Bringing Down the Walls
Wildwood Lifestyle Center in northern Georgia is one of a growing number of wellness institutions extending their reach beyond the typical 18-day residence model to meet individuals where they are—in the workplace. The center essentially offers “take-out” wellness by sending its newly formed Wildwood Radiant Health Team to teach basic health principles to corporate employees. The team focuses on “diabesity,” a newly coined term for the direct relationship between diabetes and obesity. AT&T is one of the larger companies that has been willing to pay Wildwood educators to bring wellness education onsite to its employees, with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Not only was I impressed that there were no walls of prejudice to break down,” says Wildwood health promotions director Chuck Stark, “but even after just a short time, the employees began confiding in us and pouring out their personal struggles.” In the last year, Wildwood has made increasingly creative attempts to meet people in their own communities on a personal level, says Vyn Gordon, another health educator from Wildwood.
“It takes time, energy and many weekends away from friends and family, but our efforts are paying off,” he says. “We’ve met hundreds and probably thousands of wonderful people who are struggling with major issues but have no one to talk to.”
Wildwood’s health educators observe that people are more receptive to lifestyle reform when it is presented in familiar surroundings among friends and coworkers they see and work with every day. Some are learning the truth about heart disease, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer risk for the first time. They’re taught to prepare foods and eat in ways they’ve never tried before, and they do it all in the context of a built-in support system.
This is in stark contrast to the typical situation many individuals find themselves in after completing a residential program. They may return home with good intentions and plenty of knowledge, but friends and family lack the knowledge and personal commitment needed to support those individuals’ lifestyle changes. Consequently, it’s easy to slip back into old habit patterns when no one, other than the individual who completed the program, really knows the difference.
In the corporate setting, those who work and learn together are more inclined to continue supporting each other in making healthy lifestyle choices. They may even hold each other accountable for what they’ve learned. They start together, and they’re able to continue together.
Getting to the point of taking a full-blown wellness program on the road has been a natural progression for Wildwood. In the past, representatives have been invited to talk about the lifestyle center and share health principles at churches and health fairs, as well as on local television and radio programs. One local radio station in particular has invited Wildwood representatives back numerous times. But this new program goes well beyond granting an interview or making a one-time health presentation.
AT&T is just one example of the types of organizations willing to pay to bring in Wildwood wellness educators. Other groups the center has worked with include an eye clinic in nearby Collegedale, Tennessee, an Anglican church in the Bahamas, and a Methodist church that turned over its pulpit for an entire Sunday service program. Wildwood representatives are happy to share the bread of life wherever they are called.
There seems to be a special openness to Wildwood’s wellness seminars outside of the United States. In Antigua, the ministry was blessed with a VIP-like reception. In other countries, radio program hosts have rolled out the red carpet by broadcasting announcements about the upcoming seminars.
“This is an exciting opportunity,” says Lee Wellard, another Wildwood lifestyle educator and speaker. In keeping with Wildwood’s philosophy that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, he adds, “If they can swallow a little education, they can avoid swallowing a lot of medication.” Wildwood health educators see this as much more than an opportunity to share health principles. It’s also a way to share the gospel with people who might not otherwise be interested, using the same methods Christ did when He combined healing with preaching to the throngs that followed Him. “The Savior made each work of healing an occasion for implanting divine principles in the mind and soul. This was the purpose of His work. He imparted earthly blessings, that He might incline the hearts of men to receive the gospel of His grace” (Ministry of Healing, p. 2). Wildwood is committed to following this same divine pattern.
Weekend church seminars begin with an hourlong presentation on Friday evening regarding the philosophy of health. On Sabbath morning, the presenters address spiritual topics, then return to a health-related focus in the afternoon. A question-and-answer session is held on Sunday morning, followed by a cooking school workshop. They begin offering one-on-one consultations on Sunday, and continue over the next day or so. In this way, the team is able to share broad principles while addressing the needs and difficulties of individuals.
Health ministry has largely become separated from spiritual ministry, Wellard observes. “You have doctors in one corner, and pastors and teachers in another,” he says. “But things are changing. God is bringing down those walls of separation.” He’s especially excited that General Conference president Ted Wilson has the same vision for bringing healing and preaching together again.
What’s next on Wildwood’s corporate wellness agenda? A wellness program for the Georgia Dome employees in Atlanta is in the works. But Wellard is not content to stop there. “I’m praying for more opportunities. I’m even praying for an invitation from the White House,” he says. “Who knows? You have to think big, to dream big. With God, anything is possible.”