Do For One
Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. I kept thinking this while reading Chasing the Dragon.
I have heard this statement from a number of leaders over the years. And I think this encouragement is helpful in an era when the negative noise and news has never been louder. This fights against the inevitable despair and overwhelm that is a normal response to the amount of horror we hear about every day. Do for one. Jackie is an incredible example of the compound effect of ‘doing for one’ over a lifetime.
I am sure many are familiar with the slightly cheesy starfish story that roughly goes as follows: a young kid is flinging stranded starfish on the beach back into the sea after a bad storm. An adult approaches and asks ‘Why waste your time on this? There are too many. You won’t be able to make a difference.’ The young child holds up the starfish in his hand and as he flings it into the sea says ‘it makes a difference for this one’.
This story reminds me of the Scripture in Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.’
Do for one.
I grew up in a home and community with little exposure to the way the majority world lives. It was a small, middle-class town with very little diversity. You can imagine the shock to my system when I found myself in the middle of the Philippines at 15 years old on a missions trip. Standing in the Payatas garbage dump that was home to more than 30,000 people at the time was life-changing. The sights, smells and sounds from those few hours that day are still with me.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know how hard life could be. I didn’t know how great the disparity was between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. I didn’t know some people rummage through trash for their sustenance. I didn’t know.
Obviously my first short-term trip was extremely formative for me. I cannot separate my spiritual journey from those two trips to the Philippines while in high school. I went back to the Philippines upon graduation after a summer of working. I lived in the Philippines for about 8 months that year after high school. I am fairly sure that I did not add a great deal of value. But the exposure I gained and the paradigm shift my time there enabled is invaluable. I gained tremendously. Did those living there gain?
It is interesting that Jackie mentions very little about short-term workers and their impact on the stories she shares. And Ah Ping and others eventually gave her insights into their perspective of Westerner and Christian workers:
‘What you are doing really has nothing to do with us. You’ll go home anyhow, sooner or later.’
…it was an indictment against the evangelists that flew into Hong Kong, sang sweet songs about the love of Jesus on stage and on Hong Kong television, and then jumped back into their planes and flew away again.
‘…we wouldn’t mind believing in Jesus too if we could get in a plane and fly away round the world like them. They can sing about love very nicely, but what do they know about us? They don’t touch us – they know nothing.’
She stayed. She got her hands dirty. She touched them and got to know them. Surely this was a huge key to the miraculous happening in the Walled City.
This book raises again for me questions I have carried for a couple of decades now. How does the Church mobilize people to ‘do for one’ in a global context without undermining the local church? What does sound missions work look like in this century? What role do short-term trips play in a robust missions strategy for local churches? Are they helpful? I would love her perspective on this after all her decades of labor in one city. She has seen much and would have insight.
Chasing the Dragon is like smelling salts for the soul. While I’ve never been on the receiving end of them myself, I know they help keep you awake. I have one precious life to live and how will I go about it? Her tenacity and perseverance against systemic, complex, overwhelming circumstances stokes my fire to make a difference in the world. Jackie’s life story fueled my passion for the marginalized and for those who are born into homes and communities where sin, addiction, abuse and corruption are the norm. Her life challenges me to do for one hurting person what I wish I could do for every hurting person. She makes me want to be the young person in the starfish story and do whatever I can to make a difference – not the older apathetic, overwhelmed person I am tempted to be at times.
 Jackie Pullinger and Andrew Quicke, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kongs Drug Dens, 2nd ed. (Chosen Books: Kindle Edition, 2007).
 Author unknown; there are many iterations of the story but here is one telling as an example: https://www.cityyear.org/about-us/culture-values/founding-stories/starfish-story
 English Standard Version
 Pullinger and Quicke, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kongs Drug Dens. 59
3 responses to “Do For One”
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Thank you, Andrea. I was challenged by your post just as I was through Pullinger’s story. Like you, I didn’t know. My first eye-opening trip was to Cambodia and I have never been the same. I share your questions about short term missions and engage our denomination’s global mission leaders on this subject often.
I am starting to learn that those who think organizationally on a large scale need to serve the one continually so they keep the main thing the main thing, and remember the why of what they do. Also, those that are called to serve the one and do not see beyond that, need to realize the large scale impact they have over a lifetime of consistency.
Thank you for your response, Tammy. I couldn’t agree more about the higher up we find ourselves organizationally, the easier it is to lose touch with what matters most. I have disciplined myself these last couple of years to participate in missions, camps, etc as an active leader and servant. It would be acceptable for me to just observe and head out early but it is good for my soul to stay connected on the individual level. I lead better with that practice and perspective.
Hi Andrea. Thanks for the insight post. I am actually a fan of the cheesy starfish story you shared. I believe that one person CAN truly make a difference – even if it’s just for one broken person at a time. Thanks for sharing.
I, like you, grew up in a sheltered home and found the same culture shock on my first mission trip as well. I also learned the depth of poverty and hurt within those individuals that didn’t have the same opportunities as me. And, even though you don’t think you made a difference in the Philippians, I’ll bet the people you touched there ‘beg to differ.’ Thank you for your service to a country that truly needed you!