As Seventh-day Adventist world church leaders rejoiced over healthier bodies after a week of exercise and plant-based meals at a Global Leadership Summit in Jamaica, church president Ted N. C. Wilson implored them to maintain healthy lifestyles and serve as living examples of the Adventist health message to the world.
Wilson upheld a balanced, Christ-centered lifestyle free from meat and caffeine in his closing remarks to the 12thannual gathering held this year in Montego Bay.
“The focus has been Mission to the Cities and Comprehensive Health Ministry,” he said, noting that church co-founder Ellen White saw the church’s health message as a heaven-designed method to reach people in the cities.
“I hope you will leave here with a great desire to finish God’s work,” he told church leaders and spouses from the General Conference, from all 13 world divisions, and from a number of other church entities on February 10, 2019. “We need to reach the cities, but we ourselves have to live the message, and then it will show.”
Many of the 196 attendees voiced renewed enthusiasm for the church’s health message and a desire to model it in their own lives.
“Coming from the land of spice, I am going back home to make a radical change in my kitchen,” said Edison Samraj, health ministries director for the Southern Asia Division, based in India. “My shopping list is going to be very different.”
“I Lost 4 Pounds”
Elie Weick-Dido, president of the West-Central Africa Division, said he used to be a champion cyclist but had neglected to exercise during his studies to become a pastor and then as a church leader. He announced plans to get back in shape following a week of total vegetarian meals, with no eggs or dairy, at a special hotel buffet, and daily physical exercise, including a five-minute workout led, in between summit seminars, by Jason Miguel Aragon, a lecturer of medicine from Montemorelos University in Mexico.
“During this session, I lost 4 pounds,” Weick-Dido said, his voice thick with emotion. Four pounds is nearly 2 kilograms. “And I want to ask this session to pray for me that I keep it up.”
Other church leaders said the summit had strengthened their resolve to maintain healthier lifestyles. Roger E. Robertsen, president of the Israel Field, described how his wife’s healthy cooking helped reverse a heart blockage. Fred Hardinge, a former associate health ministries director for the world church, who led several summit seminars and co-organized its menu, said he had lost 30 pounds in nine months and was seeking to shed another 25 pounds.
Artur A. Stele, a general vice president of the world church, encouraged fellow leaders to press forward, saying he discovered on a trip to his childhood homeland of Uzbekistan that people’s taste buds change over time.
“I grew up eating all kinds of unhealthy foods,” he said. “I thought I would enjoy some of my favorite foods from my childhood. I took one bite and almost threw up.”
The summit, themed “Wholeness in Christ: Mission Vision in Action,” opened at 6:30 a.m. February 3 with leaders and spouses lining up to undergo medical checks for blood sugar and cholesterol in a hotel conference hall. It ended February 10 with a final medical check to assess changes in attendees' health, followed by worship and closing remarks from summit organizers.
Appeal for Total Vegetarianism
Wilson pleaded with attendees whose diets include meat to consider adopting the total vegetarian diet showcased at the summit. Reading from Ellen White’s book Counsels on Diet and Foods, he quoted, “Let not any of our ministers set an evil example in the eating of flesh meat. Let them and their families live up to the light of health reform. Let not our ministers animalize their own nature and the nature of their children” (p. 399).
While noting that meat is not a test of church membership, he continued reading, “Will any who are ministers of the gospel, proclaiming the most solemn truth ever given to mortals, set an example in returning to the fleshpots of Egypt? Will those who are supported by the tithe from God's storehouse permit themselves by self-indulgence to poison the life-giving current flowing through their veins? Will they disregard the light and warnings that God has given them? The health of the body is to be regarded as essential for growth in grace and the acquirement of an even temper” (p. 404).
During the summit, Peter N. Landless, health ministries director for the world church, also conveyed a desire for church members to refrain from meat.
“My prayer is we can get the church off flesh foods because we know that that is the healthiest way to go,” he said on February 7.
Appealing directly to church leaders, including himself, he added, “We are paid out of tithe money. Never forget that. What we do and how we live should reflect that responsibility.”
Those who follow a total vegetarian diet should take vitamin B12, as should lacto-ovo vegetarians, especially as they age, he said. Vitamin D and calcium also may need to be supplemented in total vegetarian diets. In addition, lacto-ovo vegetarians should use eggs and dairy sparingly as a condiment. These precautions are in keeping with the General Conference Working Policy, which recommends a balanced vegetarian diet.
Planning Menus at Church Events
In his closing remarks, Wilson suggested that those who organize church-sponsored events limit their menus to plant-based food.
“Why should we be paying from tithe money for people to eat that which has not been advocated?” he said.
He also expressed concern that caffeine has become commonplace in the church. Ellen White described caffeine as poison and its use as a sin.
“Let’s urge people to stay away from caffeine,” Wilson said. “Have confidence in what God has instructed us in how we are to live.”
Opening a Bible to 1 Corinthians 10:31, he read, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Quoting from 1 Corinthians 6:19, he said, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“I'm not saying, ‘Be fanatical,’” he said. “I’m just giving you a thought. Why not lead the way? We have to move into this in a careful, balanced way, helping people see the big picture.”
Wilson, who with other leaders conducted evangelistic meetings on the sidelines of the summit, recalled hearing an unusual comment from Glen Samuels, president of the Adventist Church’s West Jamaica Conference, whose territory includes Montego Bay.
“He said, ‘I am not going to die until I’m dead,’” Wilson said.
Turning to church leaders, he said, “I encourage you to, as Jesus said in John 10:10, ‘live life and live it abundantly.’ Don’t die before you’re dead. Don’t give up. Just keep moving ahead.”