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Keeping It Lively
Issues discussed at European Health Conference (Posted May 2, 2013)

It’s not surprising that there would be differences of opinion among Seventh-day Adventists involved in health ministries. But two things are surprising: the passion with which opinions are held, and the matters under discussion: lifestyle centers versus institutional hospitals and clinics; and diet: vegans versus lacto-ovo vegetarians versus Adventists who eat meat.

The roster of speakers at the European Health Conference reads like a Who’s Who of Adventist medical professionals and practitioners at every administrative level—from the local church to the General Conference. And the plenary sessions focus on what you might expect from such a conference: reflecting the model of healing and ministry reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. But in the hallways and corridors of the convention space, as well as in mealtime conversations, the focus seems to return inexorably to the topic of how, specifically, that ministry is practiced; as well as the characteristics of those who practice it.

PRAYER FOR WISDOM: Conference coordinator Viriatu Ferreira (foreground) prays for conference participants after a panel discussion about effective models of health ministries.   [PHOTO: Stephen Chavez]

The proponents of small, lifestyle centers that focus on natural remedies and emphasize the importance of the spiritual realm in physical healing find it hard to imagine that same environment in large, institutional healthcare settings. And with only two Adventist-owned and operated healthcare centers in Europe—La Lignière in Switzerland and Hospital Waldfriede in Germany—most conference participants would be unfamiliar with the national profile of a Loma Linda University Medical Center or a Florida Hospital.

More importantly, the medical professionals who work in most European healthcare centers find it increasingly difficult to witness for Christ. The secular attitude of most Europeans precludes a discussion of spiritual topics, and in some cases Adventists are prohibited from sharing their faith on “company” time. Thus the apparent advantage of serving in lifestyle centers as opposed to institutional hospital settings.

The other topic--vegans versus lacto-ovo vegetarians versus Adventists who eat meat—is argued with just as much passion, but with decidedly greater effect.

Although in many parts of the world total veganism is impractical, in industrialized Europe where a variety of dietary choices are readily available, not embracing all the inspired counsels regarding diet is seen by some as a kind of apostasy.

The issue becomes disruptive when, according to some in attendance, the matter of diet becomes a test of faith. One health ministries director stated that his greatest challenge to seeing new members join the church is the treatment those who eat meat receive from the vegetarians in his congregations. A Chilean, studying medicine in Finland, reported that young people are disenchanted with the local church because of the perception that rules are more important than people.

Not surprisingly, people on both sides of the issue cite examples from the life and ministry of Jesus and the writings of Ellen G. White to support their positions.

Of course, it isn’t odd that such conversations take place in a conference like this; it’s the perfect setting for an exchange of ideas. But all the participants will soon return to their homes and communities where these matters will become practical, not just theoretical.


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