Have I mentioned that my husband and I moved to Iquitos Peru a couple of days after our wedding? Well, we did. G-map it. It’s a town in the Peruvian Amazon, in fact we live less than a mile from the Amazon River. It’s a very poor town, the whole area is depressed and poor for even Peru. The people live in shacks of wood, leaves or tin and if they’re wealthy, they live in cement block houses. At one time or another, the Church was very successful here, with loads of baptisms and they built loads of meetinghouses to accomodate the growing number of Saints.
For what must have cost the Church hardly anything at all, they built very nice buildings. Shiny tile, wrought iron fences, gardens, basketball courts and futbol fields. Air conditioning. These buildings are beautiful. Here, where they don’t have very much, they feel decadent and luxurious and being the culture-shocked girl that I am, it’s nice to step inside these lovely buildings and sit in air conditioning to follow a well-known Sunday program. And there’s not just one of these buildings. There are several. Maybe not Utah number, think California number of area church buildings.
They are however, in the context of this poor town, a little bit creepy. Most other church buildings, predominantly evangelical Christian, with a few traditional Catholic buildings, are like people’s houses. If they’re lucky, they meet in crumbling cement buildings, painted in some bygone time to spruce them up. And since we don’t sing like the evangelicals, our meeting houses are also very quiet. Silent even. Attendance has dropped dramatically (I’m guessing as I don’t know the ins and outs of history of the Church in Iquitos) and these palatial buildings have about 40 regulars and some missionaries.
So despite my love of the air conditioning, I feel awkward about these rich church buildings. I don’t know anything about anything in building churches and like I said I’m sure these buildings hardly cost the Church anything to build, but I wonder why they chose to build meetinghouses that are so ostentatious. And in fact so darn right foreign looking. I wonder why they didn’t just get some nice cement houses, paint them nicely, maybe even put an air conditioning unit, so that they could blend in with the rest of the community, to appear as if they belong. Is it detrimental to look wealthy and foreign? Is it important? Does it help the Church seem more stable? Or does it just reflect what the Church is?
I can’t really judge since it surely makes me feel comfortable but our money definitely looks funny. And in a place with its fair share of drug running, I’ve met people that think Mormon churches are a mechanism for money laundering. I laugh and say, they’re into cleaning but I think it’s something other than money.
For fun, here’s a photo of a Mormon church and one of a local evangelical Christian church.