Several years ago I flew across the country from Virginia Beach to Bend, Oregon to join 120 entrepreneurs for the Start-Up Camp Summit, a conference put on by Dale Partridge for a 1-day summit about entrepreneurship, leadership, and making a difference in the world.
I expected to learn something new, to stretch myself, but what I did not expect was to leave trying to answer the question most of us secretly whisper to ourselves- do I have what it takes to make a real impact in the world. Read on to see what I discovered as I listened to the Founder of Charity Water.
The summit included three speakers (Dale Partridge, Scott Harrison, and Jennifer Smith). Dale is the author of People Over Profit and serial entrepreneur who started TheDailyPositive and StartupCamp.com but has since moved on to writing faith-based books and helping others plant house churches. Jennifer Smith is the author and founder of TheUnveiledWife.com and book The Unveiled Wife- she speaks to and offers thoughtful, and honest stories and inspiration on marriage. And Scott Harrison who was the first to speak is the CEO who founded Charity Water. Today, I am focusing on Scott’s talk.
Charity Water was founded in 2006 with a mission that every single person will have access to safe, clean drinking water one day. It is both simple and bold. The mission is enormous and beautiful. His charity also looked to do things differently- to use as much of money to further the cause, not to be put towards overhead. Charity Water looked for ways to do non-profit better.
Scott shared his story- beginning from the time he was a child, and his experiences growing up with his parents. He shared about the life long health battle his mom suffered from because of a company’s negligence and the difficulty his family faced for years because of the health struggles. And he told us about the strong values and faith in his life as he was growing up.
Then he shared with us about his time in New York City and how he spent years partying it up. It was real. It was raw. It was honest. It was the truth he was not afraid to put out there because when we can share the truth- all of it- even the dirty little secrets, and the things that make us feel less than perfect- that is when our humanity comes through. That is when we can relate to each other’s stories.
What struck me was not the raw, honest, and vulnerable words Scott Harrison shared. It was not the rock bottom life he found himself in or even his desire to pull away from his life of sin and destruction after many years of partying into the night as a nightclub promoter. It was what was not said during that hour when Scott shared his story of living a life of partying, drugs, money, a fast lifestyle and his desire to get out -instead, it was the change he experienced that moved him to act in the world for those who could not.
He shared his journey to turn his life around. How he left his life in New York and found himself in a very different place as he volunteered with Mercy Ships and eventually started Charity Water.
His story continued with photos of the conditions people are living in around the world that do not have access to basic things like clean water. And he shared photos of the communities that were changed when charity water drills for water and provides wells in their community, but none of that was what rocked me to the core.
The photos of children and families in villages without water, the diseases harming young children and women brought me to tears, that I tried hopelessly to hold back. How could my humanity not be shaken by such images and stories? It was raw and these stories need to be heard. And for most of us in the room, they did bring us to tears and tugged on our heartstrings.
But, what rocked me to the core was the idea that we all go through life working to pay the bills, and while many of us look to find our purpose, it struck me that often we focus on ourselves instead of what God calls us to do in his kingdom.
We may ignore the call or the tug to make a difference for weeks, or months or even years before most of us listen for it. Before most of us cannot ignore it anymore and need to move towards it. What shook me was the questions swirling in my head.
I found myself thinking- do we have to hit rock bottom before moving in the world with a new perspective? With sight that allows us to understand how each of us can impact the world because we ask why- Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t something be done about this?
And I knew deep down- It is when our whys move from questions to actions. It’s when our heartache or desire to help moves from our hearts and into our hands and feet. It’s when we take our questions, our heartache and longing for a better way from deep in our thoughts to sharing those questions and ideas with others- regardless of what they might say.
What shook me was the questions and emotions welling up within me. Are we afraid to be so bold? Are we filled with excuses and reasons we can’t act? Have we been programmed to live with blinders on and go about our lives ignoring people and issues all around us? We say we want to help, but at what cost? If it’s inconvenient, or if it’s risky, or unsafe are we the first ones to bail? What will it take for the rest of us to act to see change happen in the world?
Are our kids going to move closer to having an impact in the world and in their communities or further away because they are being brought up in a 24/7, social environment that focuses on likes and profiles, that focus on them not others?
This is when I found myself holding my breath. This is when I realized that we all secretly question- do I have what it takes to do something big? Do I have what it takes to make an impact in the world? Is fear holding me back? What shook me to the core was questioning if I have what it takes to make a real impact in the world?
Then as I let the ideas, the fear and questions out as I began to breathe again, and as the tears trickled down the corner of my eyes in the dark theater surrounded by a hundred other people who were also wiping away the tears, I remembered we do not have to do big things to have a big impact.
We just have to do something and keep moving forward. We only have to be drawn to the things that make us come alive, to the things that tug on our heartstrings or make us cry or angry as hell. We need to remember we are only being asked to be a part of something much bigger and greater than ourselves.
We are being asked to be a part of the body of Christ. We may not all be called on to create a Charity Water but we are all called on to help others in some way, even if the part seems unimportant, or small. Every part has to be played in order for the performance to happen. Every small action is needed in order to get clean drinking water to every person in the world.
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice Hospitality.”
As Christians, we are called upon to help others. We are called on to help our families, and our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters in faith. I find it’s easy to allow busyness and our everyday routines be blinded to the need all around us- for us to ignore the lonely, or hungry, or hurting just beyond our front door.
But as I reflected on Scott’s story and began to question my life and daily habits it became clear while I was helping in small ways, I was capable of so much more but I was not doing more. I’d been using my busyness — work, and children’s schedules, and my to-do-list as excuses. And I’d been putting relaxation and fun before the needs of others. And in that dark theatre, I realized I had to make a change in my life. I had to go home and hear the call the Lord has commanded for us to love our neighbors and to help those less fortunate or down on their luck.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
What if Scott did not act on the despair he saw, what if he did not feel moved to do something about it. To at least take the next step each time. He could have stopped moving forward with each question. With each obstacle. With each step. He could have said- I tried. He could have ignored the call to help those who did not have the means to bring water to their villages.
But instead, he questioned why and he moved forward. He wanted to get the water tested- so he did. He wanted to find out why these places don’t have access to clean or nearby water? To figure out if there was a way to solve the problem one village at a time. He did not know how he could help, or how he’d move forward. He surely did not know how he’d pay for such projects but he still moved forward.
So my question to myself and to each of you is this- are you willing to take the next step? It might be donating to Charity Water or giving up your birthday to raise money for a charity that is close to your heart, such as helping women of domestic violence or helping entrepreneurs without resources start making extra money to help their families or helping out through a ministry or at your church.
The way in which you choose to help is up to you but the challenge is- will you step out and find a way to help. And then challenge yourself to put one foot in front of the other and take another step? Will you challenge yourself to keep moving forward to be the change in the world. To be helping hands. Even if the act, donation or time seems small it has a great impact.
Go find your way to move forward. For me its many things like volunteering in my neighborhood, and local schools, through fellowship and donating to the many organizations I feel moved to donate to. It is in finding my way to help others through small actions, and gestures and working towards finding my ministry or those ministries I feel called to be a part of in bigger ways over the coming years.
And by writing and speaking to others to encourage them in the world, whether it’s the impact they are making in their homes or beyond their doors in their neighborhoods or across borders. I’d love to hear how you are making an impact in the world. No act is too small to have a great impact on someone’s life.
Let Your Faith be Bigger than Your Fear.
If you are interested in learning more about Scott Harrison’s story- his book about his life and running Charity Water came out last Fall- it is called Thirst and is available on Amazon and other booksellers.