Reaching Hispanics through health ministry

SUMMARY: How can we respond to the need of the Latino population for medical attention? The church must be able to promote programs related to health.

In his ministry, Jesus offered physical healing as well as care of the spirit. Understanding, valuing and caring for our bodies is part of becoming the human beings God created us to be.

A healthy lifestyle is essential to preventing and managing heart disease, diabetes and obesity – health problems affecting many Hispanic/Latino people. A partnership with the Highlands County Health Department brought disease prevention, nutrition and exercise classes to El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church in Lake Placid, Fla. The Rev. Luz Maldonado, pastor, says the ministry changed the lives of the participants who became more conscious of their health. It offers a model for following Jesus’ example of providing physical, emotional and spiritual healing while serving a community in which many people do not have health insurance.

Form an alliance
Partnerships with health departments and other government agencies can be helpful as churches work to promote healthy lifestyles and provide information to address health issues. Offering space in the church for classes and other educational programs may make it easier for Hispanics and Latinos who live in the area to attend. Hispanic/Latino congregations can help identify topics, promote the programs among church members and neighbors and encourage participants to practice what they learn about healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

Address health holistically
El Buen offered a series of 10 classes in its integrated health project. Each opened with prayer and closed with thanksgiving. Eight focused on physical health. The last two emphasized the relationship between physical, mental and spiritual health, including how worship, healing services, devotional practices and participating in Holy Communion can have positive effects on one’s health. Participants completing the classes received certificates, equipment to monitor their blood sugar level, a pedometer, literature and other materials.

Connect good health, good food and good moves
Health department staff led the sessions on physical health. A physician who directs the department’s health promotion program addressed disease prevention topics. A nutritionist emphasized planning and preparing healthy meals with information about the nutritional value of different foods. Accompanying recipes suggested menus that give special attention to managing diabetes and preventing childhood obesity. Each class ended with an exercise session. 

Grow and cook healthy food
Developing a community garden was a natural outgrowth of the nutrition classes. The health department donated a 4,000-square-foot plot and the local Home Depot provided the materials to build 16 wooden boxes in which 48 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and other plants grow. Volunteers from the church and community weed and water the garden, and the church shares the produce with people in the community.

Cooking classes led by the nutritionist used fresh produce from the garden. One participant commented, “The idea of the field didn’t attract me because it was more complicated, but now I see the difference a small effort makes. Fresh and natural produce are different than the ones you get at the store.”

Adapted from an article by the Rev. Luz Maldonado, pastor of El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church, Lake Placid, Fla., and the Hispanic Mission, Sebring, Fla. Maldonado’s article appears in the September-October issue of el Intérprete and online.

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