Counting the Cost of Moving to an Affluent Land
IT IS a familiar scene at consulates throughout the developing world: a waiting room packed out with people who are nervously anticipating their interview. On the basis of that brief but important discussion, it will be determined whether they can obtain a visa to an industrialized land in the West. Many believe that this will be their ticket to prosperity. “I’ve been working hard for four years, and I haven’t even been able to afford a radio,” complained one young West African. “If I were in England or the United States, by now I’d have a car and a place of my own to live.”
It is not hard to understand why many in poor, developing nations have such sentiments. For them, jobs are hard to find, and pay is low. Inflation erodes savings. Housing is scarce and overcrowded. People wear clothing that has been cast off by those in wealthier lands. Many feel trapped in economic quicksand.
And how the affluent West beckons! Said one young man in Sierra Leone: “Some who have gone abroad come back and tell us stories that give us the courage to go and see the industrialized lands for ourselves. They say you have to work hard, but you make good money so you can support yourself and even get some luxuries, such as a car. And if you come back here with about two thousand dollars, you can set up a business and get married.”
Not surprisingly, some servants of God reason similarly. An African sister said: “We young ones in God’s organization listen to conversations about how nicely others are doing who have gone abroad. So sometimes I ask myself, ‘What about me? Why is it that I am suffering here? Should I go or should I stay?’”
If you live in a poor country, you may likewise wonder if a move would improve the quality of your life. However, immigrating to a foreign land is a huge undertaking, an expensive and serious step. It may involve learning a new language, acquiring new job skills, adjusting to a new culture, enduring the prejudice that many express toward foreigners, and learning a whole new way of life. Yet, many Christians have done so successfully and have proved to be real assets to congregations in their new homelands, serving as exemplary publishers, pioneers, elders, and ministerial servants.
Not all, though, have fared so well. The stresses and strains of emigrating have resulted in spiritual ruin for some. Obviously, then, such a move should not be made without serious, prayerful thought. The Bible counsels at Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” Yes, you want to be sure that you are acting in harmony with Jehovah’s will. (James 4:13-15) And Jesus gave some practical advice to help you do this when he urged his listeners to ‘count the cost.’ (Luke 14:28) This involves more than financial considerations. It means taking into account the possible spiritual costs of emigrating.
The Realities of Life Abroad
Before moving anywhere, you should have a good, realistic idea of what to expect when you get there. If possible, make a preliminary visit and see for yourself what conditions are like. Otherwise, you will have to rely on secondhand information. Warns the Bible: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15.
Some have obtained all their information about life in Western lands from movies and television shows. They thus believe that everyone there is wealthy, drives a new car, and lives in a luxurious home. The reality, though, is quite different. Many affluent lands have alarming levels of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. And many of the poorest residents are the new immigrants. Explains a consular officer at the U.S. embassy in one poor country: “People just don’t realize how difficult it is to get established in America. Some write letters home saying how well they’re doing—how they’ve bought two cars and a house—but in truth they’re really struggling.”
The situation is similar elsewhere. Mr. Sahr Sorie is a West African educator who has lived and studied in London. He commented: “It’s not easy to move from Africa and settle in England. A great many immigrants live a very poor life. You see lines of hardship in their faces. Some find it difficult to scrape together 20 pence to make a phone call. Often they share a single room with many others, with just a small heater to keep them warm. They are able to get only menial jobs, and even then it is not enough to pay their bills. Those who leave Africa to escape poverty frequently find themselves worse off in the slums of Europe.”
The financial pressures that accompany getting established in a new land can easily choke one’s spirituality. (Matthew 13:22) True, hard work is commended in the Bible. (Proverbs 10:4; 13:4) But many who go abroad are forced to take on two or three jobs in order to achieve their financial goals—or simply to make ends meet. Little or no time is left to pursue the worship of God. Neglected are Christian meetings, Bible study, and the sharing of Bible truth with others. The words of Jesus Christ prove tragically true: “You cannot slave for God and for Riches.”—Matthew 6:24.
