Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World



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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718031268
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 03/03/2015
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: eBook
Pages: 214
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Amy Hollingsworth is the author of the best-selling The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers and Gifts of Passage. Before writing books, Amy wrote for various magazines and was a television writer for eight years for CBN. In 2010, she was named one of USA Today’s Top 100 People for her influence on pop culture and was featured in the documentary by MTV’s Benjamin Wagner titled Mister Rogers & Me. Her television appearances include WGN’s Morning News, PBS’s A Word on Words, and Fox’s Morning News. A former psychology professor, Amy lives in Virginia with her husband and children.  


Read an Excerpt

Runaway Radical

A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World

By Amy Hollingsworth, Jonathan Hollingsworth

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-3126-8



IT HAS ONLY BEEN A FEW DAYS, AND MY HEART IS already exploding with joy.

It has only been a few days, and I already feel at home.

It's amazing what can happen in a matter of days when you're on the other side of the world. Maybe that's what it takes sometimes. From the mansions of politicians to the shacks of humble farmers, I've seen the city and the countryside and everything in between. But everywhere I go I am told the same thing: you are welcome here.

Despite all that has happened since I arrived, the event that stands out to me the most is when I went to the local church Sunday morning to worship. The joyful energy in the room was incredible, and the angelic voices of the children's choir were enough to make me feel like I was worshiping with these wonderful people in the throne room of heaven. I promise, an African church service will ruin you to anything else. When the sermon was over, I was greeted by more people than I could count. The adults showered me with handshakes and hugs. The children greeted me with curious looks, shy smiles, and contagious laughter.

—Jonathan's blog post, written on his third day in Cameroon, West Africa

For nearly a year Jonathan had agonized over how to save the world. What was his part? What was his purpose? And then within six weeks every detail fell into place. Eight thousand dollars of support were raised in just over a month. Thirty guitars were donated so that he could give African orphans the gift of music, teach them what he had been taught in a privileged youth of weekly music lessons. The newspaper covered his story; his college highlighted his sacrifice. He got all his shots, was granted his visa. The insurance company bent the rules so that he could secure a year's worth of antimalaria medicine. He was prayed over, sent out, chosen. His path was made straight. He aced his last exam of the semester, finished up his thank-you notes, and boarded the plane—all on the same day. We, his happy family—his father, his mother, his sister—cried and hugged him and said good-bye at the airport, never more sure of anything in our lives.

When did you first know things had gone terribly wrong? I asked him months later. About six days in, he admitted. Six days into a yearlong commitment. Just three days after his heart had been exploding with joy.

It was the first morning of a new year, and I made the discovery on Facebook. Someone—most likely the culprit with the shears—had posted before-and-after pictures. I ran upstairs to Jonathan's closet, where he slept on the floor, to find out if it was true. There he was, like a slumbering Samson, shorn of his beautiful mane of curls. He looked like a new recruit, or a cancer patient. Or a monk.

This was not Jonathan's first act of renunciation. His bed was gone, along with most of his bedroom furniture. He slept on the floor of his narrow closet, just long enough to accommodate his six-foot frame. Once he left the house while his meditation candle, the one emblazoned with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, still flickered in his closet, and his prayers must have been heard because she spared the house from catching fire. I made a little poster to put on the door, with a smiling friar in cassock and tonsure, with the caption "Brother Jonathan's Cloister Closet." (It was meant to be a joke, especially since the friar had more hair than Jonathan.)

Soon he began to scratch out short messages in pencil on the closet wall, a quote from Mother Teresa or a Bible verse about caring for the poor. Before long he had covered the walls with the words of St. Basil the Great, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Albert Einstein, Che Guevara, Frederick Buechner, Martin Luther King Jr., tragic hero Christopher McCandless, and Jesus himself. It was always a message of self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

I framed a photo and hung it on his closet wall, in the midst of the quotes, when he returned from Honduras. It was a picture of him reaching out his hand to a poor, barefooted Honduran girl. She was tiny for her age, thin and expressionless, with an oversized T-shirt slipping off one shoulder, the applique butterflies muted by dirt. Jonathan noticed that her movements were robotic, as if she didn't have the energy to move fluidly. He knelt down beside her and reached out his hand to her. She stood motionless, looking straight ahead, never acknowledging his presence. He waited. Then slowly, very slowly, she raised her hand and placed it in his. But she never shifted her gaze, her eyes looked straight ahead. Her expression was still blank. But a great change had come over his.

