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Adventist Leaders Get in Shape in Jamaica

Global Leadership Summit makes the church’s health message practical.

Adventist Leaders Get in Shape in Jamaica

[Photo Credit: Andrew McChesney]

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Top Seventh-day Adventist leaders are experiencing the church’s health message in a whole new way as they do blood tests, adopt a special diet and exercise program, and attend lifestyle seminars on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.

The 12thannual Global Leadership Summit, themed “Wholeness in Christ: Mission Vision in Action,” seeks to reaffirm world church leaders’ commitment to follow a healthy lifestyle and to equip them to share good health practices at home, organizers said. 

The weeklong summit opened around daybreak at 6:30 a.m. Feb. 3 with leaders and spouses lining up to undergo medical checks in a hotel conference hall in Montego Bay.

“I think this a very good start, a good work for the church,” said Viktor V. Alyeksyeyenko​, executive secretary of the Euro-Asia Division, as he and his wife, Alla, waited to give finger-prick blood tests to check blood sugar and cholesterol. “The fact of the matter is church leaders don’t always have time to devote to their health.”

After the medical checks, delegates headed off for a specially prepared vegan breakfast buffet that included yellow curry with tofu, chickpeas, steamed spinach, vegetable empanadas, fresh fruit, hot and cold cereals, and soy and almond milk. Church dieticians worked with hotel chefs to prepare vegan meals for the duration of the summit. 

The summit’s daily program is packed with seminars on topics such as nutrition, sleep, weight management, and heart disease. Between seminars, delegates engage in five-minute workout sessions that include stretches, crunches, and other exercises.

In the evenings, many delegates are preaching at evangelistic meetings. About 500 meetings are being held at the end of an island-wide outreach initiative that had a major health component.

The 196 delegates — representing the General Conference, all 13 world divisions, and a number of other church entities — will undergo a final medical check to measure changes to their health on Feb. 10, the last day of the summit.

Peter N. Landless​, health ministries director for the world church, urged attendees to use the week to get healthier and grow closer to God. 

“This is not a name and shame week,” he said in opening remarks. “This is a time for us to take time to be holy — to be wholistically holy.”

Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson praised the summit as an opportunity to put a renewed emphasis on the church’s health message around the world.

“This is going to be an exceptional experience,” he said at a news conference with about a dozen journalists from Jamaican newspapers and television channels upon his arrival at the Montego Bay airport. He spoke beside Everett E. Brown, president of the Jamaica Union Conference, and Elie Henry, president of the Inter-American Division, whose territory includes Jamaica.

Wilson explained that Jesus made health a major focus of His earthly ministry and that the Adventist Church seeks to follow His example.

Opening a Bible to Matthew 9:35, he read, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease [i]among the people” (NKJV).

Speaking later on the sidelines of the summit, Wilson said a major challenge facing the Adventist Church is how to reach the ever-increasing metropolitan, urban centers of the world.

“We are to use every heaven-ordained outreach activity to proclaim Christ and His soon coming,” he said. “We are to use Christ’s method alone in touching people’s lives, following Christ in helping people physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.”

He added: “Comprehensive Health Ministry is the right arm of the gospel. We are to be involved in revival and reformation, helping our church members engage in Total Member Involvement, pointing people to Christ and His second coming.”

The Global Leadership Summit — which meets every February to pray, hear reports, and encourage world division leaders to take firm initiatives to fulfill mission — is highlighting health this year after Wilson visited a wellness center in Portugal following the 2018 summit in Lisbon, said summit organizer Guillermo E. Biaggi, a general vice president of the world church.

“He phoned me and suggested that we have a special lifestyle emphasis for our leaders and also review the important concepts of comprehensive evangelism and the role of the health message for the fulfillment of the mission at the 2019 leadership summit,” Biaggi said in an email interview. “I immediately agreed.”

This year’s summit is larger and longer than usual, with invitations extended to the president, executive secretary, treasurer, and health director of every division, as well as their spouses, “in order to pursue a sustainable positive outcome in our personal and family lifestyle,” Biaggi said.

Previous summits, including last year’s summit that focused on church unity, lasted three to four days. This year’s summit was expanded to provide time for a visible change in participants’ health. 

Biaggi noted that health outreach is an important part of Mission to the Cities, a church program to reach people living in cities. Reading from Ellen White’s “Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6,” he said, “As we near the close of time we must rise higher and still higher upon the question of health reform and Christian temperance, presenting it in a more positive and decided manner. We must strive continually to educate the people, not only by our words, but by our practice” (p. 112). 

Evangelist Mark A. Finley, special assistant to the world church president, encouraged attendees to forget about past broken resolutions and instead focus on Jesus’ grace to transform lives. 

“This week we are entering on a journey of change,” he said.

The change, he added, will make church leaders more effective workers for Christ.

Audrey E. Andersson​, executive secretary of the Trans-European Division, said she looked forward to learning how to improve her own health and to help others.

“I hope to have better insights as to how to watch my health,” she said after her medical check. “We talk about health being the right arm of the message, but this will be very practical. I am excited to see how this works.”