In writing my experience, I don’t wish to discredit the loving and committed people who are among those who work for St. Stephen’s Society in Hong Kong. My purpose in writing this is to communicate my experience of spiritual manipulation and control that I saw and experienced, not only in my outreach team leader but in the higher level of this organisation. It is for the sake of those who may still be under such cultish-type controlling behaviour that I put this into writing. I tried to communicate this already in person to the main co-ordinator of the Up and Out course and Jackie’s right-hand woman, Margaret Kendall and was asked immediately “When are you leaving?” I also tried to communicate it to the leader involved at the time in outreach training who still insisted on giving the sole answer that there was something in me and my past that was attracting bullies. But there was no word of addressing the spiritual bullying by the outreach team leader. I already sent a registered letter to Jackie Pullinger herself while I was still in Hong Kong. There has been no reply from Jackie to date and this is now one year later as I write.
Some may wonder why a Christian would choose to write the following words about a Christian organisation like this but we even see in Scripture that for the sake of freedom for others, Paul, even though not perfect himself, publicly corrected Peterl on issues of inconsistent behaviour and teaching, especially where it concerned and affected the freedom of others. Leaders who operate control over others have great power and therefore freedom motivated Paul to write. My plan was to join St. Stephen’s Society for the long term but thankfully I didn’t. Nor did I believe and carry with me the spiritual diagnosis that they tried to put on me. Doing so would have given them the control over me they desired, silenced my voice about the bullying manipulation and would have left me feeling at the mercy of the enemy rather than free in the loving care of my Father.
For any who are being controlled, manipulated or not listened to when confronting issues of abuse, take heart, don’t be silent and don’t allow yourself to be told it is all your fault because you have issues to deal with inside. We all have things that God is working on but these should not be used as excuses by leaders to allow bullying and manipulative behaviour to continue. Stand strong, you are not alone.
Here is my story: Early 2011, I went to Hong Kong to do the Up and Out training course at St. Stephen’s Society in Hong Kong, the organisation run by Jackie Pullinger and very much so with her associate, Margaret Kendall. I had met some girls working with the organisation in India and had thought for a couple of years about working with them as I felt drawn to a work that focussed on love and the poor. In November 2011, one of those girls encouraged me to go on the Up and Out course, a 3 month course being held in Hong Kong that drew approx. 60 participants from all over the world. At that time I listened to a number of Jackie’s audio messages and liked her focus on love rather than religion and organisation. I had been a member of another mission organisation for 13 years and left because of politics and corruption. After a few years, I was willing to get back in to full-time work again. Life had been hard with previous work ending and I was struggling but I felt hopeful that things would work out with St, Stephen’s Society full-time and was committed to try.
I showed up at Jackie Pullinger’s compound, Singh Mun Springs a couple of days early to attend a wedding at the request of one of the India workers. I had picked up a flu on the airplane travel to Hong Kong and the fever got worse. I was alone in the 6 bed room when I arrived and I stayed in bed feeling delirious at times with fever and completely soaked from it and chilled. The rooms were very cold. The woman in charge of logistics came when I arrived and I told her I was sick. She gave me some rules and pointed me to cup noodles in the lounge that I could eat and told me there was a bus outside the centre that I could catch to buy food and that I was not allowed to walk around the grounds of the compound until after 2 days when others arrived. Food would be available with others then. It seemed strange and regimental and I wondered about it all. I was way too ill to go walking and told her that I was very sick and needed to see a doctor and get medicine. She may have been too busy to follow up on that. When she realised how sick I was, she arranged on the first day for me get a bowl of rice and noodles for food from another building. No one came near me the rest of the day. It seemed strange but I concluded that people were too busy.
The course started a couple of days later at “The Factory” where the Society’s offices are. Jackie Pullinger taught us quite a bit in the first week about loving people and I liked what she said. For the practical side of outreach training, a former worker from England came for 3 months. The 60 participants were split into teams for outreach in Hong Kong and assigned outreach team leaders. I found our leader, a woman from Oklahoma to be quite pushy and spiritually manipulative but I was prepared to persevere and do what I was told as much as possible.
On our first walk out in the area we were working in, we were told to spiritually get a feel for the area and what God wanted to do. We walked around the streets in our outreach teams and I observed temples in workshops, small street shrines and had a lot of questions in my head about people’s beliefs. When we got back to base, the leader asked us all to report what we felt in the spirit. When my turn came, I simply said that I wondered how we would reach them. And she said “How then?” and when I didn’t have a specific message from God about “How?” she rebuked me in front of the group and aggressively said “You were supposed to hear “how?”
