AHCC Youth Mission trip to Flint, MI
Nine AHCC youth, accompanied by Rev. Mia Douglas and Linda Smith spent five days in Flint, Michigan. As you may know, the Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the Flint River became the drinking water source for the city. Due to insufficient water treatment, over 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water. A federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 and Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking and bathing. Because of the underlying racial issues associated with the water crisis, AHCC youth were able to participate in Racial Justice Training in addition to providing hands-on help to the residents. Below are excerpts of the daily reports sent by Rev. Douglas. The full report and more photos are available on AHCC’s Facebook page.
Day 1. We began the day at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. The poverty rate in Flint is 39.7%. This did not escape our young people. They were surprised and moved by the kindness and hospitality of those we encountered today and reflected on how the community, though devastated, has not allied their situation to keep them from extending themselves to others.
We ended the day reflecting on our greatest consolation and desolation during the today’s journey, and had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Desiree Lawson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Flint. She talked about what it means to pastor a city in crisis, the negative health impact on those who have been affected, and the ways in which the crisis could have been avoided.
Day 2 on the ground in Flint was an emotionally challenging day for the group. The morning was spent in Racial Justice Training, covering the 4 realms of Racism (Personal, Interpersonal, Cultural, & Institutional). Using a farming analogy, we named racism as a toxic fertilizer that has poisoned the soil of our country for centuries. Though the toxic fertilizer is no longer being used (racial discrimination is illegal) remnants of the toxin remains in the soil (racism still exists in our country). Though at times challenging and uncomfortable, the conversation was our effort to deposit good nutrients back into tainted soil. After lunch, break at the Flint Farmer’s Market, we visited with the Flint affiliate of the ACLU. Here, our young people learned of the advocacy the organization does on behalf of the community.
Our most challenging conversation of the day came with our visit to Woodside UCC. Here, we were challenged to examine our motivations for coming to Flint. The pastor was firm with our group that charity was not enough and challenged us to think creatively about justice and how we might affect systemic changes for positive impact on those for whom justice is not found. This was difficult for the youth to digest. They inter
On Palm Sunday, Linda Smith and I had the privilege of leading nine AHCC youth on a mission trip of service and learning. Our week in Flint was filled with the ups and downs that Jesus must have experienced during his Holy Week journey. Whether sorting food at the Eastern Michigan Food Bank, or passing out food and bottled water at the churches and nonprofit organizations we encountered, the personal satisfaction that comes with stepping into the space of our neighbors helped us feel that we were making a difference (if only for a week) in the lives of community members who have been negatively impacted by the poisoning of their water supply. And while it is true that 3 years later the city of Flint is now connected to a clean water supply, the pipes in homes, business, and houses of worship are still delivering lead tainted water. Consequently, residents continue to be concerned about their access to bottled water for bathing, drinking, and cooking, as the city will discontinue the delivery of bottled water in September. This realization was a painfully low moment for our team.
All is not lost is Flint. The residents are an Easter people living somewhere between Good Friday’s tomb and the Joy of Resurrection. They have asked that we not forget them, for the Flint Water Crisis is not over. In the words of Pastor Monica from Salem Lutheran Church, “Bringing food and water is not enough, Flint residents also need the ministry of justice.” May it be so. Amen.