Jackie's Cruise for the CrossAdd Comment
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Imagine buying a ticket to travel by ship halfway around the world, not knowing your actual destination. Next, imagine that the only way you will know where you should get off is to ask God. This is what happened to Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary. She was barely 22 years old when she bought a one-way ticket to travel alone from London to Japan, in search of the place where God wanted her to serve others. The ship called at many ports during its long voyage, but Jackie kept sailing. Only when she arrived in Hong Kong did she feel certain that this was the place to which God had called her. She brought with her only a few bags of clothes, an oboe, and money that would equal just US$16.50.Add Comment
Since Jackie did not have a return ticket, job offer, or place to stay, the immigration officers hesitated to let her enter Hong Kong. Just when it seemed that the officers were about to refuse her permission to leave the ship, she suddenly remembered that she had a distant relative in Hong Kong who was a policeman. When she mentioned that, the officers allowed her to disembark.
A fire rekindled
What had led Jackie to leave her family, friends, and comfortable life to go to a foreign place such as Hong Kong, where she could not speak even a word of Chinese? Jackie was born in England in 1944, and from a very young age she had wanted to be a missionary. When people teased her about it, she felt embarrassed, so she would tell people she wanted to be the first woman to climb Mount Everest, or a circus performer. Later, Jackie graduated with a degree from the Royal College of Music in London, but she soon felt bored with her life. Soon she met a group of Christians who inspired her, and that rekindled her childhood desire to share God’s love with others. So she began to write to various missionary societies, begging to be trained or sent out to serve. They all rejected Jackie, saying that she did not have the necessary background or that she was too young. Jackie still wanted to go, but she didn’t know where. Once, Jackie had a dream about Hong Kong, but when she looked into going there, the doors seemed closed. At last, a kind vicar (Anglican minister) gave her some unconventional advice: Just buy a boat ticket for the longest trip around the world and trust God to reveal where to get off.
And that was how Jackie came to be in Hong Kong in 1966. Here, people spoke Cantonese (a Chinese dialect). Jackie soon found a part-time job at a mission school teaching percussion band, singing, and conversational English. She also started learning Cantonese. Immersed in a totally foreign culture, Jackie felt awkward at first, but when she visited the Walled City in Kowloon near Hong Kong, her heart was moved by the people she encountered.
Hello, Hak Nam
The Walled City was made up of six acres of slums where some 30,000 people lived. Squalid buildings were piled one on top of another, and hardly any sunlight penetrated its stinking, dark alleys. The entire place was known as Hak Nam—“darkness.” The place reeked of trash and run-off from open sewers. There was no sanitation at all except for two squat toilets, which were just overflowing cesspools anyway.
Many of the inhabitants were drug addicts (mostly heroin or opium), alcoholics, or involved in crime. Drug smuggling, gambling, pornography, and prostitution were common in the Walled City. Entire families suffered as one or both parents stole, cheated other people, or even sold their children into prostitution in order to buy drugs or alcohol. Those who wanted to work for an honest living were forced to assemble plastic flowers or toys in cramped rooms for just a few cents a day.
From the 1950s till as late as 1983, the Hong Kong police had hesitated to enter the Walled City. When they did, many police became corrupted and took bribes from criminal syndicates. These were controlled by the Triads, secret societies that had degenerated into criminal organizations.
Despite the dangers presented by the Walled City, Jackie decided to devote more time to her work there. Unlike other Christian missionaries, Jackie had neither funds of her own nor any church support back in England. But as she learned to trust God to meet all her needs, she found that others stepped forward to offer help, such as funding or volunteering their time to assist her. With their support she was able to resign from her teaching job in 1967 in order to work full-time among the poor and drug addicts.
Light in a dark place
In June 1967 Jackie opened a youth club in a tiny room in the Walled City. Everyone, young or old, rich or poor, was welcome to come and just hang out, pray, or play ping-pong. Slowly, people started coming, even some gang members and drug addicts. However, one night a few gang members who were high on drugs sneaked into the club and smashed all the furniture. They smeared excrement all over the walls. Their actions broke Jackie’s heart, but she cleaned the club and reopened it because she still believed this was where God wanted her to be.
Jackie’s mission was to help people of the Walled City understand Jesus Christ. She said that if they could not understand Jesus through words, then she must show them what Jesus was like by the way she lived. This meant that Jackie worked closely with people and became involved in their everyday problems. If they needed food, medicine, clothing, a place to stay, schooling, identification cards, or other kinds of help, she tried to assist them, even if it meant lining up for hours outside some government building or school. She had no money to hand out, but she gave her love and time. Sometimes she even took homeless orphans into her own small, rented room near the Walled City. She prayed with those who wanted to kick their drug habits and urged them to believe that Jesus could help them win the fight. Many of those who did so were able to withdraw from their drug addiction painlessly and without medication.
In the beginning, drug addicts and prostitutes were skeptical about Jackie. They thought she was just like other Christians who came and went—those who had spent just a short time in Hong Kong, handing out food and clothes, preaching the gospel, and then flying back home. Only after Jackie had spent four years in constant contact with people in the Walled City did she begin to see the fruit of her labors. When Jackie learned their language, befriended them, and helped them in their time of need, they realized she was for real because she “walked the talk.” These former skeptics began to believe in the Jesus she spoke about so often, and many gave Him their hearts and started a new life.
Used by God
Jackie has been in Hong Kong for more than four decades. During this time, with the help of friends and even the Hong Kong government, she has set up homes and shelters for the poor and for former drug addicts, gangsters, and prostitutes. Jackie recalls a day in 2000 when she encountered one of the former drug pushers while walking along with her friend Margaret. The man said, “She cared about us, and miracles happened. People who could not change were changed. It was that Jesus.”¹
However, not everything was smooth sailing for Jackie. In the course of her work she has faced criticism and discouragement, especially when drug addicts return to their old ways. But Jackie keeps going: “We love our people whether they turn out well or not, and the successes do not vindicate our ministry nor do the disappointments nullify it. What is important is whether we have loved in a real way—not preached in an impassioned way from a pulpit.”²
In 1989 the Hong Kong government announced its intention to demolish the Walled City and relocate the people. Today, the Walled City is gone, but Jackie and her team of workers, including former drug addicts and prostitutes whom Jackie helped, continue to bring hope and the love of Jesus Christ to people in Hong Kong. Their work has even expanded to Macau, the Philippines, and Thailand. In recognition of her outstanding community service, Jackie was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) by the queen of Britain in 1988.
When Jackie bought her one-way ticket on a cruise ship to Asia all those years ago, little did she dream that it would take her on the adventure of a lifetime. Encouraging others to let God use them in reaching the lost, Jackie wrote: “So where can you find us today if you visit Hong Kong? Hopefully, in all the streets and blocks. We will probably be unnamed, for we care not to extend our work but rather His kingdom. There are many more adventures to be had. There are many more battles to be fought. It would be such fun to be a part of them rather than just read of them. So go! Write your own books. Go!”³
So how about you? What will be in your books? How will you let God use you?
¹Jackie Pullinger with Andrew Quicke, Chasing the Dragon (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2007), p. 236.
²Ibid., p. 237.
³Ibid., p. 9.
Loo-Gen Seah McCrea writes from Michigan.
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