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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Compare and Contrast

Written by: on May 24, 2018

It happened again this week. While sitting in a Session meeting (our church board), one of the leaders started comparing our church with another larger congregation in the next town over.  Why weren’t we doing the kinds of ministries they were involved with? Where was our public witness?  Why weren’t we having the kind of impact they seem to be having?

Teddy Roosevelt is said to have said that, “comparison is the thief of joy”, and among churches and ministries and leaders, this is often the case.  This is the danger in reading a book like Chasing the Dragon, a memoir by British missionary to Hong Kong, Jackie Pullinger. The subtitle of the book calls this “One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens”, and the stories in the book are as dramatic as this would suggest.

It begins with Pullinger’s own sense of calling as a young girl in England, and how she went about responding to God’s pull on her life.  Seeking to be a missionary overseas, she boards a ship from England for Hong Kong, without any financial backing, job prospects or a return ticket. From here, our hero seems to spring from one amazing, Holy Spirit led activity to another, as she goes about making a life as an overseas, cross-cultural missionary. In many ways, this book follows the classic “hero quest” archetype that has been chiseled into our minds about what a missionary ought to do and be.

She comes from humble origins, responds to the call to go and serve, overcomes all manner of danger and obstacle, including drug gangs, poverty, prostitution rings, and the ongoing threat of violence, all while learning cultural lessons and saving souls. In a sense, it is hard to read this amazing account and not ask self-critical questions like: “why am I not doing the kinds of ministries that Jackie Pullinger is involved with?  Where is my public witness?  Why am I not having the kind of impact that this woman seems to be having?”

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, she once said, “churches tend to look after the nice people.  I do my work with the nasty ones, like addicts and prostitutes who feel despised and excluded… they won’t go near churches, so I make it my job to find them.”[1]

One reviewer puts it this way, “a Christian catch phrase of fairly recent origin is ‘wild heart.’ It may be recent, but it describes Christians of all centuries.  Chasing the Dragon… tells of a Christian who has followed in the ancient tracks of those wild-hearted Christians who plunged into what seemed insanity, thereby letting God make great advances.”[2]

Jackie Pullinger has a larger than life story to tell.  She is one of those “wild hearted Christians”, who has a calling that has shaped her life in incredible ways.  Part of the story is simply Pullinger’s radical, long-term commitment to the underside of Hong Kong society. But the book reads as a catalogue of one amazing story after another.

In one way, this is a genre of Christian missionary writing.  Our hero, Jackie Pullinger, has profound faith in the love of God for people who suffer, and she is rewarded when she acts in faith.  In this reading, the book is almost a hagiography, with all the attendant miracle stories and awe-inspiring accounts.  In a way, this book continues the tradition of the Acts of the Apostles from the Bible, the “missionary history” of the early church. As with the Book of Acts, in Pullinger’s story, the Holy Spirit is constatntly on the move, entering people’s lives in dramatic ways.

However, embedded in this book there are also some hints of a more human and approachable Jackie Pullinger. She shares how in her formative years of faith, she was being confirmed at her church, but wasn’t really sure what it was all about.  She writes, “I found my service sheet and covered up my face so that no one should see me smiling in the pew… I was giving my life to God; I had expected nothing back.”[3]Here she reflects that she was a giggling schoolgirl, irreverently trying to understand all pomp and ceremony of the church of her youth.

After her early adventures in Hong Kong, she confides, “looking back at the experiences of those years in Lung Kong Road, I have mixed emotions.  It was a time of learning and of growing up.  Often, I was in awful confusion.”[4]  This is one of the rare humanizing moments in the book, but it is important.

Contemporary personal memoirs tend to have much more self-doubt, personal failings and “bloopers” than this one offers. This will be a disconnect for some readers today, who often respect the “authenticity” of a writer’s failings more so than their successes.

