Mark and Katie Manning, along with their three children, are missionaries with EFCA ReachGlobal and serve on the Crisis Response ministry team. Mark serves as a Construction Supervisor and Katie serves as an Associate Director. They have served in response to crises in New Orleans, LA, Columbia, SC, Houston, TX, and now Lake Charles, LA.
Trusting in the Unknown
When God doesn’t give us our next step right away
Katie’s story: Called to serve
You’re not going.
That was all my brother texted me.
For two years, my husband and I had served in Columbia, South Carolina, alongside Riverside Community Church through ReachGlobal Crisis Response, after a devastating flood in the area. Before South Carolina, I was in New Orleans, also serving with Crisis Response. So when my brother texted me, I knew he had seen the news about Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
On August 29, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the south coast of Texas and stalled over Houston for several days. Widespread flooding and severe wind damage resulted, and ReachGlobal Crisis Response sprang into action.
ReachGlobal Crisis Response began a long-term effort in Houston, which would mean a commitment of 3 to 5 years. Though it was hard to leave South Carolina, the magnitude of the crisis in Texas led us to believe Houston was where God was leading us next. On January 2, 2018, our family set off for Houston.
Mark’s story: Watching God work
One of the most encouraging aspects of working with ReachGlobal Crisis Response is seeing God work through each phase.
From the early phase of the ministry, there are so many stories to tell of God’s provision as we started a response in North Houston at our site, the Grove. God put together the pieces of the puzzle to allow us to use the Grove, a huge plot of land in downtown Houston complete with a gym, commercial kitchen, office space, tool shed, showers, and rooms for bunk beds. Though much of the property flooded, God sent just the right staff and volunteers to get it repaired and prepared for teams. Katie and I saw God provide temporary housing as we moved to Houston and then a home for us to buy, less than a month later.
Even though we were not on the ground right after the storm, several EFCA churches responded through gutting homes, meeting families and doing the initial clean up. The relationships made through the local churches allowed us to follow up with those families to further the relationship and offer our rebuilding resource. And God led us to the Jones family (names changed to protect privacy).
The Jones family had nearly six feet of water in their home and were trying to fix it themselves. After the second week of working in their home with volunteers, Mr. Jones observed that there was something different about us. He couldn’t understand why we would travel and work so hard to help a complete stranger. It was a perfect opportunity to share the gospel. Now, two and a half years later, their family are still our dear friends.
Long term service means gospel opportunity
One of our favorite questions to hear is, “Why are you still here?” It’s counter-cultural for people to stay after the news cameras have left, let alone to stay for years. In our fast-paced, commitment-phobic culture, committing to the community long-term sets Crisis Response apart from other organizations, which is exactly how we’re supposed to live as followers of Jesus.
We want to be there when people begin struggling with reality and encourage them. Long-term investment into people’s lives is critical after a crisis. In the initial weeks following a crisis, there is an influx of resources and relationships coming into an impacted community to help with those immediate physical needs. There is a sense of comradery and hope that life will return to normal. However, after those initial weeks, the resources and relationships begin to leave and reality strikes that it’s going to take longer than anyone anticipated to return to normal. The resulting second-wave psychological low is often worse than the disaster itself.
Our focus at ReachGlobal is to invest in disciplemakers to establish the church where the gospel isn’t known. Investing in people means taking the time to listen, learn, relate and devote ourselves to others with the desired outcome of seeing the gospel spread through disciplemakers.
Mark and I love building relationships for the long-term, so this is a good fit for us. We have seen God work in people’s lives in Houston, whether they were from our partner churches, homeowners, or volunteers. We would have missed some opportunities to share the gospel if we hadn’t stayed for multiple years.
Learning to trust and wait on God in the fog
For several reasons, our ministry decided to close the Grove in August 2020, the Crisis Response North Houston site. None of these reasons are negative; it’s just what happens in our ministry. We know we won’t be around forever, but we’re thankful that the churches in Houston are still reaching out to their communities.
For months, we had no idea what our next step would be. We were walking in the fog that COVID-19, racial injustice and political divisiveness had created. It can be hard to trust God when you have no idea what you’re supposed to do or what your next step is. I’m continually reminded of Isaiah 50:10:
“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in the darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”
Even when I cannot see my next step, I’m called to fear the Lord, obey His voice, trust Him and rely on Him. Nothing about God has changed in 2020. He is the same God even when the circumstances around us create an unknown like we’ve never seen before.
And we have seen God provide. God has allowed our family to experience His refreshment and presence in a way we may not have had if we’d jump from this site to another one. He has given us peace which is far better than structure and routine. He gave us a healthy new baby, our first son, born here in Houston in November. He has allowed us to deepen relationships with the homeowners and community we’ve served because we’re still here. We’ve also witnessed the multitude of hurricanes this year, wondering with each one if that will be the one where God opens a door for our next ministry assignment.
The missionary and martyr Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” So we continued to serve God in Houston until He gave us our next assignment: Lake Charles, Louisiana, working with the Crisis Response relief effort for Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
I imagine that 2020 has given us all opportunity to receive comfort from the Lord—so perhaps, this is our opportunity to pass on comfort to those who have been impacted by crises. As 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in ANY affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”