Uniting the Church to Quench the Global Water Crisis: A Conversation with Mike Mantel

Thanks for tuning into today’s unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Mike Mantel, the CEO of Living Water International. They are a faith-based global humanitarian organization that links arms with churches around the world to serve thirsty communities through access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.

What if the church of Jesus Christ could end the water crisis as it pursues the great commission? Listen to today’s conversation as Mike explains how.

  • Working with local churches. // Living Water International (LWI) started as a ministry focused on drilling water wells but soon realized that the involvement of the local church was key to engaging the communities where they were working. Now LWI equips local churches to address the basic needs of their communities, such as access to clean water. The church is the center of decision-making, bringing together the community to address these needs. This involvement not only provides physical resources but also attracts people in the community to the church and the gospel.
  • WASH program. // Living Water International is currently working in 18 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia. In each country they work in they identify a “WASH program area” – WASH is an acronym for Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene. These designated areas include about 50,000-100,000 people and are 50-100km across in the lowest income, neediest environments. LWI does a baseline analysis of who is there, how many churches exist, how they engage, what is the community’s water access, how healthy people are, and what is their hygiene. Then LWI invests in this location for 5-7 years with churches so that everyone has clean water, and sanitation and hygiene have been transformed.
  • Genius of One. // To foster unity and collaboration among churches, Living Water International organizes the “Genius of One” conferences. These conferences bring together churches at the local, district, and national levels, inviting them to work together across racial, economic, urban/rural, tribal, and denominational lines. The goal is to promote unity and reconciliation, emphasizing the prayer of Jesus for believers to be one. Churches come away with a vision for what they might be able to do together for their communities.
  • Three pillars. // Mike and his team introduce churches in the United States to what churches around the world are accomplishing through WASH. They do that by focusing on three pillars: growing in our knowledge, expanding our experience, and co-investing for impact.
  • Growing, expanding, and co-investing. // Growing in knowledge includes educating church members about the extent of the water crisis and the impact it has on communities. Expanding our experience is encouraging churches to go on mission trips and engage in hands-on activities related to water and sanitation projects. These experiences open people’s hearts and minds to God’s work and create lasting change. Then the more people invest their minds, space, time, and money in ministries that change the spiritual and physical reality of others, the more we want to experience and learn and invest.
  • Finding Adventure. // Mike’s book, Thirsting for Living Water: Finding Adventure and Purpose in God’s Redemption Story, started as a personal journey to rediscover God’s presence when Mike found himself in a dark night of the soul. Over time it developed into 12 stories of God’s faithfulness intended to encourage and inspire the reader. The book also serves as a ministry, with all proceeds going towards the work of Living Water International. 

You can learn more and connect with Living Water International, as well as pick up Mike’s book, at www.water.cc

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well hey everybody welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Super excited for today’s conversation – um, this is going to be a great one with my friend Mike Mantel. He is the CEO of an organization called Living Water International. If you don’t know Living Water, they’re a faith-based global humanitarian organization, and they link arms with churches around the world to serve thirsty communities through access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. You know they really are an incredible organization. I’ve had a chance to travel abroad with them and Mike’s a great guy. We’ve had a chance to interact over the years. Prior to his time at LWI he spent 17 years working for a little organization called World Vision—maybe you’ve heard of them—and nine years in the marketplace. Ah, he’s also authored a recently authored a book that we’re get a chance to talk about today. But Mike, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Mike Mantel — Rich, what a delight – thanks for inviting me on the show, and it was great to see you a couple weeks ago at the XP Conference.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that was such a fun time. We were down there. It was yeah, such a good time XPS. It was so good. Glad to glad to hang out a little bit there too. Why don’t we why don’t you kind of fill in the picture there either your picture, or you know Living Water International. What did I miss? Kind of bring us up to speed.

Mike Mantel — Living Water International has been around for 33 years. The impact that the Lord has made through Living Water and the church has been significant. We believe that about 7.3 million people are drinking safe water today…

Rich Birch — Wow!

