For the South Africans: how to know if you should emigrate

WordPress tells me that people from 164 different countries read this blog. I’m asking for grace today, if you’re from one of the 163 countries that is not South Africa. Because today I’m writing to my compatriots.

If you’re a regular around here, you’ll know that I write because I’m passionate about using my time and my potential to be all God created me to be, for his renown in this generation and the next. I only know how to be my very ordinary self, and I write from my very ordinary context – from who I am and what I know – as it may relate to others living under grace and burning with an urgency to change the world. I’m a conversationalist more than I am a controversialist, but today, I’m going there.

Because from what I’m reading in the headlines and between the lines of real life, we’re in crisis.

The national psyche has darkened in a way I haven’t experienced in my lifetime, which has been characterised by fluctuating crests of optimism and troughs of despair. I’ve come to expect that hope will rise and fear will flood – in equal, opposite, ironic measure. It’s how we roll.

I was born in 1977, when Apartheid was alive and kicking and people were restless. I was fast asleep and unaware the night in 1985 when P.W. Botha delivered his Rubicon speech but we lived how it continued to Rubik’s cube our lives into separate colours, separate cultures. I was in Grade 8 in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and we got the first smattering of black faces in our high school in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria. I was in Matric in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held. I couldn’t vote because I’d only just turned 17 but I remember the footage – queues and queues and queues of enfranchised people who possibly for the first time, felt like people.

So, like you, I’ve lived through the incredible triumphs of an African democracy ridding itself of suffocating oppression. I’ve also lived through the new evils of a new age. I’ve looked north of our borders and seen history repeat itself prophetically. I’ve been worried. And so very, very sad.

I can feel strangely trapped, trying to balance good news with bad, and I’m all about the freedom so I’m going back to what Jesus said – that the truth would set us free.

And here’s what I know to be true.

It’s true that changed people change a nation. And the only thing that changes people is changed hearts. And the only One who can change hearts is Jesus. Economics, education, medical care: all good and necessary. But even in the freest and fairest and most affluent and benevolent of all democracies, those things can effect skin-deep changes; maybe even sway the culture. But they have no power over the hearts of people.

It’s from changed hearts – hearts turned soft by turning to Jesus – that behaviour changes. Deeply. Intrinsically. And that changes how people live, love and work to build families, finances and infrastructure.

And Christians in South Africa, we know Jesus. We can tell the stories of changing grace because we’re living them.

We’re living the grace stories of remarkable resilience and the palpable awareness of our vitality and mortality, which lends us urgency and opportunity to be brave and to make a significant difference.

We’re living the grace stories of what it looks like to hold the tension of cutting-edge first world and destitute third world, in the same city, on the same day, every day, because it’s our actual geographic, political, historic and economic reality.

We’re living the grace stories – the joy and faith stories – of knowing we were born for such a time as this and so we keep shining light in the darkness. We look at Scripture and we kind of get it – how God never really called his people to a life of ease and safety. He pretty much sent them into danger and it’s exactly in uncertain times that we need leaders.

It’s also true that as believers living for God’s glory to complete his mission on Earth and knowing that this life is not the end, we’re ultimately faced with two choices when it comes to what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives and where we’re going to live them:

We can choose lifestyle, or we can choose legacy.

Neither dictates whether we stay in South Africa, or leave. But one is about earthly comfort. It has us making decisions out of anger, fear or hedonism. The other is about eternal consequence. It has us making decisions out of obedience to God’s call on our lives.

So like, if you choose lifestyle, you might say, ‘I choose big skies, big possibilities and big slices of milk tart. I choose weather and the warmth of people who totally get my jokes. I choose the twilight cries of hadidas. I choose zest, entrepreneurship and people arriving to visit in their stokies. I choose the lifestyle of South Africa.’ Or you might say, ‘I choose a stronger currency and a white Christmas. I choose to order things on Amazon and actually have them delivered. I choose lower crime rates and less corruption. I choose the lifestyle of emigration.’ Neither choice is wrong. But neither choice necessarily reflects God’s heart for you. All it really reflects is your priorities, and the things that you call comfort.

If you choose legacy, you’re saying, ‘I choose my relationship with God and others over what’s easy, safe or comfortable. It’s a privilege to be living and leading at this unprecedented time in [our nation’s / the world’s] history. I have gifts and a unique capacity that [my / another] country needs. There’s Kingdom work to be done and God is calling me to do it. I choose to sow seeds for a harvest I may never live to reap. I choose to leave a legacy in [South Africa / another country].’ That kind of decision foregrounds what will really matter in the end.

