NAMB encourages healthier missionaries
Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor
July 17, 2008

NAMB encourages healthier missionaries

NAMB encourages healthier missionaries
Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor
July 17, 2008

A Beaufort native uses the North American Mission Board's (NAMB) facilities to maintain and better her health.

When Carol Baker, now a missionary enlistment coordinator with NAMB in Alpharetta, Ga., was playing volleyball for Mars Hill College it wasn't hard for her to stay healthy.

Over the years, serving as a resort and summer missionary and later when her husband was a pastor then lawyer — now in administrative pastoral work — Baker relied on high metabolism and her small frame to keep the weight from building.

"I've always been small and felt like I could eat what I wanted but felt conviction from God," she said. "I felt compelled and convicted that God wanted me to take care of my body a little better."

Since the beginning of NAMB's fitness efforts, Baker has been on board. She began with circuit training at least twice a week.

NAMB employs a part-time fitness coordinator to work with individuals as well as groups on exercise regimens.

In December 2006 Baker had gone to the doctor and received some disturbing news: her bone density had dropped slightly below zero. Her doctor encouraged her to do some walking and take calcium, but for Baker, calcium counteracts an allergy medicine she takes regularly.

The next month, Baker began a weight class three times a week and by March her density had raised to 0.7

"I just think I feel better. I have more energy," she said. "I don't get as sleepy in the afternoon."

Part of core

Baker now works out five times a week. She is part of a core group of about 70 employees — out of a total of 250 — who regularly use the workout facilities at NAMB.

"I'm just thankful that the North American Mission Board allows us to have a trainer," she said. "If I didn't have that, would I do it on my own?"

Even when traveling Baker works with Lebron Pinkerton, NAMB's fitness coordinator, to develop a workout routine that she can do in her hotel.

Knowing someone is waiting on you, whether the trainer or the group you normally work out with, also motivates Baker to stay on track.

She said she regularly meets with missionaries across the country and she encourages them to take time to exercise.

"Even if it is walking, take 15 minutes during lunch and get outside," she said.

Pinkerton oversees two different facilities — one weight room and one aerobic area — within NAMB headquarters.

He offers 21 hours of classes that meet different needs and helps with wellness programs. Each month Pinkerton takes measurements for the active members to track the progress.

Off medication

"We've seen great results," Pinkerton said. "I've had many members of ours who've gone off blood pressure (or other) medicine."

Pinkerton has helped Gail Dover, benefits coordinator for NAMB, with her back. Comparing him to a physical therapist, Dover said he showed her strengthening exercises she could do to strengthen her back.

She said the fitness initiative has helped with costs at NAMB over the years as well.

"About six years ago our benefits were getting out of sight," she said.

NAMB offers to pay the copay for a physical as well as helps offset the cost of a gym membership. Since missionaries are scattered across the country, Joe Outlaw, human resources director, said they are encouraged to get active in their areas of service. NAMB's offer to take some of the cost away of joining a gym is an effort to motivate missionaries towards a more healthy lifestyle.

Outlaw said NAMB has gotten proactive on how it covers benefits.

Save a million

The investment has paid off.

"We feel like this has played a significant part in savings," Outlaw said. "We were able to reduce a budget line item by $1 million" (health care benefits line item budget 2008 vs. 2007).

Outlaw said the initiative is not just for physical health.

"We encourage good quality family time, quiet time, healthy patterns, finances, eating," he said. "We are trying to impact the overall health of our missionaries."

NAMB helps pay for Outlaw's membership to Weight Watchers, where he has lost 20 pounds.

"We can preach a personal message," Outlaw said.

Richie Stanley had always been a recreational runner before NAMB's fitness initiative began. But since Stanley, team leader for Center for Missional Research, started working out at work, "it has definitely had an impact on my health."

A recent physical showed Stanley had gained a little weight but his body fat had reduced.

Stanley said his regular workouts Monday and Wednesday with a group keep him accountable.

"When someone is not there, they are missed and are encouraged to come back," he said. "There are some mornings I get up and may not feel like coming in but I know Lebron and some of my coworkers are expecting me."

Another added benefit to his 6 a.m. workout — no traffic jams.

"It gives me a better outlook on the day," he said. "It's a blessing really. I count it as a major benefit for working here at NAMB."

Mike Ebert, coordinator for publications and communications consulting for NAMB, has seen the benefits too.

Ebert's cholesterol is down about 15 points from a year ago.

The goal is to "address the whole person," he said.

To do that NAMB partners with Emory University to offer classes, workshops, lunch and learn opportunities for its employees. Classes might be on Microsoft packages, developmental training, etc. GuideStone also does financial planning seminars. There are also health fairs, blood drives and other opportunities.


While the International Mission Board (IMB) does not have a specific fitness facility at its headquarters, a spokesperson for IMB said a wellness plan is in the works.

"The individuals and their well being is our primary concern," said Wendy Norvelle.

At the IMB, staff and missionary personnel are considered separately. Missionaries are held to a higher standard for meeting certain physical, mental, and emotional requirements. At the missionary learning center, there is a gymnasium with recreation equipment available.

"What we do is a pretty extensive upfront screening," said Randy Rains, associate vice president for the office of mission personnel, "for every missionary and for every family member."

The IMB maintains that missionary candidates and family members must meet certain Body Mass Index (BMI) parameters. Rains said this means "making sure who we send are healthy when we send them."

For long-term missionaries, which the IMB defines as two years or more, candidates must be 30 BMI or lower to qualify.

"From a health standpoint we not only look at the physical health we also have a mental, emotional component as well," said Rains, listing lifestyle and life choice issues as considerations during the screening process. "We delve pretty deep into people's mental, emotional health."

As long as people meet the BMI and other requirements, those who take maintenance medicines for ongoing health issues are considered. Rains explained that doctors might leave a note limiting where they are assigned.

Feel rejected

Many times candidates who don't meet the requirements feel rejected.

"They are not rejected," Rains said, but put on weight delay. "We actually work with them" using an organization to provide consultations with nurses or others in the health field to encourage them to lose weight, but more importantly to get healthier, he said.

"Of course that's up to the candidate" in the end, Rains said. "We've had people lose 100 pounds … just to be fit to go."

Candidates receive support if they are delayed because of other issues as well.

The guidelines are a little more flexible with short-term missionaries (37 BMI), but if that short-term person wants to go back for a longer period, he or she will be expected to meet the more stringent requirement.

As a recreation and sports and marriage and family specialist with LifeWay, John Garner said employees receive incentives for weight loss and meeting other fitness goals. Certain hallways are designated for walkers inside the headquarters in Nashville so employees can take their breaks and lunches to get in a workout.