You should also give consideration to the moral climate of your prospective new land. The Bible tells us that Lot chose to live in the District of the Jordan. From a material standpoint, his decision seemed to be a wise one, for “it was a well-watered region . . . , like the garden of Jehovah.” (Genesis 13:10) However, Lot’s new neighbors were “gross sinners against Jehovah”—sexual perverts! (Genesis 13:13) As a result, “that righteous man by what he saw and heard while dwelling among them from day to day was tormenting his righteous soul by reason of their lawless deeds.”—2 Peter 2:8.
Similarly, today a move to the West might expose you and your family to moral pressures and temptations that are more intense than in your homeland. Additionally, older people may not be honored as they were at home. Respect for parents may not be encouraged. Neighbors may take little interest in one another. How might such pressures affect you and your family? This is something to give prayerful thought to.
Some parents have chosen to leave their families behind and travel abroad alone. Their plan is to send for their family once they are settled or perhaps to return home with plenty of money. Is such an arrangement wise?
The Scriptures oblige parents to provide for the material needs of their families, and in some extreme cases, a parent may have little choice but to work abroad in order to make such provision. (1 Timothy 5:8) Still, parents are also obliged to care for the spiritual needs of their families. Says God’s Word: “You, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
Can a father effectively do this if he is away from his family for months or years at a time? Not likely. So you must consider if any material advantages gained are worth the effect your absence might have on your children. Besides, immigrants often find that it is by no means as easy to make their “fortune” as they thought. If the immigrant is unable to pay for the family’s passage, the separation may drag on for years. This, in turn, may create serious moral dangers. (Compare 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.) Sad to say, some in such trying circumstances have succumbed to sexual immorality.
Confident in God’s Provisions
As world economic conditions deteriorate, it is good to remember that servants of God should not fear that they will be forsaken. Jesus said: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:31-33.
Jehovah’s Witnesses today serve the interests of God’s Kingdom by zealously proclaiming the good news. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) In many poor nations, there is a great need for Kingdom preachers. Particularly is there a need for mature elders and ministerial servants. Rather than going to an economically prosperous land where the need is not so great, many have chosen to remain in their native countries. How have some of such ones fared?
Alethia, a West African who has served in the full-time service for 30 years in her native country, said this: “I had the opportunity to live abroad. The reason I didn’t was that I love to be with my own people and relatives. I enjoy helping them learn the truth so that we can serve Jehovah together. I haven’t missed out on a single thing by staying here, and I don’t regret anything.”
Winifred likewise lives in an African country. The physical quality of life there is rated as one of the lowest in the world. But after 42 years in the full-time pioneer service, she says: “It is not always easy to manage economically. Satan tries to make things difficult, but Jehovah has always provided for me and looked after my needs.”
In ancient times Abraham was “fully convinced that what [God] had promised he was also able to do.” (Romans 4:21) Are you likewise convinced that Jehovah is able to fulfill his promise and care for you if you put Kingdom interests first in your life? Do you agree with the psalmist who wrote: “The law of [God’s] mouth is good for me, more so than thousands of pieces of gold and silver”? (Psalm 119:72) Or could it be that there is a need for you to apply more fully the counsel of the apostle Paul? At 1 Timothy 6:8, he wrote: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” Could it be that the wise thing to do would be, not to seek new surroundings, but to make the most of your present ones?
The economic conditions in many lands can cause severe hardships for Christians. Thus, if after considering all the factors involved, a family decides to emigrate, there is no reason for others to be critical. (Galatians 6:5) Those remaining can keep asking for Jehovah’s help in bearing the hardships that this system brings, while they rejoice in the spiritual blessings that God gives them. Remember, soon the injustices and inequities of this world will be rectified under God’s Kingdom. Then it will be as the psalmist wrote: “You [Jehovah] are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.”—Psalm 145:16.