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Brazil: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Brazil, South America


christ the redeemer rio
Photo by andybullock77

Location: Brazil is located in the east-central coast of the South American continent. Brazil shares its northern borders with Venezuela, Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana, and Colombia, the southern with Uruguay, the western with Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru, and has the Atlantic Ocean to its east.

Capital: Brasilia.

Brazil mapClimate: The climate of Brazil is mainly tropical in such areas as the Amazon Basin, sub-tropical in the Brazilian Highlands and rather temperate as you go south along the coastal lowland.

Population: As of July 2009, the Brazilian population was 198,739,269. About 31% of the population live below the poverty line. The Brazilian economy is based on agriculture, mining, industry, and service. The period from 2003 to 2007 saw a boom in the economy due to productivity gains and surge in exports. Government intervention in the form of far-sighted economic reforms, reduced taxes, and huge investments in infrastructure has helped sustain the economic growth. Main industries include textiles, leather, chemicals, cement, automobiles, machinery, and timber. Agriculture is mainly coffee followed by cocoa, wheat, rice, soybean, corn, and sugarcane.

Ethnic Make-up: White 53.7%, Biracial 38.5%, Black 6.2%, Others (Japanese, Arab, Native Indian) 0.9%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 73.6%, Protestant 15.4%, Spiritualist 1.3%, Bantu/Voodoo 0.3%, Others 2%, No Religion 7.4%. The Brazilian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens. Evangelization has been an ongoing project in Brazil since its advent in 1549 under the Jesuits. There is no law against evangelization, and activities such as missionary works, setting up of churches, and training workers are carried on uninhibited.

rio carnivalLanguage: Portuguese is the official language and also the most widely spoken. Next in popularity comes Spanish, followed by French, German, Italian, Japanese, English, and some Native American languages.

Government: Federal Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Brazil from any part of the world, except Britain and Germany, requires procuring a visa before travel. Citizens of some countries such as the neighbouring nations, as well as a few such as Ireland, Italy and others do not need a visa if the reason for travel is tourism. You need to contact the Brazilian consulate in your country to ascertain your specific status regarding the need for a visa mentioning your reason for travel. Other documents needed are a passport with a six month validity and airline tickets.

Health & Safety: A Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory if travelling from an infected country. It is advised if travelling to certain Brazilian states in the Amazon area. Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Diphtheria shots are recommended though not mandatory. Those planning to visit rural and jungle areas may need to consider Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Malaria shots as well. Some areas in Brazil are prone to the Dengue fever and so, appropriate precautions against mosquitoes need to be taken if travelling to these places. Though tap water is considered potable, bottled water is a safer option for drinking purposes.

rio beach
Photo by over_kind_man


boy in brazilThe People
Brazilians are mainly from mixed European and African descent, and other indigenous heritage. This amalgamation has resulted in a broad-minded, gregarious outlook on life that makes visitors feel welcome. The original Brazilians are the indigenous Indians who make up the smallest ethnic group of about 320,000 people.

brazil buildingThe Religion
The main religion of Brazil is Roman Catholicism which is practiced actively by over 70% of the population. There is an element of gaiety and festivity associated with the practice of religion marked by elaborate public celebrations and parades. There are also small groups of other religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Rastafarian.

Role of Family
A Brazilian family in the modern context would comprise a couple and their children living under one roof. However, very strong bonds bind them to extended families including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Modern permutations such as single parents and dual working parents have altered the urban social set up to some extent.

