It’s Sunday morning in Daytona Beach, Florida, and there’s an electricity in the air. Forty-two perfectly tuned race cars are waiting to race around the Daytona International Speedway at more than 190 miles per hour. The skies are clear, the sun is shining, and hundreds of thousands of people from across the nation are packing the stands waiting for the start of NAS-CAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
As the crowds fill the stands, the noise level increases. There is music, conversation, excitement, and announcements of the coming start to the race. But, before the drivers hear the command to “start your engines,” before the engines roar to life and the cheers from the people fill the stands, the noise suddenly stops.
For 26 seconds, close to 150,000 in the speedway and almost 9 million watching at home bow their heads together for a nationally televised invocation led by Farzad Nourian, senior regional director of mission and ministry for AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division – North.
“Dear Lord God, we pause for a moment to acknowledge you and ask for a sense of your presence with us this afternoon. Father, please protect the drivers in the race today, our officials, crew members, fans, and their families.”
Nourian, who has held this role for more than eight years and has been an AdventHealth team member for roughly 21 years, has a passion for his work. Whether talking to a leader, providing pastoral counseling, taking care of patients and their families, or providing the invocation at the start of the Daytona 500 — he truly enjoys it.
In his role, Nourian oversees seven AdventHealth campuses, including Daytona, New Smyrna, Palm Coast, Deland, Fish, Waterman, and Hospice Care of Flagler. With the help of his team of 34 chaplains, he provides spiritual support for the patients and staff of the hospitals as well as the surrounding communities. “They’re a great team,” shared Nourian. “They make it look easy, but we’re all busy. I’m grateful to have this team.”
Over the last eight years, Nourian has seen a continued investment in spiritual care and support from AdventHealth for the local communities. Stepping into his role as regional director of mission and ministry, he worked to create synchronicity in spiritual care for the three counties where the hospitals are located. This alignment resulted in better support across the campuses and for the mission and ministry team as a whole, too.
Each campus is very involved in their local communities to provide not only spiritual care but also to simply support the members of the community with their identified needs outside of spiritual or health care. In Volusia County, the team partnered with Halifax Urban Ministry to help them provide food for those experiencing homelessness in the community. “We made the food in their kitchen, and we served about 250 to 325 people each time we did it, and we had about 30 volunteers that would show up each time,” said Nourian.
The team also partnered with the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties to conduct their food drives, and fund weekly groceries the federation distributed to families in the community. The team has also partnered with SALT (Service and Love Together) Outreach, a young adult led non-profit organization that serves the homeless population in central Florida. Together with SALT and the Daytona Beach Seventh-day Adventist Church, they create a mobile shower center in downtown Daytona for individuals who need showers, toiletries, and other hygiene items.
“[Each team] is very active in different things they do in the community,” said Nourian. “I could go on and on; this is just some of it.”
The invocation Nourian provides at the start of the Daytona 500 is one more of those examples of how the AdventHealth Mission and Ministry team is integrated into the community and providing spiritual care and support. What’s unique about this particular public call to prayer is the wide reach. Currently, NASCAR is the only professional sport to nationally televise the invocation before each race.
“It is a gold mine of an opportunity to honor God in those 26 seconds on national television,” said Nourian. “To see the heads drop in that split second, that visual — it is awesome. I wouldn’t change it for anything else. It is an honor for me to do it.”
Anna Donaldson, director of sports marketing and strategic partnerships for AdventHealth, who manages the partnership with NASCAR, experienced that unique moment first-hand. “There is nothing that gives me chills more than standing on the grid of the Daytona 500 having 150,000 people bow their heads in silence to pray,” said Donaldson. “There is no other feeling like it. And, it’s our chaplain that’s delivering that invocation.”
Nourian believes that prayer opens doors, and has experienced it when approached by strangers at the speedway thanking him for providing the invocation. “What I couldn’t do as a human being, the Lord did it in a different way,” said Nourian. “God can use any circumstance. This platform — I never asked for it, never thought I would be part of it, but I will say yes to any opportunity I can get to honor God, whether it’s in the ER or in the invocation [at the Speedway].”
Nourian is appreciative of how NAS-CAR has prioritized the invocation, ensuring it has a place at the start of every race. “They have chosen to put prayer on the forefront and truly honor God in such a way before each race.”
Nourian also knows the great opportunity that comes from having the Advent- Health logo and the words “feel whole” on the side of the Speedway for all to see. “It provides more advertisement than people can imagine,” said Nourian. “When people look at it, they may not understand, but they catch ‘Advent.’”
Donaldson was part of the team that worked to put AdventHealth’s “feel whole” slogan on the side of the Speedway. “When we started working on the gate entrance at Daytona International Speedway, the theme was all about how we keep people healthy and out of the hospital,” said Donaldson.
With a background in working for a race team before coming to AdventHealth, she remarks that this kind of thinking is the opposite of what most other partners or sponsors would work toward, looking for ways to sell more of their product. “Being able to educate race fans, interact with them where they live, work, and play — not wait for them to get sick and come to the hospital — was such a novel idea.”
When asked about how he feels as a team member to be given this opportunity in an arena such as the speedway, Nourian shared he is ultimately proud to represent AdventHealth and be able to give the invocation each time he is invited.
“Any opportunity to honor God, to glorify God — why not?”
AdventHealth | April 2023