July 10, 2019

Is the Adventist Health Message Changing?

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review

More than 800 church leaders, health practitioners, and healthy-lifestyle advocates from 90 countries made their way to dry, hot, and lately shaking Southern California to attend the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle, themed “Your Brain, Your Body,” in Loma Linda, California, United States.

The July 9-13, 2019 event, organized by the Adventist Health Ministries department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, will bring a renewed focus and emphasis to the historical position of the church on health matters, its director Peter Landless believes.

A banner welcomes participants to the 3rd Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle in Loma Linda, California, United States, on July 9, 2019. More than 800 church leaders and health practitioners from 90 countries registered for the conference. [Photo: Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review]

“We want to emphasize the importance of the mind, body, spirit, social, and emotional connection,” Landless said during a coordinators meeting a day before the official opening on July 9. “And we also want to show how lifestyle influences all of those.”

The Health Message Recharged

Church health leaders believe that the Seventh-day Adventist health message has not changed since the breakthrough revelations of Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White in the mid-19th century.

“From Battle Creek days [establishment of the first Adventist Church sanitarium] to the present, the world has craved the answers to questions that we are uniquely positioned to answer,” wrote Loma Linda University Health president Richard Hart in welcoming participants to the school premises. “What we’ll learn here this week will be a great source of hope for people everywhere.”

At the same time, church health leaders explained, the event’s goal is to double down on focusing on areas that might have been, to some extent, neglected in past decades.

Take mental health, for instance.

“Mental health is hugely important, and needs to be de-stigmatized,” Landless said when describing some of the focal points of the event. He singled out depression, noting that even though it is the leading cause of disability in the world today, insufficient emphasis has been placed on wholistic well-being, even among Adventists.

In the past few years, the Adventist world church has focused more on the importance of mental health for overall health. Last year, church leaders appointed Torben Bergland, an Adventist psychiatrist, as an Adventist Health Ministries associate director. Bergland is currently working on Mindwell, an online program that aims to teach mental health awareness.

Possibility Ministries

Another area with a renewed emphasis is special needs, Landless said. “People who have disabilities of any kind need to be treated equally,” he emphasized. According to leaders, this includes accommodating members with disabilities at church services and adding this group to outreach and evangelistic initiatives.

Larry Evans, who is special assistant to the president of the world church for Special Needs, agrees. Evans, who usually calls his office “Possibility Ministries,” said this is “an intentionally inclusive conference.”

“The theme of this ministry is written on the forehead of every person: ‘All are gifted, needed, and treasured,’” he said.

Church leaders and health practitioners are invited to stay one more day after the closing of the health conference to participate in an event dubbed “Possibility Ministries Conference.” Organizers expect the July 14 meeting to create awareness and provide basic training to church leaders who want to learn how to better respond to the various needs of people living with disabilities.

“During the time spent together we will hopefully learn to make a difference somewhere with someone—but always within ourselves,” Evans said.

Energizing People

Landless emphasized a final goal for the event, that it can trigger positive responses in those who attend.

“We want to energize people,” he said. “We want them to take what they learned and practice it.” And, he added, “My prayer is that we will gain knowledge, and be inspired to return to our places of service … energized, enthused, sharing wholeness, and serving all. In essence, truly extending the healing ministry of Jesus.”