Brazilians as a community honor their ancestors in multiple ways. The Roman Catholics remember the dead on the 1st of November every year. Religious rituals are held in the cemeteries and the graves are decorated with flowers and candles. The Japanese community have preserved their traditional customs to this day in the form of the Bon Odori Festival which is held as a token of grateful remembrance of ancestors who have passed on. The African people of Yoruba heritage also have a considerable presence in Brazil and they keep in spiritual touch with their ancestors through the practice of Egungun. These are the ancestral spirits who are supposed to have the power to bless or curse their descendants.

girl in brazilRecreational Activities
Recreation in Brazil can include anything from lolling on a beach to soccer. There are a variety of sports facilities such as golf, tennis, squash, and beach volleyball. Then there are water sports in the form of canoeing, fishing, diving, kayaking, surfing, and swimming. Outdoor activities include jungle trekking, rock climbing, hiking, biking, and skydiving. Other leisure activities include the night clubs, carnivals, dancing, and pubs.

Anything else important for this culture
Portuguese is the national language of Brazil, but it has some striking dissimilarities with the language spoken in Portugal. For instance, while “rapariga” means girl in Portugal, it means prostitute in Brazilian Portuguese. So, even fluent speakers of the European Portuguese have to be careful of nuances.

Brazilians use expansive gestures and expressions while communicating and most of these mean the same as anywhere else, such as the thumbs up sign. But the OK gesture made by touching the tips of the thumb and forefinger is best avoided as it has an obscene connotation. Also, requesting silence with a hush gesture is considered as rude as yelling “Shut up”. A clenched fist with the thumb between the forefinger and middle finger does not mean you violence but is meant to wish you good luck. It is called the figa.

In a multi-level building, the first floor is referred to as the ground floor or lobby level, and the second floor is called the first floor and so on.

Brazil soccer
Photo by markhillary


Meetings & Greetings
Normal western courtesies are appropriate when meeting people. A handshake is an accepted form of greeting between men. Women are greeted with a kiss on both cheeks and the same applies when taking leave.

soccer boysCourtesy
Brazilian men will, generally, hold doors open for women and rise when women enter the room and this is not meant to be patronizing. If you intend to smoke, it is common courtesy to offer everyone a smoke before lighting up. Never light up during a meal.

Gift Giving
Gift giving is a normal practice in Brazilian social life. Gifts are given and received for birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, and as tokens of gratitude for a favour or some service. If visiting Brazil, a souvenir from your own country would be a much-appreciated gift. If not, a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, or even flowers are customary. Never gift purple flowers as they are a sign of mourning. If gifting wine, avoid tequila and mescal. Gifts are opened as soon as they are given.

Dress Code
Since the weather is mainly tropical and therefore warm, casual clothing is the norm in Brazil for most occasions. If the occasion calls for formal wear it would be intimated earlier. If visiting a church or some related holy venues, certain decorum in dressing is called for. Formal occasions find men in suits and women in formal wear comprising skirts or pants. Women tend to accessorize a lot and wear fashionable shoes even with jeans.

band in rioDining Etiquette
If invited to dinner by an acquaintance, it is customary to arrive a little late. Never arrive early as the host may not be ready for you yet. In fact, it is considered alright to turn up even an hour late. Dinner time can be quite elastic and even stretch to midnight. If dining in restaurants, dinner time is usually around 9 p.m.

When seated, the most honoured guest will occupy the head of the table with the host and hostess on either side. It is not considered rude if you leave food uneaten on your plate. Your drink will be refilled as soon as it reaches the lower half level. While at table, resting your wrists on the table is the right thing to do rather than leaving them on your lap. Sandwiches are eaten with a fork and knife while salad may be an accompaniment to a main meal rather than precede it. Do not cut up your lettuce, but rather bundle them onto your fork.

Visiting a home
It is customary to carry a gift when accepting an invitation to someone’s house. If it’s a formal visit, gifts may be sent beforehand with a handwritten message. Arrive fashionably late and be well-dressed to show respect for your host. Be prepared for boisterous conversation and lots of beverages before actually sitting down to dinner. It would be a good idea to not arrive hungry as dinner may well begin way past midnight.

