– by Frank Retief

The exodus of people from South Africa is alarming. The reason? Rampant crime, collapsing standards in education and health care, and a bleak economic future are the reasons given by many who have left and others who are contemplating packing their bags for greener pastures. Before you decide to pluck up your roots and head into the horizon, however, some important issues need to be resolved.

What does the Word say?
The best place to begin our quest for answers to this sensitive question is to reflect again on the sovereignty and greatness of God. The Bible teaches that God’s purposes will stand whatever we do and that He will do exactly as He pleases (Isaiah 46:10). In Daniel 4:35 we read these words:
“He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” This constitutes a problem for us because He does not always explain Himself.

So where does that leave us here in South Africa?
Acts 17:26 puts things into perspective: “From one man He made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” We are all children of Adam; every person in the world has a common forefather in him. Moreover, God has decided that you, living in South Africa at this present time in history, are providentially in the very centre of His Will. In His sovereignty, God has placed us where we are in terms of our domicile.

God is everywhere
Think for a moment about where you come from, the influences that were brought to bear upon your life, and the opportunities that were given to you. Think of how God has engineered things according to His Will so that you are where you are today. Imagine, for instance, that you were born a few moments before the bombs fell on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the last World War and how this would have impacted upon your future. Imagine you grew up as a child during the Bolshevik Revolution and saw your parents killed before your eyes, or that you were born to a refugee mother trudging wearily through Rwanda as she tried to escape the hatchets of bloodthirsty killers. Whatever ill fortune you may have experienced in the past, your present situation is, in all probability, more bearable than these. 

Are you set?
If your mind is set on emigration, then you must remember that you will always be in God’s world, and at His mercy. You cannot escape from His sovereign Will. The same God who can bring you peace and security in another country can do likewise here.

Honest assessments
If you are thinking of emigration, you have to make a true assessment of South Africa. There are at least three things you should consider before you make up your mind.

Don’t let emotions cloud your judgement
Firstly, we should not make emotional decisions. Remember that emotions can be self-centred and cloud our judgement. We have moved out of a period of great injustice in South Africa – forty years of oppression that were not golden years for the vast majority of South Africans – to a period of democracy. No one is foolish enough to think this period of transition is without fault. But we have to remember that there is a price to pay for sins of the past, and if we don’t put this into perspective, we will always be perplexed, always full of anger, and always negative about the situation in this land.

Can the problems be fixed?
Secondly, the problems we are encountering in our country may be temporary. The discontent expressed by many South Africans may be well-founded, but for others it is due simply to a loss of certain “privileges”. The causes of frustration may be transitory in nature, and may not necessarily herald a hopeless future. All nations undergo periods of change. Our situation may or may not improve, but nevertheless, we must examine the source of our frustrations to root out self-centredness.

We can worship freely!
Thirdly, there is no religious persecution in our land. Even though Christianity has lost its privileged status, it is not a banned or forbidden religion. One can preach the Gospel anywhere one likes in this country and worship anywhere one please. We would not enjoy the same privileges in Australia, New Zealand, England, or America as we did in my church at the end of last year when a television programme filmed of our service was broadcast on national television.

It’s not wrong to leave
Many Christians have a habit of trying to make spiritual decisions out of things that are not particularly spiritual. Sometimes we think that God has to give us a special word, a special revelation, or a special vision in order for us to make ordinary, everyday decisions. God expects us to use common sense within a Christian framework. We are free to go and live wherever we please in God’s world. It is not a spiritual decision to make, apart from the usual commitment to prayer and caution expected of us before acting hastily.

What is your reason?
You may have some very good reason to leave. You may have family in other parts of the world and you may be with them. Health problems may encourage you to leave the country. You may wish to give your children better opportunities elsewhere in the world. There may be job opportunities far better than what you can get in this country.

Pray first!
In 1 Cor 7:20-21, Paul encourages slaves not to fret about their situation. But if they should get the opportunity to free themselves, they should take it. Similarly, if you have opportunity to change your circumstances through emigration, then make your decision based on prayerful common sense. The point Paul makes is that our circumstances are part of God’s Will for us. Even though they may be uncomfortable or trying, we are not to fret, chafe, and live discontented lives. If God opens the way out of difficult circumstances, Paul teaches that we should take it. But always remember that although God does not insist you should stay in South Africa, He has placed you here for a purpose.

