‘Church Leaders Should Be Health Educators as Much as Gospel Preachers’

Graduating lifestyle medicine student responds to health crisis in the Solomon Islands.

Brenton Stacey, Adventist Record
‘Church Leaders Should Be Health Educators as Much as Gospel Preachers’
Urijah Liligeto, who completed a Graduate Diploma in Lifestyle Medicine at Avondale University, takes on a role with the World Health Organization as a Public Health Officer for Non-Communicable Diseases in his home country of the Solomon Islands. [Photo: Adventist Record]

The influence of his father and an advertisement for a scholarship encouraged Urijah Liligeto to begin his journey as a health-care professional who is now helping his country make choices to improve quality of life.

That country is the Solomon Islands, where noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, and those related to the heart and lungs are the leading cause of death. Liligeto is well placed to respond. Completing a Graduate Diploma in Lifestyle Medicine from Avondale University led him to a role with the World Health Organization as a Public Health Officer for Non-Communicable Diseases. “I provide technical expertise to ensure activities for reducing or preventing NCDs in the Solomons are effectively implemented and monitored.” Liligeto works with donor partners and the government’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services. He also brings contacts with faith-based organizations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Despite the church’s position on health, which is a point of difference with other denominations, Liligeto sees a gap between what is preached and practiced. The ease of access to fast food and the limited access to vegetarian food in urban areas could be part of the problem, he says, as could the lack of health education experience and training among church leaders. “They should be health educators as much as gospel preachers.”

So, Liligeto enrolled at Avondale University after his father, alumnus Wilfred Liligeto, showed him an advertisement in Adventist Record for the Pacific Partnership Scholarship. “Dad and I saw this as an opportunity [for me] to be a qualified health worker, which would equip me for service to my church and my community.”

Avondale planned to offer only one scholarship, but a record response to an offering collected in Adventist churches across the South Pacific in 2016 enabled it to offer three. Liligeto and the other recipients received a full-fee waiver to complete the graduate certificate. Four years later, Urijah has now completed the graduate diploma and is already enrolled in the new Master of Lifestyle Medicine program. He describes the scholarship as a blessing. “I wouldn’t have been able to complete the degree without it,” he says. “The aim of the scholarship is to educate leaders in the South Pacific so they can become champions for and advocates of a healthy lifestyle. Well, that’s me. I want to help my people fight this NCD crisis.”

Integrating lifestyle medicine principles into his lectures and lessons helped students in Liligeto’s nursing, public health, and nutrition and dietetic classes at Solomon Islands National University understand the root causes of noncommunicable diseases. “These future frontline health-care workers will be the ones encouraging the patients who’ll visit them at clinics or in hospitals to make healthy lifestyle choices.” With a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science and a master’s in clinical immunology, Liligeto dreams of developing postgraduate courses in lifestyle medicine at the university and establishing a research-based wellness centre offering lifestyle interventions to prevent or manage chronic illness.

Liligeto will receive the John Ballard Trim Health Ministry Prize for outstanding achievement in the study of wholistic health and wellbeing and its application in the community when he graduates this April 2022. “Dad passed away before I could complete my studies in lifestyle medicine, but I’m sure he would be proud of me. I’m driven to carry on his wish for me to become a health leader in the church.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.

Brenton Stacey, Adventist Record