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Church to take on 90-day health challenge

May. 04, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- As the weather heats up outdoors, Pastor Steve Willis is turning up the temperatures under his congregation at First Baptist Church of Kenova.

Willis has issued a 90-day challenge to his church families, who have already seen a lot of spotlight turned on them in the taping and follow-up of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" in recent months.

"Clearly, our church garnered a lot of national attention with Jamie, but we were already getting some things in order before Jamie ever came," Willis said. "We were trying to focus mainly on exercise and talking about building a Family Life Center where people could come out and exercise together. We really were making some headway."

It was then the seriousness of the Tri-State's health problem really hit Willis.

"I realized exercise alone wasn't going to suffice, but I didn't know anything about nutrition. It was the very next day that Jamie's people called," he said. "That was no accident."

Willis is urging his congregation to continue with the momentum started by Oliver's Food Revolution. Starting Thursday to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, Willis' families will take part in a church-wide 90-day challenge that Willis said is to focus on "the total health of our humanness." The challenge will end the first week of August.

"Your emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health -- it's all connected," he said. "We are the way we are physically because we are the way we are emotionally and mentally. We know we need to change, but we don't have the will to change."

The church has opted to create accountability groups -- groups of church members who share the same goals, whether they be losing weight, eating more healthfully or reaching out to schools or the community to generate awareness. Right now, the church has three sections of groups: school-focused, community-focused and individually-focused.

"I have one group recruiting people to get into the elementary schools and talk to the kids, three groups of people who have said they want to try to lose 20 pounds this summer and exercise together, another group that is designing some community events with healthy foods in an effort to generate more awareness and our Mothers of Preschoolers group," Willis said. "But, for any of this to be successful, the pastor has to buy-in to the reality that we have an obesity epidemic, it's killing our people and it's affecting our emotional, spiritual and mental health. It has to be addressed from the pulpits."

Willis is also attempting to secure one pastor or community leader as a nutrition advocate for every elementary school from Boyd County to Kanawha County.

Inside the church, Willis said it's all about each ministry group deciding what they can do to raise awareness and make a change.

"I want Sunday School teachers to address it in class, our dinners on Wednesday night have completely changed. We put the healthy foods first. The youth ministry has raised $3,200 to help with worldwide nutrition," he said. "It's all about each person taking ownership."

Willis said he hopes the 90-day challenge will encourage other churches and strengthen his own church's spirituality.

"My hope is that we love God and our neighbor much more deeply than we ever have before, and the way we're going to demonstrate that is by meeting people's most basic needs starting with the physical. That's what Jesus did. He met both, but he addressed a physical need before a spiritual one. They go hand-in-hand."

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