Towards the end of her book, Pullinger tries to sum up her perspective on this missionary life.  She writes, “knowing not what the future might bring in a political sense or what would be permitted in terms of formal structure, I had always wished for such simplicity, no need for organization. One poor man reaching one poor man. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ seemed to sum it up.”[5]

This is a way to view Jackie Pullinger.  Less the “classic hero” of mythic proportions… Less the “better than you” evangelist or minister… And perhaps, instead, the young girl in England, not sure of her future.  The one who turns to God and trusts in small ways and in large ones.  The one who doesn’t know what her future will bring, but who centers on the common core: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In doing that in Jesus’ name, Jackie Pullinger has surely impacted the world and changed countless lives.  And the calling that we have, in whatever sort of ministry we pursue, is to do the same.  To trust God with big things and small, and to serve the world in Christ’s name.  I suspect when we focus on doing those things, we will spend less time comparing ourselves with this amazing overseas missionary, or with the church down the block.

[1]Bernice Chan, “Briton’s 50 Years of Helping Hong Kong Addicts Beat Drugs – and Find God,” South China Morning Post, November 24, 2016, http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2048647/britons-50-years-helping-hong-kong-addicts-beat-drugs-and-find-god.

[2]Donna Eggett, “Chasing the Dragon,” Christian Book Preiews, accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.christianbookpreviews.com/christian-book-detail.php?isbn=0830743280.

[3]Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens (Bloomington: Chosen Books, 1980), 29.

[4]Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens (Bloomington: Chosen Books, 1980), 134.

[5]Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens (Bloomington: Chosen Books, 1980), 246.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

8 responses to “Compare and Contrast”

  1. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Dave thanks for your candid and sober assessment of the uniqueness of Jackie’s rare and exceptional story. Do you think it’s possible she’s a modern day prophet? Do you believe there are prophets who God calls in certain times and places to help the church become a little more courageous?

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dave,

    Bums me out that you had someone playing the comparison game. Leadership pain! As a pastor, these situations always made me want to ask, “If they are doing so well, why aren’t you going there?”

    Can you believe we might get to meet Pullinger? Can hardly wait for London!

  3. Great post as usual Dave! I appreciated you bringing out this common truth not highlighted enough… “comparison is the thief of joy”, and among churches and ministries and leaders, this is often the case.” It is always interesting to me that people tend to compare up and rarely down, and therefore be envious of those who have more or are doing more etc. This causes us to forget the be grateful for what we have and are doing and give God the praise regardless. It is good if we can use Jackie as inspiration and not comparison.

  4. Greg says:

    Dave, I agree the missionary genre books are written in a larger than life style (drives me crazy). Everyone is looking for the stories of supernatural and seems to sometime overlook the work that comes from walking with someone over time. I too found her brief moments of self reflection as healthy moments in a sea of transformational stories. I would loved to have heard more of her journey and heart learning to trust God through the chaos that she was involved in. Comparison games are unhealthy no matter where you live. Thanks Dave for bringing us to reality of the issue of living in a fallen world that loves to be better than someone else or compare ministries as if that proves our worthiness before God.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Dave, great real life example from your meeting. I think I would have posed the question back to the asker…”Why aren’t we doing more ministry like the church in the next community? You tell me…”?!” It’s frustrating that Western churches have become comfortable with the idea that activities = ministry. There is an importance in that, however the real conversion comes from leaving the neighborhood and joining life with those we would never be comfortable with. Isn’t that Jesus’ calling?

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Dave,
    Great job in pulling your heart through this book. I really appreciate your focus on young Jackie and her exuberance for serving Christ. As a youth minister, that is one of the things I loved being a part of, and one of the things I miss as a pastor. Seeing God new through the eyes of teenagers. Thanks for sharing.

    Jason

  7. Dave,

    Many thanks for your helpful post which focuses on the missionary hero versus some of the more humanizing elements. I agree that if Jackie were to have highlighted these more it would have led to a more accessible book. I think in reading such works, we must always remember there are dozens of days of drudgery, depression, waste, and failure. We hear the good bits, but the whole context provides a much richer space to contemplate the work of God in our midst.

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great word Dave. It is easy to feel insignificant while reading this book. Some of I know is holy conviction, while some of it insecurity.

    Thanks for your insightful critique of the literary style of this book.

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