A Christian Courier lead article on Lifewater Canada, “Blindness to Vision”, told the story of Jim Gehrels’ life and work to provide safe, clean water for towns in Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria and Haiti by drilling community wells. Community is the key word. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Jim organized teams of a few volunteers from Canada who travelled to Liberia. From the start Jim knew this project would soon dry up if local leaders didn’t endorse it and provide villagers to work with the expats.
His vision caught on: more than 25 years later Lifewater Canada continues to provide sources of good water. Ever more local teams provide labour and skills to keep the projects sustainable. Thus, for the second year in a row, Charity Intelligence Canada has recognized Lifewater as one of the top ten Canadian charities of more than 800 scrutinized. Their rankings are based on “the highest value created per dollar spent.” In Lifewater’s case, their low six percent administration costs helped channel more funds and equipment to the villages working on the projects.
Sadly, however, Jim Gehrels’ blind yet visionary eyes closed for the last time on July 28, 2020, after a fatal heart attack in his home in Thunder Bay; his wife Lynda was at his side. Jim was only 59. Yet in mid-January Lynda received news that helped “turn mourning into dancing” (Ps. 30:11).
For their work with Lifewater, Jim and co-founder Glenn Stronks received the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal. Stronks has since retired and moved to Orillia, Ontario. One of Canada’s highest civilian awards, this medal “recognizes great Canadians for exceptional deeds . . . that bring honour to our country . . . from advocacy initiatives and health care initiatives to research and humanitarian efforts.” While profoundly saddened, Lynda has assumed Lifewater’s presidency, bringing in two part-time members to keep the organization running smoothly and with integrity.
Though never aspiring to this position, Lynda says, “I am honoured to continue Lifewater Canada’s lasting work. Jim’s legacy leaves the overseas teams able to continue their drilling and pump repair to provide safe water to children and their families. This blessing makes a large ripple effect that improves health, while also increasing earning capacity and offering hope for better lives.”
Soon after his passing, Lynda found a draft of a letter to donors on Jim’s desk. He had written, “In this past year I have had the privilege of meeting many gracious and wonderful people. I treasure each and every one of you and value the journey we are on, giving children the gift of water and a healthy future.”
You’re welcome, Jim, and thanks to God for you.