“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” 1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV.
Community clinics. 5K races. A church garden in a food desert. Health ministries throughout the Southern Union are finding ways to promote healthy living as they share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In The Ministry of Healing, Ellen White writes, “In the work of the Gospel, teaching and healing are never to be separated,” p. 141. Most Adventists adhere to this belief and are using the Adventist health message to engage with the community and teach as well as heal.
Some churches in the South Central Conference, in particular, have wholeheartedly embraced this practice, said Roger Wade, South Central’s communications and public relations director.
“Our health ministries come alongside our evangelistic thrust,” said Wade. “We teach about diet, we teach about rest, we teach about exercise. We use the health principles to help people have a healthier life, and then if along the way they trip into Jesus, praise God, they can have a better spiritual life and be ready for eternity.”
When the call came to donate blood to help individuals with sickle cell anemia, Wade said health ministries at New Covenant Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and Orchard Park Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, stepped up with quarterly blood drives in partnership with the American Red Cross.
“We’ve had other churches that have participated in blood collection, but it’s been a one-off kind of situation,” said Wade. “New Covenant and Orchard Park are making it part of their community outreach.”
In Nashville, Tennessee, Gordon Jones, pastor of Riverside Church, noticed a major health need in his community shortly after moving to Nashville about two years ago. He said he went to a Dollar General store near the church, and there were people trying to find groceries.
“It broke my heart,” recalled Jones, “because I know the Dollar General store is not designed to be a supermarket.”
Jones said he did some research and discovered that his church is in a food desert. He talked to his members, and they decided to open a food pantry at the church. But, they didn’t stop there. They wanted people who came to the food bank to get as much nutrition as possible, so they created a garden at the back of the church to grow produce like cucumbers, squash, and peppers.
Recently, the church had a reaping, and they were able to pull from the garden and add fresh produce to the food bank items people receive, said Jones. He said the church’s action reminds him of what White said in The Ministry of Healing about Jesus mingling with people, and ministering to them as one desiring their good. He won their confidence, says Jones, and then He said follow Me.
“I think that as we minister to people providing food, addressing their needs, we are winning confidence,” said Jones. “As we win their confidence, we can point them to Jesus Christ. I can’t think about tomorrow if today I’m hungry. I can think about tomorrow if my basic today needs are met; then I can start to envision a future.”
Riverside also has an annual dental/health clinic scheduled for October. Previous clinics were facilitated by Wonder Drake, M.D., a Riverside member who is currently senior associate dean of faculty affairs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She said Adventists are in a unique position to promote healthy living.
“By observing health reform, it helps us be a witness in a way that people don’t necessarily think about day to day,” said Drake, who recalled an encounter she had with a woman at a grocery store.
“Don’t I know you?” the woman asked her. “You went to that church where they taught us how to eat vegetarian. They cooked all this food for us. I still eat that way. I got so much better: I lost weight, I don’t have to take blood pressure medicine anymore. I’m so grateful for what you all did.”
Over in the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, several events are held to promote healthy living in the community, such as 5K races, Reversing Diabetes programs, and health rallies at other Adventist churches to empower and equip members to spread the health message in their communities.
EW Dempsey, who oversees health ministries for the Conference, said the rallies focus on heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and the importance of having a healthy immune system.
“We approach it from a nutritional standpoint, but also exercise: aerobic exercise, strengthening your pulmonary system,” said Dempsey. “This is something … people need.”
Meeting the needs of people is something that AdventHealth takes seriously. In communities they serve, a rigorous assessment is undertaken every three years to identify the needs and formulate a plan for bringing wholeness to those communities, reports AdventHealth. Each Community Health Plan (CHP) serves as an action plan for addressing the priorities outlined in AdventHealth’s 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which was released in December and included record input from 22,000-plus community members, 366 stakeholders, and 69 focus groups from AdventHealth hospital-campus communities in nine states.
While mental and/or behavioral health ranked among top priorities in most plans, also notable on this assessment cycle is the factoring in of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), such as access to services and quality health care, transportation, safe and affordable housing, and food security (nutrition and healthy eating).
Andrew Mwavua, executive director of community advocacy at AdventHealth, said the CHPs serve as a sort of “State of Our Communities.” Those plans and the CHNAs upon which they are based help advance the strategic goal of heightened awareness around community health needs and what AdventHealth is doing to address those needs.
Ultimately, Mwavua said, the goal is to build capacity in and with local communities so that they can more actively participate and, to an even greater extent, co-own the process and the deliverables. “What becomes future is what we do now,” said Mwavua. “Community Health Plans help guide strategic investments toward creating a more conducive ecosystem that increases the probability of longevity of life with quality.”
Whether it is a health rally, marathon, or community assessment, Adventists are working to teach and heal — “all for the glory of God.”
AdventHealth’s Pink on Parade 5K to raise awareness and honor individuals and their families who have been touched by breast cancer: Lake County, Florida, on September 17, 2023; Orange/Osceola/Seminole and Flagler County, Florida, on October 8, 2023. For more information, visit: https://www.adventhealth.com/pink-on-parade/pink-parade-virtual-5k-registration.
Lady Track Shack 5K on October 18, 2023, in Orlando, Florida: Mothers and daughters, sisters and friends come together at this all-women 5K to celebrate women’s health and fundraise to provide early diagnosis for those in need. For more information, visit https://www.trackshack.com/event/19.
Virtual 5K to benefit the Virtual Care Center at AdventHealth Heart, Lung, and Vascular Institute: Funds raised will help to provide heart monitors and remote patient monitoring (RPM) kits to treat vulnerable patients 24 hours a day. For more information, visit: https://www.adventhealth.com/foundation/adventhealth-foundation-central-florida/heart-heart-5k.