The United Kingdom (UK) has undergone profound changes in the past years, from Brexit1 to recurrent changes in prime ministers; from the pandemic to a global energy crisis; and, most recently, the passing of the much-loved monarch, Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II.
On a happier occasion, in February this year, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service to the people of the United Kingdom, the Realms, and the Commonwealth (an association of 54 independent countries, almost all of which were formerly under British rule). This was celebrated across the United Kingdom, albeit in a climate of transition and uncertainty.
The climax of these celebrations were the Commonwealth Games, an international multisport event among athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations held in the second-largest city in the UK, Birmingham. The high-profile Commonwealth Games were indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for outreach, which gave inspiration to the Health Ministries Department of the North England Conference to launch its largest health evangelism program to date, called Commonwealth Health.
The Health Message: The Right Arm of the Gospel
The general mental and physical health in the UK has starkly declined since 2020. More than 1.6 million people suffering from depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol misuse contacted mental health services in 2022 alone.2 With the pandemic backlog, the health services, obesity and lifestyle-related diseases such cardiovascular diseases, and cancer have increased.3 People continue to mourn more than 150,000 COVID-related deaths.4
The Jubilee and Commonwealth Games festivities took place in a year of upheaval, worry, anxiety, and grief, with people trying to find their footing in a shifting reality. The signs of the times are obvious, and once again we’re reminded that comprehensive health ministry is the right hand of the gospel, whereas medical missional work in particular is to serve as the right hand to the third angel’s message.5
What the Adventist message has to offer is assurance of salvation, comfort, and hope. It is this message that the churches of Birmingham brought to their communities.
Two large health expos were organized near Alexander Stadium (the main venue of the Commonwealth Games) and at the Jamaican Independence Festival. The interactive and fun expos about nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust—the NEWSTART principles6—were presented to the public. Volunteers collected visitors’ health data; identified their actual health age; checked their blood pressure, lung capacity, heart age; and much more.
The expos were based at Perry Beeches church in Birmingham, where the volunteers worked from morning till evening to reach not only the larger community around the church but also visitors from across the globe. To achieve sustainability and legacy, the brand “Commonwealth Health” was created along with an interactive website (www.commonwealth health.co.uk), which signposts national and international visitors to Adventist churches across the Commonwealth.
The Harvest Was Great; The Workers Were Many!
“The message of the soon coming of the Saviour must be given in all parts of the world, and a solemn dignity should characterize it in every branch. A large vineyard is to be worked, and the wise husbandman will work it so that every part will produce fruit. If in the medical missionary work the living principles of truth are kept pure, uncontaminated by anything that would dim their luster, the Lord will preside over the work. If those who bear the heavy burdens will stand true and steadfast to the principles of truth, the Lord will uphold and sustain them.”7
The call for volunteer support for the Commonwealth Health initiative received an unprecedented response, with more than 230 local volunteers getting involved. Some took annual leave in order to participate, nurses and doctors worked extra shifts, elderly individuals engaged tirelessly, and young people helped with promotion. Volunteers joined together daily and ran the health expo stations with expertise and experience, mentoring those who participated for the first time. Church members even recruited their non-Adventist colleagues to take part, making them eyewitnesses to health ministries in action. With the expo running for nine consecutive days, it was possible for visitors to return and continue to have meaningful conversations with pastors and prayer warriors.
Volunteers also supported the Commonwealth Games themselves as wardens, police chaplains, and chaplains to the athletes.
More than 300 visitors passed through and showed genuine interest in our health message and church. Many expressed a desire to join prayer meetings, Bible studies, and Sabbath worship, and they received Bibles and health and other literature.
A Year to Look Forward To
Once the Commonwealth Games were concluded and the expos dismantled, the tired volunteers returned to their home churches, but the enthusiasm did not die; instead, it increased. The months of August and September saw more health expos spring up across the North England Conference than ever before. A health champions group was established, whose members teach church groups, pastors, and health ministry leaders how to run comprehensive health ministry programs. Follow-up programs in Birmingham, such as the signature health program “Reversing Diabetes” at Camp Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church, is currently running with great success.
“A clarion call to medical evangelism is due at this time. Thousands, yes, tens of thousands of people today are asleep to the condition of their spiritual and their physical health. They are far from the better way of life and do not sense their peril. Faithful watchmen are needed to point out the way of health and holiness.”8
Comprehensive health ministry encompasses not only physical health but also mental and spiritual health. Mental health workshops on emotional resilience, healthy boundaries, and depression and anxiety recovery are greatly needed in the current times and are being held in Liverpool and Manchester, with more churches joining in. Spiritual health and the restoration of the connection to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is also a key focus for the years to come through collaboration with Possibility, Family, and Women’s ministries. Katia Reinert, associate director for Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference, trained facilitators in the North England Conference to begin the Journey to Wholeness program and to minister to families, churches, and communities.
We Fought the Good Fight
After years of trials and tribulation, our church family in the North England Conference had the opportunity to come together and work actively for the Lord. Years of lockdowns and closures, of estrangement and disruption, of disorientation and insecurity, encouraged us only to work harder, to open up and invite in visitors, to grow closer together in Jesus, and to join hands as workers in God’s vineyard. The third angel’s message was preached loud and clear to the unreached.
2 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/mental-health-services-monthly-statistics-performance-may-provisional-june-2022; see also https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-services-monthly-statistics.
Beatrice Kastrati, M.B., Ch.B., M.P.H., is director of Health and Possibility Ministries and Community Services for the North England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists headquartered in Nottingham, England.