Mike Mantel — …have experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we’re currently working in 18 countries. We have about 340 staff, most of which are national staff leading the countries in which they serve. And we got a global team in the United States, centered in Houston Texas, but we got folks around the country.

Rich Birch — Yeah it’s so so cool. This is ah this is a fantastic organization, and like I said I had a chance to travel a number of times actually to some some Living Water projects. And I remember years ago, like one of the things you talk about it, and we want to really drive into that today, is this idea of linking arms with churches, having churches, you know, linking arms with existing churches. And I remember I was on the field, we were in Haiti and I was speaking to one of those national workers, and ah and it was like a dawning moment. And you know this idea this epiphany that struck me they were talking about we were in a very poor community, um an open ah, open sewers which is a you know a polite way to say feces in the streets. Um, you know this a tough community. Um and probably the poorest community one of the poorest communities I’d ever been in. And I remember this worker we were talking about you know, just even the strategy of how Living Water does what you do. And they said something that really struck me. They said, you know, if you you look around here, there’s no one else here. The government is not here. You know, there’s there’s no other infrastructure here. There’s no businesses here. The only people the only kind of organization that’s here is the local church. And so obviously you want to work with the local church because you’re a Christian organization. But even if that wasn’t your aim, man that that is such a there there’s such a strategically important organization to work with. I’d love to unpack that. Help me understand how does, and how has, LWI work with churches ah, on the on the field in the 18 countries that you are currently serving in?

Mike Mantel — Well, it’s been an evolution for us. When we started, like most startup ministries, the organization of Living Water wanted to help people access water in the name of Jesus. It was a is a group of drillers, construction guys, church leaders and they they wanted to drill a water well wherever they could, acquire ah a few resources, some volunteers, some drilling equipment, and then move on to the next place where people desperately needed water.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Mike Mantel — But over the years we discovered that the church of Jesus Christ at that local level preceded us. They ah they were active, engaged in their communities. They they had networks of volunteers. They had a vision to love the the thirsty, to love the hungry. Um, they were honorable. And they would be there after we left.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Mike Mantel — And so we began to say, Wow, you know, the church as a institution. It’s more like ah a network of ah, bodies of believers – that church proceeds, engages, and then succeeds us as as we move. And then we said, you know, what we really need to do as an organization is commit long term to a broader geographical area, and let’s discover who’s in that footprint. You know we discovered churches. We discovered municipal leaders. We discovered other nonprofits. But always at the center of this work was the church. And we said, let’s just invite all the churches to link arms and engage with each other and become visible. And become relevant to address a basic need of that community. And the church showed up.

Rich Birch — Amazing.

Mike Mantel — It began to organize its brothers and sisters and other churches. It began to link with community leaders. It it it it went to training ah sessions to learn about church envisioning. How do you communicate the gospel through simple stories? What sanitation and hygiene are all about and what’s their roots in the gospels and in the bible as a whole? And and so the church became central.

Mike Mantel — And so fast forward in the last ten years of our existence we identify and work through the collective body of Christ in that local community, which is really a ah complex institution. It’s it’s multi-denominational. It’s multi-ethic. There’s multi-languages engaged, but what holds us together is the spirit of Jesus Christ. And then we equip that church to be the salt and light with the most fundamental intervention in human development, which is water. And so living water the physical and the spiritual living water together is what the church is now able to bring as ah as a unit within these low income communities. It’s absolutely amazing. What the church is doing around the world.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s incredible on the ground to see, you know, like you’ll be in a village and um, you know you’ve partnered, there’s been a bunch of work that’s been done there. And you know when you think about it at that level here’s a community that that hasn’t had access to clean drinking water. They they maybe they haven’t had a you know sanitation and hygiene program running there. And the church takes the lead on that. Man, what a powerful witness in that local community. Like man, what they become even more so the center of the community. Maybe kind of talk about it at that level like what what kind of impact does that make ah, you know to that church, to the community, you know, when the church is in the middle of this? And why is that better than maybe I don’t know like a business running it or somebody else alternatives to the church running it.