I can make this personal if you like. We have a visually impaired son. For him, a driver’s licence will only ever be preceded by a miracle. The slick ease and promised independence of first world public transport, for example, is attractive (= lifestyle). Yet the thought of giving up the fibre of our existence and robbing him and his little brother of the indescribably textured richness of growing up in the same city and suburbs as his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents (=legacy)? That overwhelms me with something quite close to grief.

So really the issue of leaving a legacy – getting to the end of your life and knowing you invested in people (because, well, what else matters?) – it’s not, Should we stay or should we go? Because we can all argue ourselves into plausibility.

The issue is, Be obedient.

Be obedient to the call. And the only way you’ll know what God is calling you to or from is if you’re walking closely enough to him to hear his voice. Keep a soft heart – stay tender. If your prayer is, ‘God, I want to go or stay, according to your will, your way, in your strength, and for your glory,’ he won’t let you miss that. And then, keep a strong spirit to answer the call, whatever it is.

And if you’re still not sure you’re hearing any call at all because your strength has almost run dry? Go into today with the bit you have left. Do just the next right thing. Do it excellently, where you are, just today. Be an excellent student, an excellent parent, an excellent maker of French toast or manager of millions. Bring up your kids to be excellent citizens of the world and the Kingdom. Ask yourself, ‘What breaks my heart?’ Lean into that area, today, and be excellent. Deal excellently with every person who intersects your life, today. In your sphere of influence today, control what you can – excellently – and throw yourself on the mercy of God for the rest. A whole lot of excellent todays paints an iridescent tomorrow. That’s legacy. (You could tweet that.)

I pray that you would know the deep peace, sure hope, surprising joy and abiding contentment of Jesus Christ as you contemplate your context, your calling and the matchless love of the living, sovereign God who sees every shack and shopping mall, who paints every African sunset and who will one day roll up all of history for his glory. And I pray that you would rest in what Corrie ten Boom said –

‘There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The centre of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!’

. . .

You’re so welcome to share your own brave grace stories in the comments, or share this with your peeps if you think it might encourage them. You can also contact me here, keep in touch on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up to get these posts by email.

(Pick up a copy of Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires by heading over here.)


  1. Hi Dalene

    You gave done it again! Holy Spirit has prompted you yet again to write on a topic so close to my heart. I was so grumpy after hearing some of the news reports yesterday and felt so hopeless. But I know that God has called us here so your blog was just an affirmation that He needs us to be obedient. And in Him, we need never fear the future.

    Thank you dear friend. Awesome again! Love Tracy

    Sent from my iPad



  2. This is surely an interesting blog, a little loaded, but thought provoking.
    Emigration seems a complex issue for believers, but it shouldn’t be. God places in the heart of His people the desire to emigrate or not – to reduce this into a perceptual, emotional, or spiritually intimate topic is probably a misrepresentation of the scriptures. God works in us to both will and do His good pleasure – we hear His voice(un-perceptually)and the consequences are action and circumstance. He has numbered our steps and guides our paths – of this there can be no doubt. Should ‘you’ decide to emigrate – know this: it is by His direction….should ‘you’ decide to stay, it is equally by His direction. I am truly amazed to realize afresh the guidance of our Lord – we might think that we have made mistakes (or fear making mistakes), but there are no mistakes with Him.
    He sends His heralds of the Gospel to where the elect are to be called – emigration is more often than not, a part of His plan to call one of the elect somewhere at an appointed time. The seeds that we sow or the adding of water to those seeds are all in line with His Providence…wherever and whenever He has appointed it to be from before the foundation of the world.
    Be at Peace, our Lord reigns in the Heavens and on this Earth, nothing, NOTHING, escapes Him. He has set His unchanging love on us….He has sent our Lord to pay the price for our reconciliation and will surely guide us until He calls us home: take heart from Psalm 23.
    Even when things are done through complex motives (motives are seldom perfect, even in the believer) God’s guidance is present (Genesis 50:20)…..


  3. Dalene your blog is great and the subject so relavent! One thing that we as children of God must remember is His assurances, He will NEVER forsake or leave us, knowing this, we MUST Rest in Him and His Promises! HE is faithful and True leaving us NO room for doubt or fear! With Christ IN us, who can stand against us/Him?


  4. My husband and I have just returned to South Africa after being away for 20 years. We may still be in the ‘honeymoon’ period but we are THRILLED to be back! This is an amazing country. The greatest thrill is that people are still open to speak about Jesus so gospel opportunities abound. This is not the case in the UK. It is possible that SA will also become hardened in the near future, but while there is an open door, we sense the urgency to make the most of what the Lord has graciously provided. Below is the link to a letter written by a godly American missionary (living in SA) giving reasons why she will stay and why her South African friends should stay! I believe her 100% when she says she is prepared to die for South Africa.


