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On Feb. 25, 2021, the Governor General of Canada awarded a Meritorious Service Decoration -- an honour bestowed annually to "individuals who have performed a deed or an activity in a highly professional manner, or at a very high standard that brings benefit or honour to Canada" -- to Jim Gehrels and Glenn Stronks for co-founding Lifewater Canada.
Sadly, although Glenn was able to accept his award, Jim had passed away seven months earlier. The deeply loved visionary suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2020.
James Adrian Gehrels was a man of deep faith in God -- a faith that fueled his passion to help others. He had many, many friends and colleagues in Canada and internationally.
Jim lived life to the fullest, despite being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa as a young man. Driven by the knowledge that he would eventually go blind, Jim directed his efforts into helping those who lacked the basic necessity of safe drinking water.
Starting in the mid-1990s, Jim dedicated his life to bringing safe water to developing countries – principally Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya and Haiti. He and Glenn established Lifewater Canada to realize this dream. In Jim’s time leading Lifewater, he oversaw the provision of life-saving clean water to almost two million people.
Dedicated volunteers and staff – including his wife Lynda, who is now Lifewater’s president – are continuing this vital work. If you wish to make a donation in honour of the life of this great man, please donate now.
Here is a message from Jim that he sent to Lifewater supporters several years before his passing:
|The seeds for Lifewater Canada were planted in 1987 when I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). This progressive degenerative disease cannot be treated and results in night blindness, tunnel vision, and eventually total blindness. The plan for my life had no room for this disease.
After getting over the shock of the diagnosis, I decided I could not wait until I retired to put my faith in action by reaching out a helping hand to those in need. How exactly this would happen was an ongoing adventure of discovery.
In 1989, I spent time with development workers in the Philippines and in 1991 helped build a church in Honduras. In both places, I was struck by the fundamental importance of water and was shocked to see children dying because they had no safe drinking water. I also did not fare well as a construction worker -- making mistakes like setting the skill saw blade too deep and running it through the concrete block under the 2"x4" I was cutting wrecked the only blade in the town we were working in! The other workers encouraged me to find a new volunteer activity and I began pondering options for sharing my expertise as a hydrogeologist.
In 1993, I worked with local drill teams in Kenya and in 1994 met a Liberian pastor who said it was pointless for him to talk about the love of God while children were dying because they didn't have safe drinking water. In 1995, my friend Glenn Stronks agreed to go to Africa with me. We ordered a portable drill rig, shipped it to Liberia, hosted a three-day water conference in the capital city, and trained 12 local people how to construct wells.
Our plan was to drill two wells and never return to Africa but leave the Liberian trainees to do it in villages where there was a need. While in Liberia, I learned someone back home had generously offered to pay for the drill rig, which was really good because I was so busy focused on the job at hand that it hadn't occurred to me that the rig had to be paid for!
We met the Liberian president who asked us to please return to help Liberia and her people. We wept as we saw children drinking water from street gutters and stagnant ponds and we talked to exhausted doctors who told us they were overwhelmed treating preventable, water-borne diseases. We came to realize that the men we had been training were living a subsistence existence so they couldn't afford to take time off from their daily struggle to feed their families in order to drill wells for others. As we began walking in the shoes of the villagers we were helping, we also came to realize that people earning $1 a day could not afford the $4,000 cost of a well and pump unless we subsidized the cost to make it affordable.
Just before leaving Liberia we hired six of the workers, paying them out of our own pockets. We could not leave the country unless we were confident the drilling would continue because to do so was to give a death sentence to many of the beautiful children and their families who we'd met. We began sharing our pay cheques with Liberian villagers to help make them cover the cost of obtaining safe drinking water.
All of this activity, funded by our generous donors, has benefitted hundreds of thousands of African and Haitian children and their families. Despite Lifewater Canada's growth over the years, we remain a grass-roots movement that brings together people who believe that whether children live or die should not depend on where they are born.
|Thank-you for your support and encouragement
Lifewater Canada Co-Founder