Mike Mantel — Well for the the community they see their aunts and uncles and cousins, their neighbors at the center of the decision-making where will this water access point be drilled. How is the education training delivered? Who represents the community you know within a broader dialogue with the municipal leaders with other NGOs. The the church just becomes visible. And in many places in the world, our churches often see their role as inviting people to follow Christ but to remain distinct from the world. You know, that we’re all working our way towards heaven, but you know, let’s not roll up our sleeves together and address the issues in the world.

Rich Birch — Okay, sure.

Mike Mantel — But but but what happens when the church embraces that water produces health, healthy kids are in school, educated kids can begin to develop their economies. When the church provides those resources, that encouragement, people become attracted to the church. And so it’s it’s the action and love of Jesus Christ that helps that church grow.

Mike Mantel — So a church I was on maybe the outskirts of a social community now moves to the center of that social security.

Rich Birch — So good.

Mike Mantel — And by meeting the most basic needs in that community then the church becomes attractive. And relationships can develop, conversations can be had, and that’s where life comes and that that church begins to grow.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that That’s so good. And you know to see that on the ground. It’s just it’s amazing. It’s amazing to see that ah roll out. Now when you’re thinking about there’s this idea of churches partnering together in a region, you know, in a community. Can you talk to me about what that looks like, you know, in the countries that you’re working in, and I’d love to talk about it on a state side as well. But let’s start with, you know, in the countries that you’re working in. How how are they working together? What is that… I kind of understand that at one level like in a a particular community. But what does that look like across say a region?

Mike Mantel — So we start with a country definition. So we work in the 18 countries you mentioned in latin America, the Caribbean, in Africa, and in South Asia. Within that country we identify something we called a WASH program area. And WASH is an acronym—Water Access Sanitation Hygiene—a WASH program area, which is about 50- to 100,000 people 50 to 100 kilometers across. It’s it’s the lowest income, most needy environments. And we commit to stay in that footprint for 5 to 7 years.

Mike Mantel — We go in and we do a baseline analysis. Who’s in this footprint? How many churches? How are they engaging? What’s the water access? How healthy are people? What are their hygiene and sanitation practices? And then we systematically organize and invest in that footprint for 5 to 7 years so that everyone has water, all practices around sanitation and hygiene have been transformed, kids are healthy.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Mike Mantel — And then the church begins to ah be more visible and engaged. So it’s really how is the church perceived in its community. So then what does that look like is we start now with ah what we call the Genius of One conference. And that’s usually coordinated by a national association of, let’s say evangelicals in Zimbabwe, with the great talent from ah The Crossing Church in St Louis. Actually we’ve had 25 of these Genius of One conferences…

Rich Birch — Ok.

Mike Mantel — …where ah Greg and his team ah, engage with our team and the evangelical networks. And we put on a two and a half day conference. And we invite all the churches at the local level, the district level, and the national level and usually we get about 200 to maybe a thousand churches that come together.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Mike Mantel — And it’s and it’s a powerful invitation to link arms across the lines that divide us – our our racial lines, our economic lines, our urban/rural lines, our tribal lines, denominational lines. And let’s begin to think about um the prayer that Jesus made right before his arrest and crucifixion that we might be one…

Rich Birch — Yeah, unified. Love it.

Mike Mantel — …so that the so that Jesus becomes visible. And so there’s ah Greg and his team and and local moderators do this powerful ah presentation on the unity of the body of Christ.Nobody has to give up their tribal distinctions, or their denominational traditions, but they can begin to see that the crisis calling us to be unified.

Mike Mantel — Secondly we talk about reconciliation and forgiveness or really forgiveness and reconciliation. We talk about the poison of gossip and there’s there’s a number of fantastic ah sessions where pastors, who many don’t know each other…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …many don’t trust each other, begin to talk about the things that are most important to them from a scriptural basis. Every time, you know across 14 countries I think we’ve been in front of maybe 3700 pastors, every time the Spirit of the Lord moves, people are repenting across the aisles and they begin to get a vision for what they might do together. Because one thing we learned is that churches of different traditions and perspectives have a difficult time being together unless they’re working together.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Mike Mantel — And if they’re working together in a community that desperately needs, in our case, water, that’s that’s a place in which they can intersect.

