Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Do's and Don'ts for UMVIMers


  • Observe local customs about shaking hands (sometimes it is done on entering and on leaving), kissing on one or both cheeks (women; giving "abrazos" (hugs).  If in doubt, ask your host to explain what is proper.
  • Eat what is offered, and do not ask or hint for anything not offered. (Luke 10:18)
  • In most cultures, you should take time for polite conversation before talking "business."
  • If any gift-giving is done, do it discreetly and not ostentatiously.  Ask your host what to do about giving to beggars, and follow that advice.
  • Be aware that in some cultures people maintain a closer distance when engaged in conversation than we North Americans do.
  • Be aware that in some countries, toilet paper may not be put in the toilet but must be put in the wastebasket.  Ask if you are not sure.  A stopped-up toilet is very unpleasant to deal with.
  • Learn as much of the local language as you can, and use it every chance you get.
  • Be prepared for worship services that are very different from those you are accustomed to -- either more formal or much less formal, even charismatic/Pentecostal.
  • Be prepared to give your personal testimony, to pray aloud, and possibly to preach.
  • Smile!


  • Don't take pictures of anything military unless your host says it's okay.
  • Don't waste water.  Use it sparingly for showering, bathing, laundry, etc. Don't waste food.  Take what you want, eat what you take.  If you are being served, it is permissible to say "just a little, please," or "no more, thank you." Don't eat raw vegetables or unpeeled fruit unless they have been washed in water treated with chlorine or iodine.
  • Don't drink untreated water unless you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the water is safe for North Americans to drink (not just safe for people who live there all the time).  Bottled water is available in most countries; boiling 15-20 minutes is a good alternative; water purification tablets should be potent enough to guard against giardia as well as common bacteria.  Don't use ice, unless you know it is made with pure water.

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This information is provided as a service of the Mission Volunteers Office of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church. You may copy and distribute this document to interested persons.