Bonnie and Perry D'Elia didn't know that making a move to be closer to family would be something God would use to launch them into a ministry to ministers.
It all began when Bonnie and Perry decided that a move to St. Catharines would be necessary, in order to be closer to Perry's aging parents. But somehow, they sensed that there might be another reason behind their move to the region of Niagara.
Bonnie can still remember talking with Perry about what life could look like once they relocated. "We said, well, if we're moving to the Niagara area, then God must have something else for us to do while we're in Niagara, as well as care for parents."
So while they searched for a home in the area, the D'Elias were also searching for ministry direction. Perry remembered, "We had been involved in leadership in various capacities in the churches that we've been in, and we decided that maybe what we needed to do was to provide something for leaders, and for people who were searching, burnt out, grieving, whatever."
As it turned out, it was Bonnie and Perry's son that found the house that inspired the idea of opening a retreat -- the house would eventually be the home for their ministry. Back then, half of the year was spent being a bed and breakfast, while the other half was devoted to being a retreat for people needing a break in ministry. But Bonnie was certain that the bed and breakfast segment was temporary. "We knew -- like, we really knew, in our hearts -- that God was going to call us to full-time offering of retreats."
Now in their third year as a year-round retreat centre, the couple has hosted anywhere from entire pastoral and ministry teams, to individuals just wanting to get away for a time, and hear from the Lord. Bonnie sees this is as much a part of the ministry God has called them to, as anything else they do. "Many times, when leaders of Christian organizations come, they're pretty burnt out for the cause, they're tired. So (when they come) they need to rest a lot. They pray, and journal, and read, and sometimes they fast, and they refresh, refresh and renew."
The D'Elias offer different workshops on select weekends, where a specific topic is discussed. One of the first workshops offered was a marriage retreat workshop, which Perry believes is helping couples get to the root of many issues in their marriages. "We are starting to realize that when people actually come away, and don't have the distractions they normally have in their everyday lives, they're able to deal with some of the things that they haven't given themselves time to talk about.
"The other thing we've also noticed, is that there is a clear sorting out that takes place, from the point of view of, in this case, between husband and wife, and they work out the different things that have been part of what they've been wrestling with, but the day to day things basically keep them sort of talking about it, but not really dealing deeply with it."
But although there is in-depth curriculum at the ready, Perry knows God's Spirit also wants to communicate to each person directly. "A lot of it is not so much about (curriculum) content, as it is trying to find the balance between content, and giving (guests) time to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them.
"So what we really try to do with each session is give opportunity for the content, but at the same time, provide time for them to process and absorb the content so that they can listen to the Holy Spirit, to see what might be applicable for them."
Bonnie agrees. "Generally, we leave them be with God, and pray. We pray before they come, while the here, and after they go. Because we feel that God knows what he wants to say with them. So it becomes a matter of them being comfortable and open enough to hear.
"We feel our calling is to create that sacred space, and to provide that time, and to facilitate that anyway we can."
Why should someone consider going away on a retreat? Bonnie believes that Christians moving about in today's hectic, fast-paced society, can use the time away to slow down and hear what God has to say to them. "I believe God has so much more for us, but if we're filling every minute, how do we hear him?
"If I'm not going to spend time with him, I'm not going to grow this relationship with him. And so, carving out the space and time to do that, and setting aside everything else, I think is so critical to a deeper walk. I think we all sort of intuitively know that, but to actually take the steps to do it…"
Perry added, "Ultimately, our best place to be is in silence, to just be able to hear, to still our minds to the point where it's not so much about us asking, as it is about listening to what he would speak to us about."
Bonnie continued sharing on the theme of coming away from being busy, and being still before the Lord. "It's hard to do it, because we have an addiction to activity. And, I don't think our culture really places a value on it. It's countercultural, in some respects, to do this. And yet, our prayer is always that God will bring here who he wants, and that he will speak what he wants, and they will be able to hear it, and go forward in that. We pray to that end and, over and over, as people intentionally take that step... they hear God. He does speak to them. They tell us that over and over. We don't always know what he says to them, but for them, it's a profound moment."