Melding Faith and Work
By Bethany Blankley, Christian Post, June 17, 2013
Raised in a conservative, loving, Christian home in New Jersey, Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water, has travelled from complete self-indulgence to truly discovering Jesus and on the way become an example of melding faith and work to literally help millions.
An only child, Harrison was active in his family’s church and briefly attended Christian school. After pleading with his parents to go to public school, he got his wish in the 10th grade. He joined a band and grew his hair long. “Everything I said I wasn’t going to do, I slowly started to do,” he says of this period in his life.
When he turned 18, Harrison left for New York City and landed a lucrative job promoting nightclubs. Working a couple nights a week, his job was to “get beautiful people” into clubs, with the benefits of free booze and an income. He started off producing an R&B show at the legendary club Nells, where musicians like Prince and Stevie Wonder played. His next gig was to promote another club three nights a week that was right around the corner, called Lotus, where models and celebrities hung out. On the weekends he might fly to Paris.
Enveloped in a lifestyle of money, drugs, and alcohol, he became the go-to party person among New York’s elite. At the high point of his career, he was getting paid $2,000 a month just to drink Bacardi in public, and another $2,000 a month just to drink Budweiser in public—on top of bringing people to parties.
But as he became more successful, he felt empty inside. It was a “very dark, dark life,” he says.
Ten years later, at age 28, on New Year’s Eve, on a trip to South America, he “finally came to [his] senses. I realized that I was the worst person that I knew. I was the most selfish, arrogant, offensive person; the most spiritually, emotionally, morally bankrupt person that I knew—and I needed to make a change.”
All of his material possessions and even his model girlfriend left him feeling empty. “There would never be enough girls, there would never be enough money, there would never be enough status,” he says. “I sold decadence and escapism. There was nothing redemptive about my life.”
It was time for him to rediscover his faith. Everything that was of value to him, he had walked away from. He turned to God. He started reading A. W. Tozer and the New Testament. He then committed himself to living out a faith to serve God—and others.
Convicted by Jesus’s ministry to the poor, Harrison vowed to figure out how he could serve others. Every humanitarian organization to which he applied, he got rejected—except for one—Mercy Ships. He volunteered and then joined the organization as a photographer to document its work. A transformational experience, Harrison saw thousands healed through Mercy Ships’ aid.
"It was an incredible experience to witness so much suffering, unimaginable suffering, and then see hope brought by these doctors who had served," Harrison says. And after a nine-month tour, he wanted to share his experience with his nightclub friends—by showing them some of the more than 50,000 photos he had taken. He held a fundraiser in Chelsea exhibiting video and stills that showed before and after pictures of people who had large facial tumors removed, or were blinded by cataracts and could now see. His show raised $100,000 for Mercy Ships.
After the show, he volunteered again with Mercy Ships for another year. It was on a trip to Liberia that he witnessed firsthand the reality that people did not have clean drinking water. He was stunned to witness what people were drinking—green slime from a swamp with bugs crawling in it—because there was no alternative.
According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of disease in the world is caused by not having access to clean water. Nearly one billion people all over the world live without clean water. And living without water affects every aspect of life.
By age 30, Harrison had quit drinking, smoking, doing drugs, or living like he previously had. His faith informed his vision to make a difference.
Pointing to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Harrison articulates that the Good Samaritan paid for whatever the victim needed, “because he could.”
Harrison started charity: water in 2006 to provide access to clean drinking water to people all over the world and to create a charity that was transparent and effective, from which one hundred percent of donations went to the field to fund water projects. Harrison chose to create a new model that tagged the dollars donated by using Google maps and GPS to show where a well was built with a donor’s gift. He also used video, photography, social media, and parties to raise awareness and funds for the organization.
Today, charity: water has raised millions of dollars and funded over 6,000 water projects providing more than 2 million people with clean water in 19 countries.
"The dictionary defines charity as simply the act of giving voluntarily to those in need," Harrison says. "It’s taken from the word ‘caritas,’ or simply, love. In Colossians 3, the Bible instructs readers to "put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
"Although I’m still not sure what that means, I love the idea. To wear charity."
Harrison says charity: water has been a way for him to redeem his past. From telling a false story to partiers that they could be fulfilled through money, drugs, sex, or alcohol, Harrison now advocates the opposite—that people’s lives can have meaning through giving.