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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Faith to overcome


Ten years to the day since the start of the water crisis, the Director of Community Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Flint, Michigan, speaks to the activation of faith

July 6, 2024

Lisa Horne and David Barnhart speak during a panel on “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City.” (Photo by Rich Copley)

Editor’s note: In 2014, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Associate for Story Ministry, David Barnhart, met Lisa Horne, Director of Community Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Flint, working on what would become the award-winning documentary “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City.”

Barnhart recalls, “I will never forget the first time we met Lisa in her office. As we came in the front door there was a long line of people and families with children waiting down the hall to meet with her. We knew immediately that Lisa was someone who could give us insight and a perspective on this that no one else could. We have become good friends, and she has helped guide the film over those five years working together — and we are still in conversation today.” 

April 25 marked the 10-year anniversary of switching the water in Flint, Michigan.

Watch “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City” (which recently reached the “15 Million Streaming Milestone”) on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Apple TV, Tubi, Kanopy or Video on Demand across major cable providers. A study guide and screening kit are available on PDA’s website.

In 2010, I attended community meetings where there were conversations regarding a new Karegnondi Water Authority regional water system that would offer fresh water and save money for residents in Flint and Genesee County in Michigan. I had heard conversations about using the Flint River as a source of drinking water. During the restructuring, however, the history of this river would make it impossible to be considered for domestic use. At least this is what I thought until April 25, 2014, when “the switch” to using water from the Flint River started a public health crisis that I could not believe.

In my profession as a clinical social worker, I have studied trauma and its impact on the lives of those who experience it. The environmental trauma that hit the Flint community 10 years ago has left scars despite the healing efforts. In the role of director of Community Ministries and Outreach at First Presbyterian Church of Flint and a member of the community, I have heard statements such as: “There’s no trusting this water.”

Ten years after the start of the water crisis, clean water flows in the city’s water pipes that have been replaced. But according to some of the residents in Flint, “the water and the pipes in my home are the same.” It is evident that the wounds inflicted by the lead poisoning from the Flint River are still causing pain in our community and there is still the question of trust and healing.

In a study by Wang et al (2022) published in the Journal of Population Economics, the researchers found that the children born to mothers exposed to the contaminated water in Flint had a significantly lower birth weight on average compared to those in other cities. They found that Black babies have been disproportionately impacted by the exposure and on occasions, the epidemic has been called a crisis that resulted from systemic racism. The healing for Flint is in motion as the prayers for leadership, finances, education, public health reform, racial healing and solidarity erupt!

This is where my faith is activated. “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). The community, through many collaborative efforts, has met some of the needs of residents and continues to build hope for a healthier future for our community. The psychological distress that I have personally experienced is evident from the work I am called to do and will require more time for healing the community as we all unite and develop the practical principle of working together for the good of our community because we love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

When I am asked where we are now, I reply, “Further along than where we were and will continue to overcome.” I am reminded of Philippians 1:3–6, where Paul and Timothy, passionate servants of Christ, write a letter to all Philippi Christians, including the pastors and preachers. They first welcome all with God’s grace and Jesus’ peace. Then they write:

“Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”

As news accounts have reported, to some there has been no justice based upon the legal system. I choose to hold on to the confession of my faith that God is still working things out for our community. I believe that the additional prayers for change, restoration, revival, and leadership working together in Flint, Michigan will be answered. To God be the glory for the things we will do!

Lisa Horne, First Presbyterian Church of Flint, Michigan

Today’s Focus: 10 year anniversary – Flint, Michigan water crisis

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Ivy Lopedito, Mission Associate I, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Presbyterian Mission Agency 
Hansel Lopez, Dishwasher, Stony Point Center, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious God, give us humble hearts so that we can recognize the gifts of others and encourage the use of those gifts for the building up of your church and for the fulfillment of your mission. In Jesus’ name. Amen.