by Jay Wintermeyer
SPOKANE, Wash., January 27, 2016 - It’s no secret that traditional public evangelism isn’t as effective at reaching people for Christ as it once was. This has churches in Upper Columbia Conference looking at different ways of reaching and growing disciples. In Spokane, churches are using health ministry to connect with people.
This past August, Adventists from Spokane and around the world worked together to provide free health care to Spokane residents during a two-day event called Your Best Pathway to Health. More than 3,000 patients received free medical, dental and eye care.
After the event, two Spokane Adventist churches, Linwood and Spokane Valley, served as distribution centers for the lab work and glasses. When patients arrived to pick up their lab results they had an opportunity to visit with a medical professional as well as sign up for a three-week healthy living seminar.
At the Spokane Linwood Adventist Church, 220 people attended these health seminars with an average of 70 to 75 guests attending each evening. The format was simple; a physician shared a health lecture followed by group discussion about the evening’s topic and then a healthy snack with some time for fellowship.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere where it was easy for people to learn,” said Linwood pastor, Volody Nesteruk. “We had two doctors volunteering their time; Dr. John Torquato and Dr. Michael Robinson.”
Pastor Nesteruk said the beauty of this format quickly became apparent. “People enjoyed the valuable health information and said things like, ‘This is so good. Why haven’t we heard this before?’” As members and guests visited over snacks, friendships began to form.
After three weeks, Linwood started another series of meetings, this time focused on healthful eating, led by Arlen and Fran Fletcher. Each week more than 40 guests faithfully showed up to enjoy the nutrition lectures and cooking demonstrations followed up by a healthy meal.
Concurrent with the nutrition seminars, Linwood set up a special room for a free health clinic. For eight weeks, an Adventist doctor volunteered once a week to serve the needs of uninsured or underinsured people in the community. Currently, Linwood is holding a depression recovery class with more than 40 people attending.
A common ingredient links the Linwood meetings. Not only are they providing helpful information that can make a difference in peoples’ lives, but they are also actively seeking to build relationships with people. Every health seminar or clinic has time built in to visit and connect with Linwood members or pastors.
“If you walk into a church and don’t know anyone you probably won’t come back,” said Brittany Ramirez, Linwood health program coordinator. “If you make a connection with someone, you’re much more likely to return and that’s what we’re seeking to provide.”
Linwood’s health outreach is making a difference. “It’s a blessing to see people’s excitement as they report lower blood pressure and weight loss,” said Pastor Nesteruk. What’s even more exciting is that Linwood members are beginning to have opportunities to meet people’s spiritual needs as well.
“We’ve had people coming to the [health] meetings who are now in Bible studies,” said Brittany. “One couple told us ‘If you guys are like this, then this is the church we want to be in.’” So far, 14 people are studying the Bible with Linwood members.
“This has been the best year ever,” said Pastor Nesteruk, reflecting on the Linwood health ministry outreach. “I’m grateful for all the help of our members, our volunteer doctors, Brittany Ramirez, our health program coordinator and Peggy McMorris, our church secretary.”
Using health ministry to serve and bless people isn’t new in Adventist circles. In fact one of our earliest members and co-founder wrote about it more than 100 years ago:
Reprinted from Upper Columbia Conferrence Update, December 2015.