A modern-day prodigal son

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, December 17th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

It’s that time of year when families gather together, catch up on each other’s lives, and share traditions. Christmas pulls people together, and for some parents, that includes grown children who are spiritually adrift.

EICHER: That was the case when Scott Harrison returned home for the holidays after a decade of hard living. He describes himself at the time as a prodigal son who had drifted far from his Christian upbringing. He confessed he felt as though he was rotting inside. 

WORLD’s Jill Nelson brings us the story of God’s redeeming work in the life of this man.

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Scott Harrison left his small town in New Jersey at age 18 to join a band in New York City. He eventually became a nightclub promoter, getting paid to mingle with the rich and famous. But he was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. 

HARRISON: I had walked away from a very lost Christian faith. I had walked away from morality and just realized if I continued down this path, my tombstone might read, “Here lies a club rat who got a million people drunk.”

After a decade of what Harrison describes as debauchery, he reached a low point. He was 28-years-old, and enjoying an opulent vacation in Uruguay that included servants, chefs, and a private yacht. 

HARRISON: And I realized on this two-week trip how deeply unhappy I was and actually how deeply unhappy most of the people around me were.

God began to draw him into a quest for identity and purpose. 

HARRISON: It was a really interesting trip because I was partying like crazy, doing tons of drugs, and my father at Christmas, had set me down with this book of deep theology. And you know there was something about the book…

That book was A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. One passage described God as always present, patiently pursuing us and waiting for us. Harrison reread that passage again and again. Tozer also warned of the danger of seeking after material possessions that will never satisfy. 

Harrison began wondering what the opposite of his life would look like. 

HARRISON: I mean this was a man who was looking for greater purity and holiness and trying to find and to know God, and I was trying to find and know drugs and girls. 

He rented a car and drove aimlessly for several months, talking to God, drinking, and reading the Bible. One verse stood out to him:

HARRISON: The verse in James where it says, “True religion is to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.” So I was clearly O for 2.

He decided to surrender his life and dedicate a year to volunteer work.

AUDIO: [Horn]

The only organization that accepted him was Mercy Ships, a Christ-centered floating hospital. It offered him a position as a photographer for a $500 a month fee. Harrison sold his possessions to fund the trip, and showed up smelling of alcohol. There was something symbolic, he said, about sailing away to a new continent.

HARRISON: I never touched drugs again, I was celibate for almost six years until I got married, I never smoked again, I just walked away from everything. 

He was totally unprepared for what he saw in the African country of Liberia. He describes one heartbreaking scene in an online video: 

AUDIO: There was one day when more than 5,000 sick people came to see our doctors. Some of them had walked for more than a month. But there were too many of them, and we just didn’t have enough doctors. I remember holding my camera, crying. 

Harrison had collected a list of 15,000 emails when he was a nightclub promoter. He started sending updates: pictures of people with massive tumors and their radical transformation post-surgery. Many of his contacts wanted to know how they could help. 

Harrison visited rural villages and realized their most basic health need still wasn’t being met. 

HARRISON: That was great that the doctors were operating and were helping 1,500 to 2,000 people every year on the ship, but there were almost a million people in the country drinking disgusting water. Who was helping them? 

One of the doctors on the ship encouraged Harrison to make clean water his mission. So he began to use his New York City connections to raise money for wells. That led to the launch of the nonprofit Charity: Water in 2006.  

Today 44-year-old Harrison has a full schedule. He travels abroad to the drilling sites his nonprofit funds. And he shares his story and vision with churches, corporate gatherings, and wealthy donors here in the United States.

HARRISON: I have a really strange life sometimes. I can go from a $2 a night hotel room in remote Ethiopia and 24 hours later be staying in a $45 million home of one of our donors, being driven around in a Ferrari to the airport. But I will say that my experience being around some of the wealthiest people in the world is there’s often just this desire for more. The same trap I was stuck in.

Harrison wants to end the water crisis in his lifetime. But he also hopes his story reminds others that anyone can start over. 

HARRISON: There’s another verse that I liked in the book of Joel that says, “God can restore the years that the locusts have eaten.”

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson.

(Photo/Derris) Scott Harrison

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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