Jonathan was a youth leader at church, and he was asked to speak during a Sunday morning service about his work with the homeless. He wanted to mention how hopeless he felt after seeing the suffering in Honduras, but the pastor edited that part out, asking him to keep things upbeat and positive. After the service, we planned to take Jonathan out to lunch, to celebrate the occasion. He drove on ahead to the restaurant, but when we arrived he was nowhere to be found. We searched inside and out, checked the bathroom. I looked outside a second time and found him behind the building, sitting on the curb near the dumpster. A petite woman sat next to him. Her name was Carmen, and even though the weather was temperate, she was wrapped head to toe in heavy winter clothing.

The next day he told me that a van had stopped in front of him and Carmen as they sat near the dumpster, and a young boy jumped out and handed them each a bag of chips. The boy assumed Jonathan was homeless too. Jonathan's hair was long and curly then, his jeans were ripped, the sole was coming off one of his shoes. And that was his preaching attire.

He and Carmen were old friends by now; he gave her rides from time to time, ran errands for her. He had bought her a luggage cart to transport all her worldly goods when hers was damaged. Sometimes she would ask him to meet her someplace and then not show up.

She had wide, beautiful eyes, but her speech was hard to follow. She wanted to tell me she saw Jesus in the clouds once, or in a rainbow. We invited her to lunch, but she said she was too dirty to go inside. Jonathan thought she was worried about leaving her luggage cart, so we brought her lunch to her. Your son is beautiful, she said.

Later Jonathan admitted, "I felt guilty approaching a homeless person if I hadn't given something up first." So he slept on the floor, shaved his head, broke up with his girlfriend.

Before Jonathan left for Africa, he was invited to the Washington, DC, premiere of the film adaptation of Blue Like Jazz. He was one of the thousands of associate producers credited on the film, which boasted one of the largest fundraising efforts in film history. There he met author Donald Miller, shook his hand, and told him: I'm going to Africa because of you.

And it was true. If it hadn't been for that book, which Jonathan had read two years before, he might not have realized his love for others was conditional. He might not have gone to Honduras or held the hand of a little girl or dreamed of a little African boy when he got back. He might not have started a ministry to reach out to the homeless. Or met Carmen. He may have never felt he was needed by the orphans of Cameroon, West Africa. He wrote about the transformation in a blog post.

After I finished Blue Like Jazz, I felt different, like I was walking around with a secret I couldn't contain. The secret that everyone matters, everyone deserves love. Suddenly no form of human interaction felt too small or insignificant. And that's when I started noticing people all around me I had been ignoring, people I could be loving but wasn't. I wanted that to change. So I reached for the outcasts, the ones deemed "worthless" by society. The homeless.

His love for the homeless expanded, extended, and then he was taking in other outcasts. Mentoring teenage boys who even the church folk didn't want. The test of love being to give to those who couldn't give back. Then he saw the scope of suffering in Honduras. Then he had the dream.

Jonathan had given away most of his material possessions, including his clothes, but there was one thing he didn't relinquish: his books. He assigned me a list of books he wanted me to read when he left for Africa, the books that had paved the way for him to go. Jonathan had always been deeply affected by literature, had loved books since he was a little boy. He was only five when he packed up his favorite books, including his father's boyhood copy of The Wizard of Oz, in a pale blue suitcase that he sealed with duct tape for good measure. He alerted us that this suitcase was to go with him should Jesus come back. He could part with everything else but his treasures in heaven had been stored up in the written word, with color illustrations. He would fill a suitcase with books when he left for Africa, too.

