When is the right time to leave?


One of the most difficult decisions to discern is when to leave and when to stay. In a relationship that has turned abusive, or a group that is now toxic, or simply a life season when it is clearly time to move on. But there are life altering situations that go beyond the personal or family, and become historic tragedies. Such was the truly horrific genocide of April, 1994 in the beautiful country of Rwanda.

The country director of the Seventh Day Adventists in Rwanda, Carl Wilkens, who had lived there already for several years, had to face the decision whether to stay or go. He ended up seeing his parents, wife and children off to Nairobi, Kenya, and became the only American to stay though the whole three months of the genocidal violence until it was stopped by the invading Rwanda Patriotic Force (RPF). His story is grippingly described in I’m not leaving. It is an account of courage and the saving of lives through that courage.

I just returned from spending three weeks in Rwanda, and the progress the country has made since the events of 1994 is truly stunning. The level of suffering where over 800,000 people were murdered in the space of weeks is beyond imagination. An attempt is made to tell the story, and the stories of other genocides, in the Kigali Genocide Memorial. But how can anyone really understand the depth of human evil involved in a carnage of this kind?

Whether to stay or leave in a situation requires a messy complexity of decision making. Very few of us would ever have to make a decision when facing a genocide in the making and carrying out. But there are many other times when discernment is needed for a changing season of life or relationship. In this case, it was a greater love that caused Wilkens to stay in Kigali. A love and faith in his God and a love for the people he felt called to serve and protect. In our situation, what does love say? Does a greater love help give us the answer?

Wilkens also had to face his mission leader basically ordering him to leave the country. He agonized over this, not wanting to be rebellious. But in the end he replied that if the leader could guarantee that the people Wilkens was protecting would be safe if he left, then he would be willing to leave. The mission leader knew he could not guarantee that, and he dropped the demand. We do want to do our best to submit to authority in those situations, but there are also circumstances that can make it very complicated.

It seems clear that decisions to leave or stay should not be taken lightly, and should require much time to discern if that time is available. It is perhaps evident that people do leave situations, whether a church, organization or relationship, sometimes too quickly. But what does courage look like? Sometimes staying is the evidence of courage, sometimes leaving.

It is Christmas week, a time when loneliness can reign in many hearts. Some affiliations need to end, and some need to be strengthened. And in just a few days, the new year of 2019 will start. What decisions need to be made in your life related to whether you stay or go?

May wisdom and discernment be yours.

2 thoughts on “When is the right time to leave?

  1. What a timely piece, Steve, when many of us would like to run from something, or run toward something. Good discernment questions. And a very joyful Christmas to you and yours, Sandy


  2. Steve, good thoughts here. Have you read the story of the international group in Nanjing (Nanking) China in 1937-8 who after the Japanese took over the city organised refuge places to protect Chinese people while in the wider city 300,000 were murdered and vast numbers of women raped. Amazing stories that I thought about as Ive read about Ruanda and your thoughts.


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