The Unexpected Pop-Up Village

February 26, 2022

Ecclesiastes 4:4-12; Isaiah 49:15-16

I have written about villages before. 

Perhaps we’re familiar with the African proverb of Igbo and Yoruba origin that states:  it takes a village to raise a child. 

The expression conjures up visions of family, friends, those and in our immediate relational community whose ‘assumed job’ it is to care.  They are our ‘people,’ our tribe, and we are theirs.

Oftentimes, though, such villages are almost non-existent due to geographic distance; frayed because those depended-upon villagers are themselves in challenging situations in need of support.  

So what’s to be done?

Recently, I discovered unexpected pop-up villages: villages of sacrificial care and concern that seemingly pop up out of nowhere for ‘a time such as this,’ only to just as unexpectedly move onto other places of need. 

Just a week ago, I couldn’t find my phone…been there?  Thought so!

That day, I was in a hurry: meetings all day, certified documents to mail before the post office closed, groceries to buy before leaving for an unexpected out-of-town trip.

I didn’t notice my phone was missing until I looked for it to check my notes app to be sure I had found everything on my grocery list (my brain is my phone! Maybe you can relate!?) 

As I crawled around in my car and under the seats looking for the miserable device, a man walked by. I randomly stopped him and asked if he would call my phone.  The expression on his face said it all! “She’s nuts!” He quickly walked away, mumbling that he had no phone.

So, okay….back to the first parking lot I had been in and the hunt continued!

Another guy, parking next to me at the ‘second search’ site, got out of his car, smiled, and struck up a conversation about ‘how did I like my (11 year old) car.’  

We chatted a while, then I asked: “so, I have basically just sold you a car – could you do me a favor and call my phone?”  

My ‘pop up village’ unexpectedly began to take shape. Without hesitation, he called my phone and another man answered!

My phone was 20 minutes away; the ‘finder’ was just waiting for the owner to call!  

The first man took down the address. The second man agreed to wait for me.  

Off I went….except I wasn’t sure where I was going. My car’s GPS is 11 years’ old and…well, you know…roads change in 11 years!

After an old school stop at a gas station for directions (another pop-up village), my phone and I were reunited!

My pop-up village disappeared as quickly as it had formed.

Or so I thought.  

The man who initially ‘popped-up,’ texted me that night to make sure I was okay.  

He and his wife were new to the area, he just ‘happened to go to the store’ and still didn’t know why he stopped to talk to me about my car…..but I know! God created a village to care for the Holy One’s most organizationally challenged child!  

So, it made me think.

Where else have I seen unexpected villages pop-up to care for God’s children no matter their age? 

I thought about unexpected pop-up villages of: 

  • caregivers who humbly come alongside in caring for aged family members when it just becomes ‘too much’ for one person ‘home alone’
    • surrounding the dying as a pop-up village together, providing mutual comfort in the midst of letting go
  • first responders who come bringing not only order, but peace and comfort to families in the midst of chaos
    • compassionately praying and comforting family members until I, or another police chaplain, am on-site and the first responders can return to ‘processing the crime scene’
  • medical personnel heroically caring for all in need
    • because of COVID restrictions, I have seen these medical ‘pop-up villagers’ care for new moms and preemies in crisis; becoming family when biological family are unable to gain access.
  • families reunited, reconfigured and newly developed friends becoming a village as all gather to care for those overwhelmed and exhausted by their circumstance. 
    • popping up at a moment’s notice, then stepping back as a new village begins taking shape

It has been a remarkable time of reflection; a humbling realization of how God forms and reforms unexpected villages time and again.  

God is active in our midst.

The Holy One continually gathers, shapes, and reshapes humanity into unexpected villages to be used, if the villagers so choose, in order that they might care for, empower, support, and love each other in the Lord’s name as long as we’re needed.

Reminded of that, I continue to wonder a bit more…

We talk a lot about the interconnectedness of the world.  

We live in our own national villages, to be sure.  

Of late, we haven’t done a very good job of raising each other in our own village nation.  We can choose differently.

We haven’t done a very good job of being pop-up villages for struggling nations villages around the world, either. We can choose differently here as well.

I wonder what if would look like if we reclaimed our village status and became – not the World Wide Web – but the World Wide Village – called to feed, shelter, heal and defend those other world villagers struggling right now. 

What if we were more than flag waving, song singing villagers on the sidelines?

What if we more than platitude pontificating, hand wringing observers in the comfort of our own villages? 

What if, instead, we became praying villagers who were active participants in the hands on love of God throughout the world – however and wherever it is needed (prayer is a catalyst to action, after all – something we often choose not to remember)

Sure, it’s inconvenient to be such a village.  It takes personal sacrifice.  It’s never a village we think we have time to join.

But, wouldn’t we want a village to pop-up unexpectedly for us?  

Such villages have made a difference in my life.

I pray God will show us all how to be pop-up villagers in the lives of others; in small ways like finding lost phones; in large ways like preventing loss of life and freedom.

And if we pray God will use us in this way, we must be ready to respond to what we hear. 

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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