Water and the Word. Those two words have defined Mike Mantel’s life’s work.
“No other development happens without water. It impacts health, education, agriculture and a livelihood, so water has a multiplier effect,” said Mantel ‘83. “And water opens the door to share the gospel.”
The impact of the work that’s resulted from Mantel’s two passions is seen worldwide and was recently recognized by his alma mater. Mantel was honored by Calvin with the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award, an honor bestowed annually on alums “who have made significant contributions to their field of endeavor and manifest a Christian commitment, thus honoring Calvin.”
“God wires people. He graciously equips us. He brings people together. That’s what’s life changing,” said Mantel after being notified of the honor. “We live in community and in relationship with God. This is a collective honor, the community serving the Lord, and I get to get up and say a few words about it.”
Mantel is president and CEO of Living Water International, a global implementer of water solutions in 23 developing countries. To date, the organization has completed more than 15,000 wells, which Mantel guesses, represents “probably more water projects than anyone else.”
But it’s not the number of wells that matters to Mantel, it’s the flourishing that happens when people have access to safe, sustainable drinking water.
Mantel first noticed the impact of water close to home. He installed sprinkler systems for his father’s landscaping company in California and was amazed at the role water played in transforming once barren landscapes.
After earning a business degree from Calvin College in 1983, Mantel’s path intersected with water once again. During his time working at Domino’s Farms in Ann Arbor, Mich., Mantel was Director of Operations and one of the initiatives Mantel worked on was a corporate philanthropy project that sponsored the drilling of wells to provide clean water to poor rural communities in Senegal, West Africa. Upon making his first visit to Senegal, Mantel witnessed the miracle of water in transforming entire communities.
That’s when Mantel felt God calling him to bring life-giving water to developing countries around the world in Christ’s name. In 1992, an opportunity opened up in Chicago with World Vision—the world’s largest Christian relief and development organization. Mantel, his wife Natalie and their two daughters (they now have four) moved to Chicago, where they would call home for the next 17 years.
At World Vision, Mantel’s role was not directly water-related, but one of his former colleagues who nominated Mantel for the DAA said “[he] was a catalyst and pioneer for some of the greatest innovations and ministry opportunities World Vision saw in the last two decades.” And some of those opportunities were right in line with his passion for water and the Word. Mantel spent his time at World Vision bringing together disparate groups of people and uniting them to solve problems in society. He helped communities understand poverty and justice issues, got them involved locally and then mobilized them to make a global impact.
In 2008, Mantel sensed another clear calling from God. And he felt God had used his experiences at Domino’s and World Vision to prepare him for an opportunity that was clearly at the intersection of his two lifelong passions. He moved his family to Houston and became the president and CEO of Living Water International.
And in just six years at the helm, Mantel has more than doubled the organization’s budget and has developed a mobilization strategy to get churches around the world to the leading edge of this work that includes evangelism efforts, sanitation and hygiene training and drilling wells around the world. The organization’s efforts to date have enabled safe, sustainable water to flow to almost 6 million people.
“There is no greater return on one’s life’s investment than to share God’s love by helping communities access clean water – which is the fundamental intervention in human development and to experience the Living Water of Jesus Christ – which alone satisfies our deepest thirst,” said Mantel.
And while many doors have been opened under Mantel’s leadership at LWI, he still knows that 783 million people don’t have access to any kind of improved water and as many as 3.8 billion people struggle to get consistent access to safe water. And with water projected to be twice as scarce in the next 25 years as it is today, and with nearly half of the world’s people groups still unreached with the gospel, Mantel knows his work is far from over.
“Mike’s deep and personal faith in Jesus Christ is a primary motivator in his life and work,” wrote one of Mantel’s colleagues at LWI in a nomination letter. “He has brought new understanding to his global colleagues that “Christian witness” is not a separate and distinct program to pursue, but that we are to bear witness to the person of Jesus Christ through all that we say and do.”
“Calvin and its grads are standing on a powerful and strong foundation that gives them an opportunity to reach out from their foundation to change the world through the arts, business, media, education,” said Mantel. “Calvin encourages students to build a base for the purpose of serving the Lord, for the purpose of stretching into the world to make a difference—never rejecting their identity or community, but standing on these foundational stones to reach into a very complex world.”
Mantel’s done just that—through water and the Word.
“My only story is God’s faithfulness,” said Mantel.