Travel the world, change lives, save souls. (Note: Results not typical.)
A young idealist heeds the call to radical obedience, gives away all of his belongings and shaking off the fetters of a complacent life, travels halfway around the world. There he discovers, among the poor and the fatherless of West Africa, that he has only surrendered to a new kind of captivity.
There is no doubt that young people today are fully invested in social and human rights issues. They start their own nonprofits, they run their own charities, they raise money for worthy causes. Books on saving the world abound, topping the bestsellers’ lists, fueling the drive to prove not only commitment to the world but devotion to God.
Now there is a new crop of books starting to emerge, detailing the consequences of trying to save a world that is not ours to save. But none of these books tell the story thatRunaway Radical tells; this is the first book to highlight the painful personal consequences of the new radicalism, documenting in heartbreaking detail what happens when a young person becomes entrapped instead of liberated by its call. His radical resolve now shaken, he returns home to rebuild his life and his faith.
Runaway Radical serves as an important and cautionary tale for all who lead and participate in compassion activism, in the art of doing good— both overseas and at home— amidst this new culture of radical Christian service.
I read Runaway Radical completely in just two sittings. To me, this book was like watching something awful unfold before your eyes and yet lacking the ability to look away. Not that the book was bad, because it wasn’t, but I found it to be completely unsettling. I leave for my first short-term overseas mission trip in two short months. Therefore, Jonathan’s story of a mission trip gone bad weighs heavy on my heart.
Runaway Radical is written by the mother-son team of Amy and Jonathan Hollingsworth. Amy’s voice details the story from a mother’s point of view, her son’s desire to serve God, his heart for the poor and downtrodden, and the mission trip that rocked his faith in both God and their church leadership. Much of Jonathan’s suffering stems from self-imposed legalistic standards coupled with the church leader/mission organizations abuse of power. The anguish and helplessness Amy feels in the aftermath of his abuse drips from the page.
To me, the authors’ motivation for the writing seemed to be equal parts cautionary tale and healing for Jonathan. The warning against legalism is clear and strong. Having been snared by legalism in my youth, it was easy for me to relate to Jonathan’s desire to be good, do more, and sacrifice bigger in order to please God. Jonathan’s shift towards radicalism develops over time. It seems to me that when he shaved his head, moved into his closet, and started giving away his worldly possessions, the red flags would have been raised for me as a parent. Instead, his parents allow him to pursue his passion all the way to West Africa. Within days of arriving, Jonathan can sense that something is off. Instead of the mission work he went expecting to do, the mission organization uses Jonathan as a spectacle to draw crowds, which enabled them to reach more with their prosperity gospel. When he finally returns home, he is not the same young man that left—he’s broken. The process of co-authoring Runaway Radical was a sort of therapy for Jonathan suggested by his mother. In hindsight, Jonathan shares where his beliefs went wrong, how he was used, and God’s presence through it all.
While I did not agree with all that was shared, like the heavy use of dream interpretation, the story was thought-provoking. It was also tragic, humbling, and grace-filled. I give Runaway Radical 4/5 stars.
About the Authors
Amy Hollingsworth is the author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor, based on her nine-year friendship with television’s Fred Rogers. She has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor’s degree in English and is an adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she lives with her husband Jeff and their children, Jonathan and Emily. She has written for various magazines, including ParentLife, and was a writer for eight years for The 700 Club television program.
Jonathan Hollingsworth left college at age 20 to pursue a new life as a missionary in Africa. He has since returned to college. This is his first book.