An important teaching moment came up the day before we got home on choir tour. I want to preface this entry by saying that I love the youth in my choir. They are outstanding young people, every single one of them. But a decision was made by a few created a situation that we had to stop and talk about for a moment.
It started earlier in the week. It was a shorter trip than usual and we would be making frequent stops, but there was still a need for snacks and water on the trip. My assistant went out and bought the usual things, chips, fruit snacks, crackers, bottled water and Gatorade. No sodas. It seemed all good, just stuff to get us through when we would be sleeping in churches. But on night one, a problem was brought to my attention.
All the bottled water was flavored. And apparently this was a huge problem.
It started small, with sad glances and sighs. But it soon became clear that I was going to have a rebellion on my hands.
I'd thrown out various suggestions during the week to deal with our unfortunate situation. I suggested drinking down one bottle of the stuff (which really wasn't bad) and filling it at the water fountain. When things got particularly frustrating, I simply said, "When we run out, I'll buy you regular bottled water." I think that this was the suggestion that got the proverbial ball rolling.
On Friday of the tour I went over to grab one of the bottles of watter, still in the cardboard box with the others, and I opened it. I immediately noticed that it had already been opened. Then I looked and saw that many others had been opened as well. I took a sip and found that the bottle in my hand had been filled with tap water, as had the other open bottles. I'm not going to lie here ... I was fuming a bit. Because I knew that the flavored water inside that bottles had not been drunk, it had been poured out.
I was fuming, but it was just about time to get on the road. I was going to let it slide. We were heading towards fun day in Nashville, and there were bigger fish to fry. It was just a prank.
Then came Saturday. One of my chaperones had filled up the cooler in the back of his van, unbeknowst to him it was with the already opened bottles. I was thirsty, so I grabbed a bottle to find out what it was. You see, I always carry my water bottle with me. I'm not scared of water out of a tap, but I had already drunk it and we were making a rest stop and I needed the water. Needless to say, I'm the only one that touches my personal water bottle. I know that these bottles of tampered-with water are full of clean water from a fountain, but yet again, I'm fuming.
I walk back to my van to tell the adults riding my van the tale, and they inform me that not only had the bottled water been tampered with, but a full package (60 bottles) of the offensive flavored water had been left behind two days ago with a note to the church thanking us for letting us stay there. And I officially boil over. Awesome sauce.
Thankfully, the two adults in my van talk me off the ledge that would have been snapping at the students in that moment. I take a deep breath, but this has touched a real nerve with me. We need to do some quick teaching on water scarcity. We load up, and I call my wife to look up some statistics regarding water needs worldwide. Here are some of the shocking things she sent me, via the World Health Organization, the UN and various places around the internet:
When we got off the vans for lunch, I gathered everybody up and laid on them a few of those stats, and a few things I know from my time in Louisiana.
- 3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease - that's equal to the number of people who live in Los Angeles
- 884 million people lack access to clean water - that's almost 3 times the united states population
- 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
- 3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year.
- An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
- Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness
Post-Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, bottled water saved lives in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Bottled water also saved lives after floods in Iowa, Nashville, and Atlanta. Bottle water saved lives after natural disasters in Haiti and Japan, and continues to in countless other places in the world where people don't have access to clean water.
I tried to impress on them that the world's water problems are huge ... A lot bigger than we realize in our Dallas suburb. So I wasn't mad at them ... These problems seem like a world away from where we live, so how could they really know? But I did leave them with a point ... The least we can do is not pour our a resource that's so precious to the rest of the world. A water-starved kid in Africa wouldn't care if the water tasted like raspberries. It's just water.
So, next year we won't be bringing flavored bottled water on the trip. I learned my lesson there! Instead, we'll bring water bottles. I'll probably have some made or encourage students to bring their own. I mean, clearly tap water doesn't bother them either!
I also learned that keeping counsel with an adult team is essential to any trip (and ministry, period). They helped me do as the Apostle Paul directed in his letter to Ephesus and "speak the truth in love". At the heart of Christian ministry is truth, love, and teamwork.