What happens inside of you when unwelcome guests knock on your door inviting you to come with them for questioning? Or what goes on in the minds of children whose dad has been with the police all day while mum is stressed, tense, and worried? And what about the team members and dear friends who suddenly find themselves trying to help their friends pack their things, seemingly at a moment’s notice—while they themselves are also in shock. And may we not forget the Chinese who are left behind, confused and very sad, and who may not have had the opportunity to say good bye.
Many of us are aware that the situation inside China now is very tight and difficult on several levels. If we look at the situation for expats we see that what started in the northwest in the spring, with many expats having to leave their adopted homes and the places and people who are so dear to them, has since spread to several other parts of China. City after city is, and has been, experiencing its own kind of exodus this past autumn.
Leaving the place, you call home is always difficult. Even when a move is planned, transition is hard. Having to leave your home in China suddenly is not just difficult; it is traumatic and should not be taken lightly. When my husband got that “Must leave the country within 10 days” stamp in his passport and we returned to our home country many years ago, someone who had been through a similar situation in a different country compared being deported to amputation. A part of yourself is cut off. It is physically painful and emotionally traumatic. Long after the departure you still have “ghost” feelings as if it is still there. As if you are still there.
Some of the people who have left recently did so within hours of being told they had to leave. Some left within ten hours or the following morning. Some have been given 72 hours. To transition well in such a short amount of time is impossible. To even go through and pack up your home of many years is impossible in a day or two. Several of those who have had to leave China are parents with children. Not having the opportunity to say good bye to people and places, and to grieve well creates deep wounds; wounds which need to be dealt with or they will always be there.
When we talk about this exodus of expats who have had to leave China, it is important to keep some facts right. Not everyone is taken in by the police and then, after days of interrogation, being deported. This has happened and is happening as I write. These are the ones who end up with a stamp to leave within a certain time and very often are banned from entering the country for the next five years.
Rather some of the ones who have left have done so in order to avoid getting that stamp in their passports and being banned from returning. They have made the choice to leave. In many cases, that decision was made together with their sending organization and their team on the ground. These decisions are never easy to make. Trying to make wise decisions when everything around you is chaotic and the future unknown is anything but easy. Though it is still not easy, it is a huge help and a blessing not to be alone in making the decision. It is a decision with many consequences and not to be made lightly.
In the upcoming weeks we will look at how we can care for those who have left China. We will look at who should be involved—the team and people on the ground, sending organizations, professional counselors, member care people, home churches, and friends. And not the least: the people who have left.
Image credit: Guangzhou Departures by WabbitWanderer via Flickr.
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