Refreshed at a Higher Elevation: Retreat for the Soul Takes Shape in Arizona

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Western

By Carl Stagner

Cliff and Elena Porter have attended the influential Church of God congregation in the shadow of South Mountain since its earliest days. Phoenix, Arizona’s Mountain Park Church, host of the Regional Convention of the Church of God in 2018, has seen tremendous growth in number and impact on its surrounding neighborhoods—not to mention places well beyond the nation’s borders. The reach of the church, through faithful lay leaders like Cliff and Elena, extends not only to ministry outposts within the Movement, but also to ministers, leaders, and heroes of a variety of types across the state of Arizona. As their vital roles and responsibilities carry on within the congregation, Cliff and Elena seemingly stumbled upon an opportunity to bless others in a brand-new way—from a much higher elevation.

In their earliest days at Mountain Park, Cliff and Elena were involved in children’s ministry. Cliff has been involved heavily with missions, volunteering with the congregation’s efforts in Honduras on many occasions. But one of the unique ministries covered by CHOGnews eight years ago, and headed up by Elena for the last two decades, is Christ-centered yoga, which has become known as the largest of the congregation’s myriad of ministries. The Porters have surely stayed busy, so how could they muster the strength to embark on a new adventure by faith? Yet busyness is one of the most critical reasons they felt compelled to walk through the doors God recently opened for them.

“My husband has a medical condition where he can’t regulate heat or cold,” Elena explains. “We’d been looking in the mountains where he could get out of the heat in the summer. We’d also actually just purchased a small cabin, and though it was all they could afford, they lamented the fact that it was too small for family—including all the grandkids—to come up and enjoy with them. Then he heard about a piece of property owned by the Dream Center [a ministry in Phoenix].”

Renewal awaits in the mountains!

Cliff told Elena he just wanted to go see what it was like, especially knowing it would soon be put on the market. “We’d be willing to work with you if you’re interested,” they told him. A ministry retreat for sale to a couple in leadership at an influential church—coincidence? Cliff, especially, didn’t think so. The retreat center was also situated not far from Porter Mountain. Another coincidence? Elena would soon come around, recognizing the leading of God.

Elena’s day job consists of managing software development for groups that combat substance abuse, support mental health, and advocate for behavioral wellness. She knows the value of respite, of soul care. It’s why she teaches Christ-centered yoga. In the mist of the hurry and the chaos of life, renewal is desperately needed, especially by those who devote their lives to caring for the souls of others (and are prone to overlooking the care of their own souls).

“We just started to think about it,” Elana recalls. “I decided I would have to visit the property and see if it felt right. Would I feel the presence of God there, and believe that others really could, too? I finally went up there and was in awe. It was so calm, so quiet, the nights so star-studded—but it needed a lot of work. So, we stepped into it, even though it was scary. We created a nonprofit with the purpose of providing a reasonable way for pastors, volunteers, missionaries, and first-responders, and their families to have a reset. Anybody that needs a recharge, a refresh, time away—we are the end of a dirt road! You are far away from it all, and you feel like it’s just you and God or, depending, you and community and God.”

Elena and Cliff Porter

From a higher elevation, it’s a whole lot easier to see things clearly, breathing in the fresh, mountain air. From God’s elevation, all the pieces could come together just right for this ministry to get off the ground. He knew the young missionary couple serving the Native American community—that their work had just ended, and they didn’t know where they would serve next. He knew they would be the perfect fit to live on the property inexpensively and manage the site. He knew the Native American churches in the area and the opportunity for partnerships that would develop from the new retreat center. He kept in mind the Porters’ connections to the Church of God, including former Arizona regional pastor Craig Frank and his own particular passion for the soul care of pastors.

Craig now serves on the board for the Porter Mountain Retreat Center. Though the ministry’s vision extends beyond the church, Craig certainly plans to promote the opportunity the retreat center presents to pastors and church staff, among other ministerial leadership roles, throughout the Church of God in Arizona.

“This is on our hearts,” Craig explains. “I was a local church pastor for thirty years before serving as a state pastor, and I attended two or three different pastor retreats for a four- to five-day period. Even in Scripture, God rested after creation. In Mark 1:35, we see that Jesus was busy in ministry, but intentionally went off to a solitary place to pray. The focus in Scripture of Sabbath rest, and the need for some kind of focused time away from responsibility where you can recharge and replenish, is evident. In my own experience, when you’re in that solitary space, you can get away from daily distractions and find focus you can’t get in the midst of everything else you’re doing. Those times were so meaningful for me. One of the reasons I went into state ministry was because I saw so many colleagues fall by the wayside for various reasons, including burnout. Sustaining strength requires time away.”

Big, blue sky is the norm here.

The Phoenix metropolitan area boasts a population of five million. The traffic, the noise, the density, and sometimes the smog can be overwhelming. If you’re a first-responder, if you’re in ministry, if you’re a leader of a nonprofit—you’re likely to be even more overwhelmed with the pace and demands of life. Elena Porter understands this; therefore, she longs to see the retreat center to become a haven of restoration as many as possible, within the Church of God and beyond.

“I see the world from a unique perspective—I see the data,” she explains. “All the needs, and the hurts, and the cries of the world. In this noisy world, it’s very hard to hear God. When we have a physical ailment, we go to the doctor. But when our soul is hurting, nobody pays attention. We hardly even know what that is. Yet, we’re tired. Depressed. ‘I’m so heavy,” is what I hear all the time. We need to connect to God in quiet, in peace, in solitude. We need others to connect with us in community. We need margin. Then, when people get refreshed, they can go back down the mountain to be love and light.”

Learn more about Porter Mountain Retreat Center at Learn more about the Church of God movement at

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