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Snapshot of Brazil – The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, making it distinct from the rest of South America. The Brazilian people are mostly descended from a mix of European, African, and indigenous ancestry, though this varies from region to region. The Roman Catholic Church is Brazil’s dominant religion, particularly in areas such as Teresina, Florianópolis, and Fortaleza. However, the Roman Catholic church has been decreasing in popularity in recent years as various Protestant and Evangelical churches have been growing rapidly. Other religious traditions are also practiced in various parts of the country, such as traditional indigenous beliefs in the north of the country, or AfroBrazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda that are concentrated in Salvador, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro. There has been some conflict between these different religious groups. While Brazil’s culture as a whole is influenced by Portuguese, African, indigenous, and Roman Catholic traditions, there is great variation from region to region. The south of the country is more strongly influenced by German and Italian culture. Brazil has a strong history in literature, architecture, and film. Brazil is also home to many unique musical styles, such as samba, pagode, and funk (especially popular in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia), forró and frevo (popular in the northeast), and sertanejo (popular in Mato Grosso and Paraná). The yearly festival Carnaval (held each year forty-six days before Easter) is a major event, celebrated by parades, dancing, and music contests. The holiday is especially popular in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, to the point that missionary work is sometimes restricted during the week of Carnaval. Television is especially popular in modern Brazilian culture, especially novelas (Brazilian soap operas). Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Brazil, though volleyball, basketball, and several forms of martial arts (such as Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) are also popular. Food in Brazil also varies from region to region, but there are some similarities throughout the country. Lunch is generally the main meal of the day, and rice and beans are eaten at almost every meal. The meals usually involve some type of meat as well as a small salad. Popular dishes include feijoada (a thick stew typically made with black beans and pork), pasta, and potatoes. Southern Brazil is famous for its churrascos (Brazilian-style grilled meat) and chimmarrão (a hot drink made using herba mate). Salgados (fried snacks similar to Spanish tapas) and the pastel (pastry envelopes filled with meat or cheese) are popular snack items. Pizza buffets are also popular, with many different types of pizza available, though Brazilian pizza generally does not have sauce. Rather, people add either ketchup or mustard to their pizza. Other restaurants sell meals buffet-style where the consumer pays for food by weight (per kilo). Many types of tropical fruit are also available in Brazil, and drinks made from fruit such as açai and guaraná are quite popular.
Brazil is a predominantly Catholic country, traits inherited by its European roots. However, recently the Brazilian people have been losing preference towards the Catholicism as other Evangelical and Protestant churches find increasing success. The LDS church has over a million members in Brazil and six current temples.
The first recorded member of the LDS church arrived in 1913 and it took 27 additional years to establish the first branch in Joinville. The first mission, Sao Paulo was established in 1935 and originally missionaries only taught in German.
The usual foods eaten for breakfast are fresh baked bread (picked up daily) eaten with cheese or butter. A lot of people also eat mortadela on their bread (a bologna-type meat) and drink warm milk with breakfast.
Lunch, or almoco, is typically the largest meal of the day. Most people usually schedule around two hours for this meal. During this time they often go to their homes, eat, and rest (siesta). Lunch foods include rice, beans, and some sort of meat. Most common in Recife is chicken and peixe (fish). Fresh-made juice or soda is the most common drink for this meal. Lunch also typically includes a small salad.
Dinner is similar to breakfast. Many people just eat bread and butter. In Recife, many also eat couscous, which is a cornmeal which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. In Recife, they also eat it with charqui, which a form of jerky common in South America made of dried and salted meat. Warm milk and coffee are the typical dinner drinks.
Recife is a strict walking mission, meaning there are no missionaries assigned to Recife who are given a car to drive. Most traveling is done by bus or the metro, which is a train that goes throughout the metropolitan area. Part of a missionary’s monthly allowance is strictly for transportation. This money is used as bus or train fare. Buses and trains typically run often enough for this not to be too big of a hindrance.
