Those of you who have been to countries in the Global South might relate to the way that there’s a basic dichotomy between “their” world and “ours.” What makes the Dominican Republic similar to other countries in Latin America where I’ve been — Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru — is that life here is lived in what I would call the mundo concreto — the concrete world. I actually mean this quite literally. Concrete is everywhere because it’s cheap and easy to use as a building material.
In addition to the concrete, which is usually broken and crumbling in places, there’s almost always rebar sticking out of the roofs of Latin American houses. Our host missionary Damon explained to us that down here you can’t get financing for construction so you always have to pay for the materials in cash. So you build everything one floor at a time and add onto it whenever you get the money. Thus, every building is a work in progress. We saw that at a church we went to in San Rafael. It has three floors with a Bible study room / dining room on the third floor, the sanctuary on the second floor, and a health clinic on the first floor. Next to the health clinic was a concrete shell of a room on the first floor that will get flooring and whatever else whenever the money comes in, I guess. In the meantime, it’s a great place for hide and seek which some of the local kids were taking advantage of.
In the world in which I normally live, we don’t see the rebar. We don’t see the wires and plumbing in our walls like you do down here because we drywall over everything. Our world instead of being the mundo concreto is a world of drywall. Since the physicality of our world is hidden behind the drywall, we think that what counts as “reality” is a virtual world of facebook, youtube, blogs like this one, etc. People who aren’t “on facebook” exist outside of reality to some degree. There are concrete things in our world but we don’t deal with them directly. It’s something that other people do for us (usually undocumented immigrants from places like the Dominican Republic). I couldn’t help but think as I was watching my Dominican brothers and sisters pour the concrete for their church building that if we had poured the concrete for our church buildings too, maybe people in our church would feel enough of a sense of ownership to choose church over soccer on Sunday mornings.
It’s interesting because people in older generations know how to navigate the mundo concreto better than people in my generation. Our two older guys on the trip Jim Hardy and Gerry Staudte actually know what’s going on with this project of building a church out of concrete. They grew up in a time when our country lived in the concrete world too. I think that to some degree this applies to people who spend time in the military also. They have to learn how to work with real concrete objects. My friend Ballard who’s on the trip was telling me that part of his training in the Marines involved getting left in the Arizona desert with 7 other guys and a very limited supply of tools. They had to kill snakes to eat.
In any case, I’m pretty helpless in the mundo concreto. If the Internet ever died or the electrical grid failed, I would largely cease to be relevant. I told one of the Dominican guys who was asking me about my experience with building churches that as a pastor what I know how to do is sing, pray, and preach. (I could have added that I know how to write blogs too but that concept would have been outside his purview because he lives in a world where you talk about your faith in person in the mundo concreto). Certainly, the Internet is a useful tool in the virtual world where I normally live inside the safety of my drywall, but it definitely feels like life is more real aqui en el mundo concreto.