    • Hi, thanks so much for being in touch, and for your encouragement! Crazy – Michelle Cantrell and I were in the same church years ago; she’s just amazing… Thanks so much for sharing that link! Be blessed x


  5. Dalene,

    Well done for being courageous, putting this out there (which is part of yourself) and encouraging us to do the same! Our country is a better place because of you. Well done & keep going! You’re not alone. There are others like you who believe in Hope, who believe in God’s greatness and goodness, who believe that our choices matter and that our obedience to God is central to us being the difference we want to see.

    May God continue to bless and use you in this way and may you also be encouraged to keep on walking by faith.


  6. Hi Dee!

    Wow yet again-amazing work! Thanks so much for your blog. We have been faced with this issue lately and we have first hand encountered the pain of what people can do, how they can change a families future through their careless acts. The repercussions are so far beyond what you can grasp at the time. As we speak about our future and where the Lord wants us to be, we have never been so torn between wanting to run or digging our heels in. Our ultimate prayer is that the Lord would clearly open and close doors to place us just where He wants us-in the centre of His will.

    So, I did love your quote from Carrie Ten Boom. If anyone knew hardship, it was her. Yet there is no safer or better place to be than in the centre of Gods will….right in the palm of our loving Father. He doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us.

    Lots of love



  7. Hi dear Lee! Thanks so much for being in touch.. I will pray for your guys whenever God brings you to mind! And I hear you, and stand with you in the truth that fear and faith can’t coexist in our hearts. So much love x


  8. Wow this has struck a nerve with me! I am in South Africa very much against my will. Sure it’s beautiful and some people are awesome, but it isn’t my home. I want America, I want my family, I want Amazon articles that are delivered, organic and raw foods, a good salary, safety…but grief, I’ve known since I was 14 (many hers before I came) that I would live out here. I didn’t know how long, just that I would. I miss those comforts but also I want to reach the masses with hope. I’m often left hopeless when I experience so much anger, hatred, greed, violence, corruption…but I know His grace is sufficient and these people are my inheritance! How amazing! I don’t know how to not only ‘get through’ but also overcome this time and be victorious…but I guess I am willing to keep in trying. To Him be the glory! It will all be worth it:) thank you for reminding me of the reality of my situation :*


    • Thanks so much for sharing, Emily… Gosh, I can understand how hard things must often feel for you. I’m praying with you and for you right now, that our Heavenly Father would surround you with his love and a deep sense of knowing that he will accomplish his purposes for you. I pray that as you put all your faith in him, that there would no place for fear. I also pray that he would bless you with a rare and lasting contentment. Every blessing to you.


  9. ahhhhhh, lovely stuff, makes me emotional – and your stuff is always lovely but this piece in particular connects with something that is core within me, especially with regards to this country i love so much – loved how you summed it up as being obedient cos that is something we as Christ followers need to hear more of and more of how the refrain of me, me, me really isn’t a heaven sent message…

    And if you do choose to stay [and you should, if you don’t hear any message to the contrary] then here is one way of going about it which i feel is crucial:

    Keep on lady, you are a mobilising force
    love brett fish


  10. Thanks dear Brett! Yes, love how there are voices rising all over the blogosphere at the moment with this message of trust and obedience… Loving your series too that’s urging us to deal with the issues honestly and intentionally. Much love


  11. HI I have lived in two countries other than South Africa before. I have found that amiss all the chaos in our country there is a lot of good things coming out of the situation. It keeps us humble to know everything is not a given. I choose our spontaneity due to the chaos more than having a perfect world where everything must happen in a set manner and where some people act like robots and no real joy for life comes from them.

    I do however belief if you want to stay here you need to know things are not perfect but also do what you can to change things like crime and our nature being under threat. Not just this is Africa so anything goes.

    I can see how far our country has come in reconciliation and i am excited t see what our people can do toghter.


