Pastor leads church members to lose 1,200 lbs. in 2016
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
RIPLEY — “I’m not half the man I used to be,” sang the Beatles, in the song, “Yesterday.”
Pastor Ryan Culpepper can claim the statement literally and with joy. Culpepper lost nearly half of his body weight, or 222 lbs., in two years!
In addition, about half way through his odyssey he challenged members of his church, Mary’s Chapel Baptist Church, Ripley, to become fit and lose 1,000 lbs. in 2016. Members lost about 1,200 lbs., he proudly reported.
All of these accomplishments can be traced back to the “Chubby Challenge” issued by Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in January of 2015. Davis challenged people to become fit by losing at least 10 percent of their body weight so “we’ll be living healthier lives and be better witnesses for Christ.”
Culpepper, though 6-feet 7-inches tall, weighed 460 pounds when he accepted Davis’ challenge. Today, at 41 years old, he weighs 238 and has met his health goals.
“Today people think my wife got a new husband,” he joked, adding that some people don’t recognize him “which is kind of unique. …
“The main thing is there’s nothing in me that can do this. It’s all Christ. … It’s all what the Lord does. His strength is made perfect in our weakness,” Culpepper explained.
“I tell my church family, ‘I’m in God’s school for slow learners.’ ”
Church member Jenipher Watson said Culpepper didn’t say anything publicly about his weight loss during 2015. Of course, she and others noticed he was changing physically. Then at the end of 2015 she was in the worship service and heard Culpepper’s testimony about his fitness journey including his struggles. She had just lost an aunt and a 39-year-old brother who left behind three children. Both of them probably would have lived longer if they had been more fit, said Watson, a medical assistant.
The deaths were “a real eye-opener,” she recalled. Hearing Culpepper’s story, she realized, “That’s what God wants me to do; He wants me to get in shape so I can be here for my family.” Watson, who is 41 years old, has a husband, two children in their 20s, and a grandchild.
Today she has lost 71 lbs. and become much stronger because of a workout regimen with a trainer at a gym. She has lowered dosages of high blood pressure medicine and eliminated her high blood sugar medicine.
One great reward has been that her daughter tells her that she is proud of her. “That just makes you feel really good when your child tells you they’re proud of you.” Also her husband, Wayne, who is youth minister of the church, brags about her accomplishments.
She has benefited from getting up off of the couch and going to the gym which allows her to eat a lot more and served as a jump start for her weight loss, said Watson. She drinks a half a gallon of water each day and works out five days a week. She said the financial investment is balanced by the fact that she is saving money on food, noting that junk food and fast food are more expensive than her current diet.
“Bro. Ryan has definitely been a blessing in my life. …
“It takes a lot of praying and giving it all up to God,” she added. “At times it does get really hard when you’re working out … and you’re tired … . Instead of giving up you just have to pray about it and talk to God instead of talking yourself out of it.”
Her church is a big part of her success at becoming fit, she added. Mary’s Chapel Baptist is definitely a supportive church family. For example, pep talks from a fellow female church member who works out helped her.
All of this has definitely made her “feel a whole lot better. I have more energy. I’m not depressed anymore. …
“It was all God. God put everybody in my life at the right time with the right words to say to me and that’s what did it.”
A big factor in the weight loss of members of Mary’s Chapel Baptist was Kelly Jankovsky, said Culpepper.
She had just completed her health program so she was one of the first ones Culpepper sought to speak during some Sunday evening meetings on health.
Jankovsky lost 70 lbs., over about 15 months, she explained. She had tried every diet without success. This last time she focused on educating herself on nutrition so her body “would perform the way God meant for it to perform.” She also added exercise to her new lifestyle for the first time.
One key is that she stopped eating fast food except Chick-Fil-A and tried to eat at home.
One great result has been the impact on her daughter, Hayley, who though she was an exercise science major in college, had gained weight, said Jankovsky. They helped each other as Jankovsky learned about exercise from Hayley while she learned about nutrition from her mom. Hayley lost 65 lbs. Also Jankovsky’s husband lost 25 lbs., and her mother, who is 74 years old, lost 45 lbs., in a year.
“This has helped encourage people and not just my church family but the rest of my family and some of my friends … ,” said Jankovsky.
“I would eat whenever I was happy; I would eat whenever I was sad and I made very bad choices,” she explained.
Even a small change in health choices can make a big difference if you’re patient, she suggested. “Don’t expect it to happen overnight because you didn’t get in that shape overnight.”
She has learned that God gave her abilities and health that she wasn’t supposed “to squander. … Good health is a gift from God … ,” Jankovsky stated.
“If you’re overweight or if you’re just unhealthy, then you’re not going to feel like … getting out; you’re not going to feel like reaching out to others.”
She also was motivated to maintain her health by the fact that she, like Culpepper, became “role models” during the church challenge to members who were struggling.
Recently the lady checking her out at the grocery store commented on the healthy food she was buying. Jankovsky told her that it was good, that her family enjoyed it, and encouraged her to try it.
She and her family don’t feel deprived because they have decided that “you don’t have to have those things; that you don’t have to depend on food for comfort or for celebrations,” she added.
“But it’s a process to get there; it’s not something that’ll happen overnight.”
The weight loss of about 1,200 lbs. by members was reported anonymously by members placing notes in a box at the church. Culpepper reported totals, which increased mostly but decreased at times, each Sunday.
One of the members who lost weight was Culpepper’s wife, Katie, who lost 30 lbs., noted the pastor proudly. The couple have three children who also have benefited from their parents’ new lifestyle, said Culpepper.
“What kind of legacy are we leaving with our health issues?” he asked.
This year Mary’s Chapel Baptist members have been challenged in a new discipline of life — Bible reading.
But Culpepper will be continuing his journey to health by speaking about it and serving as a mentor to a minister he met and some people who have contacted him on Facebook.
“Obesity is a crisis that’s really impacting our South,” he stated.
“You have to handle it with God’s strength, allowing Him to work in our lives.”
Contact Culpepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.