The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


From 17 to 71

A class prediction is more than just a guess at a person's future — it's a statement of others' understanding of a classmate's personality, desires and intentions. In the 1950s, high school classmates foretold my future: "Ed Scharlau will go to Africa to continue the work of Albert Schweitzer." Schweitzer was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and medical missionary.

But my life trickled along with college; the U.S. Army; a 35-year business career; and a vocation of service to community, church and professional organizations. Then in retirement, it happened. At age 71, I traveled with my wife, Rennie, to Ethiopia in October 2010.

The foundation for that trip was built in 2007 when I facilitated a study on world hunger and poverty at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. The ELCA-Episcopal Church paper, "God's Mission in the World" (read the PDF), was the basis for our study. Our group joined other faithful "doers" to fund 12 water wells in Ethiopia through an Austin-based nonprofit and its Ethiopia-based partners. Inspired by this, my friend Dick Moeller created a nonprofit group, Water to Thrive, and asked me to serve on the board. Water to Thrive has now completed more than 150 water projects, serving more than 90,000 rural Ethiopians.

At age 71, I've discovered that my life has had more meaning in the doing, not in the having. What we do with money is often in conflict with our values, commitments and what we hold as our priorities.

How does it happen that people change from "having" to "doing"? We allow God to work in our hearts. We practice slow behavioral changes. It's a process of compassion.

Schweitzer, who launched a hospital in rural Gabon, had the same struggle to deny his own ego, to deepen his relationship with God, and to think of others first.

When we move our focus away from obtaining or having toward doing, the Spirit energizes us to make a difference in this world. We are called to share our resources: our time, energy, wisdom, care and money. The more we give away the more we have. We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.

Too often we want to see the results of our giving. Too often we want to be thanked. Too often we don't freely give. Rennie and I have learned that money is like water: when flowing it will sustain, create, nourish and grow, but if blocked it will become stagnant, not fulfilling God's intended purpose.

When we rely only on what we "have," it doesn't expand in the way that "doing" expands. When we make a difference with what we do, we also ask: "How much stuff do we really need?"

Whatever and however you give, the opportunities to share are "aha" moments. 


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February issue


Embracing diversity