Sitting on a Gold Mine

    Whoever said, “When you know better, you do better” must not have known the people I know! Knowing does not automatically translate into better behavior.
    However, I do believe that “you can’t do better until you know better.” Education is a critical component of changing bad habits. It’s not all that’s needed, but without proper education, positive change is highly unlikely.
    As I was driving to my office today I got stopped by a light. While waiting for it to change I noticed a gentleman crossing the street in a motorized wheelchair. He was African-American, probably in his fifties or sixties. He was hooked up to an oxygen tank. His face was gaunt. The man was significantly underweight. He looked sickly. He was operating the motorized wheelchair with his right hand. And in his left hand was a transparent shopping bag with pork skins in it.
    Now look, I am not criticizing the man. Really, I’m not. I don’t think the brotha knows better. But the image of him with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel with salty pork skins in his one available hand disturbs me. And it challenges me as I reflect upon my faith community’s approach to health education.
    Let me go ahead and state as a disclaimer that I did not talk to the man. He may know better. But he represents many people I have met over the years like him who really don’t know any better. Most folk wouldn’t take a quarter cup of sugar and just lick it, but we’ll drink a can of soda with ten teaspoons of sugar in it. But who drinks a 12 ounce can of soda anymore?! We buy the 20 oz., which is equal to putting 1/3 cup of sugar in a glass and drinking it in one sitting. Most folk just don’t know! I have discovered that much of what I know about health (and take for granted), a lot of people in the African-American community don’t know.
    As I started off saying, I don’t believe for a minute that education is a silver bullet to positive behavior change. I’ve done some dumb stuff that I knew better than to do. People know that cigarette smoking is harmful to your health and that drunk driving kills, yet they still do it. And while many ignore good information, there are some out there who do alter their behavior when presented with the truth. So, education is a critical component of positive behavior change. Some people actually will put it into their habit forming matrix and come out better in the long run.
    I realize that, as an African-American reared in the Seventh-day Adventist Christian denomination, I have had such a privileged upbringing. And my sons are inheriting that privilege as well. Already, when they get a cold they know to self-regulate their diets. They will willingly turn down sweets and increase their water intake. Listen, they like to run and have fun! They don’t like being sick and down! So they cut back on sugar, which adversely affects the white blood cell count and they drink more water, which flushes toxins out of the body. My little boys already know that, but I have been surprised time and again at how many grown folk who are dying of chronic diseases still drink sodas and eat lots of sweets. It seems to me that they don’t realize there is a correlation between diet and healing.
    I’m writing this because I have a concern that there is a great gulf fixed between the healing knowledge in my faith community and the people who live in the neighborhoods where our churches take up real estate.
    We need to pray for God to help us to make a connection.
    We need to consider again the words of the late Ellen White who wrote: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
    It’s five steps, the first three make the fourth possible without which the fifth rarely happens. (1) Mingle with people and have their best interest at heart, (2) Be sympathetic to their plight, (3) Minister to their needs, (4) Win their confidence, (5) Compel them to become followers of Christ.
    I know I’m sitting on information that would transform the health and welfare of people in my African-American community. But before step 5, I’ve got to do steps 1 through 4. What I’m realizing is that if we really care about sharing Good News with people who we know need it, we are going to have to go out of our way to make a connection with them. We have to make that connection so that they will trust us enough to listen to what we have to say.
    Look at our track record: we put up signs, we advertise our cooking classes and our evangelistic meetings with handbills, flier, newspaper, radio spots and mailers. And our results are paltry. It ain’t because we got bad information. We are sitting on a gold mine! The problem is that we’ve skipped steps 1 through 4!
    We don’t mingle; we come into communities we don’t live in and take up parking spaces on Saturday mornings ... and then we leave. We are not sympathetic to the plight of people; we give them old clothes and some of us give them cans of food we wouldn’t eat ourselves, while giving it to them we treat them as if they are where they are because they’re trifling. We don’t care what their needs are; our attitude is you need what we are offering when we are offering it. You may have another itch at them moment, but listen brotha, you need to listen to what I’m telling you right now! And because we don’t do steps 1,2 and 3, we don’t win their confidence. And if we don’t win their confidence, we can’t share holistic Good News.
    We’ve got good stuff, but folk don’t trust us enough to sample it.
    Meanwhile, the man on oxygen in the hoveround hastens to his grave clutching a bag of salty pork skins. Pray church!


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