Flint: “I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink"

Poor Flint, Michigan. But then, maybe that’s their problem. They are poor. An African American majority. No money. No lobbyists. No political power. So nobody pays attention—until recently, that is.

Since April, 2014, when their city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River (to save money), residents of this city of  100,000 “began complaining of burning skin, hand tremors, hair loss, even seizures. Children were being diagnosed with anemia. Parents were finding strange red splotches on their hands and faces” (TIME 2-1-16 p 34). Their drinking water was changing colors—from blue to green to beige, brown and yellow. And it smelled like gasoline, some said. Others described it as the inside of a fish market. “Melissa Mays, a 37-year-old mother of four, says her hair started to fall out in clumps, clogging the shower drain. She broke out in rashes and developed a respiratory infection, coughing up phlegm that tasted like cleaning products” (ibid.).

All the while city officials declared the water safe to drink. The mayor even gulped down a drink of it in front of TV cameras. Why worry? But the continuing pleas of Flint’s residents eventually found political traction in the presidential race. Candidates challenged—would officials have ignored eighteen months of cries for help, if the pleas had come from the affluent suburbs of Detroit or Ann Arbor? You don’t need a degree in political science to know the answer.

Now the decrepit lead pipes of old Flint are injecting lead poison into the water supply—and children of the inner city face sobering developmental risks. Even though the city switched back to Lake Huron water last October, the lead pipes are so corroded the water is unfit for drink.

Enter now a band of Andrews University students—from the seminary, from the Physical Therapy department—who have launched a major relief effort underway on campus to collect donations of bottled water to deliver to Flint’s imperiled citizens. Tina Carriger, a seminary student with her husband, wrote me: “On Friday, January 22nd my husband and I made a trip to Flint in our SUV, completely loaded with water donated by Andrews University students and members of the Niles Philadelphia SDA Church in Niles, Michigan. We traveled to Flint with 40 cases of water and within a matter of 20 minutes that water was gone!”

They plan to go back to Flint this Friday (January 29) and are appealing for people at Pioneer, Andrews and around this community to assist them in their humanitarian effort. The city is limiting residents to one case of water per person per day. They need more water! So I’m inviting you to join us in this emergency water donation. Drop off your case(s) of water inside the entrance of the seminary building (parking lot side). The Carrigers and their team will deliver the water on Friday.

Lest we minimize the gift of a cup of water to a thirsty soul, Jesus declares the endtime judgment will hinge on what we do or do not do for the forgotten, the marginalized, the poor: “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did it to Me”—“for I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink” (Matthew 25:40, 35).

But lest we conclude His mission includes only tap water, Jesus also declares: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

Flint is dying for water, and so is the world. There is no more compelling reason for you and me to take the Water of Life to the thirsty all around us. Our surplus must be shared.