Communication Style
Brazilians have an expansive style of conversation and may frequently touch you on the shoulders and arms while talking. They may stand very close while talking and this is considered the norm as far as they are concerned. If it makes you uncomfortable, step away as unobtrusively as possible as otherwise, you may appear rude and standoffish. Brazilians in the big cities like Rio and Sao Paolo may speak some English, but generally there is a lack of English in the other areas. It would be a good idea to learn some basic Portuguese to make life easier.

rio night
Photo by Phillie Casablanca

Dos and Don’ts
In bathrooms, Q means hot water and F means cold water. Brazilians are not keen on being punctual and visitors who turn up on time will usually be left hanging. However, for a business meeting, it’s best to not be more than ten to fifteen minutes late, and again, if it’s a job interview, arrive on time. When choosing a gift for a Brazilian, avoid Argentinean products and local leather and wine. Do not leave your cutlery on either side of your plate at the end of a meal, as this may be taken to mean that you were not happy with the food.

Do not carry expensive personal items such as cameras and iPods when you go exploring. Petty crime is rampant and you could attract unwanted attention if you dress flashy. Keep to Bermudas and T shirts to blend in. Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road, but be prepared for a certain amount of callous overtaking and a disregard for traffic rules. Other things to watch out for would be car jacking, kidnapping, and bag snatching.

waterfall in Brazil
Photo by VinceHuang

Carnival lady by sfmission.com
Two boys and soccer boys by
Girl by babasteve
Building by Jay Woodworth
Band by over_kind_man

Contextualization: Spicing up Service in Argentina

by Heather Carr |

Argentina, Contextualization in Missions, South America

red chili peppersDespite a harsh economic climate, the Reformed Church of Mar del Plata, Argentina, is taking steps to reach a community in need. Latin rhythms are breaking out in services with simple, direct lyrics set to merengue and salsa, among others. The lyrics are infused with words like we and us to heighten the sense of community among this Argentine congregation. Services come complete with the sounds, smells, and tastes of a fiesta, thanks to the direction of Pastor Gerardo Carlos Cristian Oberman. The church operates by the philosophy that liturgy is an expression of ourselves, created as a service of love to the Lord, and in response to everyday questions.

Along with the joyful Latin beat, worship incorporates dance and mime. Drama is sometimes included in the call for confession or biblical texts, with traditional biblical actions infused into the performance, such as the laying on of hands or the washing of feet. Worshipers may leave their seats to walk around while singing, or come forward to circles for prayer and intercession.

The language of the people, along with symbolism, strong gestures, warmth, and sensitivity allows worship to provide what the world does not—acceptance and value for its people. By embracing the local culture, the church is reaching out to the people of Mar del Plata at a time when the needs are many.

To find out more about the Reformed Church of Mar del Plata, Argentina, check out the Calvin Institue of Worship’s article Another World is Possible: Witness in Argentina.

Photo by Robert Thomson

Susana’s Story-Finding Christ in the Amazon: Part 3

by Heather Carr |

Peru, South America, Stories from the Field

amazon river view

Larry Garman and his wife, Addie served in the Amazon jungle of Peru for 45 years. They ministered to the Aguaruna Indians by providing for their medical needs and teaching them about the love of Christ. Larry’s time was also spent training missionaries.

One day, as a new class of missionaries gathered for their first session, Larry asked his students to introduce themselves. One of his new missionaries was a young Aguaruna man from a village near the medical clinic where Larry had ministered for many years.  That day, God shared with Larry a glimpse of the masterpiece he had been helping to paint in the Amazon for so long. Larry’s pupil was Susana’s son, a young man who wanted to be trained as a minister.

God had spared Susana’s life in Larry’s clinic. His mercy was evident in Susana’s recovery and his provision for her family. Susana recovered and raised her children with a strong faith in Jesus. In turn, her son grew into a man with a heart for spreading the gospel.

As a missionary, only God knows the extent of the impact your faith will have on the world. But, you will almost certainly catch a glimpse of God in action.

Photo by mattcameasarat

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here


Larry and Addie Garman retired from the missions field in April, 2009. The couple’s work lives on in Peru through the construction of the Larry and Addie Garman Missionary Training Center in the country’s second largest city, Arequipa. 

