Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Helping humanity trumps textbooks
DEEDS: COLLEGE ON HOLD FOR CAMEROON
BY EDIE GROSS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Jonathan Hollingsworth was eating dinner in Fredericksburg, at one of Aladin Restaurant’s outdoor tables, when he spotted a homeless man asking for change.
“We can do him one better than that,” he told his friends before inviting the man to join them for a meal.
“He was quiet at the beginning. By the end of the night, he was making the whole table laugh,” said Hollingsworth, 20. “He told me, ‘I actually haven’t had a real conversation in three months.’ I couldn’t believe that. I probably don’t go three hours without talking to someone.”
The encounter last summer was life-changing for Hollingsworth, who lives in Spotsylvania County.
He recalled times when he’d avoided eye contact with the less fortunate, because of guilt or shame or discomfort, and he vowed never to do it again.
All human beings have worth, said Hollingsworth, and the very least we can do is acknowledge that with a look, a smile, a handshake or something even more meaningful.
To put his beliefs into practice, Hollingsworth will spend the next year in Cameroon in West Central Africa serving some of the country’s poorest residents.
He’ll volunteer at a clinic in Buea, on the country’s coast. And he’s also collecting guitars so he can teach music to local children.
“I just want to take some time off and pour my heart into something other than my textbooks,” said the Germanna Community College sophomore. “The best thing you can offer people is actual human interaction. It’s more important than just cutting a check to a charity from your armchair.”
He leaves May 3 and will work under the auspices of Hope Outreach International Ministries, a Christian charity founded by University of Mary Washington professor Julius Esunge.
Most volunteers go for a few weeks at a time, said Esunge, a native of Buea, which sits at the base of Mount Cameroon, an active volcano. Hollingsworth is the first to go for a full year, he said.
“He wants full-throttle engagement,” said Esunge. “He’s incredible.”
A BUSY YEAR AHEAD
This isn’t Hollingsworth’s first mission abroad.
Last summer, he and sister Emily, 18, traveled with fellow Grace Church of Fredericksburg members to the mountains of Honduras to help support an indigenous community.
It was rewarding, said Hollingsworth, but the community’s needs were greater than his group could possibly meet during their short stay.
To make a lasting impact somewhere, he felt he needed to stay longer.
He started researching volunteer options and discovered that the founder of Hope Outreach International Ministries was also a member of his church. That’s when he contacted Esunge.
The UMW math professor, who came to this country about 10 years ago for graduate school, suggested Hollingsworth get his feet wet by volunteering for three months. But Hollingsworth insisted on nothing less than a year, and after consulting his parents and his pastor, Esunge realized he was “the real deal” and could handle the commitment.
Hollingsworth will live with a local family. He’ll spend roughly half of each day helping establish a digital records-keeping program for a local charity clinic. The rest of his time will be divided between two schools, where he’ll teach kids between the ages of 6 and 14 how to play the guitar.
Every now and then he’ll take his skills on the road, helping volunteers and staff members deliver goods and services to the most rural parts of Cameroon.
He also intends to pitch in on local construction projects. For instance, Hope Outreach International Ministries is helping an orphanage build a bakery so the youngsters can learn a trade and the income can sustain the orphanage.
“He’s going to be pretty busy,” said Esunge, who noted that Hollingsworth’s drive to serve others gels perfectly with his group’s mission. “We’re happy to just be a bridge he can cross to reach his dream.”
SPREADING THE LOVE
Hollingsworth has raised a little more than half of the $5,200 he needs to cover his plane tickets and a year’s worth of expenses.
Friends and family have been generous, said his parents, Amy and Jeff. Recently, while Amy was walking the family dog, their longtime postal carrier caught up with her, pulled out her wallet and donated $20 to the cause.
“She started crying and she said, ‘These are my kids, too, and he’s doing God’s work,’” said Amy.
His family always sensed he might choose this path, said his mother, and it’s made them all more conscious of how they treat the people around them.
“You raise your kids that way and teach about social justice,” she said, “and then they grow up and challenge you.”
Hollingsworth said he’d love for the homeless man he encountered last summer to know how inspiring he was. Ultimately, he said, he’d like to start a nonprofit or partner with an existing one to make this his life’s work.
For now, he’s excited to pack up just the bare essentials and put his Christian principles into practice, spreading love and hope to those who need it most.
“I think the world is tired of hearing about a Jesus they haven’t experienced,” he said. “People say, ‘Know Jesus’ love, Jesus’ peace, Jesus’ mercy.’ But before you can tell people Jesus is anything, you have to show them love, peace and mercy, and then say, ‘The way I love you is the way Jesus loves you, and he loves you even more than I can.’ ”
A YEAR IN CAMEROON
Jonathan Hollingsworth, 20, leaves May 3 for a year in Cameroon in West Central Africa, where he’ll volunteer at a health clinic and teach children to play the guitar. He’s collected 10 guitars and raised a little more than half of the $5,200 he needs to cover his expenses for the next year.
