In recent years, much criticism has been lobbied at short-term mission trips and in particular, at their value; At whether they do more harm than good. To that end, books like When Helping Hurts have helped those of us in the church figure out how to do missions well.
Much of what's been said critically about short-term missions has been focused on the harm done to those we serve. We seldom hear about the harm that short-term missionaries can encounter themselves.
Runaway Radical by Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth shines a light into this void. Through excerpts from blog posts, first-person accounts from Jonathan, and reflections from his mother, Amy, Runaway Radical tells the story of Jonathan's failed missionary experience in Africa and the damage it did to his health, pysche, and faith. To be sure, it's a story that needs to be told – of missions gone bad and of a manipulative and some would even argue, abusive church.
Runaway Radical is packed with wisdom – especially in its later chapters, when it talks often about the damage that can be done by legalism, which the authors define as “trying to achieve spiritual results with a prescribed set of actions, by being good or by doing good.” According to Jonathan and Amy, legalism is the “enemy of grace”, which is something that “allows for possibilities.” In their words, “God sent the law so that we could define good and evil. But God sent Jesus so that good and evil no longer defined us. And if the burden to not be bad has been lifted, so has the burden to be good.”
Despite the wisdom Runaway Radical contains, I fear few will keep reading it long enough to find it. The writing is choppy, overly detailed, and at times, utterly confusing as it alternates between Jonathan and Amy's voices – something that can make persevering through this book difficult. That said, if you're willing to do the work of wading through that, this book will be helpful to those considering working abroad as short-term missionaries as well as to their families.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Runaway Radical from Youth Worker Journal in exchange for an honest review of it.