Article submitted by Dan Bennett and Elizabeth Bustos, Be There San Diego
When church Elder Cleophus Harris received a call from a nurse a few years ago telling him he would need to get his health issues under control or he could spiral into even worse health, he knew he needed to make some changes. Though he was taking medications related to his diabetes, Cleophus knew he needed to do more. He began losing weight and was supported by the health program at Total Deliverance Worship Center in San Diego. He underwent the 90-day Challenge program the church offered to lose weight and regain health, combining hard work with his faith and support of his church.
African-Americans have the highest rates of chronic diseases in San Diego County. In the U.S., 48 percent of African- American women and 44 percent of African-American men suffer from cardiovascular disease. In faith-based settings where African-American community members have traditionally gathered to share experiences, health has always played a role. But many congregation members still don’t get enough physical activity, always eat healthy or understand their risk for cardiovascular disease.
Total Deliverance Worship Center, under the guidance of Bishop Dr. William A. Benson, began its 90-Day Health Challenge program as part of the REACH Southeastern Cardiac Disparities Project, with goals around better cardiovascular health in faith-based settings. Elder Cleophus moved away from his fear of making healthy choices and embraced them as a way to honor his faith and his family. He took to heart the program and began practicing healthy habits, even inspiring his wife and children and fellow congregants to take the journey with him.
Since the project began in 2014, over 1,000 African American adults like Cleophus have been checking their blood pressure at least once a month. They also receive information regularly about eating and preparing nutritious food and about how to increase their physical activity daily. It all adds up to gradually changing their lifestyle to lower their risk of developing heart disease.
“I had to change my mindset,” said Elder Cleophus Harris. “Food could be medicine. Medicine did not just have to come from prescriptions. I don’t want people to be afraid of food or life. I only want people to be educated about the health decisions they make, so they can live life better, and enjoy their time with family and friends with fewer worries.”
Members of Total Deliverance Worship Center continue to embrace the 90-Day Challenge, which invites members to participate in 90 days of exercise, healthy eating, attendance at Sunday service and community service, relying on faith and encouragement to become and remain healthy.
Bishop William Benson integrates blood pressure monitoring and simple health messages into his services. More importantly, he participates in the 90-day challenge himself, serving as a model to his congregants. Further, he asked that certain high-fat foods, such as fried chicken and bacon, be dropped from church functions, while fresh fruits and vegetables be added. His church started offering opportunities for physical activity, such as a walking club and Jazzercize classes. “If you come to our church you will get spiritual enlightenment but you might also lose a couple of pounds, understand your risk for heart disease and do something about it,” the Bishop says.