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​"What you did for the least of these . . . you did for me."

Editor's note: In a very short time, East Michigan Wesleyan leaders have formed the "Flint Grassroots Initiative." Note how they have developed an impressive comprehensive response to the immediate needs of marginalized victims. Most people know that the water utility in Flint, Michigan is in disaster mode, with toxic lead levels making it highly dangerous to drink or even to bathe in many locations, as earlier reported. Untold thousands of innocent people, especially children, are being affected. After reviewing this amazing response, you may want to lend a hand. Please do so, through the Wesleyan Emergency Relief Fund and consider volunteering.

We have entire neighborhoods that are not being served by the emergency relief system, because people lack proper ID or transportation or both. Also, the National Guard has deemed some neighborhoods unsafe for them to serve, so they are being neglected. We have families and elderly who are not on social media, they do not have internet or TV - they are uninformed on the crisis and precautions, so they are still using the contaminated water! The city distributed filters, then discovered they didn't work and have since switched to a different filter. Most of the poor and elderly (and undocumented) live in old houses, so the filters don't fit the faucets. It is literally like living in a third world country for Flint residents!

We have committed to serving the marginalized, the poor and the under-resourced. We are using relationships through our CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) network to do it. We are identifying churches in these neglected neighborhoods in addition to Joy Tabernacle (Pastor Robert McCathern) that we can work with.

I am proud of our district churches. When I asked for a show of hands among our district pastors as to how many were "in" - meaning sending volunteers, money, materials, etc. - every hand in the room went up. You could feel the momentum build in the room as we talked and prayed together. I was virtually in tears. God is doing some deep things in us as we walk in obedience and learn to love across racial and cultural lines!

Subsequently, we met with other groups. We had whites and blacks gathered at the table – all one in spirit and deeply connected by this tragedy! I saw first-hand an elderly woman's legs that were covered in rash (almost too badly to look at) – because she bathed in the water. I heard a young man tell of just getting out of the hospital with heart problems because of the water. We sat with a family man whose kids have lead poisoning, and they have very little food; his phone was just disconnected; his home is now worthless – yet he is volunteering to distribute water and serve others through this partnership. While we were meeting, two distraught moms entered the room together almost in tears – asking if we would give them some water for their families! We sat at the table with people who have not showered in three weeks because they fear what can happen if they do!

Here's a synopsis of our plans. We have to compensate for the massive weaknesses in the current system (i.e. government, Red Cross, etc.) and find creative ways to assist the neglected, the poor, the under-resourced and the under-served – those who do not have access to the water and other things critical to their well-being! We are going to build a system around the system!

We are forming the Flint Grassroots Initiative (FGI). This initiative focuses on immediate solutions and intermediate solutions. As we continue building partnerships, we will address the systemic issues that must be resolved for long-term solutions. Right now, we have The Wesleyan Church, Joy Tabernacle, Poured Out, the Evangelical Covenant Church and our CCDA network engaged in the partnership.

Here are the practical steps we are taking immediately . . .