Before you say goodbye, If you plan to emigrate, consider the following principles:
1. God does not ultimately care where you live
But He does care how you live. If you are not living a committed Christian life in South Africa, you are not going to live one by moving to New Zealand, Australia, America, or any other nation. Get yourself sorted out spiritually before you make any major changes in your life. Your walk with God is more important than where you finally settle.

2. There is no risk-free living anywhere in the world
Recently, news reports informed us of a family who left Johannesburg to escape the crime rate and moved to England to a quiet country town, only to have the wife and young daughter murdered on the way home from school one day. You can’t escape risks anywhere in the world.

3. Adopt a Christian mindset
“Selfism” is the new philosophy sweeping the world. It claims the search for happiness is the ultimate value. It asserts that personal happiness matters more than anything else. As Christians, we can’t think like that. We must avoid the basic rootlessness in our society, which causes such restlessness and prevents us from staying committed to anything.

4. Don’t give in to fear
We are God’s children, and although we may be frightened from time to time and experience great uncertainties in life, it is not right for us to live our lives controlled by fear.

5. Don’t be prompted by racism
Discontentment at the loss of privilege is no reason for Christians to emigrate. The problem behind much of the current discontent in our land is the ongoing struggle with racist attitudes. For many people, racism is not the real struggle, but an inability to cope with the changing face of South Africa. However, the sin of racism is endemic and often subtle. We need to stay on guard against it in our decision making.

6. Will your leaving promote the Kingdom of God?
Ask yourself, “If I leave, what contribution can I make in my new sphere of living for the Kingdom of God? If I leave, what will it do to the work I am leaving behind? What hole will I leave behind that no one else can fill? How will it impact my work and witness for the Kingdom of God?” Have you investigated the advantages to your spiritual life in your new home? Have you thought about a new spiritual home? Have you thought about how you and your children are going to grow spiritually? Make these top priorities in your planning.

7. Sitting into your new home poses difficulties
You are moving away from the security and support of your family. I have met many people who have emigrated who long to be back in South Africa and are making plans to return. Their roots are in this land. And to be separated from family and cultural norms are too great a price to pay. The adjustments you may have to make are not just cultural, but also climatic. In Sweden they have discovered something known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It impacts people who see no sunlight for long periods of time. In some parts of the world – like Sweden – winter months only permit two or three hours of daylight. This results in a depression settling upon those prone to the disorder, and the only way they can be cured is to be put in a room with bright lights. Although this is an extreme illustration, you need to be aware of such climatic differences before you leave your home country.

The world is constantly changing
The crime rate and political changes in one country often plague other countries as well. You will not escape the changes sweeping across the globe by moving from one country to another, although there are some regions of the world in which it is at present safer to live than others. You are not wrong to emigrate from a tumultuous situation to one of relative peace, just as long as your motives are to continue living for Jesus and promote His Kingdom.

To those who remain
As a Christian, if you decide to stay in South Africa, you must remember that you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. While you live in this world, however, you are called upon to live as a servant of the Lord Jesus. You are to exercise the faculties God has given you, learning to be critical and thoughtful of the issues faced by Christians in your country. Use whatever influence you can for the Kingdom of God. Let’s take upon the challenge presented to us in this country. South Africa does not need to become another African casualty. If we who claim allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ get some backbone, we can make a difference to the future of our nation. 

Our true homeland
My wife Beulah and I have decided that we will be emigrating. We were called a long time ago to another country, and we decided to answer the call. Of course we are not emigrating immediately. We expect to be around for the next twenty to thirty years, if God spares us. And then we will emigrate . . . to heaven. We realised a long time ago that we are strangers and aliens in this world. Our duty is to live for God to the best of our ability for the short time we are here, to be a light for the Gospel, to encourage as many people as possible to surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Stamp your passport to Heaven
The things that happen in this world only confirm that we are the subjects of another King, and our treasures are being stored in His Kingdom. When the time comes, we will leave like migratory birds that stretch their wings and fly to warmer climates, and make our way to our eternal homeland.
Our prayer is that you, too, will lose your ties with this world – whether you choose to emigrate from South Africa or remain here – and have your passport to heaven clearly stamped.

Article source: JOY! Magazine (December 2019)

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