If I had a dollar for every conversation I have had in 2022 on the subject of japa – a Yoruba word which means ‘run swiftly’ or to flee from danger, but which is now a Nigerian slang for emigration – I would have so much money that I would have to japa as the CBN chases after me for currency speculation! It may just be my socio-economic bubble, but japa seems to be in the air everywhere I turn.
As a Christian, how should I deal with this reality? Nigeria has always been a tough place to live, especially for those who have visited or lived outside the country and can use that as a reference point for comparison, but the last 5 years have seen unprecedented increases (at least in our lifetimes) of insecurity, economic malaise, and uncertainty about the future. It is not a sin to emigrate, and this topic is one of those areas where thoughtful Christians may disagree on what is the best position for Christians to take.
Solomon, the wisest man (apart from Jesus) who ever lived, advised us that the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways (Prov 14:8), so here are seven thoughts- in no particular order- to consider as you walk through this moment in the life of our country.
- Consider whether peer pressure is affecting your thinking
Your parents warned you when you were young that many of your actions were caused by peer pressure. At that time you scoffed at them, but if you honestly look back now, you will realize they were right. You are now older but believe me that peer pressure is still as strong a force in your life as when you were 10 years old. When you hear someone say, “all my friends are relocating to London” or “my aunt in Canada is always asking me whether I will die of suffering in Nigeria”, those types of statements are evidence they are suffering from peer pressure.
Peer pressure is a normal part of life and those putting you under pressure mean well for you. However, as a Christian, you may have additional factors to consider that they do not have. At the minimum, you owe it to God to be sure your decisions are wise and well thought through.
- Consider the pros and cons of emigration
Typically, when I talk to someone who has decided to emigrate, they enumerate all the ills of Nigeria and then they list all the benefits of their preferred country. And they are almost always right in their assessment and usually very evangelistic about their choice too! However, the picture they paint is often incomplete. Yes, Nigeria has many problems, but surely there are many benefits of living in Nigeria too. Yes, the rich countries Nigerians emigrate to have many advantages over us, but surely, they have many problems as well.
So, take a piece of paper and write all the pros and cons of both countries. If you are struggling to write this list, then it is either evidence that you have made up your mind already or you have not done the type of in-depth research you should. At the minimum, this exercise will make you realize the hymn writer was right when he said: Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
- Consider your situation in life
Are you young, single, and at the start of your career? Or are you already a manager in your office with three children under 10? Surely the former cannot be advising the latter to japa without considering how much more challenging it must be for them!
Nigerians are by nature optimistic; it is a mix of our boisterous personalities and our innate self-belief. However, a wise believer does not presume on optimism alone. Emigrating is one of the most difficult projects anyone can undertake. It is like transplanting a tree, if not properly managed the transplant shock can mean the tree doesn’t thrive in its new soil. A wise gardener considers all the factors before doing anything to the tree.
- Consider those who depend on you
We are a communal society, and this means everything we do affects a whole village. You may have aged parents, you may have either full-time domestic help or numerous artisans who regularly work for you. You have so many connections that it is only after you move away that you realize just how dependent many people were on you. Such is life in Nigeria.
Those who depend on you may need you to move overseas so that you can support them financially. Indeed, many Nigerians move primarily for this reason. This is why diaspora remittances to Nigeria are now our largest source of foreign exchange. However not every need is financial. For example, the greatest joy of my parents is being around their grandchildren regularly. Proximity and the benefits it brings should not be underestimated. Put another way, distance and the relational strains that come with it cannot be minimized.
- Consider the cultural differences
Humans are not only economic beings. Culture is very important to our happiness. Consider that japa’ing means you have to learn a new culture even if you do not have to learn a new language. Remember that you will no longer be able to presume on the shared cultural knowledge that makes interaction between people so seamless. The older and more set in your ways that you are, the harder the change will be.
If you are a parent, consider that your children will grow up in a different culture and it is quite likely as adults that they will no longer share your cultural assumptions. If you want to be an African parent – that is, you want to play a major role in the life decisions of your children, consider that the culture of the new country may cause much friction with your children.
- Consider your spiritual maturity
Suffering makes us more mature spiritually, that is a truth that should be obvious to us all from reviewing the circumstances that have most shaped our maturity, they are almost always associated with times of suffering. Moving to a more comfortable country may mean that the troubles in Nigeria that regularly push you towards God would decrease and the distractions and deceitfulness of riches would increase. A wise Christian prioritizes the ability to grow spiritually over the ability to prosper materially.
I do not want to paint poverty as a good thing. It is a terrible reality and many people have died or lived in terrible distress from lack of resources. However, most Nigerians who can emigrate have significant financial and educational benefits which are not available to the vast majority of Nigerians. Usually, emigration is not driven primarily by the lack of the bare necessities (food and clothing as Apostle Paul put it) but for other (legitimate) reasons.
- Consider your church
The most important thing you are doing for God is serving him through your labor of love among a community of fellow believers where you live. Have you considered whether you would be able to serve God as effectively in your new location?
Notice, I did not ask whether you would be able to find a church to attend. That would be to think as a consumer of church services. Rather the emphasis should be on whether you would be able to do as much spiritually good as you (hopefully) currently do. I do know of many Christians who are in Nigeria and are spiritually useless to the church. I also know of Nigerian Christians who have emigrated and have been of great use both to their new churches and even to the churches in Nigeria that they left behind. The main point is that we are deliberate about serving God.
In conclusion, deciding whether or not to emigrate is a matter of wisdom and prudence. God told Abraham to leave his country and emigrate to another land. The same God told Abraham’s son Isaac not to emigrate to Egypt but to stay in the land he had providentially placed him in. The times and life conditions we find ourselves in are different and it is hard to make a general rule about such issues.
By now you have probably guessed that I am ambivalent about Japa’ing. However, emigration is a personal decision that every Christian must make themselves and be accountable before God for their choice. My primary concern is that we will all be wise and thoughtful in coming to any conclusion. God wants Christians to be wise people. So let us give much thought to these things, whether it is for our own sake or for the sake of the many of our friends and family members who are thinking about these things.