I had read Blue Like Jazz shortly after he did, at his request. But the new books on his list were different. Less philosophical, more directive. They were filled with the kind of zeal that might fuel an idealistic college student to leave school, to travel alone to a continent he was unfamiliar with, to join forces with people he didn't really know, to stay longer than he should have. But I only figured that out later, after he was already gone, after I began reading the list of books he left behind.

When I missed Jonathan, I sometimes visited his cloister closet. His bedding was still there, unwashed, some blankets and a pillow. That's when I noticed new quotes had been added to the wall. They were less encouraging, more accusatory than the others. Each one issued a challenge. Each one pointed a finger. No longer a wall to inspire, but more like the markings of a prisoner biding his time. Not counting the days to freedom, but further closing him in.

If it was Donald Miller who was responsible for getting Jonathan to Africa, it was these other voices who were responsible for keeping him there. Because there was always more to do. More to give. More to sacrifice. No matter the cost.

I think people are tired of being told about a Jesus they haven't experienced. If someone has never been shown love or peace or mercy, but I claim that Jesus is all of those things, I have done nothing to help that person understand. Instead of just telling people that Jesus loves them, what if I showed them love first? Instead of just saying that Jesus is peace and mercy, what if I showed them what peace and mercy feel like? If I do that, then at last I can say the next part, the most important part: "Friend, the same way I have loved you is how Jesus loves you, and he loves you even more than I can."

This is my journey to make the words of Jesus jump off the page. In three weeks I will be boarding a plane that will take me to Africa for a year to volunteer. I will be teaching orphans and schoolchildren how to play the guitar, traveling to remote villages to do medical outreaches, and helping to build a bakery that will not only teach the orphans a trade but will make the orphanage self-sustaining. This wouldn't be possible without the gracious support of friends, family, and fellow followers of Jesus.

Thanks for loving the world with me.

And so my beautiful son, with a suitcase full of books and a luggage cart transporting all his worldly goods, boarded the plane, poised to love the world.



ONE OF THE LAST MEMORIES I have before boarding the plane to Africa is standing in front of the painted-on chalkboard that spans an entire wall of my bedroom. This wall bore no literary quotes or Bible verses; it was blank except for a countdown tally that read: DAYS TILL AFRICA.

It was the night before my departure, and the tally needed updating. I erased the previous number, scribbled on the day before, and drew a number one that reached from floor to ceiling. I took a few steps back and let the image sink in. This was a symbolic moment, not only because it represented the beginning of a yearlong trip, but because it represented a trip that I believed would inspire me to stay for good.

I can't count the times a classmate or neighbor told me it wouldn't be surprising if I became so taken with the African culture that I'd never come back. Or, if I did come back, it would be with an orphaned child who I just couldn't bear to part with.

Neither of these predictions came true, of course, and perhaps they were too ambitious for someone who had yet to step foot on the continent. But that didn't stop me from picturing myself in the shoes of every missionary with a success story I'd spent the last two years reading about, wanting to become.

If you are a young, idealistic Christian, then Africa is the place to be. Where else do you find missionaries multiplying loaves and fishes to feed entire orphanages? Or a young woman my age adopting orphaned girls and raising them on her own? Or a nonprofit trying to take down a war criminal? Or people being healed? Or even being raised from the dead?

When Christians tell stories about Africa, they tell stories like these. Every outreach is a success. God always does something amazing. Lives are always changed. Every account is written with the ecstasy of someone whose heart is exploding with joy.

The downside to holding literature so dear is that sometimes you find yourself trying to live out the stories of the characters in your books. This temptation is almost inescapable in Christian literature, where the reader is encouraged, even directed, to view the person as an example to be followed.

As I stared at the countdown on my wall, I had no reason to believe that my story would unfold any differently than the stories of the passionate do-gooders in my books. I had been let down by mission trips before, but those were nowhere near as ambitious as the journey I was about to embark on. If I learned anything from the stories coming out of Africa, it was that if I wanted God's attention, I had to do something big. I had to do something too big for God to ignore. And then, surely then, he would show up. And he would do something amazing.

