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Profile: Bryan Reinhart

By France Griggs Sloat

The first time Bryan Reinhart traveled in a foreign land, he went for fun–backpacking, scuba diving, and surfing for five months across New Zealand and Australia. The second time, he reflected on his life and his goals while traipsing across South America. During those three months, he realized the thrill of experiencing other cultures is an adventure in itself – and sure beats sitting in an office all day.

Now Reinhart, 28, is embarking on a third adventure that has the word “mission” written all over it. This time it’s to Kenya with the Franciscan Mission Service for a three-year tour that will place him in a home for orphaned boys. The goal is to serve others, but in doing so, Reinhart hopes to discover himself.

“I’ve been praying to God to reveal to me what my passion is. I want to be like a baseball player who wakes up doing what he loves,” Reinhart says. “I think I’ll get there and there will be something that will speak to my heart, whether it’s helping AIDS victims or teaching impoverished people or working in an orphanage. I don’t know what it is, I’m just confident this is leading me to the right spot and I’ll bump into it and I’ll embrace it and do it feverishly.”

Reinhart has faced physical challenges in his past travels. But this time, he’s putting himself to a true emotional test, entering a country that is smothered in death, where coffins are sold on street corners and people tote them on their bicycle seats. The AIDS epidemic has devastated the Kenyan people to the point where their mantra has become, “Eliminate AIDS before it eliminates most of us.”

Reinhart says he’s not afraid to live in a country where the infant mortality rate is 59 deaths per 1,000 live births and the life expectancy is 47 years. The government has declared the AIDS epidemic a national disaster and estimates 760,000 people have developed AIDS since 1984, and most of them have died.

And politically, Kenya faces turbulent times with the possible replacement of President Daniel Arap Moi during elections this year. Moi has led the country since 1978.

“I will try to just be smart about what I do. There are certain places you don’t want to be at certain times. It’s true of anywhere in the world you go. You have to be smarter there, not because it’s more dangerous but because you’re unfamiliar with it.”

Reinhart left Dec. 31 for Kenya and won’t return until January 2005. He doesn’t expect to come home during that time because of the expense. He’ll live in Nairobi in a center run by a Cincinnati priest, the Rev. David Lemkuhl, who’s been in Kenya nine years as head of the National Catholic Youth Association of Kenya. Father Lemkuhl lives at the boy’s home, the National Catholic Youth Centre for young men ages 12 to 22. Reinhhart will be one of his assistants, and the only other American there.

The work will be a world apart from the jobs Reinhart has held so far. After graduating from Xavier in 1995 with a BS degree in finance, he became an account manager for a San Francisco company that manufactured CD Roms. He left after four years to take his first trip, then invested in a start-up company in Columbus selling Yellow Pages advertising. The company was sold last February.

After his second trip through South America, he spent time thinking about his future. “Through a lot of prayer and research I decided I wanted to get into some sort of Third World help work. I wanted to learn the language and culture. I wanted to do something more noble and not as ridiculous as the Yellow Pages.”

Franciscan Mission responded immediately to his on-line query, and by August, he was at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., for three months of training. He studied Kenyan history and culture, learned Swahili and trained in the works of St. Francis of Assisi. Where it all will lead him he doesn’t know, but he believes Xavier’s focus on service to others had an effect on him.

“I might come back and get a masters in economics or work for the UN, but I don’t want to do anything until I have a clear understanding of what I’m excited about, and when I know, I’ll put a path together,” he says.

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