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The Path From Health to Hope

Deena Bartel-Wagner


Within the Seventh-day Adventist community, many voices participate in the conversation of how to live a healthy lifestyle. In spite of the different approaches, their overreaching goal is to help people change habits and experience better health. Many of them also have a greater vision: to share the love of Jesus while meeting the physical needs of participants. The typical program at a lifestyle center involves a 10- to 18-day residential stay. Participants receive medical testing and counseling from physicians, are taught how to change their eating habits, and begin to develop an exercise routine. Additionally, there is time for spiritual reflection. As staff members build relationships with the guests, they often have opportunities to share spiritual thoughts.

“We have many people return because of the spiritual component of our program,” says Darlene Seath of Wildwood Lifestyle Center. “They sense a peace that they find missing in their daily routines. One lady has returned at least four times, specifically for this reason.”

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Many guests do not initially realize that they are seeking any type of spiritual healing. Often they are so sick with physical disease that their focus is on finding relief from their pain and suffering.

Natalaya, who visited Eden Valley Institute in Colorado, had cancer and was wanting relief from her symptoms.

“Natalaya came to us, and I wondered how we would be able to minister to her in a spiritual sense,” says Connie Jo Roeske, director at Eden Valley Lifestyle Center. “She lives and works in a large metropolitan center and was very much into that lifestyle.”

As the days passed, Natalaya’s physical condition began to improve. She wanted to take in as much information as possible. One of the treatments used for Natalaya was time in the fever tanks. “We use the fever tanks to raise and then lower a person’s temperature,” says Roeske. “Natalaya was so eager to use even her time in the fever tanks to learn, that we arranged for her to be able to read during her treatments.”

One night as a group of guests and staff were visiting, Natalaya shared how her visit was transforming her.

“Natalaya told us that the treatments were making a difference in her physical condition,” says Connie Jo. “But it was the spiritual aspect of treatment that was really meeting her needs. At the end of her stay, it was apparent that Natalaya had opened up to spiritual matters.”

Natalaya is just one example of people who might not respond to a five-night-a-week evangelistic campaign, but who begin to sense their spiritual void when their physical needs are met.

“The daily spiritual devotion time we offer seems to have a huge impact on our guests,” says Frank Fournier, president of Eden Valley. “Not everyone who goes through the program is cured, but often they are healed spiritually. My approach is to build their faith and show them that God’s word is true. His honor is at stake, and He won’t lie to us.”

Before Ron Giannoni attended Weimar Center of Health and Education, he was a drug user and an alcoholic. He had high blood pressure, diabetes, and prostate cancer, and was in need of heart bypass surgery.

“My life was a mess,” says Ron. “I had the bypass surgery but didn’t change my lifestyle. In fact, following the surgery I began to drink even more heavily and fell into a depression.”

As he sought respite from his physical ills, Ron sensed that some important component was missing from his life.

“I was searching for something, but didn’t know what it was,” says Ron. “I followed New Age gurus, meditated, and even joined cults in an attempt to fill the void I felt in my life. Nothing worked.”

Life wasn’t looking good. One day, as Ron sat on the edge of his bed, he began to cry. “I can’t go on like this,” Ron told his wife Cindy. Both of them instinctively knew that, without a change, Ron’s physical health would continue to deteriorate and death would claim him.

“Cindy reminded me that we had heard about Weimar and suggested that we investigate their program,” says Ron. “At that point, I was willing to try anything. On August 15, 2005, I entered their program. That was the last day that alcohol passed through my lips.”

Ron began to see immediate changes in his physical condition and was grateful. His true turning point came when he heard about the idea of trusting in divine power.

Ron observed the calm and serene nature of the staff and noted there was something special about them. He longed for that same serenity. As Ron’s stay came to an end, he told the staff that he wanted to know more about what they believed. Ron and Cindy soon started taking Bible studies and attended a series of evangelistic meetings held by Brian McMahon.

“Cindy and I were so blown away by what we heard that we knew we had to be a part of it.”

Ron and Cindy were baptized in November 2005. Today, Ron serves as director of the Reversing Diabetes Program at Weimar.

“God has blessed me so much,” says Ron. “You truly start to learn when you teach. I’m still learning today, but I see there is hope for even the worst kind of person who feels he has no hope.”

The Lifestyle Center of America, with headquarters in Sulphur, Oklahoma, is in the midst of changing how they help others face lifestyle challenges.

“When we were first established, our program was basically a sanitarium model with a 19-day residential program,” says Dan Braun, LCA director of marketing. But, as the tenth anniversary of their founding approached, some serious self-examination began taking place.

“We recognized that most of our guests who had gone through the program were not able to maintain success in their daily lives after they left,” says Braun. “We estimate that only about 4 percent of those who had completed the program were actually having long-term results.”

The administration began to research how they could reach the public with a program that is both practical and beneficial for a lifetime. After three years of study and re-evaluation, The Full Plate Diet ( will be rolled out nationwide in January 2010.

“Our new model is like the parable of the sower and the seed,” says Braun. “We have the seed, but how do we best plant it in all areas? Some people will be like the hardened ground and won’t be open to any change at all. How do we reach the stony ground?”

John, a consultant who attended LCA’s planning meetings along with the physicians, took notes and listened to how simple lifestyle changes could make a difference.

“I didn’t see John for about four months,” says Braun. “When I did see him again, I didn’t recognize him. He had lost around 50 pounds. John told me that, as he listened to the information presented by the physicians, he knew he could implement those changes in his own life. John would never have come to a 19-day program, but he’s implementing change on his own terms. And who knows where it will lead?”

Breaking down barriers is necessary to reaching others who might be resistant to lifestyle changes. The Black Hills Health and Education Center made a decision to actively engage the local citizens.

“We’ve opened our workout facilities to the community and are finding ways to mingle with those who come,” says Dick Nunez, wellness director. “We are trying to shine our light to those around us.”

Tom and his wife are local residents who are taking advantage of the opportunity.

“I’ve been working out at the center for the past four years,” says Tom. “I didn’t know anything at all about Adventists before I started coming here. Now I’m asking Dick to hold a cooking school for the community.”

Although many of the lifestyle centers offer residential programs, the Coronary Health Improvement Project, commonly known as CHIP, is found in essentially every state, and is now expanding internationally as a local church-sponsored lifestyle program. The Three Angels Church in Wichita, Kansas, has held CHIP programs regularly since 1995.

“The concept of friendship evangelism is part of the CHIP program,” says Jan Wilson, the church’s CHIP director. “Our table hosts are the ones who make the personal connections with individuals. As those friendships develop, trust grows.”

Wilson says that by having church members show they care about the needs of those who are attending, the way is opened to talk about spiritual matters.

“As we share the truth about lifestyle issues, and our guests see that we are giving credible information, they are more willing to hear the spiritual message we also have to share,” says Wilson.

During His ministry, Jesus cut through the distractions in people’s lives and established their trust before sharing spiritual truths with them. Today, building trust and sharing credible answers to pressing needs still opens hearts and minds to spiritual messages.