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

True Grit

Written by: on May 31, 2018


Faith, innovation, and grit are the key leadership character traits aptly used to describe Jackie Pullinger’s ministry in the Walled City of Hong Kong. Purposefully and passionately, she pursued the vision God placed on her heart about being a missionary.

Faith – “the hope of things unseen…”[1]

Her faith was remarkable as she relied on God for her every need as her statement revealed: “I knew, surely, that if God wanted me to do this job, He would provide. It never worried me in the slightest as to how He would do it.”[2]Although her journey is truly one of the most remarkable stories I’ve heard, I resonated on a much smaller level with her faith as I remember making the same prayer to God when I opened my therapy practice. My vision was to open a therapy practice at my local church and offer reduced services for the needy. But after deliberating 8 months, the church denied the proposal simply stating I was “too young and inexperienced.”

In spite of the difficult rejection, I pursued my vision. I found a dilapidated, old office with low overhead that did more to discourage any business operation than inspire it. I set up an unconventional business model for therapists that allowed me to work part-time, so I could also parent my two young kids, and do private contracts versus contracting with hospitals, agencies, and insurance companies. I did virtually no marketing other than informing contacts through an introduction letter that I was now open for business. My business model was simple: if God wanted me to accomplish this, then against the odds, He would bring them to me. This is where the similarities end, because unlike Jackie, I was completely freaked out and had to wrestle with failure and success before I started. After a year, God built the business on a wing and a prayer and has continued to exceed my expectations. It was a humbling and exhilarating experience that set a firm foundation and built my faith to depend on God and pursue other endeavors.

Innovation – introduction of new things or methods[3]

In an effort to describe her unique work, Jackie had no model to describe what she was doing since she was inventing intuitively as she went. Along with moral reasoning, she showed amazing moral intuition[4]as she developed innovated solutions to overwhelming problems. She stated: “Finally, I hit on an impressive phrase. ‘I’m doing unstructured youth work’ was my reply to the social workers, who nodded earnestly and decided that this was the latest sociological technique already pioneered in forward-looking countries.”[5]Jackie had the remarkable ability to pursue ministry in the context in which she was in. She met the needs of the citizens in the Walled City, by being available for their unique and immediate needs. Her ministry model was similar to some lay ministries such as Young Life that are about developing a relationship with kids versus implementing programs. She emulated the rhythms of their lives, so she could be more available and be in sync with them: “Like the Walled City boys, I now slept by day and got up at night…”[6]. She lived among them, instead of asking them to come to her.

Her innovation to open the Youth Club was remarkable and courageous, which led to further developments in her ministry as she provided social work services, housing, education, and drug rehabilitation. It was amazing to see how innovative she was in her ministry, and how with each curveball, she came up swinging with another innovative solution. Clearly, faith played a large part in her creativeness.

Grit – firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck”[7]

Jackie’s grit was bolstered through 3 influential ways: a deep love for the people, prayer, and developing close connections with the people. “I needed to find Christian workers who loved the people they were working with more than the activity through which they were trying to reach them.”[8]This love for the people gave her the grit that helped her push through the slimy streets, dark alleys, cockroach-ridden brothels, frightening drug dens, and stinky homes. Jackie had the amazing ability to see the child of God beneath the dirt, evil, crime, and vile behavior, as she worked at loving the unlovable and the forgotten. Her passion to bring people to Jesus was impressive and inspiring as she overcame the most desperate of situations to win people to Christ.

Secondly, her grit was sustained through prayer and was essential in building her ministry. To hear how the Holy Spirit was moving through the lives of the people was incredulous and inspiring. I was reminded many times of the beautiful character of Jesus as He loved the unlovely and pursued them relentlessly, with pure grit. Thirdly, Jackie had to connect with the people to inspire her to stay working with them. “Social workers are taught not to be involved with their cases, but I knew that had I not been so close to the people concerned, I could not have stayed.”[9]She knew what she needed to do to stay committed – develop a compassionate, connected relationship with the people.

Jackie was a female version of Jesus, minus the obvious divine nature, as she ministered to people foreign to her in every way, giving her life, and healing them as she lived among them. She loved fearlessly as she introduced them to a God who loves with faith, innovation, and grit.


[1]Hebrews 11:1

[2]Jackie Pullinger, “Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1980), 81, Kindle.


[4]William Bridges, Managing Transitions, 25th-anniversary edition: Making the Most of Change,(Philadelphia: PA, Da Capo Press, 2016) 75-76, Kindle.

[5]Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon, 87, Kindle.

[6]Ibid., 88, Kindle.



[9]Ibid., 103, Kindle.


About the Author


Jennifer Dean-Hill

10 responses to “True Grit”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Amen and amen. Jen that’s the key, “I needed to find Christian workers who loved the people they were working with more than the activity through which they were trying to reach them.”
    I know that’s the challenge for me and frankly for most of us spoiled Americans. We need more people who have the love of Jesus!

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “She lived among them, instead of asking them to come to her.”

    This is so important. Our church has had a ministry to the refugees in the Apartment complex across the street from our church for many years. Yet, when we decided to rent 3 apartments and house seminary students to live AMOUNG the refugees, the quality of ministry skyrocketed.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Wow Jen,
    You rocked this post. I too admire her for her obedience to minister to a country not her own in a neighborhood that was dangerous to all. There was an old saying, “God won’t lead you to were it won’t protect you’.
    Getting close to your clients is dangerous emotionally and you at times become immune to the reality of the situation at hand.
    I don’t know about the female Jesus but I agree that she is truly Christ-like

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    What a great thread connecting Pullinger’s story to both our previous leadership texts and your own serving experiences.

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “her grit was sustained through prayer and was essential in building her ministry”
    Thank you for highlighting this, Jen. Too often I end up comparing myself and my life to someone like Pullinger and you reminded me that I have the same God she has and I need that same prayer to sustain and go where God calls.

  6. What a great post, thanks for sharing your story with us!
    You pulled out this quote: “I needed to find Christian workers who loved the people they were working with more than the activity through which they were trying to reach them.”

    I think this is so, so important in faithfully living into any mission/ministry/calling. If we don’t love the people we are working with and serving the way that God does (or at least attempt to do that) then it tends to all fall flat.
    I have seen this time and time again with churches hiring pastors for youth ministry positions that didn’t really love working with kids, but saw it as a ‘stepping stone’ position. It very rarely ends well – even if it is successful for a time.

    I have also seen it in other areas beyond youth. I worked in a church in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Pittsburgh, and the church itself was very blessed financially. Later, I also worked in Fairfield County, CT which has the highest income per capita in the country.
    In both places it was always clear who loved these people and who didn’t (some people were jealous, some just couldn’t comprehend that even financially successful people could have real problems). Those that didn’t genuinely have a heart for these people, again, very rarely were able to have successful or long-term ministries among them.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    I too resonated with her faith but mostly her grit. She was determined to bring love and light to those dark places. Her rentless motivation led to so many lives transformed through the power of Jesus Christ!!! Jackie is a great example of a leader.

  8. Jim Sabella says:

    What a great post and a fantastic story about the start of your business. I smiled when you said that you were completely “freaked out” when you started your business. Just don’t see that in your calm disposition. Thanks for sharing your story.

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