By Shannon Baker
TEMPLE HILLS, Md.—When Taye Hailu saw the news of the water situation in Flint, Mich., he was burdened.
With over 100,000 residents, the city faces a critical crisis in its infrastructure. The city’s water supply, used for drinking, cooking and bathing, is contaminated by lead, creating a serious public health danger.
This past January, the state’s governor declared a state of emergency, followed shortly after by President Barack Obama, who declared a federal state of emergency for Flint, Michigan’s seventh largest city, northwest of Detroit.
Now mostly out of the news cycle, the people of Flint feel lost and forgotten, said Hailu, pastor of New Direction Church in Temple Hills, Md.
Hailu found out an old classmate, George Anderson, was delivering bottled water to residents. He asked to join in the effort. He urged members from his church and his partner church, El Bethel Baptist Church in Ft. Washington, Md., to donate bottled water, baby wipes and hand sanitizer for his friend’s next delivery.
“It wasn’t just a water drive; it was an opportunity to share the love of God—with every race, not just African Americans, but also Hispanics and Caucasians,” he said.
Hailu cast the vision at the two churches’ services and through social media, with the goal of securing 300-350 cases of water. To his great surprise, donations surpassed over 1,000 cases “based upon the extravagant generosity of over 70 people who donated, some I haven’t even personally met,” Hailu said.
Because of weight restrictions on Penske’s rental trucks, Hailu rented three large delivery trucks, to be driven by volunteers with CDL licenses. Volunteers who would distribute the water followed behind in vans.
On the day they traveled, Hailu’s van got caught in traffic, causing his late arrival. When he finally made it to Flint, he learned the other vans already delivered their supplies of water at pre-established distribution centers, which were, to Hailu’s surprise, in the nicest neighborhoods.
His burden deepening, he instructed his van driver to deliver the water instead to the housing developments, where the city’s poorest residents lived. He was advised against it, as others described the crime-ridden area to him.
But he couldn’t resolve in his mind how single moms could make it to the distribution centers. And more than that, how could they carry the heavy water packs miles back to their homes?
It just wouldn’t work, so he and other team members drove straight the poorer areas, where they were met often by people who tearfully proclaimed, “I thought you forgot about us!”
Over and over, Hailu personally visited door-to-door, distributing the supplies. He saw families whose children, forced to bathe in the contaminated water, had blisters and sores marring their skin.
It absolutely devastated him. But it also gave him the opportunity to proclaim the goodness of God, whom he credited for sending him all the way from Maryland to this hurting inner city. He shared about Christ often, praying openly at the residents’ doors. He heard over and over how thankful the people were to receive the hope contained in the plastic water bottles.
The whole experience rejuvenated Hailu’s faith. He knew this was just the beginning of caring for the city that people no longer see in the news.
“I thought I was going to give the residents of Flint something, but actually they gave me something as well…love!” Hailu said. “Though we returned with our energy, trucks and hands empty, God ensured that I returned with my heart full.”
Hailu said he was reminded of Matt 25:40, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”
Presently, the two churches are collecting donations again, with plans to deliver them to Flint on July 23.
If you are interested in donating supplies and even offering financial assistance to offset the cost of the rental trucks, contact Hailu at (301) 357-4621.