Then a couple of days later when we were receiving Outreach teaching with the whole group, I came in 5 minutes late and she insisted I walk up to the top of the classroom and get a photocopy from the outreach teacher who had already began teaching. She told me that I needed it “immediately”. I acknowledged her request, but I didn’t jump to my feet straight away because I was waiting for a moment when I wouldn’t interrupt the teacher and I could see from what my neighbour had that it was a questionnaire that we didn’t need immediately but had to fill it in the next time we were on the streets. She didn’t like me not jumping to my feet to get one but her behaviour was angry and manipulative yet again. I felt more and more unsafe.
Then half an hour later we were sitting in our small outreach group and she told everyone to write down her phone number. I had already got it from her the day before so I didn’t take out my notebook to write it down. She angrily said to me in front of the rest of our team sitting in a circle “You are supposed to have a notebook with you?” I told her that I have a notebook with me but I had already asked her for her number the day before. Then she angrily sighed and mumbled something under her breath. I felt increasingly unsafe with her bullying behaviour and wondered how I was going to get through the whole course.
Then the next night, our outreach group under her direction, were out to do our first midnight outreach to homeless Nepalis on the street in the centre of Hong Kong. We gathered in a corner on the street to pray and one of the co-leaders from Eastern Europe was a bit late. When she showed up the American leader made a comment to her in front of all about oversleeping and the Eastern European replied angrily. This co-leader was quite irritable and I wondered if it was from sheer exhaustion from long hours. That is something that Jackie upholds in her teaching as almost a spiritual necessity if someone is committed to the work of the Lord. The two leaders did not resolve the issue but went on to spiritually claim, in prayer, the land we would walk on.
In our outreach team, we were subdivided into groups of 5-6 and went walking out onto the streets in search of homeless Nepalis. I was put in a small group by the American leader with her, the Eastern European and 2 Chinese “brothers”. I was still recovering from a flu with bad earache and had not been able to find a warm hat in the local shopping area close to Singmun Springs and hoped the night market would have one. It was very cold on the streets so I asked if I could pick up a hat as we walked past the night market. I was told now is not the time as we are supposed to be praying in the spirit. The leader gave me a sweatband to cover my ears with but I was still cold but no choice given in the matter.
The group of 5 was quite big and I felt like when we went looking for Nepalis, we were too many to speak to one person. It felt terrible as we stood around one person while the American leader questioned them. It felt like we were pressuring people that we were speaking to so, at one point, I kept a distance of a couple of metres and prayed, especially when the American team leader embarrassed one Nepali man by calling him a liar after he told her he had not been drinking when she asked him.
It was unclear as to what was expected of us in communicating to people. She told us not to chat with the people but to get them to believe in Jesus and try to get them to speak in tongues. We were told to speak “spirit to spirit”. While we were with the embarrassed Nepali, an old Chinese man came to ask us to move because where we were standing was his corner where he sets up his bed on the street each night. He asked a number of times and our leader would not move and he got more and more agitated as it was late at night. All his belongings were in the corner of this pergola in a park in Hong Kong and the other 3 corners were taken up by other people’s belongings in plastic bags. He continued to ask her in Chinese and insisted we move and got angry. Then I told her that all his stuff was there and we could move over. She said she would not move because he was being rude. I felt actually embarrassed to be in her group that were supposedly out on the streets to show people “God’s love”.
Then we walked back to the rest of the larger Nepali outreach group and 4 from another team were talking to a drunk Nepali man. My American leader came over to me and told me there was no one with the drunk Nepali who understood Nepali to speak to him and so she told me to get a “word of knowledge” in Hindi to give to him. I knew Hindi would not be close enough for comprehension and also did not feel led by God to do that. Also we had not yet even been taught in our training sessions about spiritual gifts and their use. I said to her that my Hindi was not good enough and didn’t feel to do it. She then said frustratingly to me that God could not speak to him if I didn’t do it. I felt more and more bashed and manipulated. BUT, when I looked at the people talking to him one was a Nepali guy on our team who was communicating with him and I immediately felt that she was being manipulative and pushy again.
