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NFL Players respond to flint water crisis

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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NFL players Justin Forsett, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, and Torrey Smith, wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, listen to Flint Southwestern students as they understand their perspective on the city's water crisis on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, at Flint Southwestern Classical Academy in Flint, Mich.(Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

As the NFL’s offseason begins and the combine and draft are the only major events on the horizon, most players are relaxing and taking vacations. It’s generally not good for an NFL player’s name to surface during the offseason, as seems to happen so frequently with Johnny Manziel and others who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. But several players have made headlines for a completely different reason: helping others in need.

The Flint water crisis remains an ongoing nightmare for citizens in the Michigan city. Since it is such a systemic problem that takes so much time to fully understand and address, Flint has drifted in and out of the nation’s attention. Just before the Super Bowl, when media attention was peaking again, numerous athletes from the NBA and NFL sent trucks full of bottled water and other supplies in an effort to help.

And while those gestures were worthy of commendation, what is more remarkable is what has transpired since the news coverage has died down. It’s one thing to send supplies to a place, but it’s another thing altogether to actually go to where the people are hurting and to spend time getting to know their situation.

That’s exactly what two NFL players did recently. Torrey Smith (49ers) and Justin Forsett (Ravens) visited Flint, stopping at two high schools in town. They not only delivered thousands of bottles of water, but they spent time listening to the kids’ stories and offered encouragement from their own lives.

Neither Smith nor Forsett has much of a connection to Flint. But both were moved when they saw the reports of the devastating effects of the water crisis on families. Both came from families who struggled to survive, and both noted those experiences as driving forces for wanting to help others in times of difficulty.

Forsett is an outspoken Christian, and part of his story has been chronicled through a video from SB Nation. Forsett knows that he won’t be a celebrity athlete forever, and wants to use the time he’s been given as a platform to help others. He has developed a strong friendship with Steph Curry and other athletes who seek to bring glory to God through their lives as athletes in the public square.

The power of giving back is found not simply in generic acts of kindness, even though those are innately wonderful. The true power lies in what Forsett and Smith did, in actually going to be with those in the middle of the difficult situation. Their actions mirror Jesus’ own life of incarnational ministry. Their presence spoke in a way that the bottles of water couldn’t. While they not only brought physical help in the form of supplies, they also brought emotional help through their presence with the kids and the encouragement they spoke to them.

One excerpt from what Forsett told them is especially notable: “I know it stinks right now that you have to go pick up water with your brothers every day just so you can have water to bathe, cook, and clean. It shouldn’t be like that. But the thing about this is, whenever there’s a test, there’s an opportunity for a testimony. This does not have to define you. It can refine you and make you a better person.”

You can hear in those words the personal experience of Forsett and how it shaped his life. As he shared out of his own life experience, so can we. We may not have the platform of an NFL running back, but we all have the ability in different ways to reach out to others in times of need.

It does not have to be limited to national crises either. Just show up and help someone in your sphere of influence (your family, friends, and co-workers). The power of Forsett and Smith’s action lay in being present and sharing themselves, not just giving water bottles and other supplies. In a world where someone always is hurting, we all need to be reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

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