Waves of Faith's Pastor Mario Morado finds that eating with a Plant Slant moves his congregation to both better health and a sense of Belonging.

Pastor Mario Morado is no stranger to the Diamond Hill neighborhood, having grown up there. One of the first things that’s evident about the lead pastor of Waves of Faith church –– the 22-year-old Southern Baptist church that began on Fort Worth’s Southside in 2000 and moved into Diamond Hill 12 years ago –– is his love for his community. Whether it’s watching over his church flock or ministering to the neighborhood, Morado is all about Belonging. Belonging is one of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles for longevity, practiced by those who have lived the longest in Blue Zones areas of the world. Research shows that belonging to a civic or faith-based community can lead to a longer, healthier life.

Waves of Faith has created the traditional opportunities for Belonging. Check out the church’s website and you’ll find opportunities for every age and stage of their congregation to become closer to each other and fulfill the church’s mission to connect. To that end, the church encourages members to join “Wave Groups” to build relationships with one another. “We want our members to connect and do life together,” he said.

And it turns out that in encouraging Belonging, Morado tapped into another Power 9 principle that his congregation needed: eating a better, plant-based diet. “A lot of people were going through issues because of COVID,” he said. “People were anxious and depressed.” In part to support a healthier lifestyle and nourish the bodies of the congregants, Morado proposed something a little daring at the beginning of this year. Most of the congregation joined him in a Daniel Fast. The partial fast, which is supported by Biblical principles and scripture in the Book of Daniel, reads like a template for the Power 9 principle of Plant Slant. Increasing the amount of fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts in your diet while reducing the consumption of animal protein directly affects the health and longevity of those who live in Blue Zones regions. Daniel, the hero in the story, was brought to a foreign land and chose not to eat meat (which had likely not been ritually slaughtered in accordance with Jewish law), bread, or wine. “Four young Hebrew men are called into the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, and the king offered a buffet of things that the Hebrews shouldn’t eat,” Morado said. “At the end of the fast, Daniel was stronger than anyone else.”

Although some groups do the fast for 21 days, Waves of Faith undertook a 10-day fast earlier this year. “A Daniel fast is no dairy, no meat, and mostly water to drink,” Morado explained. “Nothing processed.” Interestingly enough, Morado’s own health journey was affected by the path the congregation took. “In December I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,” he said. He had to change his diet rapidly –– and that meant avoiding both traditional favorites and family traditions. “I grew up having homemade flour tortillas at dinner, and we had ice-cold Cokes with dinner,” he said. “As Hispanics, we know when we go to someone’s house, they’re going to have chicharrons, tres leches cake, and carne asada,” he added.

The Daniel Fast became a discussion about both healthy lifestyle and connecting with God. Morado calls it “ten days of restarting,” and says that he could see how it helped his congregation. “Spirituality benefits us in learning discipline,” he said. “In a fast, you’re hungry and all you want is McDonalds –– it’s about prayer and asking God for direction and guidance.” Turning away from processed foods, meat, and the sodas he loved was a challenge for the pastor, but he saw almost immediate benefits. “My blood sugar started normalizing,” Morado said. “I went from a blood sugar of 270 to normal (75-99 is normal range).”

The fasting also changed the church’s hospitality, for the healthier: The traditional donuts that used to welcome guests were replaced, at the request of the Welcome Team, with easy-to-eat apples, bananas, and other fruit. “We liked the way it felt,” Morado said. “What helped us to be successful in this 10-day fast was that people had the right tools, and got excited because they thought they could do this.” Menu planning became critical to help people stay on the path. And the pastor proved to be a good publicist. “I would take pictures of my food and share them and people would say ‘that looks good’,” Morado said. His pro tip for maintaining a plant-based eating plan: “Get an air fryer.”

Morado and his congregation still retain many of the dietary principles from their Daniel Fast and he’s not ruling out another congregational reboot. You can find the pastor at church on Sunday –– “all are welcome; we always love to see new visitors,” he said –– but you’re just as likely to find him helping with food distribution and serving in schools in the neighborhood. “We stay connected to the Diamond Hill school pyramid (the elementary schools that flow into Meacham Middle School and Diamond Hill Jarvis High School), supporting students and teachers, and often providing student athletes with a pre-game meal,” Morado said.

Waves of Faith also supports the Wesley Center’s monthly Mobile Food Pantry. “It’s a great neighborhood resource that can feed 500-600 families monthly,” Morado said. Volunteers bag up the food early in the morning for car-side distribution. “It’s another way that we build relationships within the community,” he said.