To learn more about the center, visit the Extreme Nazarene Ministry website.  Additional information about the Extreme Peru projects are featured in Engage Magazine.

Susana’s Story-Finding Christ in the Amazon: Part 2

by Heather Carr |

Peru, South America, Stories from the Field

Photo by zedzap

Though he was trained as a medical doctor, missionary Larry Garman knew his limitations. When ingested, the barbasco root was fatal to humans which, was something the Aguaruna Indians of the Amazon had known for a long time. he women of the community chewed the root when they were overwhelmed by sorrow or shame.

Larry had seen the hope in Susana’s eyes when she attended their small church. He had watched her grow from a child into adulthood. Why would a young mother with such promise have done this to herself? Better still, would God be willing to save her?

Larry treated Susana to the best of his ability, then he began to pray. He asked God for a miracle—Susana’s complete restoration. Then, he waited on God.

Larry was accustomed to waiting. His life as a missionary was one of complete dependance on God’s provision. When he first began his small clinic in the jungle of Peru, his faith had been tested. Modern medicine was foreign to the Aguaruna people, and their customs were not particularly friendly to the practitioner.

Larry knew he could help her, but there was a chance the treatment would not work. If it didn’t, she would not be the only one to suffer the consequences. If his patient died, Larry would also die at the hands of her village. Hesitating for a moment, the young missionary thought of his wife and children. Then, after raising a prayer to heaven, he plunged the needle into Susanna’s arm and began the lifesaving IV.

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 3 Here


Larry and Addie Garman retired from the missions field in April, 2009. The couple’s work lives on in Peru through the construction of the Larry and Addie Garman Missionary Training Center in the country’s second largest city, Arequipa. To learn more about the center, visit the Extreme Nazarene Ministry website. Additional information about the Extreme Peru projects are featured in Engage Magazine.

Susana’s Story-Finding Christ in the Amazon: Part 1

by Heather Carr |

Peru, South America, Stories from the Field, Uncategorized

amazon jungle light
Photo by jonrawlinson

Susana rolled the rough brown root in her hand.  She wept as she raised the deadly plant to her lips and began to chew.  She would rather die than witness the slow starvation of her young children.  She  waited for the white clouds she had seen engulf so many fish in the river to crowd out her pain.

Later that night, missionaries Larry and Addie Garman found themselves awakened by loud weeping sounds coming from the river.  They knew they were in for a long night.  The couple had been living in the Amazon jungle long enough to understand that traveling the river at night was treacherous, and never taken lightly.  Their waiting would come to an end as two small boats beached nearby.

 By the dim light of a flash light, Larry began to recognize the small crowd climbing ashore.  The weeping women were accompanied by men carrying a stretcher.  His trained eye immediately recognized the barbasco poisoning.  “No, not Susana.” Larry thought as his eyes took in Susana’s ashen face. 

Larry’s mind began to replay the time spent in church with Susana as a child.  The first Vacation Bible School session they had shared with the other Aguaruna children.  Her amazement at her first experience with crayons, and the moment she accepted Christ as her savior.  Larry was saddened by the thought that this young mother’s life would likely be over before dawn.

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 Here


Larry and Addie Garman retired from the missions field in April, 2009.  The couple’s work lives on in Peru through the construction of the Larry and Addie Garman Missionary Training Center in the country’s second largest city, Arequipa.  To learn more about the center, visit the Extreme Nazarene Ministry website.  Additional information about the Extreme Peru projects are featured in Engage Magazine.

The Parable of the Lost Dog?

by Heather Carr |

Contextualization in Missions, Peru

puppyWhile living in the jungle of Peru, missionary Larry Garman found himself facing a challenge he hadn’t prepared for. While organizing his thoughts for the Sabbath message he routinely delivered to his small native congregation, Larry came to the realization that his message on the Parable of the Lost Sheep was going to be more difficult to convey than he first imagined. The meaning of the message would surely be lost or diluted by the fact that the Aguaruna people had never seen sheep before.