Then a couple minutes later she told me to go talk to 2 guys that 3 of our team were already talking to. I told her that there were too many people standing around one person at a time and I didn’t feel it was right to have so many speak to so few. Then in front of others she rebuked me for standing to one side all night. I asked her what did she mean and I told her that I was trying to be sensitive to the people we were talking to. As I tried to explain she kept walking away from me, I had spoken to a few people through the night but felt very unsafe with her and didn’t know when she would lash out at me. I felt like the whole time she and not the Holy Spirit was dictating what we did.
At 1am, as we made our way back to catch busses back to Singh Mun Springs, I cried and wondered how I was going to get through. The scriptures “if I speak in the tongues of angels but have not love, I am a clanging cymbal” and “by their love you will know them” came to my mind as we travelled back. That night, as I slept, I had a dream that a wild pig was chasing me and the only way to stop the pig from destroying me was to sit on its back and do what it said.
The next morning, on Sunday, the Outreach teacher over all outreach for the course, happened to come to the lounge just across from our room. She got chatting to me about some things they planned to do on the rest of the course. She is an older woman from England and was over all the outreach training for the three months and she asked me how things were. I told her that I was seriously planning to buy a ticket home. She asked me why and I told her that I am being picked on. I told her how people were being treated on the streets and the pressure to operate in spiritual gifts. She said that was not good but that there could be something in me and my past that attracts people to bully me. She asked me to hang on a bit longer and see how things go. She also understood my concerns for being sensitive about numbers with the people on the street that we were talking to.
She said she would speak with Margaret Kendall (the main leader) the next day, Monday and told me I could speak with Margaret on Wednesday, 3 days later. Margaret was too busy to speak with me until Friday but the outreach trainer told me I could come off the outreach team for the time being. That was a relief for me as I could not face being pressured and bullied by the outreach team leader to do things that God was not telling me to do and I felt embarrassed to join in on the manipulation of people on the street. I didn’t have the umph to be out on the streets under a leader who on the first night out disrespected the homeless and who pressured others to operate in spiritual gifts.
On the Friday, I eventually got to speak with Margaret Kendall and the Outreach teacher, Maggie. I understood that Maggie had told Margaret about the bullying on the street but neither said anything about it. Instead, they asked me what was happening for me. I told them I was worn down and stressed from organisational mishaps and I could not go through more. Margaret Kendall suggested that I stay off the outreach team and just go to the worship and training sessions and she would ask Jackie Pullinger if I could work on the garden for the time being. The meeting ended and I was surprised nothing was said about the manipulation or bullying behaviour. It was easier for me to just focus on being safe and not be near the outreach team. I felt beaten down and that I needed to try and heal and started to believe that maybe it was all my problem. That made me feel very unsafe spiritually and at the mercy of Satan. Things were not making sense to me.
The next day, a number of my outreach team members came individually and asked where was I and why was I not on outreach. I told them that I needed to take a break and it was too hard with what was being expected. One of them said he was having a hard time with how we were being pressured spiritually and how people on the street are approached. Another team member told me that she was being pressured to speak “spirit to spirit” with people on the street and get them to speak in tongues as soon as they believe in Jesus. She also said that another member was rebuked by the American leader in front of the team and embarrassed when after being pressured to get spiritual pictures before the outreach trip, his spiritual picture was not confirmed during outreach.
With others speaking their concern and being manipulated spiritually, I then began to realise that this was not just a personal spiritual problem as the leaders had wanted me to believe. For the days where I believed that I was some sort of bully magnet I felt unsafe and at the mercy of Satan and others. But then I realised that is not my position in Christ and others were also being pressured, manipulated and bullied. It was a form of control to turn the issue back on to me and this was a method that I saw used with others too when they tried to confront things.
Over the weekend, I didn’t go to outreach but was given permission to do gardening by Jackie but told by her in a brief dialogue, after her church service on the Sunday, to not prune or clip anything. As a horticulturalist, it was clear that hedges and bushes were in very real need of being pruned and trimmed but Jackie was to be obeyed on all details. This type of control and micro-management became understandable when I saw it was the way to keep hundreds of people doing the right thing in community.
On the following Tuesday, when class and training resumed, I felt clear in my head about the manipulation that was going on and that I was clearly not a bully-magnet as I was not the only one being treated in this way. I decided that morning that when Margaret Kendall was going to talk to me about the details of what Jackie said to her about worship, gardening and healing that I was going to tell her that I was not the only one. Margaret Kendall didn’t remember that she was to talk to me and so I asked her after the teaching session if we could talk. I expected she would ask to talk in a quieter spot away from all the other trainees and lunch set-up, but instead she just stood to one side and said “So how is the worship and gardening going?” The question surprised me as it had only been two days since Jackie told me I wasn’t to prune any plants but Margaret herself had not yet conveyed the outcome of her talk with Jackie, so I was surprised by her question so quick. But it gave me the opening to say what I really needed.