Rich Birch — Because they can agree on that. Hey, this is an issue we all know in our community, in this particular WASH area, using your definition. Hey, this is, man, if we could get this to people in our communities, the whole community’d be better.

Mike Mantel — That’s exactly it. So no, nobody needs to change their perspectives. They just say as followers of Jesus Christ let’s work together. And and so once ah, an agreement is made, Yeah, let’s consider this. And then we invite pastors to an envisioning workshop. What might that look like from a water/sanitation/hygiene perspective? And does that resonate with you? And does it resonate with you as a collective around this table? And if so, let’s organize. Let’s create some…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …ah additional training sessions. Let’s go a little bit deeper in how your church might engage with others in training sanitation and hygiene, or sharing the gospel through oral discipling means, bible story and or or what it might look like to continue to maintain this water point? Because once you drill a water point, but for the ownership within that community, a supply chain to that community, local repair possibilities linked to that community, and ongoing resources to so to support that project. Unless there’s an enabling environment that water project will not continue.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — When the water project continues, there’s a platform for the church to continue to engage across our lines that divide us and become visible within the communities. The result is the church grows.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. Yeah, I love this. So friends, if you don’t know water is kind of the foundational developmental, you know, step. Like you can’t, it’s the thing if a community doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, it’s very difficult, if I understand correctly, it’s very difficult to move on to anything else. Education, you know, whatever other things you you might be interested in. So that’s why it’s so and critically critically important. I love this focus of, you know, sustainability. I love even the history, you kind of hinted to this, like when LWI started, it was… at least this is my impression of the stories I’ve heard of the early days. It was like, you know, a bunch of entrepreneurial type guys from Texas, hey let’s let’s buy a rig and go somewhere you know punch a bunch of holes in the earth. But but there’s if there’s nothing, the only thing worse than not having access to drink clean drinking water in a community is having access to clean drinking water and then having it go away. You know that it was we had it for a season, but we weren’t able to sustain it.

Rich Birch — And I love your focus on long-term, the like, hey we’re going to try to do this over, you know, many years, but then we’re going to back out and ultimately, you know, the communities are going to have to take care of it. Do you have an example of one of the WASH programs that has kind of gone through its entire cycle. That you know, you’ve been able to step out of that you could kind of talk us through what that looks like?

Mike Mantel — Absolutely, and and you really understand this process, Rich. And it’s it’s true that the intervention starts long before…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Mike Mantel — …the water well is drilled, or the pipes are are connected to a spring, long before. In building ownership, in organizing teams, in envisioning what the community might do together, long before. And then long after. You know, unless we’re committed to space and partnering with the institution that remains, the church, it’s impossible…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …to produce health long term…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Mike Mantel — …because healthy water allows kids to be healthy, to stay in school and develop their economies. So unless that happens um the water well will break in the first nine months, there’ll be a major intervention that’s required in the first two years.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Mike Mantel — And if if people don’t have access to those resources, human resources, you’re right – they’ll lose their water source.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Mike Mantel — Secondly, is if they only have one clean water source—let’s say at school—but they don’t have one at home or at the hospital, health doesn’t accrue. You you need to have water across that community…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …safe water across that community. And if someone has clean water and they don’t wash their hands, or segment human waste, it… health still doesn’t accrue.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — But to get to your question, we’ve now engaged in about 18 of these WASH program areas. It was a flyer ten years ago. We said, how do we sustain this work and how do we engage with the church and how do we really see results? And we we thought about this WASH program area and and a significant supporter a Christian family said we’ll back you on this. Let’s see if it works.

Rich Birch — Nice.

Mike Mantel — And so we we did our first one in Uganda – I guess it’s been about twelve years ago. We did a second one in another location in Uganda and then we did a new set in Zambia .and then we crossed the pond back to Nicaragua and now we’re about 65% of all of our work is in a WASH program area.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mike Mantel — And so there’s a there’s a half a dozen that have been completed where we we we go in and that baseline study might say, you know, there’s a 36% access to safe water maybe 20% of the people are using appropriate sanitation and hygiene. The church is really not engaged physically, but it’s somewhat engaged spiritually, to 5 to 7 years later, 100% access to safe water

Rich Birch — Wow, wow.

