Southern Baptists are bringing clean water and a ray of hope to residents of Flint, Mich., as that city scrambles to solve its potable water crisis.
Trained disaster relief volunteers from the Kentucky Baptist Convention are working in Flint seven days a week at the invitation of Michigan emergency management officials. Five three-member teams are going door to door, delivering water filters, bottled water and water test kits. They also are passing along information related to the water crisis and listening as residents tell their stories about being caught up in the dilemma.
NAMB photo by John Swain
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain Tom Owen (right) leads a prayer with Flint, Mich., homeowner Mercedes Menzies and SBDR volunteer Rick Bolen. Menzies and other residents of the city have been faced with health concerns over the water supply. SBDR volunteers are in the city to distribute drinking water and water filters to residents. Owen and Bolen are both members of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Independence, Ky.
In virtually every case, they are able to pray with the families. In most cases, they have been able to give them Bibles as well.
The Flint crisis has drawn national attention since children began to be sickened by excessive levels of lead in the city’s water supply. The U.S. Surgeon General has visited the city, and the Michigan House of Representatives unanimously approved $30 million to help pay water bills for residents and businesses, according to news reports. Dallas Cowboys’ cornerback Brandon Carr has donated more than $100,000 to help his hometown, and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores has pledged $10 million to the cause.
Families in Flint welcome the Kentucky volunteers’ compassion because it brings comfort into lives filled with too much fear, said Bill Johnson, who is managing the relief project on behalf of Kentucky Baptists and the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
“These are some pretty rough neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “One lady was afraid to open the door for us, even though we have a card that identifies us as part of the Flint water response team. She opened the door just enough for them to put the water in. But when they asked if they could pray for her, she held hands with them through the open door.
“We thought we might get a lot of negativity or pushback, being a faith-based group,” noted Johnson, who is a member of Liberty Missionary Baptist Church near Ashland, Ky., “but people have embraced us.”
Emotions have been running high in the city since news broke that children were suffering from the collapse of the city’s water system. The relief teams’ chaplains are playing a key role in defusing tensions, said Coy Webb, director of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief.
NAMB photo by John Swain
Rick Bolen, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, installs a water filter on the kitchen tap of a resident in Flint, Mich. Disaster Relief volunteers are in the city to assist with the water crisis facing residents. Bolen is a member of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Independence, Ky.
“These families need clean water, but they also desperately need someone to listen, counsel and pray with them,” Webb said. “Our chaplains are providing as important a ministry as the installation of water filters.”
The relief effort aims to help Flint’s most vulnerable people: those who can’t get out of their homes, Webb said.
“People are signing up for help through the county by calling 211,” Webb said. “The Emergency Operations Center is passing the names and addresses to us, and we go directly to the individual homes.”
The county is providing box trucks to carry relief supplies, as well as issuing radios and tablet computers to facilitate communication, Webb said. Some supplies have been donated by NAMB, while the rest has come from county and state government offices.
During the relief effort, which may last six months, relief team members are being housed and fed by Westside Baptist Church in nearby Flushing, said Mickey Caison, executive director of disaster relief for NAMB. In addition to the door-to-door ministry, volunteers also are handing out bottled water at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Flint.
The opportunity to bring help and hope to families during this crisis arose directly out of previous disaster response in Michigan, Caison noted. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network worked diligently in the aftermath of flooding in Warren, where 129,000 homes were flooded in August 2014.
“Here we have government asking Southern Baptists to go into homes to do a specific task, but part of that task is to talk with the homeowners,” Caison said. “It’s interesting to me that God, in His love and grace, provides the opportunity to step into this environment. God continues to honor our commitment to serve Him in this unique way, and He opens the doors for us in other places.”
For information on donating to the relief effort or to volunteer, visit namb.net/dr. Or, call 800-993-1342 or email [email protected].
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for the North American Mission Board.)