Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Ghetto by Any Other Name…

Written by: on September 6, 2018

The Ghetto, the hood, the projects, and slums, are all names of places that conjure up images of darkness that nobody chooses to go, and certainly not to go and live in by choice.  I did not grow up in the ghetto, but I grew up close enough to it that I knew the trappings and problems of ghetto life.  Just a few blocks away from my house, across the park, were “the projects”.  Although many of the homes in the projects were very nice when I grew up in the late 1960’s, warnings were constantly given by our parents to stay out of the projects.

Venturing into the projects a few times to visit friends, I could see the problems associated with ghetto life.  Many lived in crowded conditions, some used heroin or others drugs, and alcoholism seemed to be one of the most prevalent evils of the day.  Ultimately, my goal was to go to college, get an education, and stay as far as possible from ghetto life.

After being saved in college, graduating, and working a career, I often wondered how to minister to those stuck in the ghetto. Many churches, such as my own, have programs to assist those who are in need.  We often see people faced with some of the same problems as those in Jackie Pullinger’s book, Chasing the Dragon, including, drug addiction, inadequate housing, and mental illness.  Although we minister to many by praying for them, by providing food for them, and giving out clothing, the needs of the people never seem to end. It seems like the modern church is not really making a dent in the problems faced by those in urban communities.

Jackie Pullinger gives a clear pattern on how to make a difference and minister to those trapped in a vicious cycle of drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness while living in the ghetto. First, Pullinger chooses to minister to the people in the “Walled City”, Hong Kong’s own ghetto, by dwelling among them and ministering to their needs. John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth”. While many churches wait for people to come to them for help, Pullinger went to where the people were and brought the glory of God to the darkness of the Walled City.  Pullinger states, “My mission was to help the Walled City people to understand who Christ was. If they could not understand the words about Jesus, then we Christians were to show them what He was like by the way we lived” (Pullinger and Quicke 2007, 56).

The second thing that Pullinger did to break the bonds over people’s lives was using the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pullinger relied on the Holy Spirit to see people saved, deliver people from addiction, and help them grow in the faith.  Pullinger states, “Instead of my deciding what I wanted to do for God and asking His blessing, I was asking Him to do His will through me as I prayed in the language He gave me.” (Pullinger and Quicke 2007, 65).  Pullinger was able to make headway into the problems facing the people of the Walled City by the power of the Holy Spirit, something the Western church has seemed to ignore.

Finally, Pullinger not only dwelled with the people of the Walled City to show the incarnate Christ, and used the power of the Holy Spirit to break the bonds over people’s lives; she also demonstrated her faith in Christ by providing for the physical needs of the people.

Pullinger provided housing and jobs to the people trapped in a cycle of poverty and addiction.  As the Apostle James says in James 2:14-17, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  Pullinger exemplified that faith needs works to go with it to show those of the world’s ghettos that God is real.  Pullinger further speaks about those she provided housing for stating, “Their faith did not depend on any understanding of theological concepts but on seeing Jesus working in others and on their willingness to let Him work in their lives” (Pullinger and Quicke 2007, 159).

Jesus is real and He cares about those caught in the bondage of sin and poverty just as He did thousands of years ago.

It seems crazy to go to live in the Walled City of Hong Kong, one of the world’s worst ghettos imaginable, but this is what Pullinger did.  Maybe if we chose to show the incarnate Jesus Christ to the dying world, we can break down the “Walled Cities” that exists all over the world by all of the other names.  Maybe if we used the power of the Holy Spirit we would see many in the Western world delivered from the power of opioids, other drugs, and mental illness, plaguing our society.  Maybe, if we have the faith to provide for the needs of those crippled by years of addiction, broken by sin, yet trying to recover, will the world see that our faith is real.

Maybe if we would venture into the ghettos of the world, with the Word of God and power of the Holy Spirit, maybe we might slay some dragons.


Pullinger, Jackie, and Andrew Quicke. Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens. Ada, Michigan: Chosen Books, 2007.

About the Author

Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

6 responses to “The Ghetto by Any Other Name…”

  1. Karen Rouggly says:

    Your post points out so many great points, Mary. I was struck by your association of Pullinger and her work with the 8 keys of community development, developed by the Christian Community Development Association. The starting place for all work is “relocation” which is exactly what Pullinger did! When you relocate to a community, in her case, the Walled City, “their” problems become “our” problems. In your experiences, would you say that was the case for you? Have you been able to adopt the problems of the ghettos you mentioned in a way that brings solidarity with the highs and lows associated with the community?

    Your post made me think through this book with a new lens. Thanks!

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thank you, Mary. As I read your post I continually thought how the Church has tended to be “either/or” rather than “both/and” in our approach. We are either all social gospel or all Holy Spirit or all proclamation, rather than understanding what Pullinger knew, it is a both/and gospel that is needed. Demonstration through physical care, as you so well described, as well as the the power of the Holy Spirit to break through the systemic bondage are both needed for holistic personal and community transformation.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    You are so right that Jackie’s example is a powerful pattern for ministry. She chose to be close enough long enough in order to reach people with the Gospel. She relied on the Holy Spirit and she met physical needs. I am amazed that this was what God did to reach us through the Incarnation of Jesus. He came close and lived with us on this planet. He spoke of being dependent upon the Father and offered the Holy Spirit’s power in His physical absence. He met physical needs. Thank you for making this connection for me.

  4. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Your use of the term ghetto draws me to the significance that both the Walled City, and the ghetto you describe so poignantly in your post are both a by product of laws, customs, and regulations that have entrapped certain populations in horrific living conditions throughout history. Bickering between British and Chinese magistrates caused this scenario, and the resulting “hands off” policy led to the disaster. Pullinger’s “hands on” ministry is what finally brought hope and resurrection to so many who had been, through no fault of their own, doomed to the shadows of the Walled City.

    • Sean Dean says:

      Jacob, I think you’re right that the creation of the ghetto of the Walled City was the result of regulations – or lack there of. I wonder at what point Christians should try to influence the policies that are creating those conditions. I’m sure the answer will be different depending on the situation, but I imagine there are probably a set of conditions by which the choice to step in could be decided.

  5. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Mary. I found your posting to be both informative and engaging. To feel your perspective through your words was very powerful. I’ve heard of “the projects” in various cities, but have never had exposure to them. Your introduction to the conditions within was insightful.

    I agree with your statement that the modern church is not really making a dent in the problems faced by those in urban communities. Do you have any insight into how we (as a church) could make a difference? As noted in your posting, I also find James 2:14 to be very powerful. We must be reaching out and helping others on this journey we call life. Thanks so much for sharing, Mary.

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