Mike Mantel — …or let’s just say 85 to 95% access to safe water.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yes, yes.

Mike Mantel — You know, nearly 100% hygiene practices transformed. And the church is perceived as being an active player in the health and vitality of that community, and is growing. And so ah, there are many examples. It’s a big investment…

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s an incredible.

Mike Mantel — …big investment.

Rich Birch — Yes, right. And that’s why you have a job; that’s job security for you. You know trying to helping, you know, motivate that. You know, when we first got when I first got um, connected with Living Water, it was when I was at Liquid Church in New Jersey fantastic church – love, love Liquid. I’m not there anymore, but just you know love their mission. And you know I saw it from my side as a as a pastor in a local church, you know, state side where this is a very understandable problem. Like there is not um, you can explain it. It’s clear. It’s it’s not um, and it’s not really debatable like it’s a very open thing to talk about as a church. Like you know people aren’t going to disagree with hey we want to help people on the other side of the world, or you know on our side of the world, get access to clean drinking water. And I saw time and again I saw our people get engaged. You know they were like wow. They just got fired up. I know that continues to be the case you know at ah at Liquid. But let’s talk about that you know on the the state side. How how do you engage with churches? You mentioned ah Greg you know, are there what does that look like? How how are churches kind of saying yeah we want to be a part of this? What’s that look like ah, here?

Mike Mantel — Rich, again, there’s there’s there’s an evolution. When we started we asked churches and members of churches to help fund a water well and bring life in the name of Jesus to a thirsty community. It was ah it was a funding relationship. Over the years what became clearer and clearer is that by engaging in important global issues that the the donor becomes an advocate. The advocate becomes a disciple in what our our mind began to shift a little bit from helping Living Water fund a project to introducing churches in the United States to what churches around the world are accomplishing through WASH, and join what God is doing globally. So it it kind of shifted from help Living Water with some money so that we might change the world, to the church is changing the world. Help.…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — Let’s work together to introduce the body to the body.

Rich Birch — Love it. That’s beautiful.

Mike Mantel — And so so that’s what we’re doing. So like in these WASH program areas. We’re organizing at the at the community level, aligning strategy with church denominational bodies at the district and national level. And then we’re trying to introduce the church in the United States to what that church is doing, and we’re we’re doing that through ah 3 pillars over the course of 3 years.

Mike Mantel — So we’re saying all right, my dear friends at Liquid or Crossing or Grace Presbyterian Church, your church body is involved in building disciples at home and pursuing the great commission at home and abroad. Let’s join in what God is doing, and let’s do so by growing in our knowledge, expanding our experience, and co-investing for impact.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mike Mantel — Going back to your first point, growing a knowledge. Yeah I I used to work with a colleague, Bob, at World Vision. He said if people knew better, they’d do better. The the fact the fact is few people know…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …that 771 million people are drinking out of puddles, and that they’ll never get healthy. And that 2 billion people don’t have an ongoing source to safe water. People just don’t know. And they don’t know about the multiplier effect that if if if people had safe water consistently and sustainably that they’d get healthy. They would. Their kids would have a chance to learn and develop their communities. We call that the multiplier effect. People don’t know that. And when the church is at the center of that intervention, the church is able to evangelize and disciple in ways that they’d never imagine possible. People don’t know. So what we want to do is is grow in our knowledge together through ah introductions and resources on the water crisis. The solvability of the water crisis the interplay of water and sanitation and the role of the church. Let’s grow in knowledge.

Mike Mantel — And then the second is expand our experience together. Everybody I know that’s an activist in the world has crossed some dividing line. A geographical dividing line – we call that a mission trip. A ah racial dividing line, an economic dividing line, ah some philosophical dividing line – because when we move outside of our comfort zone somehow we’re more open to God’s whispers.

Rich Birch — It’s true.

