Today is a public holiday in South Africa – Freedom day. We commemorate our first democratic election in 1994 on the 27th of April. I still remember that day. I was 18 and stood in a line for five hours in order to cast my vote. It was an amazing day of palpable excitement and a doorway into the “New South Africa”.

Yesterday at our church I preached on 1 Peter 3 (the lectionary reading for the weekend). As a background text we looked at Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon found in Jeremiah 29. Most Christians are familiar with verse eleven of this chapter – it famously states that God “has a plan for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” The only rub of this verse is that it was written to a group of exiles who were told that they would stay in exile for another 70 years. What are the options for people in exile?

4 options for people in exile:

– Start a rebellion
– Accommodate and assimilate
– Start a sectarian community
– God’s advice via Jeremiah :

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

“Seek the welfare of the city”

For Jeremiah (and Peter) believers, who find themselves in exilic situations, should seek the shalom of the city. The reason for this is very pragmatic – when you bring shalom, it will also envelope you. A lot of white South Africans find themselves in an exile of sorts – the old is gone and the new is becoming.
There is an ongoing debate raging about emigration. So yesterday we talked about “should I stay or should I go?” Next weekend I’m speaking at one of the local churches on the topic of “How to emigrate to the real South Africa”. The overall theme is “Is there a future for us in this country?”

The last question’s answer depends largely on whom the “us” is, and also what the definition of the future is.

Peter and Jeremiah connected the exiles of their community to a narrative that superseded their own individualistic stories. I’m shocked by the fact that the rhetoric for and against emigration is basically the same for followers and non-followers of Jesus. It basically consists of similar lists of pros and cons. Shouldn’t God play a role in our emigration debates?

I strongly believe that we are servants who are in a geographical situation to bless – to seek shalom.

Peter gives very practical advice for exiles in chapter 3:

Participate in a community (v8)
Live a rhythm of blessing (v9-12)
Be eager (zealous) to do good (v13)
Be ready to suffer (v14, 16-17)
Develop the language of hope (v15)
Grow in an attitude of gentleness and reverence (v16)