Living among people in a non-Western setting, I learned early on that I couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) put God in a box. That is, as we mature in our faith, we understand more about God and the way God works, but when we begin to pattern our expectations in order to “make” God work in a certain way, God is often inclined to not show up. As I read Jackie Pullinger’s Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, I found myself pulled in two seemingly opposite directions, but in the end, I believe they both point to the same theme: our attempted control of God.
Pullinger, a charismatic Christian from Britain who took a boat to Hong Kong in the 1960s, began working among members of gangs and organized crime, with prostitutes and drug addicts. Heroin addicts came to her, looking for relief from the addiction. She (and eventually, other former addicts) would convince the addict to pray “in the Spirit” for relief and the addict would experience peace and no painful withdrawal effects from the drugs. The protocol was certainly not what we would consider scientific, and yet it seemed to follow very specific scientific criteria: if you pray (in this particular way) then God would heal you from your addiction without pain. That patterned response—if this then this—was very effective in providing relief for the addicts, as well as convincing them of the power of Jesus and the benefits to them in following Him. The challenge with this method—it is indeed, a method—is that it really fits the category of magic much more than religion or relationship. Within an anthropological framework, magic is what we do ritually or mechanically to bring about a specific result; when approaching a deity, it is, in essence, our actions that cause God to work in a specific and expected way. Controlling God.
Pullinger describes it this way: “Word quickly spread along the addict grapevine that if they were willing to believe in Jesus, they would receive some kind of power that enabled them to kick drugs painlessly.” And “as each boy arrived, the miracle was repeated: He came to Christ and came off drugs painlessly when he praying in the language of the Spirit.” And finally, “Some of the boys who were smart enough to pray immediately never had the slightest twinge. Others, like Siu Ming, waited until they were in extremis before learning that God did not want them to suffer at all.”
Now for the second direction I am pulled as I read Pullinger’s story: as Westerners steeped in Enlightenment rationalism, we have certain expectations of how God responds and doesn’t respond. When we suggest that God isn’t involved in miraculous healing of these addicts, we also box God into our own assumptions. I’ve shared in blog posts before about Kenyan church leaders praying for a dead person who returns to life, and our (missionary) skepticism about it. This week, we received an update from a Kenyan church leader, Peter Losuru, as dictated to an American family serving on our former team in Turkana:
“One day I was driving on my motorbike when a woman ran out to the road to meet me. She told me that her son had been very sick for some time and was not getting better. He had tested positive for malaria and was given medicine, but he was not getting better, and he was going to die. She asked me to come and pray for her son to be healed but I told her the story of Jesus, who said “because of your faith your son/daughter will be healed”. I explained that I didn’t need to go, God would heal her son because of her faith. We prayed right there and then she insisted I come with her. We went back to her house and found the boy sleeping. When I walked in I told the boy to get up and he immediately got up and was healthy. We took him back to the doctor and all tests were negative. He was healed. The doctors and his family could not believe it.”
Our Western skepticism says more about us and our beliefs about God, than it does about God. I read through the book of Acts and see people coming to faith in all sorts of ways; in fact, no two stories in Acts follow the same pattern—the only evident pattern is that God shows up and a person’s life is changed. I am resistant to both our Western suspicion and Pullinger’s prayerful equation because they both seek to limit and expect God to work according to our assumptions. We all seem to cling to order—I know I do (even Jesus did when calming the storm and healing the possessed Gadarene), but I think we would do well to be open to the chaos of the Spirit and recognize that, like wind, we “hear the sound of it, but [we] do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
 I am not referring to her motives—which seem honest—nor the validity of praying when in turmoil; only to the calculated assumptions. Her ultimate goal—opening the eyes of the hopeless to the hope they have in Jesus—was not only successful, but continues to be ongoing.
 Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, Minneapolis: Chosen, 1980, 2001, 154.
 Ibid., 157.
 Ibid., 168.
 Acts 2:41—3000 baptized at one time. Acts 3:6—Peter touches and heals man who is lame, in the name of Jesus. Acts 8:35-36—Ethiopian hears of Jesus in Hebrew Bible and Philip baptizes him. Acts 9—Paul falls off his horse, is blinded, Jesus speaks directly to him, he is discipled by Ananias. Acts 10:44-48—Peter preaches, the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius’ household and then they were baptized. Acts 13:12—Cyprian proconsul saw Saul curing the magician and believed because of the teaching about the Lord. Acts 13:48— Gentiles destined for eternal life heard Paul’s words and believed. Acts 16:15—the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to Paul’s words; she and her household were baptized. Etc.