How to Prevent a Water Crisis Like Flint

Flint, Michigan. Ready set go—what do you think of?

You might remember Michael Moore’s Roger and Me. The words rust belt may come to mind, of Flint as the best example of a town slowly falling apart.  Or, you may remember the much more recent debacle over Flint’s water crisis.

Flint is a big part of who I am, and why I work for Food for the Hungry today as a story curator and communicator. A Flint Sunday school teacher introduced me to to Christianity as a choice I needed to make, with actions that followed.

In Flint I first encountered a world-class art museum’s creative space, and a public radio station studio, where I was told, “Create something. Cut lose. Have fun.” I learned to appreciate and make beautiful things with words and with my hands.

And in Flint I realized I could be afraid of my African-American schoolmates just because they were different. I realized I would have to work all of my life, every day, to bridge the cultural gap and not be afraid. It was great discipline, daily practice, for living and working in a multi-cultural world.

So when I saw the PBS Nova’s special about Flint’s poisoned water, I felt waves of emotions. I Googled the lead study map to see which neighborhoods were affected (answer: all of them). Colored dots showed houses with high lead levels on my old street, and near my old elementary school.

It could have been me, had timing been different. Or my younger brother and sister. Or any of my friends.

Drinking that poison, getting brain damage from lead, suffering the results of corrupt leadership and poor decision-making.

Water is a Community Issue

African woman collecting water at FH-supplied well

I hope and pray that Flint’s story wakes up a nation to many issues. First and foremost, clean water is a community issue. When things go badly, we often think just of ourselves, of our family. That’s where my mind went, watching the show—it was at first, about me. I looked at the poison map because I wondered if there was contaminated water at MY old house.

But change needs to be about defending others, the weak and the widow and the orphan and the vulnerable. FH’s work worldwide starts at that level, with community leaders, helping them understand biblical servant-leadership.

Servanthood matters

The myriad water systems FH helps install in places like Kenya make an impact only because the community works together.

Leaders must understand that if they cut corners, the results can lead to long-term catastrophe.

I’ve talked personally with leaders in various countries over the years who had let the water systems go. The result wasn’t just dirty water. The result was deep, divisive, long-standing distrust between leaders and community members that infected the whole community.

When you give toward a well, a rainwater collection tank or a water purification system via FH, you’re not just giving the cement for the construction. You’re helping us train leaders that they’ve been given a God-ordained responsibility to care for others. Children who grow up in these communities, where leadership functions as it should: learn by example to lead the community in the future.


Beth AllenBeth Allen has been gathering stories that proclaim how God is working through FH, for over two decades. She is powered daily by Jesus and coffee, but the coffee is mostly decaf, so Jesus should get the credit for everything.