With the help of a lost puppy, Larry found that a sheep in dog’s clothing was the solution he was searching for. One night that week, Larry and his wife, Addie, were awakened by the call of an Aguaruna Indian woman wandering the jungle. As you can imagine, the jungle is no place for wandering after sunset. When Larry inquired as to the reason for this woman’s night walking, he was told that she was searching for her lost puppy.

Dogs play an important role in Aguaruna culture.  They assist the men of the community with the hunting of game for food. Puppies are reared by the women of the village until they are old enough to join the hunters. The people of this Peruvian village may not have understood the value God sees in them through the traditional tale of a shepherd’s joy, but they were able to understand the heart of this message through Larry’s adaptation of Jesus’ words. The Parable of the Lost Dog is just one example of the many creative ways God is reaching his children.  

Photo by wsilver

Peru: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Peru, South America, Travel, Travel Health & Safety

snow mountain peru
Photo by Rick McCharles


map of peruLocation: South America, bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean.

Capital: Lima.

Climate: Tropical in the east to dry desert weather in the west and temperate to frigid in the Andes.

Population: 29,180,900 as per July 2008 estimates. About 44.5% of the population live below poverty line according to 2006 estimates. A 2007 statistic puts the rate of unemployment in Lima at 6.9% while the rest of the country faces widespread underemployment. Peru’s economy is affected by a lack of modern infrastructure to support investment leading to overdependence on traditional avenues of income such as metals and minerals. However, the period between 2002-06 saw some stability with a growth spurt in 2007. Other than metals and minerals, Peru’s economy depends on exports in agriculture, textiles and newly developed natural gas projects.

peru manEthnic Make-up: Amerindian 45%, Mestizo 37%, White 15%, Others including Black, Japanese, and Chinese 3%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 81%, Other Christian denominations 2.2%, Others including Judaism, Baha’i, Islam, and Hinduism 16%. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and citizens may practise their faiths unrestricted. Evangelisation ministries and charity works are carried out by various Christian denominations all over the country.

Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, other Amazonian languages.

Government: Constitutional Republic

peruvian marketTravel Issues: You require a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining validity to enter Peru. North and South American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and most West European nationals can obtain a visit visa on arrival for up to 90 days stay. You will be given a tourist card which has to be kept safe and returned when you leave the country. It is very important to not lose or misplace this card as it can cause quite a lot of grief if you do so. For a period longer than 90 days for a tourist visa you need to exit the country for at least 2 days, possibly to a neighbouring country such as Chile or Ecuador, and obtain another 90 days validity. You may also renew at the Department of Immigration in Lima or Cusco for a period of 30 days and a maximum of 3 renewals.

Health & Safety: Visitors to Peru need to watch out for and be immunized against high risk of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, cholera, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, Oroya fever and yellow fever. An International Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever is required if you are arriving from an infected region.

machu picchu in fog
photo by kudumomo


girls with lamas peruThe People
There is a distinct difference between the various cultures, none more so pronounced as the one between the white creoles of Spanish descent who inhabit the cities and the local indigenous people of the mountains. Cities such as Lima have most modern conveniences suited to a western lifestyle while the rural areas continue a more traditional life. Most families are dependent on farming for sustenance.

dancers in peruThe Religion
The population of Peru is predominantly Roman Catholic due to their Spanish colonial history. Other religions such as Buddhism and Baha’I have established themselves due to the influx of migrants from the East. Modern day missionary works have resulted in various Christian denominations such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, and others taking root in Peru society.

lima slumsRole of Family
Family structure is distinct in the indigenous culture and the European people of Peru. Among the Inca people, for instance, social duties such as work, marriage, and property ownership are focussed within the members of a large extended family. They perform as a unit with the onus being on interdependence rather than individuality. Among the European Creole culture, the values are more along the lines of the modern nuclear family living in the cities.

