As I drove through downtown Flint, Michigan last year and saw water-bottle wielding Flint residents on the street corners, I didn’t really know what was going on. The Flint Water Crisis hadn’t escalated to full crisis mode yet, though it was clear people were unhappy. Unhappy enough, even, to stand with signs, bottles of water and megaphones in the dead of winter, subzero temperatures and deeply chilling winds. The still snow-covered roads couldn’t even be treated with salt because it was too cold.
Once I finished my classes downtown Flint, I didn’t have a reason to walk past the picketers again, or return to Flint at all. Living a half-hour away from Flint has always been close enough for me.
Back in the day, Flint, Michigan was a place booming with industry. Originally founded by pioneer Jacob Smith as a lumber city along the Saginaw trail, after World War II, Flint became the General Motors manufacturing site for the Buick and Chevrolet lines. Flint was also integral in the formation of the United Auto Workers. It quickly became known as Vehicle City, neighbor to Detroit, now known as the Motor City.
Due to GM plant closures in the 1980s, Flint experienced an economic depression, and has been floundering ever since. Flint is not a desirable place to live, and those born there have little opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and crime. In the last ten years, Flint was ranked among America’s Most Dangerous Cities and is known for high crime rates.
I always carried pepper spray when going to and from my evening classes.
Flint has largely been forgotten, and perhaps willingly by many people and government leaders in Michigan.
Enter the Flint Water Crisis stage right.
Flint Water Crisis Garners National Attention
Since I don’t live in Flint or have Flint water, I haven’t concerned myself much with the Flint Water Crisis; Flint has always been at arm’s length. But the long and short of it is this—in 2014, Flint officials switched Flint’s water system from a Lake Huron source to the Flint river. In an Erin Brockovich-esque move, studies confirmed the presence of lead in the water, leading to health issues for Flint residents. The Flint Water Crisis has been brewing for a while now, finally coming to a head on January 5, 2016, when a state of emergency was declared for Flint.
Needless to say, government officials—particularly Michigan Governor Rick Snyder—are taking some heat for the Flint Water Crisis. But regardless of decisions, actions or non-actions of government leaders, the Flint Water Crisis is bringing people together in a unique way.
The news has made it to headlines and news sources across the nation, even landing a spot in Jimmy Fallon’s Twitter on Sunday night.
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) January 24, 2016
Jimmy issued a challenge to donate to The Flint Water Crisis and no less than four celebrities agreed to join him, including Madonna, Seth Meyers, Rosie O’Donnell, and Jon Cryer; other donors aiding in the crisis include Mark Wahlberg, the Detroit Lions, Pearl Jam, and a host of other supporters gaining momentum for the Flint Water Crisis on GoFundMe.com.
Stunning Community, True Care
Carriage Town Ministries, in the heart of Flint, was quick to provide clean water to whoever walked through their doors when made aware of the problem. They have installed water filters on faucets in addition to providing bottles of water to Flint residents; Carriage Town is also providing health care information, free blood tests, and plan to set up ongoing lead-related health care with Hamilton Health Network.
As millions of water bottles flood the city of Flint, the community of Flint is coming together to solve a problem everyone shares—the need for clean water. Crises like the Flint Water Crisis have the unique ability to bring a community, a city, a state, and even a nation together in a true act of community. It’s astounding to me something as simple as water can renew my faith in humanity.
But my reflection goes deeper than just the sense of community.
In the upcoming spring issue of Shattered Magazine, I tell the story of Hope Water Project, an initiative bringing clean water to a remote people group in Kenya. The local church-driven project raises money to drill wells in the communities in order to provide both physical water and spiritual water—building wells and sharing Jesus. And, well—you’ll have to read the story to know what happens next. But don’t we kind of expect Africa to have water issues? It’s easy to send missionaries and pray for those in the far-reaching corners of the earth, but this feels a little too close to home, doesn’t it? Clean water is supposed to be a problem for underdeveloped regions, right? Not America, though. We’re supposed to have this civilization thing down, complete with clean water and public safety. How humbling it is to be reduced to such a plight; the Flint Water Crisis is poking holes in America’s pride, and perhaps for the better.
But here’s the thing; both the Hope Water Project story and the Flint Water Crisis story reminds me that when we as Christians are called to care for others and love others in the name of Jesus, it should be more than just throwing money at missionaries. Churches have the tendency to want to solve spiritual problems without also addressing physical problems. That’s a problem. (Don’t get me started on tract-ing instead of tipping.) I mean, it’s awesome that celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Madonna are going humanitarian and getting generous and all. But shouldn’t the Church be the first one on the scene for things like this?
The Flint Water Crisis is making me consider where I fall on this continuum.
Authentic Christianity cares for physical needs in addition to spiritual needs. Kind of like when Jesus healed and forgave sin (see Luke 5), and sometimes he simply healed without the mention of forgiveness (see Luke 4, John 9). Interesting.
I haven’t been through Flint in a while, and I probably won’t be drinking out of anything other than a fresh bottle of water when I do go. But I have certainly been challenged to reevaluate the authenticity of my faith, and my care for people—not just in the Flint Water Crisis, but in any crisis anywhere.