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Chasing the Dragon
by Jackie Pullinger with Andrew Quicke
I haven't met a person who has read Jackie Pullinger's Chasing the Dragon, her account of the Holy Spirit's descent upon Hong Kong's Walled City through her work and efforts there, who didn't find the book inspiring. But there lies the rub, for it is in that word 'inspiring' that much of the sloth of modern day urban Christianity lies.

We sit in church hoping to feel impassioned about how God loves us. We read books hoping to be filled with fire about how God moves in this world. But the root of that hope is not a desire for the movement of the Holy Spirit to convict us in our blood and bones of God's love for the world. Rather it is just a craving for that warm 'inspired' feeling that makes us feel good about God in a way that exonerates us from actually having to go out there and let the Spirit work through us.

This irony is not lost on Jackie Pullinger either, and it becomes the firing point for the 21st anniversary edition of her book. "Of course, Chasing the Dragon backfired on me," she laments. "I had written it in hope of recording history and inspiring hope...Instead I was invited to retell the story again and again, whereas I had meant that you, who read it, might see that the same God could impart His heart and His power in your city and you would write your own books."

Her frustration with the contemporary obsession for instant Holy Spirit miracles and of voyeuristic hearts that thirst inspiration for inspiration's sake bursts again to the surface in the two additional chapters that have been added for this "coming of age" reissue. Once again, this is not without irony, as it seems that Jackie Pullinger is exhorting to this exact need for the contemporary, free church to grow up and out of its adolescence and into spiritual maturity. She writes,

"It is fashionable nowadays to visit Asia, China and the poor for a few days, weeks or months and call it outreach. Over the years we have had hundreds of short-termers who want to get the picture immediately - if possible on video - so they can show it to their home church and have an inspired evening. I have begged them to love the people and stay, just like Sai Di did of me thirty years ago. The disadvantage of short term is a wrong perspective based on this generation's need for instant results. Many have stayed with us and lived in our new houses, now called St. Stephen's, which currently house over three hundred men, women, teenagers and children all over Hong Kong. Sometimes everything goes well and there are real conversions, healings and glorious glimpses of changed lives. The visitors leave and wonder why it does not work at home. They wonder why everything seems so easy in Hong Kong. At other times nothing goes right even here. The man who prophesied last night beats up a helper the next morning or the whole house runs away. Then the visitors leave disillusioned. 'It is nothing like she wrote in her book, we had a hard time.'" (p 236, my emphasis)
If what Jackie says above points out the immaturity of the contemporary, free church, what she says next goes a long way to pointing out how the step to maturity might be taken. She goes on to say, "The remarkable fact that after so long we still see most addicts who come to us believe in Jesus, pray in tongues and detoxify from drugs painlessly does not obscure the fact that they need a changed mind." (ibid.)

It is that phrase - "does not obscure the fact that they need a changed mind" - that captures not only Chasing the Dragon in a nutshell, but also what is needed to advance towards maturity. When Jackie Pullinger entered Hong Kong's forgotten slum, the Walled City in the late sixties, it was Triad territory known only for smuggling, heroin, opium, prostitution, pornography, extortion and fear. What happened is the story of a woman, and those who joined her, who put their trust in the Lord and got down to the nitty-gritty of loving these destitute people Jesus' way - through patience, teaching, understanding and forgiving. The results were phenomenal! The Holy Spirit began pouring out its gifts on those seeking Christ. Suddenly opium addicts hopelessly caught up in their vice, with no hope of escape, were freed painlessly from their addictions through praying in the Spirit. These manifestations were not limited to a few either, but poured upon the many that came and heard about how the Holy Spirit could free them from the "dragon".

Now there are two misreadings that can undermine Chasing the Dragon. Because of the powerful manifestations and gifts of the Holy Spirit, Chasing the Dragon is open to a reading in which one's mind is obscured from the real truth behind the Spirit's outpouring in the Walled City. This misreading is easy to fall into because there is, and always has been in Christianity, a dangerous tendency to, when the power of the Holy Spirit is manifest in its gifts, then place priority on these manifestations rather than seeing them as working hand in hand with the Scriptural teachings of the prophets and the apostles. The danger of this is that as soon as priority is placed on people who can manifest the Spirit's gifts, a divorce from Scripture begins, and then it's a slippery slope into false teaching, because if the Spirit is given priority over Scripture, Scripture being the Word of God, and Jesus being the Word, then the oneness in the essence of the Trinity is broken, and that is no longer true faith.

The other misreading is to, because of cynicism and scepticism that are, unfortunately, healthily fed by those who have abused the gifts of the Holy Spirit in whatever way, for their own fame and fortune, write off Chasing the Dragon as another hoax and retreat into a theology that denies the gifts of tongues and prophesy and remove them from the Church. Doing this effectively denies the Word of God any life and breath in this world and suffocates the Body of Christ.

It might be, and is quite likely that your reading will fall on a fence sitting scale varying to one side or the other. But fence sitting is never an option in the gospel. So then how should Chasing the Dragon best be read?

Well before that is tackled, it is worth noting that at the same time that Jackie Pullinger began her work in the Walled City, the contemporary western church was being born out of the counter-culture. It was a birth that has unfortunately resulted in dividing the church between those that preach Bible Christianity and those that thirst for experiential Christianity, and these two sides have often, to the Church's great detriment, mutually excluded each other. Cursory travel through any "western" country will reveal that many of the former churches are dying because they have forgotten that Christ is the Living Word, and many of the latter, being centred as they are in the post-modern generation's thrust for the experiential, exhibit doctrines and manifestations that no longer conform to, or are attested to by the Unchanging Word.

A solid reading of Chasing the Dragon, however, reveals an intense and beautiful relationship between the love of Christ being truly put into practice, the love of Christ being poured out through the Spirit's gifts for both the edification of the individual and the body of believers (Christ's compassion in pouring out His Spirit to free those from drug addiction who otherwise would not have been able to escape simply due to the circumstances in which they lived is true grace and a wonderful reason for seeking that gift from the Spirit. The gift of prophesy was often manifest by Jackie's new believers, but always spread itself around so that none might boast in their own power), and the love of Christ being taught through Scripture as well as of putting scriptural teachings into practice for the renewing of the minds (Christ requires renewed minds and a renewed mind requires being brought up to read, learn and grow from Christ through Scripture).

In the narrative of Chasing the Dragon is an example of how I believe God envisages His Church to be in this world - not one splintered into groups dedicated exclusively to the charismata of the Spirit, or to the teaching of Bible doctrine, or to those that simply want to do social outworking of Christ's love in the community at the expense of the gospel. Jackie Pullinger's story of God's work in the now vanquished Walled City is an example of how putting the love of Christ into action brings forth the outpouring of the Spirit so that the teachings of Christ can be implanted into souls such that minds can be renewed and the Word of God become powerful and effective within. This is indeed growing towards spiritual maturity.

-Richard Wasserfall (26-May-2004)