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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Healthy Living, Healthy Ministry

Missionary helps pastors beat battle of the bulge

By John W. Kennedy
Sept. 21, 2014

Ricky Van Pay, an Assemblies of God missionary to triathletes based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, also works with pastors, church staffs, and congregation members who are struggling to eat less and exercise more. Van Pay knows the road from experience.

As a 25-year-old, 225-pound youth pastor, whenever he felt discouraged Van Pay visited a Mexican café and ordered a huge plate of comfort food: fajitas with extra fattening food on the side.

“I was hurting, and food made me feel better,” says Van Pay, 35. “I was preaching self-control, but I was a hypocrite because I had no discipline in eating or caring for my body. Deep down I was craving chips and salsa more than Christ.”

Van Pay had a wake-up call when a physician told him he was a candidate for an early grave. Also suffering from high cholesterol and skyrocketing blood pressure at the time, Van Pay knew he had to get in shape if he ever wanted to see middle age.

Van Pay changed his lifestyle and dropped 75 pounds. He has participated in more than 20 triathlons since 2006. But that success has not diminished Van Pay’s ability to empathize with those he is trying to help.

As part of his ministry at churches, Van Pay preaches sermons about health from a biblical perspective. The founder and executive director of, teaches a great deal about nutrition and how to develop healthier lifestyle habits that will take and keep the weight off. Ministers enrolled in his program keep a daily online food log for Van Pay to review.

Over the years, Van Pay has seen people try to justify their eating habits. Some claim if they don’t eat an entire pizza or a gallon of ice cream in one sitting they don’t really have a problem. Pastors sometimes use their busy schedules and needed study time to prove they really don’t have time to be healthy.

But Daryn Pederson, lead pastor of New Beginnings Worship Center (AG) in Miller, S.D., has lost 70 pounds since January working with Van Pay.

“I was sick of not being healthy,” says Pederson, 38. “I knew I needed to change. Fast food is not healthy food, in whatever form it comes.”

Pederson says he has been able to succeed in large part because of accountability from his congregation, other pastors in the program, and his family. His wife, Becky, has lost 20 pounds this year, and 10-year-old Luke and 6-year-old daughter Hannah compliment their father for being able to complete certain activities he didn’t even attempt before.

Pederson participates in running, biking and swimming competitions, but insists there is more to healthy living than exercise and eating well.

“I came to realize the unhealthy choices I made stemmed from a spiritual problem,” Pederson says. “When stress hit, I was running to food instead of going to God.”

These days Pederson feels doubly blessed because his exercising reduces stress levels and he spends the time praying and worshipping God.

In July, Paul Church — lead pastor of Dakota Ridge Church (AG) in Littleton, Colo., since 2008 — climbed a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado with Van Pay and three other pastors.

Dakota Ridge Church conducted a 40-day campaign to a healthier life in March and April, incorporating elements from the Daniel Plan touted by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Those in health-focused small groups at Dakota Ridge, which has a Sunday morning average attendance of 160, collectively lost hundreds of pounds. Several churchgoers also have been able to stop taking high blood pressure medications.

Earlier, under Van Pay’s tutelage, Church lost 25 pounds. But then he hit a plateau.

“I joked that because I ran, I could eat whatever I want,” Church says.

At the beginning of this year, Church determined to alter his diet, and he has lost an additional 25 pounds. Now he is achieving goals he never thought imaginable, including completing two marathons. 

“God doesn’t just save our souls for us to one day be in heaven,” says Church, 41. “God cares about our health. Our bodies and spirits should be sanctified and honoring to God.”

Church says adherents at Dakota Ridge now understand that being fit is a spiritual practice, not just an exercise in vanity.

“If I can say no to certain kinds of foods, I can say no to certain types of sin,” says Church, who this summer supervised a nine-week running program at Dakota Ridge for 16 novices.

For Lee Terry, youth director of the AG Rocky Mountain District, the determining factor centered on Van Pay’s advice that the strain of working out and resisting fattening foods is preferable to shortness of breath and a heart attack.

“The question for me became how much do I have to eat to satisfy my food desire,” says Terry, 52. “The answer was I’m not sure, because it seemed I could never quench it. If I had one bite then I had to have four more.”

Long ago Terry swore off his favorite comfort food, buttered popcorn at movie theaters. But when he began managing Camp Cedaredge year-round, the job put him in contact with a plethora of “fun” foods: cinnamon rolls, bacon, ice cream.

After Terry hit 270 pounds last summer, he reluctantly decided to call in Van Pay. Terry hesitated before mustering the courage, yet he ultimately knew he needed to make changes for the sake of his health. Van Pay quickly set Terry’s mind at ease that reform didn’t mean legalistic controls.

“After a couple of conversations, I realized he just wanted to support me,” Terry says. “Ricky didn’t change my diet; I did. He just kindly gave me information to help me make wise choices.”

Terry revised his menu choices and lost 70 pounds within six months. Consequently, he has gained confidence and is no longer anxious about the risks of carrying too much weight.

“It’s still a process every day when I get on the scale,” Terry says. “I think about what I’m going to eat — beforehand.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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