Seventh-day Adventist medical experts and health advocates want to better understand and share the ministry of healing they say the church is called to embrace. Six hundred of them met in Prague last month for the first European Health Conference.
Lectures and workshops challenged participants to consider healing in the context of the biblical worldview and the Adventist philosophy of health. Organizers say the conference was meant to unite Adventist health leaders across Europe in promoting a message of hope and healing to the region’s increasingly secular population.
In his keynote address, Dr. Viriato Ferreira, Health Ministries director for the church’s Inter-European Division, explored the emotional and spiritual suffering that often accompanies physical illness. He noted that while some people experience relief from their physical symptoms—seemingly in answer to prayer—such intercession is often the exception rather than the rule, leaving many others to wonder whether a lack of faith or other spiritual deficiency is preventing God from acting on their behalf.
“We need healing from life—not just physically, but also spiritually and emotionally,” Ferreira told delegates from some 40 countries across Europe. He urged them to accept complicated realities and recognize that “suffering may be part of healing.”
A joint effort by the Health Ministries departments of the church’s Inter-European, Trans-European and Euro-Asian divisions, the European Health Conference also urged local leadership to engage in health evangelism. Already, leaders across the region are finding that health outreach resonates with their communities.
Bohomil Kern, Health Ministries director for the church’s Czecho-Slovakian Union, described a system of “health clubs” that for years has served to break down barriers and build relationships in communities across the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Meeting in community centers, schools, civic building and other neutral venues, the clubs offer support for local residents who want to stop smoking, learn to cook more healthfully, reduce health risks associated with obesity, treat addictions or receive counseling for mental health issues.
The ministry model has been so successful that it has been exported to many countries in Eastern Europe, Kern said. In the Czecho-Slovakian Union alone, more than 260 instructors in nearly 90 health clubs are promoting the Adventist lifestyle.
Through a partnership with Loma Linda University, based in the U.S. state of California, health club instructors twice a year receive intensive training in nutrition, physical therapy, addictions, counseling and other specialties.
Kern said the health clubs are followed up by small weeklong “camp meetings,” where participants enjoy outdoor activities and attend lectures on health and wellness, as well as evening spiritual programs. Many new Adventist believers in the region made first contact with the church through its health outreach, Kern said.
Also at the conference, delegates tackled two issues that can often divide Health Ministries leaders—where the ministry should be practiced, and what characteristics practitioners should demonstrate.
Advocates of small, lifestyle centers that focus on natural remedies and emphasize the importance of the spiritual realm in physical healing said they find it hard to imagine that large, institutional healthcare settings could preserve that environment. Others said that in some cases, Adventists who work in European healthcare centers are prohibited from sharing their faith on company time.
Europe is home to just two Adventist-owned and operated healthcare centers—La Lignière in Switzerland and Waldfriede Hospital in Germany.
Another topic that sparked discussion was whether Adventist health advocates should practice veganism and vegetarianism, or if the consumption of clean meat is permissible.
The issue becomes disruptive when, according to some delegates, the matter of diet becomes a test of faith. One Health Ministries director said he was concerned over how some vegetarians in his congregation treat newer members who eat meat, reminding everyone that theoretical discussions become real-life challenges when delegates travel home.
The Adventist Church has emphasized healthy living since it was established in the 1860s. The health ministry of the church includes a global network of hospitals, clinics and medical universities.