The biggest safety concern is petty theft. It is important to always have a little bit of cash to give to thieves in order to satisfy their demands. Avoid carrying a backpack or bag after 6:00 PM as that can attract thieves.
When walking, especially at night, avoid poorly-lit areas where there are not many people around. Do not use the same route too often, and keep the location of your residence to yourself. The houses in the mission are very secure, but it is still not wise to leave valuables easily found around your apartment.
Stray dogs can sometimes get too bold and try to bite. For the most part, all they do is bark and you can ignore them. However, if a dog is too aggressive, or if a pack of dogs starts getting riled up, the best way to deter them is to pick up a rock from the street. Just the action of picking up the rock will scare the dogs away.
Dengue is a viral disease that is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes. In order to avoid contracting the virus wear mosquito repellent every day. It is also important to sleep while wearing mosquito repellent and using a fan in order to avoid having bugs wake you up in the night.
Most homes in Brazil have a gated front porch. In order to call upon the tenant, the custom is to stand at the gate and clap. People who you know, or who are expecting you, will usually open the gate and invite you in. If they are not expecting you, they often greet you from behind the gate.
When greeting people, no matter if they are strangers or friends, Elders always shake hands with each person in the room. Sisters give beijos (a kiss on both cheeks) to the women, but not to the men. It is important to greet everyone the same way and not exclude anyone. For children, a handshake or high-five will do.
Most people in Recife wear shorts and sandals throughout their day.
Bring lightweight clothing. Elders will need a suit, but will mostly wear short sleeved shirts. Cotton-blend garments are best, because they dry quickly from the rain and from sweat in the summer months. Sisters should bring simple, lightweight skirts and shirts that look nice but are easy to clean and wrinkle free. There may be some instances in which missionaries will need a light sweater or jacket, but this is uncommon because the climate is very hot.
Since many streets are simple cobblestone, it is essential to have good, thick soled walking shoes. Keens, Eccos, and Danskos are good brands. Tall missionaries, especially, should be prepared with good shoes. Those with smaller shoe sizes can find good replacements in the city, but Paraguayans typically do not have shoes larger than an American size nine. It is advised to bring shoe inserts and Moleskin to support your feet and prevent blisters.
Rain boots are also useful, as streets tend to flood during rainstorms and drainage can be poor. Large puddles can take weeks to evaporate even after the rain has stopped. Rain boots can often be found where needed in missionary homes and do not need to be taken from area to area. Having a good umbrella is a must. While men tend to just suffer through the rain and heat, women commonly use umbrellas to keep dry during rainstorms, and to stay out of the sun in the summer.
Basic toiletries can be found easily, but they are usually local brands. Handkerchiefs are nice to have on hand to clean the sweat and dust off the face on hot days. Brazilian cities typically have small markets or shops where you can buy the basic necessities. In Recife there are many large supermarkets.
Recife is extremely hot. Some missionaries adjust to the heat quickly and others it takes a long time. Missionaries may be tempted to alter their work based on the temperature, but great blessing come in persevering through the heat.
Missão Brazil, Recife
Rua Das Ninfas 30
50070-055 Recife – PE
What items were hard to get or not available?
“I had a hard time getting peanut butter and good deodorant. I had my mom send me both in packages.” -Andy
What did you eat the most of?
“Rice, beans, and in Recife you eat a lot of chicken and fish instead of beef because it’s on the coast.” -Andy
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“I ate the intestines of a goat that were chopped up and cooked inside the stomach of a goat.” -Andy
What was most surprising about the culture?
“How warm and friendly everyone was. People who didn’t want anything to do with the church would often invite us in and offer us drinks.” -Andy
What advice would you give to someone going to the Recife Mission?
“While you don’t have to reject your own culture, you have to accept their culture. Make sure you accept their traditions and lifestyle. The missionaries who had success and enjoyed their mission were those who accepted Brazilian customs instead of keeping one foot in their own culture.” -Andy
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“Each missionary needs to prepare to their strengths. I went into the MTC like a robot thinking I had to change my personality. I started having success and enjoying the mission when I started being myself and using my personality as an advantage.” -Andy