Those who know me well have often heard me say, “Oh Geez, I think I’ve got another man crush.”
The object of my affection this time around is Scott Harrison, founder of charity:water. Last week, two of my otherwise separate worlds collided when niche-known, tech entrepreneur turned angel investor Kevin Rose interviewed Scott on the “Foundation” podcast. In my normal day-to-day I’m a web developer for a non-profit and, so, I’ve been interested in the innovation coming out of the offices of charity:water since day one. It was during the hour that I watched this interview, however, that my heart began to flutter.
It was the first time I had heard him tell his own story: from growing up in a christian (explicitly not religious) home, to seeing his mother develop complications from carbon monoxide poisoning, through his career as a club promoter in NYC to his eventual emotional bankruptcy.
It was the first time that I connected the goals of charity:water with a Jesus-backed motivation. To me it was a real-life, vivid example of an amazingly good thing happening, without any explicit mention of faith, but that seemingly had found favor with some celestial deity, somewhere. By all measures of success, they are doing the right things.
There are a number of more subtle cues that they’re doing the right thing, too. In serving as much as relationship brokers between donor and donee as charity, charity:water is tapping into our need to have emotional and relational connection in our lives. They are the practical hands and feet of well-meaning givers who likely would drop everything and construct wells in distant countries for their fellow man. They make every effort to be transparent and to fund operations and programs from completely different revenue streams so that 100% of the money that a donor provides goes directly to providing clean water to another person in the world.
Granted, not everyone who gives to charity:water does so of altruistic motivations: some are poorly-disguised egoistic reasons (e.g. “Look what I/my money/my something did in Liberia,” or “Here are all of the people that I helped.”) Most, I would assume, are not giving because they’ve heard a little voice from their right shoulder urging them to do so.
What I would say, though, is that every time someone donates, every time someone gives up their birthday, every time that a video from a dig in some remote village shows the faces of jubilant men and women to the world, we are all being connected to something. Believe it or not, I think that something is that trajectory of restoration and renewal that God envisioned when we hear the story of Jesus and the cross at Easter. There was a time when we understood that the only way to work towards God-inspired positive change was to become involved with a church and engage service there. We all thought it went something like this:
- Come to church
- Become a follower of Jesus
- Do things that church people do (serve, give money, complain, become cynical, etc)
All that has changed, though. In connecting with humanity, in giving clean water to the thirsty, good food to the hungry, opportunity to the oppressed, friendship to the friendless we are tracking with what God (or whatever universal force you think is out there) and his efforts to right the wrongs we have gotten ourselves into, to redeem the desert places of the world.
It is a vastly differently, but entirely valid entry point into this effort to reconstruct, rebuild, and redeem. It is a statement that the “church” as we’ve come to know it may no longer be up to the task and that it’s time to redefine the concept. At first church was a generic term that just represented a collection of people that shared a common belief and did things based on that belief – initially, that Caesar was Lord and so Romans did empire building things. When Jesus followers began to gather after his death, they co-opted the word and used it to describe their own gatherings where instead they said, “Jesus is Lord” and they served the poor and needy on the underside of the empire.
Now, churches have largely become self-centered and self-righteous and self-destructive that are unwilling or unable or uninterested in doing what is right. This movement that technology has enabled towards connecting wealthy, self-centered people with those from the opposite end of the spectrum is just one of the ways that I truly believe, we are in the middle of a redefining phase of what it means to be a “church.”
There is an entire family of people, not connected by denominational history, family ties, tradition, doctrine, ritual that are loving and serving together. They’re joined, instead, by the common bond of generosity, of a sense that having billions of people without a basic necessity in the world is both unacceptable and that we have the capacity with our surplus to overcome it.
Many of them are restoring the world, doing what’s right, but do not know or do not believe that they’re doing this for some heavenly being – but they just have a sense that this is what they’re meant to do.
And that’s OK.