A group of missioners from Atlantic City, New Jersey drove to Flint and back on Friday, February 26th with a semi truck full of safe drinking water in an effort to “pay it forward” to the city from their experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“The Lord really put it on my heart one day during January. I kept seeing pictures and hearing the story about Flint. I could hear him saying, ‘so what are you going to do?”’ says Cheryl Browne, Junior Warden of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“I could hear him saying, ‘So what are you going to do?'”
Atlantic City was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In the aftermath of the hurricane, disaster groups – including Episcopal Relief and Development – worked together to repair the infrastructure and heal communities across the east coast.
Recognizing the need in Flint, Cheryl and others from the congregation began a plan to “pay it forward”. They issued a challenge to the parish and surrounding community to bring cases of safe drinking water to the church to donate to relief efforts. With water donations piling up throughout the month of February, they rented a truck and set the plan with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Flint.
Days before leaving, Amir Mobley, Cheryl’s nine year old grandson, spoke before the Atlantic City Council to extend the challenge and advocate for accountability and justice in their own community in solidarity with the people of Flint. He walked out of the meeting with several checks toward the cause.
At 1:30am, with a bright yellow semi truck loaded with hundreds of cases of water donated by individuals and businesses across the area, seven people began their journey from Atlantic City, New Jersey to snowy Flint, Michigan.
The seven – Cheryl Browne, Jose Davis, Deacon Darnell Reynolds, Reggie Skinner, Shawn Mills, Amir Mobley, and Marcus Parker – are members of both St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Atlantic City and Shiloh Apostolic Cathedral, a Pentecostal church.
The Rev. Dan Scheid, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Flint, led them on a tour of the Episcopal response in Flint, visiting all four partner sites – beginning at Crossover Downtown Outreach ministries, heading over to Christ Enrichment Center, stopping by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Soup Kitchen, and ending at St. Paul’s for a meal. At each site, the group dropped off several dozen cases of bottled water and found out more about the relief efforts specific to the location.
“Spiritually it had a huge impact to the point I am even contemplating some new directions in my life… only God knows the purpose and direction.” reflected Cheryl.
Shawn Mills, a parishioner at St. Augustine’s, reflected on his day spent with the people on the front lines of the response in Flint saying, “I’ve been wanting to do real missionary work for so long. I feel like this was the first step in that.”
After a meal prepared by members of St. Paul’s, the group hit the road again for New Jersey, many of them heading back to work bright and early the next morning.
“We live in interesting times when people from a saltwater city on the Atlantic coast are moved to bring fresh drinking water to a major city in the Great Lakes State. I’m grateful for the initiative and the sacrifice of Cheryl Browne and her team. They understood the need that Flint’s residents have for safe drinking water. And coming from distressed Atlantic City, New Jersey, they know too well the scandal and sin of the systemic injustices that make the lives of poor people and people of color less valuable in the eyes of the dominant class and culture,” said Scheid.
“All I know is we had to go. The path was cleared, the sun shined, and we had no road trouble. If that isn’t God, I don’t know what is.” reflected Cheryl, who says they plan to return with a focus on the need for fresh fruits and vegetables and transportation within the city.