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When Calvin College senior Martin Cervantes first learned about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., it hit him hard. Maybe because Flint’s reality was once his reality.

“I lived in Mexico for 13 years before I moved here [Leland, Mich.],” Cervantes said. “We were never able to drink out of the faucet in Mexico, [we] always had to buy water.”

Cervantes said he was wary about drinking from the faucet when he first moved to the United States in 2007, but he slowly became accustomed to it.

“That [experience] has always been present on my mind when I hear people locally, less than two hours away, having this issue.

“They have always been able to drink, bathe, cover all necessities with the same water, and they can no longer do that.

“While I can’t completely comprehend what they’re going through, I can somewhat relate, and I don’t think it is fair in any way.”

Acting on Conviction

In late January, Cervantes was moved to take action. He started an event on Facebook called the Flint Water Drive & Distribution, inviting the community to donate bottled water and filters, deliver the water to the American Red Cross in Flint, and then work alongside the organization going door-to-door delivering water to families in need.

Fifty volunteers made the trip to Flint, taking 300 cases of water bottles and 80 gallon jugs of water.

Cervantes stressed the importance of building relationships with the people of Flint by delivering the water in person. At the time of this writing, he was working on a proposal with the college’s student senate that would empower the student-led initiative to be more than a one-time event.

“When things like this happen, you tend to see a big movement at the beginning and then it kind of wanes,” said Cervantes. “The idea is that this model will hopefully continue on, and we’ll continue to gather water and have volunteers go over there for months.”

Living out the Mission

“For students, there is importance in being boots on the ground,” said Ethan DeVries, student senate president.

“You are creating a relationship, which is an important concept in creating change.
“You can’t help solve anything from standing afar; you won’t understand, won’t grow relationships that are beneficial down the road.”

College administrators agree. And they are delighted to see a student’s passion intersecting with a need in the world.

“It’s a blessing to see our students embodying the college mission,” said Sarah Visser, vice president for student life.

“Calvin is a place that fosters curiosity in students as well as a sense of agency. When our students see evidence of injustice and brokenness in the world, they respond with compassion and action. 

“This blending of head, heart, and hands is the core of what it means to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.”

Cervantes said his actions reflect the heart of the Calvin community.

“We always talk about being stewards of creation, doing what we can, and I think if there’s one thing I’ve seen here at Calvin and just learned, it is the amount of passion and drive that people have and care for others,” he said.

“We see a city like Flint, an hour or so away from us, lacking this basic need of water and we know that we can and should do something about it.

“I wake up every morning, take a shower, get a glass of water—that’s something they can’t do.”

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