Mike Mantel — We’re more open to reflection. You know we’re going to go back into the buzz of every day, but when when we’re on the other side of that line, we’re a little bit more open. And so all activists, all tremendous leaders that I’ve met have had that experience – many of which are ah going. Some of it is organizing. So expanding our experience. We we do water walks together. We do, you know, it’s ah marathons and mountain climbing together. We do vacation bible school together. We take trips together. And we do take trips to ah, implement a project, to drill a water well, to put in a pipe system, to teach sanitation and hygiene. But it’s really a part of the discipling experience for the goer.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Mantel — It’s a opening up of the heart of the mind of the goer, and then you can’t shake it. I mean the newspaper comes alive.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Mike Mantel — You’re you’re talking about it with your spouse. You’re praying about, you know, what you’ve learned. And sooner or later, sooner or later you’re going to move more deeply into that discipleship journey. But but it’s because of experience.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah.

Mike Mantel — The third pillar’s co-investing. Mind, space, time, and money. When we start investing around ministries that are making a difference, that change both the physical and spiritual reality of of people, the more we invest, the more we learn, the more we want to experience, the more we learn and experience, the more we want to invest.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yep.

Mike Mantel — We tell our friends. Let’s let’s get engaged. And and so we we see those 3 pillars as a way for churches in the United States that perhaps structure a component of their discipleship program their missions program. And and don’t be in a hurry. You know, let’s just learn together. Let’s experience it.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah – that’s great. I love it.

Mike Mantel — And and I’m beginning to see what what’s been fun these last nine months is, you know, talking to pastors—lead pastors, executive pastors—and they say well how do we how do we start? I said well if you got a missions program, where’s your map. Let’s look at the map. And then let’s take Living Water’s map and put it right over the top, and maybe there’s a geographical intersection.

Rich Birch — Yeah, overlap. Yep.

Mike Mantel — When there’s an overlap we can align resources. And then let’s grow in knowledge, let’s expand our experience, let’s co-invest. And and a part of that is let’s go.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike Mantel — You know, coming out of Covid, everybody was frozen, right? Lot of people change your jobs. There’s a lot of new people. A new new position. But we’re all frozen.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Mike Mantel — And we want to get back on mission. We want to get back engaged with people. We want to, you know, be in the same room. We want to adventure. We want to travel. And but it’s hard to get over that lump or that hump. So I’m just saying, let’s just go.

Rich Birch — Right. Nice. Love it. Love it.

Mike Mantel — Let’s just go.

Rich Birch — So good. Well and I yeah I’ve had a privilege of being on a number of LWI trips over the years in a number of countries. And one of the things I appreciate about the on the ground experience, and it’s been years since I’ve been on one, but you know I I know there are folks, and I have been one of those in the past, that are like I would say skeptical of the kind of mission trip experience. Let’s take 12 Americans and go somewhere. Like are we really making a difference? Like what’s that actually look like? Um but the thing I love about an LWI experience is you’re getting a chance to see right up close a you know a WASH program in action. You’re getting a chance to see ah a ah, well being drilled, and you’re you know you’re a part of that experience. Um, and at the end of that you’re changed because you’ve been up close. You’ve seen these leaders. You’ve seen the church doing its good. You’ve kicked a football or soccer ball around with kids. Um. And your heart has been changed.

Rich Birch — One of the trips I was on, we um, you know, our our well was not going well. It was a tough week and it was not happening, and ironically that that’s the one that bubbles to the top of my mind. And, you know we made a decision as a group. It was like well we could you know a lot of these trips are always like the fun day we go and do something you know, kind of enjoy the culture, I think cultural day or whatever. And so we made the decision hey we’re not going to do that. We’re going to stay here and you know the the dynamic shifted from us doing a lot of work, to like the experts, the people that actually know what they’re doing. But man we were praying and we were you know and to see that actually to see us actually complete that project was amazing. It was incredible. Transformational. Um and man I’d love more people to have that kind of experience. That’s a hard thing to um, you know to to shake. It it just gets inside of you.