But the question I never asked myself, the question absent from the countless testimonies I had heard in church, absent from the inspiring accounts of miracles, absent from all the literature urging young Christians to follow God to another part of the world and make disciples, was this: What happens when God doesn't show up?

Where do those stories go? I didn't know the answer then, but I do now. Those stories don't get told. Those stories make God look bad. Those stories make the church look bad.

So they tell you not to tell your story. No newsletter, no slideshow, no testimony. No one is even told you've come home.

Better than a bad story is no story. That way, what happened to you never really happened.



TODAY I WALKED THROUGH ONE OF THE NEARBY villages. The winding road was dotted with small houses and crop fields and children pointing and shouting "White man!" as I passed. I entered the thick brush and walked down into a valley. After finding a small clearing, I sat beneath a towering bamboo tree, and in that moment of complete solitude, realized one simple truth: I am here because someone loved me.

I am here because I have been loved deeply by my family and my friends. But the greatest love comes from someone I've never met. I am here because two thousand years ago Someone loved me more than I can ever know. He still loves me, and it would be a shame not to pour out that same love with just as much intensity.

He had gray hair and a white beard and hadn't talked to another living soul in months. He wasn't after company that night; he pulled his camouflage jacket tight against the night air and shuffled past each table at the outdoor restaurant, asking for spare change. It was the spring before Jonathan left for Africa, and he and his friends were sitting outside at their favorite cafe and hookah lounge when Bobby Brown made his rounds. He looked like he was in his sixties, someone's grandfather living on the streets.

This was not the first homeless man Jonathan had encountered. Of course he knew Carmen, but she was in the minority, unprotected, which is why he once asked if she could live with us. Most of the homeless in our community, like most communities, were men. The first homeless man Jonathan hoped to help he never got a chance to. A long line at McDonald's, slowed by a new employee in training, held Jonathan up as he attempted to buy the homeless man lunch. If the man knew food was on the way, he might not have abandoned his post on the main thoroughfare. But this was nothing Jonathan had planned. He was driving home from a college class and saw the homeless man limping up and down the median and was seized, squeezed tight, by the urge to buy him lunch, but also to take it to him, and to shake his hand.

While in McDonald's Jonathan met another man who was probably homeless as well. Jonathan remembers the encounter clearly, because he wrote it down just after it happened.

Worn, oversized clothes hung from his scrawny frame, and his skin was weathered from the sun. He was busy counting a pile of change in his hand, when he absentmindedly dropped a few coins on the floor. A penny landed close to my foot. I reached for it and handing it to him, mentioned how every little bit helps these days.

"Sure does," he laughed, revealing several missing teeth. His eyes were kind, but there was a sort of sweet brokenness about them; they were so compelling I could hardly look away. He inspected the penny I had given to him, and with a smile handed it back.

"You know," he said, "they say when you find a penny heads-up, you have good luck for the rest of the day, so I think you should hang on to this."


Excerpted from Runaway Radical by Amy Hollingsworth, Jonathan Hollingsworth. Copyright © 2015 Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Is He Real?, 1,
1 · Sacrifice, 11,
2 · Stories That Don't Get Told, 21,
3 · They Still Need Love, 27,
4 · Ashia, 43,
5 · Does He See?, 49,
6 · A Dirty Mirror, 65,
7 · The Last Sacred Place on Earth, 71,
8 · The African Way, 89,
9 · I'll Know the Exit When I See It, 103,
10 · If All Else Fails, 109,
11 · The Only Certain Happiness, 123,
12 · Stepping Back, 137,
13 · Three Choices, 143,
14 · Runaway, 157,
15 · Results Not Typical, 163,
16 · A Counterfeit of Grace, 177,
17 · How Much More Do I Have to Do?, 185,
Epilogue: Saving the World, 201,
Acknowledgments, 209,
Notes, 212,
About the Authors, 213,

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