Jackie Pullinger was destined for missionary greatness from a very young age. As a British Protestant citizen growing up in the wake of World War II, she went to church often at a young age, and decided upon a missionary life before she even knew the meaning of the word. Despite obtaining a degree for the oboe at the Royal College of Music, she found no satisfaction in her studies. She began applying for missionary positions in every way she knew how: through local churches, charities, even the Hong Kong government. But every attempt she made was fruitless. However, acting upon the advice of a vicar at her church, she gathered all her money and set out on a boat to Hong Kong in 1966, with no plan and only a one-way ticket. There was no going back.
Once she had gotten to Hong Kong, she barely passed immigration, but was eventually allowed into the city. As a 22-year-old with no language skills and little formal missionary training, she must have been terrified. But despite this, she cast aside her personal feelings and placed her trust in God. She acquired a job in the infamous Walled City as a music teacher in a mission-run school. At the time, the Walled City was a hotbed for the triads and gangs, and ran rampant with crime. It was deemed untouchable by both the Chinese and British government. But Jackie did not let this faze her: she began approaching people in the city, telling them of Jesus’ love and salvation. Later, she remarked that “I loved this dark place. I hated what was happening in it but I wanted to be nowhere else. It was almost as if I could already see another city in its place and that city was ablaze with light.” She was a beacon of the gospel in an area where Christianity was practically unheard of; such was the degree of crime that existed in the city. However, she met little success with this strategy, as most people would simply give her condescending looks or responses. Other opposition came in the form of the local churches and triads: the churches believed that the Walled City and its inhabitants were too far gone to save, while the triads did not want anything distracting their members from a life of crime.
Her first success came when she started a youth group. At first, many of the “Christians” who turned up were not real believers. They sought money and favors from someone they perceived to be a rich white woman. But eventually, the boys in her youth group began to find that Christianity was real. Most of the young men who were in the group were addicts to some drug, whether it was heroin or opium or something else. “I could walk down the street and see a hundred people chasing the dragon [using drugs]. You had to climb over their legs. I wanted something real to offer them… not just treatment in a center.” As well as that, most were undergoing the initiation rituals for the triads, which meant that they dealt in organized crime. They also rejected most components of Christianity: when Jackie wanted to pray, most would exit the room and catcall until the prayer was over. However, Jackie stuck with her plan, and her constant prayer helped reform many of the boys into real Christians.
Jesus’ positive influence in her ministry began to show itself. Although Jackie had never asked for money from anyone, she began receiving monthly payments from the government, enough for her to quit her school job and concentrate on missionary work full-time. She found that Christianity changed the boys she worked with: they were able to reject drugs without major withdrawals, although the process was smoother for some than for others. Even the triad bosses began to respect the work that she had done: when vandals destroyed her youth club, a triad boss sent guards to protect the club. Even more strangely, a triad leader came to her and asked her to help his men get off drugs. But Jackie flatly refused, saying that she helped the men follow Jesus to reject the narcotics, and leave behind organized crime. The triad leader did not seem to mind and continued to support her, and renounced all claim on the boys who had become Christians.
Jackie Pullinger is a true Gospel missionary and a Christian role model in every sense of the phrase. She entered a lawless and crime-ridden city with nothing but her faith and her will, and today is the founder of St. Stephen’s Society, which is a multinational organization that helps youths with drug addictions. She continues her missionary work today and her work has been felt in the countless families and men she has saved from drug addiction. I feel that this is missionary work stripped down to the bare bones: God inspiring and pushing a young woman to work for Him in a place where Christianity did not exist, and creating a beautiful result. Jackie once said, “ I had no idea how to bring this about but with “visionary zeal” imagined introducing the Walled City people to the one who could change it all: Jesus.” It is apparent that she succeeded.