I had the privilege of joining in a number of meaningful conversations when Chestermere was discussing whether it should become a city or not. In almost every conversation someone would say, with heartfelt concern, “I just really want Chestermere to hold onto that small-town feel.” Then, as though on cue, others around the table would share stories from times when they experienced that “small-town feel,” and wondered how Chestermere might reclaim or hold onto that quality. This deep-down, often nostalgic longing, reveals just how much we crave authentic connections and rich relationships.
It’s been said that human beings are villagers at heart. Whether we grew up in Cabbagetown, Toronto, or Herbert, Saskatchewan, we long to create familiar places where relationships can take root. No matter what diverse backgrounds we come from, we each desire neighbourhoods where families can thrive, where kids are safe, where we can plant gardens and take pride in our yards and streets. We want to know we can rely on our neighbours when we need a hand. It’s really summed up in this: we hope for genuine, trusting communities. But for some, that’s simply not how they feel about the neighbourhood they live in today.
A few years ago I spent time in some very remote parts of the Brazilian Amazon, along a tributary of the Xingu River, supporting a medical team doing work in small villages. Deep in the fragrant verdant-thick jungle we would come across houses, little more than hand-made sheds, up on tall stilts to keep them dry in the flooded waterways. These homes were grouped together in tight circles connected by sliver-thin boardwalks. Our river boat would gently pull into a village and we would be swarmed with curious kids, sick relatives, and mothers with tiny new babies. It was a buzzing place of extreme material poverty. And yet, strangely, there was a pervasive joy. I saw more laughing kids (mostly making fun of my piranha fishing skills), and enjoyed more welcoming kindness than I had seen back in Canada. What did these Amazonian villagers know about life that I didn’t?
It was Dr. Tim Kubacki, a local missionary doctor, who explained it best to me. He said, “we have a choice, we either have a passion for our own lives, or passion for another’s. These villagers know more pain and suffering than most of us ever will, but they care for each other and that makes all the difference. Jesus said, ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Spend time with these people and you’ll see what Jesus meant.”
If we are truly villagers at heart, how do we hold onto that small town feel? The answer may just be best summed up in these simple words, “love your neighbour as yourself.”
Into the Neighbourhood Experiment: What does a village mean to you? What village qualities would you want to see on your street?