When numbers are reported about the global water crisis — almost one in every 10 people lacks access to safe drinking water — the U.S. is not the first country to come to mind. But for tens of thousands of people in Flint, Michigan, a water crisis is a daily reality.
Since April 2014, lead has contaminated the city’s entire water supply. A state decision to switch the water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River went terribly wrong. The water from the river is highly corrosive and eroded the water pipes that service the city’s household and other plumbing. The lead in the pipes leached into the water, causing toxic levels of lead contamination.
In the midst of the crisis, the West Flint Church of the Nazarene has been working to meet needs.
“The immediate need is bottled water,” said David Bowser, pastor of the West Flint church.
The church has already taken 2,200 cases of water to one of the most affected areas.
“Within two and a half hours, it had all been distributed,” Bowser said.
Government officials have warned people not to even give the contaminated water to their pets. Bottled water is necessary for drinking, cooking, and even bathing.
“A family could easily go through two to three cases of water a day and not even bathe,” Bowser said.
The West Flint church has been involved in Nazarene disaster response for many years, and Bowser believes that experience has prepared them to respond to the current emergency in their own community.
“When [Hurricane] Katrina hit, this church adopted New Orleans First Church of the Nazarene in the 9th ward and helped rebuild that church,” Bowser said. “For the last several years, this local church has been actively engaged in what we call ‘be the church,’ which is regular opportunities to serve in the areas where this water crisis is most affecting.”
City, state, and federal government officials are involved in decisions about a long-term fix, but in the meantime, “the church has to continue to respond,” Bowser said.
A permanent solution will take years. Even though the city has switched to a new water source, the damage done to the water pipes is irreparable. The cost to replace the entire plumbing infrastructure is estimated to be more than $1 billion.
Matthew Soulia, associate pastor at the West Flint church, says a major concern is the way the current water crisis has affected a community that had enough problems already.
“This is a severe, dangerous, and emergency situation,” Soulia said. “It’s also piling on some serious, systemic problems that Flint has been facing for decades — issues of struggling education, crime rates, blight, poverty. It’s like adding fuel to the fire. There are only small pockets within Flint that wouldn’t be considered poor. People have limited means and education and ability to respond [to the current crisis].”
Bowser says the West Flint church is poised to respond in part because of the relationships and connections they have been creating in under-served neighborhood and with other churches in the target areas.
“For four years, we’ve worked in this community,” Bowser said. “This church is missional and sees what it looks like not doing something to or for a community, but working with a community.”
Bowser says the West Flint Church of the Nazarene is committed to helping their neighbors during this crisis “for a long, long time.”
“We really are dealing with a third-world kind of dynamic that’s right here in our community,” Bowser said. “The poverty is overwhelming and the needs are so great, and we find ourselves fighting the battle along the lines of water.”
How to help
Pray. Pray for the families affected by the water crisis in Flint. Pray for West Flint Church of the Nazarene as they work to assist their neighbors over the coming months and years.
Give. The church is requesting support for the purchase of bottled water. You can donate to the Flint Water Crisis fund through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries by clicking here.
To send donations by mail:
In the U.S., make checks payable to "General Treasurer" and send them to:
Global Treasury Services
Church of the Nazarene
P.O. Box 843116
Kansas City, MO 64184-3116
Be sure to put 125778 in the Memo area.
In Canada, make checks payable to "Church of the Nazarene Canada" and send them to:
Church of the Nazarene Canada
20 Regan Road, Unit 9
Brampton, Ontario L7A 1C3
Be sure to put 125778 in the Memo area.
For other countries, please give through your local church or district, designating your gift to the Flint Water Crisis.