It is likely that some or all of your accommodations will be in a “host home”. These are usually the homes or apartments of the people from the local sponsoring church, but not always! Sometimes these people are unbelievers, so beware of your testimony! In all cases be as gracious as possible. Upon entering the house take off your shoes and leave them at the front door. Your host will may provide you with slippers to wear while in their home. Please bear in mind the average income in Belarus is only about $300 a month. Your hosts have likely made great sacrifices so that you could spend the night with them. They probably spent extra money and prepared a special meal just for you. So… even it you don’t like it – EAT IT! (with a big smile of course). It is considered quite rude to not eat what you are served. Of course if you have a certain food allergy or are absolutely convinced you will not be able to hold down a certain food, then discretely and politely pass on that item. Additionally, if you know in advance that you will be staying in host homes, be sure to bring some small gifts for the husband, wife, and children. They will be GREATLY appreciated and will help to leave a positive impression. It’s simply a nice way of saying thank you.
As you might expect, the menu is “Belarusian style” which most Americans find quite enjoyable. Common are such foods as: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, tea, coffee, cheese, eggs, beets soup, vegetable soup, meat ball soup, fruits, salads, several types of pancakes, deserts, milk, yogurt, cereal, jam, ravioli, and many others. Plan on hot tea with every meal! It seems to be main stay over there and is essential for any sort of social gathering where refreshments are served. Meals usually begin with some cheeses, small pieces of lunch meat, and bread. You may at first think, “Boy, this isn’t much to eat!” Shortly, however, other foods will be brought to the table, often followed by soup and then the main course. I assure you, you will have plenty to eat!
Other than dressing for comfort (see “Climate / Temperature”) a few considerations should be given to your choice of clothing. In general the Belarusians are a bit more conservative than us. When visiting orphanages, schools, hospitals, etc. during the week, it’s okay to wear a GOOD pair of jeans and a nice shirt or blouse. On Sundays it is best to dress up a little more. For the guys at least a button up shirt and tie, and for the ladies a dress is preferable. If you are a pastor, and / or teaching or preaching in the churches, it is best to wear a suit. When at the mission house, tee shirts, jeans, sweat pants, etc. are acceptable.
If at all possible bring as many changes of clothing as you will need for the entire trip. There is a washer for your use at the mission house, however you may be staying at a hotel or in a host home on the day you need to do laundry. Additionally, trying to find the time in your busy schedule to do a load of wash at the mission house, with other people also wanting to wash, may be difficult. Also bear in mind, there are very few dryers in Belarus. Whatever you wash will need to be hung out to “air dry”.
Generally, unless you want to spend a fortune, it’s best to tell your family that you will only be able to call home once or twice. A “land line” telephone is installed at the mission house however it is not always operational. If it is, Andrew requests that for every minute we speak, that we put a dollar in the “jar” to help cover expenses. See “Accommodations & Contact Information” above for the telephone number at the mission house
Typically cell phones from either T-Mobile or AT&T will work in Belarus with no problem, and most “newer” phones from Verizon will work fine as well. That being said you will almost certainly need to call your service provider in advance to activate and allow for international calling. If you have picture and video messaging, or “data services” on your phone, it would be VERY wise to temporarily shut off these features. Otherwise you will have to pay outrageous additional charges for these features while “roaming” in Belarus. For Verizon the prices are as follows. AT&T isn’t much different. (Current as of September 2013):
VOICE PER MINUTE: $4.99 (to US or within Belarus, receiving or making calls)
TEXT MESSAGES: .50 (send) .05 (receive)
DATA – EMAILS – ETC: .02 per KB $20.48 per MB
If you MUST have a working cell phone in Belarus, consider these options:
1. Call your cell phone service provider and ask if your cell phone will work in Belarus. If so let them know the dates you will be traveling, as they will almost assuredly need to “activate” your phone for use abroad. You would also do well to ask the rates, just so there are no surprises!
2. If your cell phone will NOT work in Belarus, there is a good chance that your service provider can provide you with a rental phone that WILL work while you’re there.
3. Whether or not your existing cell phone will work in Belarus, you may want to look into the possibility of either purchasing a third party global SIM card or buying or renting a third party global phone. There are many options available on the web and they are MUCH more economical that ANY US service provider. When you search, look carefully at all the costs. Many companies change a per call “connection fee” in addition to the “per minute” charges.
Sources for Global Phones & SIM Cards:
Almost any global SIM card or global phone will save you a significant amount of money if you are planning on calling or receiving calls from the US. Presently my favorite is “One SIM Card”. While it is not the cheapest, it does seem to work best and is only slightly more costly than some of the others.
www.onesimcard.com (most reliable; voice, caller ID, voice mail, & texts all work well)
www.telestial.com (voice ok; caller ID, voice mail, & texts sometimes don’t work)
WARNING: Data services (such as browsing the web, background updating, news services, downloads, email, etc.) on your cell phone, Ipad, tablet or computer can cost up to $30.00 per MB depending on your carrier. It is HIGHLY recommended that you turn “Data Off” on your cell phone while in Belarus, otherwise you could end up with a bill of THOUSANDS of dollars. Really! It has happened to others before!
If you must have data, contact your carrier. They may be able to provide you with a “data package” that, while still being way overpriced, is considerably more reasonable. For example, as of September 2013, Verizon had a 100MB data package for $25.00. Additionally while you will almost certainly find a better price on the web for voice minutes compared to your local carrier, data may actually be cheaper (MUCH cheaper) through your existing carrier. In my case, my best option was to use a third party SIM card for voice, but then swap back to my Verizon SIM card when I needed data.
Belarus uses the “Belarusian Ruble” (abbreviated “BYN”). It is NOT the same as the Russian Ruble. Exchange rate as of August, 2018: 1 US Dollar = 2 Belarusian Rubles (BYN)
Please be advised most businesses do NOT take credit cards or debit cards, only cash! None the less, if you think there is any chance you will be using a credit or debit card while traveling, be sure to contact your credit or debit card company and let them know of your travels in advance, otherwise your purchases will most likely be declined. Please be aware, the likely hood of fraud is greatly increased if you use a debit card. If you must use a “card”, I strongly suggest you only use a credit card.
NOTE: All your meals will be provided. There is little need for you to spend money except for an occasional snack, or souvenirs for yourself, family, or friends. Typically $100 – $300 is all you will need or want! Andrew usually will make provisions to exchange your US dollars for Belarusian rubles once in Belarus. No one that I am aware of in the United States is able to supply Belarusian Rubles. Alternatively, you might want to consider simply donating your remaining rubles to the ministry!