I first read Chasing the Dragon in the 1980’s. At the time, Jackie Pullinger was a superstar among missionaries as far as angsty New Zealand teenagers were concerned. She spoke plainly, unreservedly and often confrontationally. Jackie was a force majure to institutional faith, and she got away with it because few clerics were prepared to tackle the courage of a young, educated woman who, in following Jesus, chose to make a life in the notorious Walled City of Hong Kong. Whenever she spoke in New Zealand, Jackie managed to keep most Christians on the edge of their seats. She was, and remains, a remarkable person of faith and hope-filled humanity.
In a moment of serendipity, I met Jackie in Hong Kong in 1990. The House of Stephen Trust had been rescuing drug addicts for nearly ten years, and that was where I met her for an afternoon. Here I was, the meeting the woman I had read about, and listened to, in her own well-described context, and for a young male, the experience was as confronting as the book itself, but for a different reason: she was tired, very tired, and it showed. I saw in her face and demeanour the actual cost of lifelong commitment and it wasn’t pretty, but it did confront my religious slogans; ‘taking up the cross’ looked very different in person.
It is against that backdrop that my recent re-reading was framed. This time, I saw it from my own rear-view mirror of nearly thirty years in ministry. Consequently, the introductory pages caught my attention and remained with me through the pages beyond. In the introduction Pullinger writes,
“This is important. The book is not to simply entertain or inspire for the sake of interest. Rather, it’s an attempt to state that each of us can live a Kingdom life worth writing about……. So go! Write your own books. Go!”
All our journeys with God begin with relinquishment. For Pullinger it was letting go of fear, family, expectations, plans and resources. It is at that moment when we have become “poor in Spirit”. As Eugene Petersen so eloquently translated the meaning of Matthew 5:3 “…..With less of you there is more of God and his rule”. It’s in that moment you find yourself truly blessed. And it’s from that instant, that God’s work unfolds in each of us. That being the case, I am reminded that I have a similar book to write because it has similar beginnings. And, despite some incredible stories there have also been tragedies too; pastoral and personal.
Subsequently, I found Pullinger’s early tension between having a heart to do God’s will and the need to be filled with the Spirit, rather engaging. In the early chapters, while still in England, Pullinger is attending prayer meetings and receiving advice. She feels God has called her to Hong Kong, but missionary institutions didn’t see it that way. So, she goes just the same, not with the title ‘missionary’, but simply as a person led by God. A person without money, training or contacts. From that simple obedience a ministry flourished to become world renown, but more importantly to change thousands of lives over the decades that passed. Yet it’s not until she has been in Hong Kong for some time, that she experiences the gifts of the Holy Spirit for herself. It happened at a time when Pullinger realised that years of offering social service alone would not change people’s hearts. Her comment at the beginning of chapter 6 heightened the tension between to two modes of following Christ, “Jesus did not promise running shoes in the hereafter to a lame man. He made him walk.” Perhaps part of the relinquishment at the beginning our faith journeys is understanding that, though we can do a lot with shared resources, real transformation happens in the hands of Gods Spirit. They’re both important, but the latter trumps the former.
The book is certainly filled with anecdotes from the horrors and grace found in the walls of a city long gone. But the horrors still exist. Though the squalid walls have been demolished, the stories of the people contained within them are still at large. The House of Stephen Trust still transforms hundreds of drug addicted lives each year. Those addicts find faith, healing, hope and new life. In fact, a colleague of mine in a previous church was one such example. He grew up in Hong Kong as a wealthy businessman, became a heroin addict, lost everything and landed on the streets. He was picked up by the House of Stephen, converted and rehabilitated. He moved to New Zealand and we called him to ministry in our Chinese congregation. Interestingly, he doesn’t tell the story of the amazing organisation, or the people who helped him. Rather, he tells the story of an amazing God. Going back to the book’s introduction, he seems to have fulfilled the Trust’s task:
“The Walled City has gone. Even Hang Fook Camp, our urban squat, has gone. So where will you find us today if you visit Hong Kong? Hopefully in the all the streets and blocks. We will probably be unnamed, for we care not to extend our work but rather His Kingdom.”
So, I’m left thinking, “what’s going to be in my book?” A lot I guess. A lot of me, and a lot of God; we go hand in hand. However, I am concerned. After you’ve read my book, who will you remember most? After reading Chasing the Dragon, I’m certainly left with a lot of Jesus and his works.
Petersen, Eugene. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002.
Pullinger, Jackie, 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.