    • Hi Hanneke – thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your experiences! I really hear you… And what you say is real and encouraging. Strength and blessings to you! d


  12. A friend shared this on FB! And what an encouragement! I’m also a 77 baby and returned nearly 2 years ago from UK…after longing for an opportunity to return and much prayer, hubby was offered a job back here in Joburg quite miraculously, and we moved back within 3 mths. One of our fears was giving up everything safe and familiar, friends, our home and coming to a strange new country (it felt that way after 12 years and so much change to our homeland)…would God be able to provide for us here? Would He continue to protect us if we came back? It’s so easy to say YES with the head but to get the heart to believe is another matter…We were encouraged by the Lords promise to Joshua as he was about to cross the Jordan…’Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you…no man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you…Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid,nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’
    I am often reminded that no matter how great the enemies appear, God is able to protect and provide for his people…wherever they may reside or be in the journey…the Israelites who complained in the wilderness, defeating their enemies in the promised land (Joshua), protecting and prospering His people in a foreign land in exile (Daniel). He was faithful to all of His people…wherever they were!!
    And as for us, after being faithful through a whole bunch of trials we faced in the UK, God has been so faithful in our return… finding a home, school quite suddenly (not easy in Joburg) and hubby has had 2 job promotions already! All by the grace of our Heavenly Father! One of the many things I love about being back is that my children can attend school where they still pray each morning, sing hymns and allow visiting speakers to profess their faith openly school events…and the number of churches…WOW!
    So much hope for our precious country! So much praying to do! So much action to be taken! So glad we serve a BIG God!


    • Wow Karyn, and bless you!! Thanks so much for sharing… You’ve encouraged me again today to keep my eyes on our great God! Keep in touch; love Dalene


  13. Hi there guys
    In my humble opinion emigration is not always just for crime related reasons,but my reason would be for the future of our children.Let’s face it with affirmative action Kwotas in universities etc. What kind of opportunities will be left for our kids in years to come.
    Yes of course SA is a beautiful place but how it is governed and things like crime and corruption spoils this country.

    As a parent we are faced with the dilemma of having to make sure our children will have the best future possible.
    I also think that when you are at the doorstep of having to decide to emigrate that God gives you the power and drive to go through it,as this is the most difficult decision of your life.
    You leave everything behind everything familiar and start from scratch,almost like the 40nights and 40 days the Israelites had to endure in their travels through the dessert to be able to reach the promised land.
    Similarly they also had to make the choice based on what they believed were waiting for them on the other side.
    Emigration is an emotional rollercoaster,you know in your heart that its the right thing to do,but struggle with the emotional aspects of leaving everyone behind.
    So if you pull through and actually go through with emigration I believe its Gods will.


  14. @ teldapeskettTelda Peskett…

    I wont tell you anything about myself, so that it doesn’t colour (excuse the pun) my argument. You made a comment about how closed (in general) people in the UK are to the Gospels. If you were to clarify that and say that a majority of white anglo-saxon residents were not open to Christianity, then I would agree. Last I knew though, the Baptists, Catholics and various other denominations still had a foothold in Britain. The same as in South Africa.

    But I totally disagree with the sentiment that a lot of Christians have about seeing South Africa as a more worthy place to practice their faith than the UK. Yes, in simplistic terms South Africa is very much like America, where people aren’t ashamed to be labelled Christian – unlike (on a whole) in the UK, where Christianity appears to be seen as simplistic and naive – an easy target for mockery and ridicule.

    But that only makes SA an EASIER place for Christians to practice their faith. Without fear of ridicule and more available options open to them, such as regular bible study or mission trips to Mbabane on the weekend. In other words life may be more comfortable for an SA Christian (and I’m not on about the white man going into the townships every Tuesday to save some souls) than his British counterpart.

    I fear that SA Christians expend too much energy on preaching to the converted, instead of going for the spiritual jugular, and hitting Satan where it hurts. I would give you a bag of biltong for every soul that could be saved on a Friday night out on the town up in northern England. Exactly – nobody is doing it because it is mission impossible! You have more chance of The Proteas winning a cricket world cup than of changing a ‘chav’ in Newcastle! My point is this: surely Christians with evangelism in their hearts should view the desolate, sinful areas as EXACTLY the sort of places where some sort of effort to represent the truth of the gospel and the Lord’s message should be made.

    I’m pretty sure God is just as concerned about the souls of those living under the grey, wet clouds of Britain, as He is about those who are living across the hot and sun-kissed Highveld or beaches of the Cape.


  15. Dalene, I’m so grateful to people like you who have dedicated your time to putting ‘our’ feelings/thoughts/contemplations into words – what an excellent and well written heart-piece and so pertinent right now. It’s as if you heard the heartbeat of so many of us, the timing is spot on. Basically we all so desperately need to hear the daily still voice in our lives prompting us, and without it we are lost. I pray He guides each and every one of us to be positive life-changing impactors on this earth, wherever we go (or stay). Thanks for your writing, it’s medicine for the soul.

    Liked by 1 person

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