Title: Chasing the Dragon
Author: Jackie Pullinger with Andrew Quicke
Publisher: Hodder & Soughton, London, England, 1980, 2001.
Genre: Autobiography - Missions
At the age of 22 Jackie Pullinger, British subject and graduate of Royal College of Music specializing in the oboe, felt she was to be a missionary. But when all the missionary societies turned her down, she followed the advice of a pastor who told her, “go out and buy and ticket for a boat gong on the longest journey you can find and pray to know where to get off.” She bought a ticket from France to Japan. When she got to Hong Kong she knew this was the place.
Soon she had job teaching music and English conversation in Mrs. Donnithorne’s Primary School located in the “Walled City”, the old walled village of Kowloon. Through historic concessions it had become a haven for gold and drug smuggling, illegal gambling and every kind of vice. In 1966 this part of Hong Kong was six acres of stinking alleyways, prostitution, gambling and opium dens where Triad gangs reigned.
Soon Miss Poon (as Pullinger was called) became aware of the drug addicts and prostitutes that haunted the walled city’s streets, alleys and dens. But mostly her heart ached for the teen boys – mostly gang members – who were trapped in this lifestyle of violence and addiction.
Pullinger was nothing if not idealistic. “My mission was to help the Walled City people to understand who Christ was. If they could not understand the words about Jesus then we Christians should show them what He was like by the way we lived. I remember He had said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.’ So this was the beginning of what I called ‘walking the extra mile’. There seemed to be a lot of Christians who did not mind walking one, not many who could be bothered to walk two, and no one who wanted to walk three. This in need that I met seemed to need a marathon.”
Chasing the Dragon tells the story how between 1966 and 1976 Jackie’s mission of fleshing out Jesus to the people of Kowloon became reality. The 2006 edition I read also contains two chapters added to the original 1980 edition by Jackie in 2001. They tell a few stories of what has happened and continues to happen through the St. Stephen’s Society since then.
Some of the things that impressed me about Jackie and her life:
1. She operates in the power of the Holy Spirit. After living in Hong Kong for about a year, she became increasingly aware of how difficult the work in the Walled City really was, and how fruitless. Other missionaries didn’t help. “They did not expect people to be converted and explained this by saying that there was a spiritual cloud hanging over China which covered Hong Kong too.
Yet as she read the Bible she saw that Jesus operated in power. “Some Christians claimed that these things still happened, and I certainly needed to find them.”
One day she met a couple who seemed to have “it” whatever “it” was. She sought them out and understood them to say that the difference was the Holy Spirit. Insulted, she insisted she did have the Holy Spirit. How else could she have been converted? However, they invited her over to their house for a prayer meeting – a meeting she describes quite hilariously in the book. The long and short of it is that that night she encountered the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
Not much changed after that, for a while at least. Until she met the Willans – an American couple new to Hong Kong. They impressed on her the importance of praying on tongues as a part of her regular devotional practice.
When Jackie demurred, saying that she had never found tongues that helpful, Jean Willans replied, “The Bible says he who prays in tongues will be built up spiritually, so never mind what you feel. Do it!”
Jackie began praying in tongues part of her regular devotional practice (set the timer and prayed for 15 minutes a day). Here, in her own words, is what happened:
“After about six weeks I noticed something remarkable. Those I talked to about Christ believed….This time I was talking about Jesus to people who wanted to hear. I had let God have a hand in my prayers and it produced a direct result. Instead of my deciding what I wanted to do for God and asking His blessing, I was asking Him to do His will through me as I prayed in the language He gave me.”
This was only the beginning of remarkable things. One of the most incredible miracles that came out of Jackie’s ministry was drug addicts coming off drugs – detoxing – without pain and illness. This happened to addict after addict for whom she and others prayed. She encouraged them to pray for themselves and each other as well. Probably hundreds, maybe thousands, accepted Christ and then received the Holy Spirit in this tangible signs-following way with this remarkable ability to leave drugs without suffering the usual excruciating pain and sickness that coming off heroin or opium usually entails.
2. She was bold about sharing the gospel. She took every opportunity to talk to a drug addict or gang leader about Jesus. The Triads in Hong Kong were organized hierarchically with each “little brother” responsible to a “big brother.” Whenever a little brother accepted Jesus, she asked him to introduce her to his big brother. Many times the new convert would say, “He won’t want to meet with you.” Yet when she insisted and the junior gang member called up his senior the man would agree. Whoever Jackie met with, her message was always “Jesus” not getting off drugs or cleaning up one’s life.
3. Jackie stayed and lived with the people. She didn’t leave after a few years, go home on furloughs, etc. (not that she would say that’s wrong – it’s just something she never did; she lived there after all, and was not there under the auspices of any mission board anyway). Instead she took these people to her heart and showed it by loving them in tangible ways – seeking them out, visiting them in their opium dens, hovels and in prison, finding them jobs, legal counsel, places to stay.
Altogether this is a book of gripping stories could be called The Acts of a Modern Apostle. Jackie Pullinger, with her compassion and readiness to extend physical help and comfort reminds me of Mother Theresa. After finishing it last weekend I wrote in my journal: “I continue to live with a tinge of regret. How can someone not live with a tinge of regret after reading a book like Jackie Pullinger’s and reflecting on one’s own unremarkable life."