Rich Birch — The other thing I love from ah a pastor’s point of view, from a leader’s point of view is this is an exciting issue to be a part of because we’re seeing progress, like there is actual progress happening on, you know, this issue. When we first first started talking about this we used to always say 1.1 billion people don’t have access. Now, it’s, like you said, 771 million. That’s that’s incredible to see. Um which there are lots of issues that don’t have that. Now I know the next you know the next 250 million are going to be harder. And the 250 million after that and the 250 million after that are going to be even harder. But but, man, what ah what an exciting time for churches to get involved.

Rich Birch — When you think about… now you wrote a book. Actually I want to talk about this because I think a practical way on that first kind of getting exposure to this could be church leaders to pick up this. It’s called Thirsting for Living Water: Finding Adventure and Purpose in God’s Redemptive Story. Ah talk me through why you wrote this book. There’s a lot of work. You’ve got lots of other things to do. Ah, you’re busy person. Why did you, you know, pull this this resource together for church leaders?

Mike Mantel — Well you and all of those that write stuff know that it is a heavy lift, and why I initially started thinking about writing it, to how I endured writing it, to the impact that it’s having has shifted a little bit. So initially, yeah, four years, ago five years ago, when I started thinking about the church, I said the church in the United States really needs to see how active and how life-giving the church is. You know the church was getting a lot of bad press. You know the church is shrinking. You know it’s no longer relevant to young people. Um, it’s boring. Um I don’t really need to go. Yeah and then it’s kind of like I can watch online at my leisure. You know like and I was thinking, you know, that’s not been my experience.

Rich Birch — Right. That’s good.

Mike Mantel — So what I wanted to do was just say, hey that’s not not been my experience. Where I’ve seen churches alive and active is when…

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — …they are identifying what God is doing and they’re participating in that. So that’s where I started, like let’s ah, let’s talk about what’s right with the church. So then I’m in I’m in the game, right? So then I’m writing, I’m thinking you know we’re collecting stories, we’re talking as a team. And and then ah it was a very difficult period of time, and that became the chassis of telling this story of the church, is my my father died, my wife got cancer, Hurricane Harvey wiped out our town, we had economic challenges. And and and so then I started enduring ah this writing process in the middle of what really became a dark night of my soul.

Rich Birch — Wow.

When I was younger I was absolutely convinced thatGod was the master strategist inviting us into his work. And I experienced 30 years of miracles, mind-blowing God shows up and doing great stuff. In my dark night which is really you know over a few years of the writing process, I began to doubt that.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Mike Mantel — You know, is God the master strategist?

Rich Birch — Right. Wow.

Mike Mantel — Is he showing up? Can I um, confidently move forward and lead an organization when things just don’t feel good, and I’m not really hearing the Lord as clearly, and the results aren’t there? So then it it became well a discovery of the stories in my life, and other people’s life that sustained me through that dark night. And and it shifted the book shifted to being a series of 12 reflections recalling God’s faithfulness. And when when things got really really hard and in you know the hard lift and the emotional lift um in my personal prayer time what sustained me was just what I felt was a divine whisper: tell people of my faithfulness.

Rich Birch — That’s so good.

Mike Mantel — Tell stories of my faithfulness. Because you know how often does God tell us through scriptures, remember. Remember the Savior of your youth. Remember the Lord that took you out of Egypt. Remember. And as I remember the stories while constructing this book, I began to see glimmers of hope, and I began to reengage emotionally, and mentally, spiritually with the Lord. And I developed a rock solid certainty that God is in fact, the master strategist calling us to join him in what he is doing as he redeems and reconciles the world. And it’s a great adventure.

Rich Birch — Yes, love it.

Mike Mantel — You can find purpose and adventure.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mike Mantel — And so that’s where it concluded where, along the way, we talk about strategy.

Rich Birch — Right.

Mike Mantel — Along the way we talk about ah leadership. Along the way we talk about what God is doing through his church in Latin America, in Africa, in South Asia, in the United States. And my hope is that when people pick up the book and read it that ah they will be encouraged And they will have practical tools to move through their dark night, develop their strategy, and determine their approach to missions. And and so the book itself became a ministry. So it’s all proceeds, you know, go to the work of Living Water organizing churches…

Rich Birch — Oh love it. Yeah. Love it.

