Your conduct, especially as it relates to the environment you will be working in, can make the difference between success and failure. Unfortunately, much sincere, wellmeaning fieldworker activity has been unravelled by fieldworker ignorance or intolerance. What we may do in Australia or New Zealand to deal with an issue or to convince others of the truth of the Gospel could present as arrogant, disrespectful and downright rude.

It is crucial that you try to adapt and fit in with local ways. Be warned, you will not always be successful and even the most experienced fieldworkers have misjudged situations. Attempts to come to grips with local ways are always appreciated by the local brethren and sisters. However, whenever there is conflict between cultural norms and Scriptural principles, Scriptural principles should take precedence.

The ACBM expects a high standard of behaviour by all its fieldworkers, not only in their relationship with brothers and sisters and interested friends but indeed with fellow fieldworkers and all with whom they come into contact. Remembering that our behaviour and relationship with others must not only be, but appear to be above reproach in all things. This section is very much a general overview.
Specific advice will be detailed in the location briefing notes and can also be sought from your contact brother or supervisor.

General Ethical Principles

(adapted from a tourism display in Jakarta, Indonesia)

  1. Travel in the spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn more about the people of your host country.
  2. Be sensitively aware of the feelings of other people, preventing what might be offensive behaviour on your part. This applies very much to photography.
  3. Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and seeing. Avoid the Western practice of knowing all the answers.
  4. Realise that often the people in the country you visit have time concepts and thought patterns different from your own: this does not make them inferior, only different.
  5. Acquaint yourself with local customs. People will be happy to help you.
  6. Remember that as far as officials are concerned, you are only one of the thousands of tourists visiting, so do not expect any special privileges.
  7. Don’t expect a “home away from home” experience.
  8. Do not make promises to people in your host country unless you are certain you can carry them through.


Be polite, patient and relaxed. Look as if you are enjoying yourself even when you are not. Certain cultural traits will be, at least, confusing and, at worst, alarming to a visitor from a Western nation. It is important that you quietly accept the situation you are in, remembering you are the visitor and that it is usually only a short time before you will return to what you are used to. Above all, don’t imagine that your culturally based customs are part of “The Truth”.

You maybe “overcharged”, laughed at, and not always treated with the respect you feel you deserve. Do not react, especially if you are in the company of brethren, byinsisting on your rights, by abuse, or by constantly harping on the injustice you have suffered. Make sure you do not join that nauseating category of Westerner who will launch into lengthy tirades about that shifty merchant who  overcharged him or her five cents for an orange.

Do not be upset if you perceive that the local brethren seem to disregard protocols we hold near and dear. Punctuality, planning, organisation, decision-making may not seem to be listed in the local meeting’s behavioural profile. Don’t worry, relax, because normally, despite apparent indifference, things seem to get done.

Avoid aggressive or impolite gestures such as hands on hips, pointing and crossing your legs, beckoning with your finger. Discussion with local brethren could make you aware of taboos which could be offensive!


If the ACBM area you are entering does not speak English as a first language try to learn certain key phrases, e.g. “Good morning, sir”, “How much does this cost?”, “Please direct me to the nearest toilet.” This will prove invaluable as it will help break down barriers between yourself and the brethren and sisters. It may also provide them with a source of mirth as you mangle their language. Most nationalities are sympathetic to, even impressed by, the most inept attempts to wrestle with their language. If you have the time (and the money) it is recommended that you attend a commercial language course. These courses tend to supply valuable cultural insights as well.


Most people like to have their photograph taken and will pose happily for you. If a person clearly does not want to be photographed then point your camera elsewhere. You may also find that women and men of some cultures will be insulted if you ask them to smile.

Avoid photographing sensitive subjects such as aerodromes, military establishments and clear-felling timber cutters. Confiscation of camera gear and a not-so-friendly chat with the authorities can take the gloss off that special shot. If in doubt ask!


Page Last Updated: May, 2016