August 15, 2023

Lifestyle Medicine Can Open Doors to Health Evangelism, Adventist Leader Says

People will seek us out, and they are willing to pay for it, Zeno Charles-Marcel says.

Marcos Paseggi, for Inter-American Division News
Zeno Charles-Marcel (on screen), health ministries associate director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, speaks during the Inter-American Division’s Health Symposium on July 29. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

“Do not underestimate what God has ordained as a means of reaching people,” said Zeno Charles-Marcel, health ministries associate director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in addressing church health leaders and advocates at the Inter-American Division (IAD) Health Symposium in Miami, Florida, United States, July 29.

Charles-Marcel’s presentation delved into what Adventist health leaders are calling “the sanitarium of the 21st century” —lifestyle service centers where health practitioners can share with others some of the knowledge that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has known for more than a century.

Sharing God’s Instructions

“We have a specific set of instructions,” Charles-Marcel said. “The promise is that if we follow these things, we will prevent much suffering, reduce the risk of premature death and the risk of many of the diseases that plague humanity today.”

Charles-Marcel explained that in everything health ministers do, they are announcing God’s new world and all old things will pass away. Only then will life return to perfection. “But while we are here, we have a work to do, and our work is not finished yet,” he said, adding, “God has given us the keys to the vault to reduce the pain and suffering that many will have, and in so doing stimulate [their] spiritual inquiry.”

According to Charles-Marcel, only a merciful God could give the tools needed to reduce suffering. “And we have this hope that we will be able to fulfill, by God’s grace, what He’s asked us to do.”

Lifestyle Medicine and the Health Message

At the same time, Charles-Marcel pointed out, lifestyle medicine is not the health message in itself. It’s just a modality of treatment, a modality for prevention, to intervene and interrupt the course of disease. “It is not the health message, but it is part of the health message,” he emphasized.

In and of itself, lifestyle medicine does not have the same goal, he explained. “The goal of the health message is the soul, every aspect of a person,” he said. “It should work [with] everything complete, everything functioning the way God intended it to function. This is the goal that we have.”

The Role of Lifestyle Medicine

The focus on wellness is something that has caught on all around the world, Charles-Marcel pointed out. Organizations not connected to the Adventist Church are capitalizing on this approach. He shared impressive data about the money people invest every year in feeling better. These ways include medical spas (US$68-70 billion), mental well-being ($131 billion), prevention and personalized medical care ($375 billion), and traditional and complementary health care ($413 billion). Additional wellness alternatives that people seek out are Zen, meditation, yoga, and others ($436 billion), and people willing to pay to learn about healthy eating and nutrition ($946 billion).

Many Adventist cooking schools, however, are now closed, Charles-Marcel acknowledged, because “we think nobody is interested, but it is not so,” he said.

“We have been given the keys to self-sustaining, God-providing ways to help people, and they will seek us out, and they are willing to pay for it,” Charles-Marcel said. Of course, he added, “we are not in this just as a business because there’s money in it. On the contrary, ministering to people is our purpose; the goal is the soul, and they are willing to pay us to help them to do that.”

zeno charles marcel healthsymposium
“We have been given the keys to self-sustaining, God-providing ways to help people, and they will seek us out,” Zeno Charles-Marcel said during his July 29 presentation. [Photo: Libna Stevens/IAD]

Beyond the Emergency Room

In the second part of his presentation, Charles-Marcel shared moving examples of how the health message transformed countless lives.

The first was about Brenda, a diabetic woman doing very poorly after her doctor said there was nothing else he could do. One day, Brenda saw an advertisement that eventually led her to an Adventist physician and clinic. The implementation of Bible-based Adventist health principles not only turned her life around but also transformed her family. Eventually, she and several family members became Seventh-day Adventists.

“Brenda is an example of what happens when we are able to spend time with the family, which is one of the things that wellness centers, and lifestyle centers, and health spas can afford but can’t be done in an emergency room.”

Even though the goal is always the soul, it’s incorrect to evaluate wellness center by the number of converts, Charles-Marcel emphasized. “We are planting seeds; we are awakening the spirit of inquiry; we are reforming health practices, and we are reforming the practice of medicine when we are using these approaches; we are educating not only the patients but also the physicians.”

From a Lost Cause to Health Advocate

Charles-Marcel also shared the story of Maria, an extremely obese woman with congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and huge legs filled with fluid, among other ailments. Her endocrinologist, a Harvard professor with a private practice, told her there was nothing else he could do.

Trying to do something to save her, her family gifted her with a program at an Adventist health center where Charles-Marcel was serving. “We prayed, and we did what we needed to do,” he shared. “Not only physicians, but therapists and even the cooks worked on Maria’s behalf, and the angels were working alongside us.”

Charles-Marcel said she made wonderful progress. Health center staff even invited her to their homes, and she enjoyed spending time with Adventist families. “When she was finished, she went back home a new person. She lost 50 pounds [22.7 kilograms], and the family had to bring her new clothes because the old ones just fell off.”

The next time she visited her renowned endocrinologist, the doctor was amazed. As he had patients with similar conditions as Maria, the doctor invited Maria to volunteer and talk to those patients in his office. “When he scheduled those other patients, he also scheduled Maria, and had Maria teach them what we had taught to her. Now she is a volunteer to help other people who have the same situation that she had,” Charles-Marcel shared.

“God has given us this message to share with the world,” he said. “If we love people, how can we keep this to ourselves? Our sanitariums and health centers are one of the best ways to meet people and share with them. I pray that in this conference, you can get new tools and the spark of health evangelism.”

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.