Wanted: Fanatics

If this is fanaticism, I want some.

If this is fanaticism, I want some.

If you don't know when to quit, you might change the world. Like Rick.


My friend Rick Friesen is a fanatic.

And I’m glad he is.

First, let’s define terms. A fanatic is someone who is “filled with or expressing excessive zeal.”
Fanaticism is generally frowned upon. To call someone a fanatic is to say they are detached from reality. This criticism is often an attempt to discredit a cause. That label was thrown at William Wilberforce, a stalwart and ultimately successful opponent of British slavery.

If to be alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics.
— William Wilbeforce

Fanaticism, then, is often in the eye of the beholder. A fanatic can simply be someone who stands for a cause someone doesn’t like or understand. 

Without fanatics, the world would be in dire straits. Because it takes excessive zeal to fight poverty, racism, slavery and corruption. The world system brings tremendous pressure upon anyone who wants to shake things up. 

And that’s what Rick does. His fingerprints are all over the globe.

He’s been a businessman, a police officer – and for the last couple of decades, a pastor. When I joined his church staff a few years ago, I received an abrupt email one snowy day: “All male staff, get your boots and shovels. We’re going out to serve our community.”

And boy did we. All morning long we frantically dug out the driveways and sidewalks of widows, the elderly and pretty much anyone who moved. That’s Rick’s style: all in.

In his role at the church, he took the opportunity to invest in Christian humanitarian work worldwide. Eventually he left the staff to work full time developing nutrition centers, schools and churches in Africa.

Rick, somewhere West of the Pecos, raising money for kids in Africa.

Rick, somewhere West of the Pecos, raising money for kids in Africa.

That effort included a coast-to-coast bicycle ride to raise more than $100,000 for the cause. At that point, Rick was in his 50s and hadn’t even biked much. Somewhere in the desert Southwest, he had a major crash and almost got killed by a truck. After a short stay in the hospital, he was back peddling across America. I asked him, half-jokingly, if he was insane.

When I ate breakfast with Rick recently, he had just finished a 24-hour walk to raise funds for other projects in Africa. His Achilles tendon was throbbing, but he shrugged it off.

In the midst of those things, he started a church in Belton, Mo., that is actively serving the area as well as supporting orphanage work in Africa. 

It’s simply not possible to quantify the good Rick has done. But if he weren’t a fanatic, it wouldn’t have happened. 

And Rick’s going to hate this column because he’s fanatical about not accepting praise. But I share it to inspire others to join the bandwagon of the crazy that includes the Underground Railroad, Susan B. Anthony, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and both Martin Luthers.

Here’s what the latter, Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say on this topic:

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank God for people who don’t know when to quit. 

And thank you, Rick, for continuing and modeling this proud tradition.