I told her that it was not helping because there were things happening on the course and to others that were the issue and not just to me. With that, she instantly put her hand up to me and said “Ok, when are you leaving?” This shocked me but also confirmed to me how things are done. She then said there was nothing more she could do. She would not listen or hear me so in response to asking when was I leaving I replied “Right now.” The dream about the wild pig came back to my mind and with the anger and control that I could see in Margaret, I realised that further conversation would result in more attempts at control. I turned from her to get my backpack and she quickly stood in front of me to block me. She then told me that I could not leave as I was in their care and accused me of talking in circles and that we needed to go to a quiet office with another person present. Yes, another attempt to say that I was the problem. I knew that I was not talking in circles because I had been silenced and not actually given a chance to say what was going on. I did not give in to the controlling attempt and I walked around her again and kept walking towards the door with my knees physically shaking and in floods of tears. At this point she quickly stood in front of me again and called over a Chinese man to physically hold my arms from behind. He grabbed my two arms and held me from behind. This was in front of all the participants in “The Factory” where we had training sessions. Being physically restrained was traumatising for me and I told Margaret “You can’t physically detain me like this” realising that she as a New Zealander would understand the legal implications of what I was saying. With that she told Lee to let me go.
As I continued to walk towards the door again, she came and stood in front of me again and said she wanted to speak in a quiet office. I said it was too late and raised my voice saying that she did not want to hear me tell her about spiritual manipulation on the street such as being coerced to use spiritual gifts. Others heard me and she verbalised “Sorry, Sorry” but I knew it was insincere and that my words would fall on deaf ears. I left the building very upset and made my way to the metro to go back to Singh Mun Springs to pack my suitcase and leave.
I made my way back to Singh Mun Springs and packed as soon as I could. I was distressed and very upset but very much felt that to get out of there as soon as possible and avoid any more attempts at control was the right thing to do. My roommates came back and asked me was I okay. I didn’t feel to tell them the details but decided that I needed to get out of there. Maggie, the outreach teacher from England, came and asked if she could speak with me in the lounge. I said yes but was very prepared not to allow her to control me again. She said that if I left and did not deal with this that I would be continue to be affected by bullying. I was not going to accept that again so I turned it back and asked “What about those who are bullying?” She didn’t say anything and asked me to stay. She did not believe me when I told her that Margaret Kendall had asked me “When was I leaving?” Again I felt like I was wasting my time. I did not change my mind about leaving as soon as possible.
At this point all the participants had been told to go to their practical projects in the grounds of Singh Mun Springs, including my room-mates who wanted to say goodbye. I walked out to the gate to go to the nearest shopping mall with my suitcase and backpack to arrange a place to stay with the public internet there. They offered me a life and so I took that. As I was waiting to go, Maggie came again and asked me not to leave. But my gut said it was the right thing to do and in hindsight I am very relieved. As I went to get into the car, a number of participants ran over to say goodbye even though they had been told not to. Margaret Kendall then came walking towards me and stopped about 3 metres from me with her arms stretched out. The participants and others behind her could not see the false grin I could see. In a kind of “come and hug me” pose she said “bless you”. I walked towards her to say goodbye and said to her “Please listen to people”. With that she again said in a kind of mantra with a very false grin “Bless you”. Her face was further confirmation that I was doing the right thing in getting out from under that control. I got in the car and was dropped at the shopping mall by one of the workers.
A sense of freedom and relief hit me as I sat on a bench outside the shopping mall. Lots of things came to my mind about the weeks in St. Stephen’s Society and very strange things I observed and was told, that I refused to accept mentally or spiritually. I do hope for the sake of all under the care of Jackie Pullinger, all those being approached on the streets, all the men who are living tightly controlled in apartment blocks in Singh Mun Springs, those who are not free to do good things they enjoy in case they become addicted to good activities, those who have been rescued from gangs on the streets to be now in a tightly controlled environment, most living as bachelors with no families or homes of their own. This is not the freedom that Christ died to give people and my hope is that somehow, someday, God can break through the organisational control that has taken over and bring the freedom that Jackie speaks about in so many of her messages.