Thirty years after my first reading, I re-read Jackie Pullinger’s classic memoir, Chasing the Dragon, with a mixture of nostalgia and a bit of jadedness. The nostalgia took me back to those heady days of charismatic renewal and an outpouring of His Spirit, gifts that shape me still. The jadedness, it must be said, comes from the next decades of observing and experiencing the challenges of the ever-hyped-up quest for more of God, and how movements led by Spirit-filled disrupters are fraught with complications. The end goal of this post is to highlight what makes for healthy sustainability for works of God through charitable organizations.
First, let me begin with Pullinger. I don’t doubt her stories and I praise God for using her to introduce freedom to many in Hong Kong. She was granted a unique charism that pushed through the Walled City to reach heroin addicts and prostitutes with the love of Christ, and freedom from vices. She slept in her clothes, was available 24/7, welcomed addicts into her home, and prayed in tongues to break bondages. It was relentless work, fuelled by the power of the Spirit. Her unusual calling reminded me of others – it’s women, interestingly, that come to mind – Heidi Baker in Mozambique, Ruth Ruibal in Colombia, and even someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Each one follows God relentlessly and serves the most marginalized. But their examples of fervent prayer and miraculous outcomes should be seen not as the norm, but as a special grace for a kairos moment.
Take one simple example from Chasing the Dragon. Pullinger describes living in the drama of constant organizational crisis where God graciously provides at literally the last moment. When feeding thirty people who had come to live in her home for addicts, she recounts:
“‘Boil the rice anyway and we’ll pray for something to put on top,’ I said. Ten minutes before lunch a panting and sweating visitor arrived carrying tins of food and fresh bean sprouts. His Kowloon Bible class had made a collection for us on the spur of the moment and sent him with their gifts. The young man, William, enjoyed being an answer to prayer just as much as thirty of us enjoyed the huge meal only ten minutes later. It was an exciting way of life.”
Exciting, yes, but too exciting for most. We often delight in such stories as following in Jesus’ footsteps, for He too experienced miraculous provision in his ministry and was a channel for supernatural healing. But we forget that He also was investing into a discipleship team that would be deployed for the long-haul, and which would persevere even amid persecution and the horror of martyrdom.
While we are emotionally drawn into the victory stories, these do not make for sustainable and healthy organizations. In fact, such chaotic environments frequently burn out staff and leave them disillusioned. Beneficiaries often experience dramatic change, but one wonders about the longevity of the impact. Many people caught up in the whirlwind of the Spirit eventually experience “revival fatigue”, and it applies not just to churches and spiritual movements, but to organizational programming as well. Charitable activity that focuses on intense program delivery only and not the infrastructure required to support it will eventually fizzle out.
What Pullinger does get right is coming alongside the marginalized. Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire advances this thought: “Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary; it is a radical posture”. These are the actions of Christian witness and faithful love for the other. However, to maintain an effective presence of solidarity, one must build a network of support which sustains this radical posture over the long haul. This would include transparent financial systems, accurate reporting and accountability, decent wages, benefits for staff, and ongoing professional development, among many other criteria.
Non-profit leaders Artemisa Castro Félix and Scott DuPree describe the evolution of such a strengthening organization. “As it acts, a group gains the ability to reach outside its initial circle, in effect calling on expanding spheres of solidarity. In so doing, it forges new members and partnerships into an expanding sphere where it can collaborate. It needs to develop its internal capacities as well, but in ways that draw from its grassroots strengths. And finally, it must gain confidence from its own successes and experience in advancing its initiatives.” By building an organization that is growing, collaborating, confident, and internally sound, one can preserve and enhance the impact of the solidarity practiced by the leader and her team.
In my philanthropy practice, I encourage my clients not to invest into the personality-driven ministries of individuals which are frequently weak in terms of organizational health. Instead, I introduce them to stable yet innovative organizations that have proven the credibility and fruitfulness of their ministry over time. With eyes of faith that stretch across the horizon, I choose to see the miraculous in healthy, incremental growth for the kingdom of God.
 Jackie Pullinger and Andrew Quicke, Chasing the Dragon (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2001), 125.
 Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012), 49.
 Artemisa Castro Félix and A. Scott DuPree. “What We Have Learned About Grassroots Philanthropy: Lessons From Mexico” The Foundation Review 6, no. 4 (December 31, 2014). Accessed May 23, 2018. https://doi.org/10.9707/1944-5660.1225.