“People do not believe what I have been through,” said Pastora Esmeralda Acosta, leader of Centro Cristiano Canaan, an Assemblies of God congregation in San Juan in the Rio Grande Valley, TX. A sparkle gleams in her eye as she relays the story of her church and speaks of outreach efforts in her community. She has an air of humble confidence and a presence that exudes strength and energy, which are a stark contrast to her head wrap and chemotherapy treatment pack.
Her community struggles with chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Acosta was one of several key faith leaders in the Valley that was invited by Urban Strategies to a community outreach planning meeting where churches learned about issues relevant to the community including health needs. Acosta and other attendees were challenged to think outside of the box and do things differently, and she has not stopped since.
Centro Cristiano Canaan actively uses Urban Strategies’ Bienestar (“Wellness”) model to promote healthier lifestyles and address physical needs in the congregation and community at large.
The church has been a hub for community events and health fairs where they purposefully connect the community with health services and information about a variety of health needs, including diabetes, blood pressure and dental care. At their Bienestar con Sabor health fair, they taught the community about soft drink substitutes and rented a blow-up slide for children to participate in physical activity. She says the community could see the church wanted to make an impact.
The community is not the only group affected by Bienestar. Acosta points out that sometimes the hardest people to reach are the ones who are closest – family.
Acosta’s motivation to promote a healthy lifestyle comes from her own experience with health. She used to be a diabetic and is now fighting cancer. She notes that when she began to take her own health seriously, people started to notice and wanted to know what she was doing.
She challenges faith leaders to encourage both the church and the community to focus on living a healthy life. Acosta quantifies this charge saying, “Focus on your health as pastors to begin with and then focus on the rest of the congregation. If our health is not good, we can't encourage others…. if we do it [become healthy] as an example, people will follow us.”
She believes the church needs to focus on both the spiritual and the physical, taking a holistic approach to wellness. She leads by example and speaks from the pulpit about health. The effects have been personally transformative and left a mark on the community.
To learn more about implementing Bienestar at your church, contact us.