If you’d like to donate a guitar or support his trip, contact him at email@example.com.
Hollingsworth has already started blogging about his preparations for the trip and intends to do so all year long at jonathanhollingsworth.tumblr.com.
He’ll be working with Hope Outreach International Ministries, a Christian charity founded by University of Mary Washington math professor Julius Esunge. You can visit the site at hopeoutreachinternational.org.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
Jonathan Hollingsworth wrote the following essay for an English class at Germanna Community College this semester:
Restoring the Humanity Back to the Human: A Personal Journey
When reflecting on the events leading up to a great philosophical change in my life, I see a culmination of time spent studying the lives of four unlikely people: Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Che Guevara, and a homeless man named Bobby Brown. Despite their differing ethnicities, religious and political beliefs and social status, I have learned an essential, unifying lesson from all of them. Among the many things they imparted in their lifetimes, I acknowledge the greatest lesson was probably their most abstract, and that is how to give people their humanity back. Above food or freedom or change, people are starving for love and for worth and for value.
The question of human value confronts us every day. It dictates how we treat the stranger who cuts in front of us in line and the beggar on the side of the road who asks us for change. The motivation behind almost any social action breaks down to how much or how little we value our fellow man. It is a question an activist must answer before he acts, and consequently, it is the same question a murderer or a dictator must answer before he acts as well. It is when the dictator sees his subjects as less than human that the activist steps in, the activist having already faced the question of human value and come away with a very different answer.
In this age, the value of flesh and blood is threatened by our love of metal and plastic and paper. As is evident by an economy sabotaged by the greed of large corporations, people are choosing materialism and wealth at the expense of other human beings. As said by Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society” (King, Jr.). The satisfaction of material things and personal gain is only momentary; on the other hand, the individual not only last a lifetime, his ideas and impact can last generations, and this makes him incomparably more important.
I realized not too long ago that I was robbing people of their worth every day. Driving along a busy road one afternoon, I saw a homeless man in a median at a bustling intersection. I had recently gone through a change in thinking about the homeless, and I was ready to put these thoughts into practice.
Whether some were frauds, addicts, or just lazy, I realized compassion is something that is meant to be unconditional. I knew there were people around me every day that I was ignoring, that I was not loving, and I wanted that to change. I saw the homeless man and wanted to get him food. But I also wanted to take it to him, to feel his handshake; I wanted to know that he was real. I needed to step beyond the seatbelt and windshield of my car and see the face behind the numbers, behind the statistics we all see about homelessness.
I can honestly say that day changed my life. I was able to bring the man lunch and talk to him and make him feel real and loved. For the longest time, I could not even look at a homeless person. I do not know if I was shamed or embarrassed or both, but sitting at the stoplight I would rather look at anything other than the human being right outside the window. I would pretend I was changing a radio station, or I would start a conversation with a friend in the passenger seat. I was ignoring the homeless for years before it hit me. When I ignore a homeless person, or anyone for that matter, I am not just telling them that I do not care, I am telling them they do not exist. I imagined a homeless person in Los Angeleswho sees thousands of people every day and not one of them even looks at him. This treatment reduces a person to something less than human, a mere object that simply functions to blend into the landscape.
Shortly after this experience, I met a homeless man named Bobby Brown. I was with some friends having dinner in the outside of a restaurant, and a homeless man came by and asked for change. We invited him over and he spent the evening with us, eating and laughing and sharing a newfound sense of community. At first he was quiet, simply listening to us make small talk. But by the end of the night, he was telling stories and making the whole table laugh. While some other people were talking, he leaned in and told me that he had not been around people in three months, and that is when I realized that more than food, more than being able to sit down at a nice restaurant, Bobby’s favorite part of the night was just being with people and talking to people. Mother Teresa was right when she said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread” (Desmond). The need to feed and clothe people is great, and it is necessary, but if we stop there, we are missing a whole other aspect of the human condition with perhaps the greatest needs of all.
There is a great lack, I believe, in the way we see worth in others. Even our terminology is skewed. We use monetary metaphors like “value,” and “worth,” as though people are goods to be bought and sold. If we could look into someone else’s eyes and understand how important they are, more than our possessions, more than our pride, more than our pleasure, then perhaps we would not just value them, or find them to have worth, but we would love them. Che Guevara once said, “The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love” (Guevara). Perhaps if we can see people as people and not things, and give them love instead of more things, we will all be activists, servants and revolutionaries.
Desmond, Edward. “Interview with MOTHER Teresa: A Pencil In the Hand Of God.” Time. 04 12 1989: n. page. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,959149-1,00.html.
Guevara, Che. “Socialism and Man in Cuba.” marxist.org. N.p., 2005. Web. 17 Jan 2012. http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1965/03/man-socialism.htm
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence .” American Rhetoric. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jan 2012. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimeto breaksilence.htm.