Jackie Pullinger graduated from the Royal College aged 22 in 1966 with a burning desire to be a missionary, but she got rejected by every missionary agency she applied to, she was young, female and not a graduate from a Bible college (although she was classically trained in playing the oboe!).
Scripture shows us however that God delights in choosing unlikely people for service, shat-tering stereotypes and upturning prejudice: such as women, gentiles, sinners, broken people and even on one occasion a donkey! The story of Samuel choosing the infant shepherd boy, David, as King for Israel has a stark reminder that “people look at the outward appearance whereas the Lord looks at the heart!” God himself showed up as our Saviour in a town that was so despised that it was said that “nothing good could come from Nazareth”.
Sadly, history has shown our religious institutions sadly are out of step with the Holy Spirit, burning many at the reformation, banning the Wesley brothers from many pulpits, attempt-ing to block the work of the Booths with the founding of the Salvation Army and believing that Jackie Pullinger “was not missionary material”.
I worry that too often we have become opinionated rather than wise, we have conflated our own idea of what we think should happen, with what God is calling. Too often we allow con-fident (rather than wise and spirit-filled) people speak into our lives without adequate dis-cernment? Perhaps there are words we need to shrug from our shoulders, hearing and heeding afresh the call of God on our lives.
Human-beings and institutions filled with human-beings are too often ‘risk-adverse’ yet the call of Christ is to step out of the comfort of the boat onto the waves, we have within us a status quo bias, we fear change -even good change causes stress!
God is a risk-taking God, Jesus’ life I suspect regularly caused his heart to beat faster and his adrenaline levels to rise. Christ took risks on unlikely people, sending out his rather unprom-ising disciples and then the seventy-two “hangers on” to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus restored Simon-Peter to be a leader in his Church he didn’t ask for his CV but only asked one question, the only one that really matters, “Do you love me?”
Jackie Pullinger went to speak to a Vicar friend called Richard Thomson in Shoreditch and he saw and encouraged this call upon her life and suggested that Jackie Pullinger should get on a boat and pray that God would show her where to get off (I wonder whether my faithless desire to be practical would hinder me in ever giving advice as crazy as this? I fear so). This Jackie did, she got on the boat expecting to get off in Africa, but whilst on the boat she had a vivid dream of Hong Kong and felt that God was preparing her heart for Jackie to serve him in there. Jackie got off the boat and managed to be admitted into the country due to one of the police officers being loosely connected with her mother, she only had $10 to her name, but she managed to find a job working in a primary school in the Kowloon walled city. The walled city had become a “no go” area for the police, it was run by the triads and was a massive producer of opium and was a very dangerous place to live and work.
She had a phrase that she would say whenever she was interviewed that “God wants us to have hard-feet and a soft heart but too often we have soft feet and a hard heart”, in other words we choose comfort over Christ and harden our hearts to those he is calling us too.
I wonder what would my response be if God had called me to work within Hong Kong’s Walled city?
Yet Jackie Pullinger settled there, built her life there amongst the people of this area and made friends, she did not see anyone become a Christian for the first seven years she was there, yet she carried on and persisted, and eventually saw the people she served surrender their lives to following Jesus. She founded the society of St Stephen which was a rehabilitation hub and a youth centre to help young people choose and alternative path away from injecting heroin into themselves. Gradually her work began to grow, by 2007 she was housing 200 people at a time within the rehab, as she had no real resources to run a clinic she simply prayed passionately and intensively for each patient who came in (often praying in tongues) and miraculously people were getting clean, and staying clean, so much so that gang-lords were bringing people to Jackie wanting her to help them get drug free so they would be more effective in their fu-ture business, which she refused to do.
Despite no mission agency in the U.K being prepared to take her on, she was awarded an MBE in 1988 in recognition of her work.