jesus Mighty name we ask, Amen”

Now more strongly than ever, the sound of a call to arms clang loudly in the spiritual battle for the heart and soul of Malaysia. May the soldiers of the cross be found entrenched in their armours rather than leaving the field before the battle.

Kyrie eleison!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost every single apostle emigrated out of Israel at a time when Israel needed them most! Persecution was at the peak and the christians in Israel would surely appreciate the leaders who chose to stay behind! Were these apostles wrong in their decisions?
If we truly have faith, we should not be overly concerned with statistics . God will raise the necessary soldiers to do his work! What is perhaps more important question to answer for each of us is "what is our destiny"? The place that we move to must help us to be a step closer to that "destiny".
I trust God to take care of the bigger pictures......kc

6:39 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi KC,

Yes, I agree with you that we trust God to take care of the bigger picture including our "destiny."

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Theology Of Emigration said...

WP How a Msian wrote a somewhat diff take on a theology of emigration:

6:25 PM  
Blogger Paul Long said...

This blog post came on when I was away ...

As someone who has "migrated", I would say that it is clearly not for everyone. I have heard of many cases of people migrating and being miserable (a couple I do know personally - non Christian Malay bumiputera!) and returning to Malaysia.

A clear calling is certainly important.

Interestingly, when I had confirmed my PR papers Bishop Hwa Yung's article had just come out as a reprint in the Kairos magazine! I told someone I highly respect as a Christian leader about my move and (I was literally holding a stack of Kairos magazines in my hand) he asked me if I had read the article.
I answered YES. And he told me his stand on migration (the article's position). But what really encouraged and blessed me was his adding the following (I paraphrase) - "In most cases, I would disagree with Christians migrating, but for you I would make an exception." It had to do with his understanding of my calling.

When I was back in Malaysia earlier this month, I had breakfast with a dear friend (senior pastor of a very large and successful church). I know he would love it if I would return to Malaysia and even join his staff and team. I was touched when our breakfast conversation ended with him telling me that it was clear to him that my moving to NZ was God's call. I did not bring this up. He did.

Reason - it was related to what he say as my personal spiritual growth
(joy, clear sense of calling, purpose etc).

4:51 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Paul,

One of my concerns about this post is how it will affects certain people who have been called and hence are an exception to the general tone of my post. I am glad that you have taken it in a positive light. I do affirm your call and I hope I have done that when we met so briefly in Auckland.

My general concern is the uncritical ways many middle class Christians in Malaysia are considering emigration. It shocked me to hear a pastor commented during a message that he is telling his children not to come back after their overseas studies. What message is being conveyed to his congregation?

12:36 PM  
Blogger Paul Long said...

I did not see the article in any negative light, nor your post.

Am at peace with taking up the offer to be pastor where I am.

And I did appreciate very much your pastoral visit! :-)

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who posted the first comment - the apostles (e.g., James, John, Peter, etc.) stayed in Jerusalem despite persecution. Others were called to share the good news of Jesus elsewhere.

1:28 PM  

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