  • Drinkable Water … We are collecting as much bottled water as we can find suppliers to provide it! While the news is saying we have enough water – that simply is not true! There's a lot of water coming into Flint, but it's not accessible to us. We need bottled water – and we will for a long time! We need to find some corporate partners who can get us water! We are developing our own sub-system for distributing it to the poor and abandoned neighborhoods – places that are being neglected because they've been deemed unworthy or unsafe. We will be blitzing primarily the entire north-Flint on Saturdays by setting up distribution stations in the parking lots for those with transportation, while also deploying volunteers to deliver water door-to-door for those who are home-bound or lack transportation. Our first one will be Saturday, February 13th. We will also provide water during the week on a smaller scale through our distribution system.
  • Hygiene … We will set up two large shower trailers and a laundry trailer. These will be operational a couple days a week (at first), and we will use church vans and other vehicles to transport people from the neighborhoods to these facilities so they can shower and wash their clothes in clean, safe water! Thanks to Poured Out Ministries for this.
  • Physical & Mental Health Care … We will be setting up a mobile clinic. It will be staffed by medical professionals who are willing to volunteer their time and efforts. We also have access to lead testing kits that we will be using to test the lead levels in a child's body. The test takes 15 minutes and we will have trained personnel to administer the tests. We are establishing relationships with the hospitals and clinics in Flint, so that we have places to refer children who need further attention. We also want to deploy medical teams who can do health screenings for adults – focusing on blood pressure and other vitals, because we're seeing some health concerns caused by the high stress! There is significant trauma and a sense of hopelessness in hearing your children are poisoned. We also want to offer some counselling – but that's an intermediate step. We will be operating the mobile clinic primarily on the Saturdays when we're doing massive water distribution, so that we have a one-stop-shop for the families most in need of these services.
  • Nutrition … We are working with the local food bank so we can do a food distribution on the Saturdays we are providing water and health care! Since most food banks do not provide fresh vegetables and fruits – something helpful in dealing with lead poisoning – we will use a connection in Detroit to get these fresh items to distribute with the other food. We plan to have a food pantry for emergency needs, once we have available space.
  • Information, Communication & Education … This is a huge issue. Many of the Flint residents we're working with are not on social media, do not have internet or TV – they are uninformed. We also have to combat the constant misinformation that is being spread. We want to create a hub where people can get the most helpful information about how to deal with this crisis and how to stay as healthy as possible. Due to illiteracy, when some people get a filter with written instructions for installation – or a flyer informing them of steps they need to take for safety or where to get help … they can't read it! We will provide a packet of helpful information at a level they can read and understand – it will also be urbanized so it fits the context! Additionally, we plan to provide education and training sessions (i.e. for usage of filters, caring for kids, interpreting health test results, etc.) during our super Saturday distribution blitzes! We will also have appropriate education materials at the shower and laundry trailers, so people can be informed while they wait their turns!
  • Immigrants & Spanish-language … We are taking steps to identify and serve undocumented immigrants. We realize that many of those are Spanish-speaking people. We will translate our educational materials and helps into Spanish. We will have bi-lingual volunteers at our distribution sites, so that people know they have a safe place that speaks their language where they can find help. We are connecting with a Hispanic pastor/church for help in reaching this segment of our population. Once we get the word out and build trust – the news will spread by word-of-mouth.
  • Job Training & Assistance … We are going to make funds available so we can provide a small stipend and "hire" some people from the neighborhoods to help with the water distribution and other services. There are some poor families who want to help others, but they need help themselves. This is a way to restore some dignity. We also want to train young people to install the new faucets and filters (along with other tasks), so they can learn some skills. If we're going to see long-term sustainability in Flint, we have to teach and train people to care for themselves.
  • Reconciliation Services … Our first "ecumenical" service will be Sunday evening, March 6. We will be taking some folks to Joy Tabernacle for a combined worship service, where Pastor Robert McCathern and I will both speak. The Evangelical Covenant Church will also be involved. We want to do this once a month! Initially, it will be blacks and whites coming together. Hopefully, our services will soon include Hispanics and anyone else who shares our spirit of racial reconciliation!

We believe all of these actions are important: 1) to help the poor, neglected and marginalized in our society who lack access to water, food and health care; 2) to establish and rebuild trust among people in Flint, through incarnational ministry; 3) to experience reconciliation and collaboration within the Body of Christ!

Thanks for all you're doing to assist us in this effort! You have no idea how much your support means to us and the great, hurting people of Flint! God is doing some amazing things here in a short time!

The Flint Grassroots Initiative (FGI) is a branch of the East Michigan Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) - thus we instantly have the non-profit structure set up for contribution collection and disbursement, resource flow and program development. It will assist Flint's marginalized residents by giving them direct access to usable water, personal hygiene resources, nutritious food, and health testing/screening with proper follow-up and care, and accurate information. Basically, we will be a system around the system!

We established the E-MI CCDA Corporation seven years ago when we opened the Wesley Center in Detroit. Flint First Wesleyan is the "member church" for our FGI branch.

Mark Judkins has already gotten the "Doing-business-as" paperwork for Flint Grassroots Initiative (FGI) filed with the State of Michigan. We are funneling all the offerings collected from East Michigan District Churches and the Wesleyan Emergency Relief Fund into the FGI, as well as contributions coming from Evangelical Covenant and other partners.

If God had not taken us back into Detroit seven years ago; if we had not struggled and learned what we now know about urban ministry; if we had not formed the E-MI CCDA and allowed Mark Judkins to develop it; if we had not engaged in racial reconciliation ... we would not have been prepared for God to launch us comprehensively in the middle of Flint's crisis. There's no way we would have everything in place to respond this quickly at this level - if we were not first in Detroit! Thanks be to God!

After reviewing this amazing response, you may want to lend a hand. Please do so, through the Wesleyan Emergency Relief Fund, and consider volunteering!

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