Mike Mantel — …and it’s found some it’s found some connection to pastors.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. Well yeah, this to me I think would be a great ah well two things, friends, if you’re listening in and you’ve made it this far in, you really should consider connecting with Living Water International. Like they’re they’re incredible people. They’re doing great work. Ah, Mike and his team, every time I interact with a different person at LWI I’m always like these are amazing people, like and they you know love the Lord, and they’re they’re smart and they’re trying to make a difference, and they’re being good stewards, are thinking long-term – all that. So yeah I would strongly endorse, you should talk with them.

Rich Birch — You know a practical next step could be, hey this why don’t you buy 10 of these books and read them as your as your staff team. Maybe it’s like ah one of those book study things you do ah you know in this this next year. And it may not be that hey you and your conclusion is well therefore we’re going to, like you say give a piece of our kind of missions expression to that. But maybe it inspires you in some other way, which is wonderful. That’s that’s great. I know Mike’s a big enough guy doesn’t you know he really is concerned about the big “C” church. And so ah that I think would be a great next step for you.

Rich Birch — Well just kind of as we’re coming to land as we’re landing the plane, um anything else, you’d like to say, kind of final thoughts for folks as their listening in?

Mike Mantel — Well the the big thought I have is that the church of Jesus Christ can end the water crisis…

Rich Birch — Amen.

Mike Mantel — …as it pursues the great commission.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mike Mantel — That they’re not separate. They’re integrated. They’re integral. They’re they’re the two sides of one coin. That as the church comes together in a unified expression of love and action, a doubting world will see that unity, will see that love, will see that action, and millions will come to follow Jesus. And, you know, when we talk about the multiplier impact of water, sanitation, hygiene with them through the church I see a multiple multiplier impact of working together. And solving a solvable problem that is the most fundamental challenge facing the world today, and in the future.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Mike Mantel — And so as we link arms, solving the water crisis we will pursue the great commission. And that’s worth doing. That’s a life worth spent. And so I just encourage people to consider that. And as Rich said, I am happy if you pursue your mission through micro-enterprise, through food, through justice, through um trafficking it, as long as you’re crossing a line that divides us and God is inviting you into doing that. But if water seems to be the thing that God is whispering in your ears, let’s just link arms together. Let’s do it together because I am convinced that we can solve this problem as we pursue the great commission.

Rich Birch — So good. Mike Mantel everybody. So good. Mike, where do we want to send people online to connect with you or to connect with Living Water International? Where do we want to make sure they they they head to?

Mike Mantel — Water.cc

Rich Birch — Easy.

Mike Mantel — Water.cc – come online, all of our resources are there. They’re open-handed, public-sourced, whoever wants to utilize them are free to utilize them.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, love it.

Mike Mantel — Reach out to us on our church page. We’d ah, be delighted to follow up with you to do something custom together to link arms, to grow in knowledge, expand our experience, invest for impact. If you know you can buy this book on Amazon.com; if you don’t have any money just email me and I’ll send you one.

Rich Birch — Okay, that’s great.

Mike Mantel — Yeah, it’s it’s a it’s a ministry.

Rich Birch — Love it. Yes, love it. Yeah I was going to ask you that. We obviously can get the book at Amazon, you know, anywhere else we want to send people online? I love that – email find is you’re going to have to dig around on the on the website find but—you can find it—find his email address and and reach out, but anywhere else we want to send them to pick up copies of the book?

Mike Mantel — You know, but you could always go to thirstingforlivingwater.com…

Rich Birch — Okay, great.

Mike Mantel — …and you know or michaeljmantel.com – either one of those. That’ll give you all kinds of resources um, all kinds of information as it relates to this book. But the easiest thing that is just water.cc and you can find me. And like I’m serious if if you don’t have any money you want to read this book if God’s putting up on your heart I’d be delighted to send it to you.

Rich Birch — Love it. Love it. Well thanks so much, Mike. I appreciate you being here today. You’ve just been just a blessing to us. I really appreciate you spending time. Thanks so much.

Mike Mantel — Rich, thanks for everything you do. You are a good man.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.