In November, Helen Manning left her Battle Ground home to help in Ecuador, as she has done in so many other places. November marked the anniversary of a big earthquake, and the people were scared. She didn’t know she would so palpably experience a disaster herself, until the earth shook on November 17, 2017 while she was eating breakfast.
“Many people out there were already thinking about the last one,“ says Manning, marveling a bit at the timing. “People were fainting of fear.”
The earthquake registered 6.2 on the Richter scale. “It sounded like a bomb going off,” Manning recalls. The sound may have been the highway splitting from the movement. She wasn’t sure of the sound’s origin, but it was shocking.
The building she was in, built of interlocking blocks, moved, but it was fine. The space was simple and clean, so there wasn’t anything to fall off of shelves, either. But Manning was surprised that, as prepared as she thought she was, she didn’t have the clarity of mind she expected. “You forget what you’re supposed to do,” she says.
“When you’re physically in it, you freeze. You don’t know what to do. I had never experienced that before,” continues Manning. She knew to get out of the building, but, being unfamiliar with the surroundings, she wasn’t sure where to go.
Still, soon after the shaking stopped, she was back into helping mode. As a “Special Pioneer at Jehovah’s Witness,” Manning has been a missionary with her husband for decades.
When they met, they had regular jobs, but, soon after, they started studying the Bible through Jehovah’s Witness and decided to dedicate their lives to “the education piece.”
She and her husband went through Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Along the way, they learned French, Spanish and Russian to be able to speak to those populations at home and abroad.
As such, they have made themselves available to that effort since 1973. They lived in the Central African Republic for four years. Then they worked in Colombia, Spain and Venezuela. The couple left Venezuela in 2003 and took up residence in Battle Ground.
“We try to offer comfort to those who have lost people to death or who have gone through disaster,” Manning says.
These days, she splits her time between caring for family members and her mission work. She puts in about 100 hours a month locally, mostly working with Russian Jehovah’s Witness immigrants. Manning said the religion is persecuted in Russia and other parts of the world.
This year, Manning must travel alone, as her husband is in poor health. In October, her trip started in Mexico to give comfort to the people who experienced the earthquake there. In September 2017, Mexico had sustained two large quakes (one 8.1) with a death toll as high as 400 people.
She was impressed in Mexico. “Of all the people on earth I’ve seen, they were the hardest working – 22 million people in Mexico City, and everybody worked,” she says, “They were respectful, very kind to us. I just loved it.”
But she was there to help, and they checked on every family that had ever attended Jehovah’s Witness meetings. “You don’t have to be a member,” Manning says. She found the people were most upset about the government clearing away the building where school children were killed in the quake. “People have a different concept of death,” Manning observed. But not moving the rubble was not an option, as “that’s when cholera comes up and other airborne diseases. You have to take care of it.”
She handed out hundreds of pamphlets and also helped them understand about clean water. Manning sees water as the biggest problem after an incident. “There was food,” she says, but clean water is critical to life. She travels with a high quality water filter.
Manning laments that other helping organizations don’t distribute what is needed most: education. “What they do a lot of times is they give them food and all this stuff, but they never teach them.”
Manning is especially sensitive to the issues of health, as she had suffered from a strain of typhoid fever while in Africa. She rested in a bed for eight months. “It helps your character when you go through stuff like this,” says Manning. She calls it a “wonderful experience,” and is still grateful. “You see the human kindness. They (the congregation) were by my side every day. It was so beautiful.”
That’s how she looks at problems. “I don’t feel that God is punishing anyone. It’s not that God is mad at us. It’s because of the issue that’s involved.” She doesn’t ask “Why?” And she doesn’t try to change people to whom she offers help. “We try to make their lives safe and give them hope,” she shares. Manning concludes that, after experiencing personal and mass disasters, “We can come out of it with good, optimistic values.”