Ancestors are revered and worshipped by all indigenous people. Burial grounds are held as sacred grounds and elaborate rituals are held in remembrance of ancestors. Respect for the dead and all of life is an integral part of their beliefs that are based on the need to assure enqa, or the eternal life force, that ensures fertility and harmony.

ancient peru maskRecreational Activities
Football (Soccer) is a national passion enjoyed by all ages. The dramatic landscape of Peru naturally encourages outdoor sports such as hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, white water rafting, surfing, paragliding, and sandboarding.

Anything else important for this culture
The culture of Peru dates back 10,000 years and is still rooted in it to a large extent. This is a vibrant society that celebrates about 3000 festivals a year and has a huge variety of indigenous arts, crafts, music, and dance. Spanish colonisation and Asian immigrants have added elements to this ancient culture that give it a universal appeal. It is wise to avoid discussing ancestry with people, especially with indigenous Indians.

 schoolgirl in peru
photo by tinou bao


Meetings & Greetings
Handshakes are an acceptable form of greeting; however, there is a difference when greeting an Amerindian and a Peruvian. The former are less extroverted and may not actually shake hands but rather brush hands with minimum of contact. Peruvians are more exuberant in their greetings and shake hands on meeting and taking leave. The common form of greeting is a cheerful Buenos dias (good day), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good night) depending on time of day. Conversation on first meeting should hover around light, non-controversial topics such as health of family, the sights you’ve enjoyed seeing, or food you liked particularly.

smiling woman in peruCourtesy
In a country that has various cultures there are many local names for the different cultural groups that may have connotations not obvious to the outsider. For instance, the word indios refers to Amerindians but is not considered as polite as indigenas which is the acceptable form. Gringos denote any foreigner and need not be considered an insult. Cholos refers to Peruvians of colour but is racist. To be on the safe side refrain from using any of this sort of descriptions to address people or refer to anyone.

Gift Giving
Peruvians are very friendly hospitable people and have no qualms inviting friends to their homes. If you receive such an invitation, it is acceptable to arrive with a gift. This gift should not be too expensive or flashy. Rather than going for local fare it would be a better idea to gift some souvenir or packaged goodies from your own country.

Dress Code
Dress code hovers around neat casual for business and formal occasions. Show of skin is considered unclassy, especially when visiting churches, museums, and other sacred or historical places.

peruvian train
photo by  exfordy

Dining Etiquette
If you’re invited to dinner, it’s wise to remember that this could be rather late. Have a little snack to prevent hunger pangs till meal time gets underway. If you initiate an invitation to dinner, it is your turn to pick up tabs. If on the other hand you have been invited by a Peruvian friend, you could offer to pay your share but this would inevitably be turned down.

Visiting a home
When visiting a home it is proper to arrive with a suitable gift. This could be a box of chocolates or a good bottle of wine. Punctuality is not a virtue in Peru and people may be late by a better part of an hour. So be prepared to dine late.

 peru town square
photo by 00dann

Communication Style
Spanish is widely spoken and so it would be helpful to learn a bit of useful phrases to get you through. Use greetings to break the ice an start conversations. Peruvians are very friendly and helpful and any effort you make at conversing will be appreciated and encouraged.

Dos and Don’ts
Do not discuss politics, drugs, or indigenous groups unless you have developed close relationships or understand the culture. You are bound to cause offense without even realizing it if not. Amerindians do not make eye contact when communicating unlike the less reserved Peruvians. Do not use your index finger to motion to people, rather use your palm facing downwards and beckon with all fingers sweeping down. Do not discuss money, wages, financial prowess or status with locals. If faced with such questions deflect them diplomatically and talk in general terms.

kids with lamas by Phillie Casablanca
slums by James Preston
map by  thejourney1972
dancers by  Miguel Vera
smiling woman by quinet
market girls tinou bao
mask by

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