Q: I’m heading on a mission trip with other students and my campus minister says we will only be allowed one shower for the week. Am I bound to obey?
A. It might be that you have no choice. If you and your classmates are all drawing from the same barrel of water for the week – as we did in some of my missionary communities in Mexico – then when the water is gone, the water is gone. That’s the stark reality for many people who don’t live with the abundant resources that you take for granted when you’re at home. And that’s probably one of the reasons that you’re going on the trip: to walk in someone else’s shoes, if only for a few days, and learn what it’s like to live with limited water, food, medical care and many other basics that are luxuries to our brothers and sisters in poverty.
If, on the other hand, your setting is one of “voluntary simplicity” – choosing to simplify your lifestyle out of solidarity with the people you serve – then your question is not a practical one but a moral one. Perhaps your group has agreed to follow the lifestyle of your host community as closely as possible. That’s probably another reason you’re going on the trip: to learn about making difficult choices about how to use resources. Even if water comes out when you turn on the tap, it still might mean that you shouldn’t use it to shower. You have an obligation to your group to follow your agreement and to your host community to respect their way of life, as best as you possibly can. Talk with your campus minister about your concerns, about your goals for participating in the trip and about the expectations of the group. He or she can help you discern the right way to challenge yourself as you take this step of solidarity, learning and grace.