Man on a Mission (February 11, 2014)

Written by Rob Houle

Published by Fort Erie Times on Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jonathan Leyenhorst was a man on a mission.

The 31-year-old St. Catharines man recently returned from a seven-month mission to Nicaragua where he set up water-filtration systems for impoverished locals.

Leyenhorst travelled to the Central American country in late June as an intern with Samaritan’s Purse, an international non-denominational evangelical aid organization whose Canadian branch is located in Calgary.

Leyenhorst had previously been on short-term missions to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala, where he helped build churches and schools.

“Through the mission trips, I took an interest in international development and what’s going on in the world and seeing what can be done,” he said.

“I love helping people. I love learning about different ways you can do that.”

He was looking for a longer-term mission when friends informed him of the federal government’s International Youth Internship Program. The program sponsors young people ages 19 to 30 to go on missions abroad with aid agencies. The goal is to provide people with international experience, skills and knowledge that will prepare them for future employment.

“I got accepted to do the internship,”  Leyenhorst said. “Because of my past experience in Latin American countries and my language skills, (Samaritan’s Purse) accepted me to go down and work with their water-treatment program in Nicaragua.”

Leyenhorst was soon off to Calgary for three weeks of training.

In addition to cultural training, he was taught how to construct a bio-sand water filter. The filters, which are a Canadian invention, are essentially concrete boxes filled with sand in which water is poured through the top and filtered as it works its way down through the sand. The treated water then flows out a spigot.

Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Frank King said the agency has built approximately 200,000 of the filters around the world, making potable water available to more than one million people.

In Nicaragua,  Leyenhorst and a fellow intern under the guidance of a Samaritan’s Purse field office went village to village to explain the water-filtration system.

“We’d go into the communities and answer any questions they have and if they’re interested, then we meet them and they help us build these water filters,” Leyenhorst said.

“During the process of building, they attend classes where we teach them simple hygiene — showing what kind of a difference clean water will do, the importance of washing your hands.”

The bio-sand water filters supply enough water daily for eight people.

Leyenhorst said he was too busy in Nicaragua to become homesick. When he wasn’t working, he was hanging out with locals.

“I loved being involved in community stuff,” he said. “There was lots of down time. I just took the opportunity to play baseball and see what was going on in the little rural communities. I got to learn a lot of neat stuff that way.”

He said the sleeping conditions were “a little touch-and-go at points.”

“I found it more comfortable to sleep in a hammock outdoors than inside, at times,” he said.

He said the rooms were the size of a tool shed and it was hard to sleep when one of the other guys snored.

“I found it a lot nicer to sleep under the stars.”

Leyenhorst returned to Canada Jan. 31. He plans to spend a couple months getting reacquainted with family, but is eyeing another mission.

“I’m looking into working with a disaster relief program in the Philippines, setting up shelters. If the timing works out, I’d love to go try something like that.”

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

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