Why I Went to a Wifi-Free Christian Retreat Centre to Seek God Extra
God’s timing is perfect. He knows what we need and he’s moving all the time. This, perhaps, is the theme of my thoughts as I reflect back on attending a wifi-free retreat at Ellel Ministries Canada. I spent four days at Ellel and four days in a lifetime… maybe it seems like just a blip. But it can also be transforming and life shaping — it feels like that, that this experience will keep paying dividends. So I wanted to share about my recent experience because, more than being surrounded by God’s beauty in terms of the natural scenery and the people, it was such a sweet reminder that God is always with us, maybe especially sometimes when we feel far from him.
What is the RESET retreat at Ellel, a Christian retreat centre in Ontario, Canada?
RESET is a retreat for Christian leaders run by Ellel Ministries Canada, part of Ellel Ministries International, a non-denominational, Christian organization seeking to fulfil the vision of Luke 9:11 where Jesus welcomed the people, taught them about the Kingdom of God and healed those in need. It’s located in Westport, Ontario, about an hour from Kingston. (Note: I first heard about Ellel when I was living in Singapore, and then a few years ago met a friend who works at Ellel Canada!). The retreat starts on a Monday evening and ends right after breakfast on Friday.
During the retreat, there are three personal ministry times with two Ellel staff members (like counselling/prayer sessions) as well as time to spend doing one of Ellel’s online courses. Also on the schedule are shared mealtimes with the other guests, morning worship sessions, and optional evening socials. The overall purpose is to give leaders a chance to ‘reset’ and this looks different for every guest. Some might enjoy being social while others might value extended quiet time with God — there’s no judgement, everyone is welcome and encouraged to spend the time there as they’d like.
Why did I want to do the RESET retreat?
To be honest, when I signed up for the retreat, I think I was flailing a little. Winter term with school was extremely hectic, not just with the amount of work but with the emotional energy required to put my God-given dream into words and share it with others — via meetings with advisors, potential partners, judges at pitch competitions, and more. When the three months of busyness was over, I really just wanted to rest and take a breath before re-starting the planning. But. More opportunities came up. And I wanted to do my best to steward them even if I didn’t feel ready. And then with the pressure to perform came the desire to control.
Do you ever get that way — that when things start to feel too big you focus on things that you know you can do well? And sometimes that’s just exercising and dressing up and being entertained? Lol but really. So all to say when I applied for the retreat, I knew I was in real need of some time away with God, outside of my comfort zone, to really surrender while being amongst people that perhaps were desiring the same thing.
What online course did I choose?
Before joining the retreat, I had a phone call with Debbie, Ellel’s wonderful ministry coordinator, who talked me through some of their options. They have nearly a dozen to choose from including ones on marriage, parenting, femininity, creativity, the Father’s heart, emotional health, healing, hearing from God, and spiritual warfare. While I was interested in many of them, and because we were asked to do the course on healing (Renovate: The Foundations of Healing) prior to attending the retreat, I opted for the one on spiritual warfare (Rise Up: Tools for the Battle) because I knew that I was going through some temptations and needed a refresher.
When it comes to temptations, we face some everyday right? But there can be periods in life, perhaps when we’re about to step into something new or about to receive breakthrough in a longstanding area of struggle, when we can feel the warfare intensify. Personally, I believe there was some warfare in what I was struggling with surrendering as well as the why and the timing of the struggle. And now looking back, I think doing the course was kind of like taking a shower in terms of letting God’s truth cleanse the dirt. Then the prayer sessions exfoliated, allowing God’s truth to penetrate deeper.
What were the prayer sessions like?
Ellel offers inner healing and deliverance so I assumed that’s what the prayer sessions would focus on. Similar to when I experienced this at my church in Hong Kong, there were three sessions — a ‘getting to know you’ session, a ‘praying through specific topics that came up’ session, and a follow-up session. What stood out to me with the sessions was how gentle they were. The whole atmosphere was just about giving God space: I had space to ask God for myself and had prayer ministers (fellow sisters in Christ) to ask God on my behalf. I felt so loved and cocooned — nothing was intrusive or embarrassing. And at the same time, my prayer ministers were very sensitive and discerning, and I felt God worked through them in terms of asking me specific questions to consider and breaking off specific ties.
And the socials?
I was chatting with a friend the other day about how doing this Master’s has made us both more extroverted. It’s like when introverts can be more extroverted around family — seeing each other every day for almost a year definitely made us close quickly! But at my core, I love solitude, especially when it comes to my time with God. I crave hearing God clearly and love being emotionally honest with my Lord. And those times when I feel like I’m avoiding being fully honest and wanting to go to distractions? It’s a huge sign something is off. So with this retreat, I was really looking forward to just time with God. Honestly, I thought I’d spend most of my time alone in my room. I knew Ellel didn’t have wifi and heard that the data signal would be very weak to non-existent. So I went into the retreat with a big ‘Lord, I really want to get your opinion on these things’ checklist and hoped I’d come out with all the answers I needed.
In reality, I spent quite a bit of time with the other guests — mostly at meal times and some of the evenings. It was SO enriching and felt so special because they are brothers and sisters that I likely wouldn’t have met in my regular life, as we were from different cities, industries, age groups, etc. There was a leader of a non-profit that serves the poor, a veteran of a well-known Christian charity, a board member of a church that serves the underprivileged in their community, and so on. I loved their vulnerability and willingness to share, their obedience to God, and their humility in giving him the glory. The conversations were raw, real and so supportive.
Loved this creativity session — the prompts were so prayerful
How I feel after the retreat
I’m writing this just two weeks after I finished the retreat but honestly I both feel like a different person and like myself again. There were RESET retreats in May and June, and the fleshly part of me had considered going for the June date because I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to surrender yet. The June was full, so I went in May, and I say this because it was still a decision I had to make.
I had to choose to go and take this opportunity God was giving me even if I didn’t feel ready.
I had to choose to be honest with him and with my sisters in Christ and agree to turn from sin.
I had to choose to continue to walk in freedom afterwards and not succumb to old habits.
I had to decide, we have to decide to choose God but… oh how God helps us.
Our willpower is no match for the Holy Spirit. And when I got back home, to my familiar surroundings, I made decisions and spoke words and took actions that were in line with what I knew was right even if my feelings were still catching up. And the more I behaved in line with God’s will, the stronger I became — and it’s all because of God. I give him absolutely all the glory — for the opportunity to attend the retreat, to be encouraged and supported and cared for, and to still be checked-in on and supported in prayer by the Ellel staff after I’ve left.
There is truly nothing like God’s love. He really helps us because he loves us. And my personality… God has imprinted Psalm 66:16 on my heart these past few years.
Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. (Psalm 66:16)
I don’t only write or share when I’ve really messed up. Not every struggle is a ‘really serious, I’ve been struggling with this for years’ sin. Not sure why I feel the need to clarify this haha… actually maybe I do. Because retreats and workshops and church courses and counselling, it’s not just for when we’ve tried to do it our own way and badly failed so now we are going to God. The sooner we go to God the better! The more we quickly surrender all since we recognize the better! Going to God quickly, perhaps it helps us deal with things in weeks that might have otherwise taken us months or even years in other seasons.
So I pray that in this season and the ones ahead, we rely on one another, our communities, to walk together, testify, confess and pray, and seek God for true freedom. May we not be ashamed — Jesus already knows all and his arms are wide open and he sends community with wide open arms too.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
Thank you, Lord. How we love you — help us love you more.