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May 2011

Luther Seminary donor works to bring fresh water to Africa

When his high school classmates predicted as part of their senior-year "prophecies" that he would go to Africa, Ed Scharlau took it as a compliment, but not much else.

"As I recall, it was a bit of, 'Oh, really, that is interesting,'" said Scharlau, who graduated from Wisconsin's Arcadia High School in the 1950s. "It was a high mark in many ways."

After a stint in the U.S. Army and 35 years in business, it didn't seem like the prediction would come true. That was until Scharlau led an adult study on world hunger and poverty at his church, Triumphant Love Lutheran in Austin, Texas. During one session, a local organization described their efforts to bring clean water to rural Ethiopia. Moved by the realization that just $5,000 could fund a hand-dug well that would bring clean water to hundreds of people, Scharlau and nearly 40 parishioners donated money to build 12 wells, giving nearly 6,000 people access to clean water.

One of the parishioners, Dick Moeller, was so inspired that he formed a nonprofit organization to continue these efforts. The faith-based Water to Thrive works to bring fresh water to impoverished areas of Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

Moeller immediately recruited Scharlau for his board of directors. Before long, Scharlau traveled to Africa, a journey that not only fulfilled his classmates' prophecy but also made the importance of Water to Thrive abundantly clear.

"We experienced the joy of schoolchildren welcoming us and the contrast of having our hearts in our throats with the agony of the compelling requests from those who do not have fresh water," he said. "We are not walking away from that."

Scharlau continues to donate his time and money to numerous organizations throughout the country, including Luther Seminary. But it's the work of Water to Thrive that has moved Scharlau to continue his call in Africa.

"It affirmed our belief that the Holy Spirit is always active in our lives," he said. "All we have to do is pray for the opportunities and allow him to work through us. This astonishment drives us to do more."

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