CHRISTIAN AIDS RETREAT COMFORTS THE DYING
Riverwood Retreat Center "a chance to know His love".
Special to CW
- Belwood, ON -
In 1998, Bert and Marily Peel opened the Riverwood Retreat Centre in Belwood, Ontario to the victims of AIDS after seeing firsthand their loneliness and isolation.
Bert, a retired custodian at Mississauga Gospel Temple, and Marily volunteered to visit AIDS patients at the Philip Aziz Centre in downtown Toronto soon after they were married in 1993.
"Bert had worked with one man", says Marilyn. "He was stuck in his apartment for weeks and Bert was the only one who went to see him." After reading an anecdote in Chuck Colson's book The Body, Bert felt called to care for people with AIDS.
Meanwhile Marily had been working in a drop-in centre with a woman whose husband had AIDS: "She shared a lot, we cried a lot and we did laugh a lot. Her husband actually did all the flowers at our wedding. He died a year later."
Bert and Marilyn soon realized there was a definite calling upon their life to love those who were left behind. Then, they say, the Lord gave them a vision of a place of "peace and beauty," an escape from the noise and distraction of the city.
The result of that vision is Riverwood, a half million dollar complex built on 12.6 acres of wooded land with the Irvine River meandering through the property. It's a place "where everyone is welcomed with open heart," says Marilyn. "Just call and say that you would like to come."
Currently under the umbrella of the Deeper Life Christian Ministries, Riverwood is a short-term facility offering quiet time to rest. The retreat is also for the care givers, who often need it more than the sick, says Marilyn. The centre can house up to four terminally ill patients at one time, for weekends or stays of up to a week or longer.
The patients need to be well enough to administer their own medication or treatment, or bring someone to do that for them, and they also need to be substance-free. The cost is $50 per day including three home coked meals prepared by Marilyn, who gives special attention to dietary needs of the guests. There is also a charitable fund available for those wo can't afford the fee.
Place of miracles
The dream for the centre started on a wooded lot, as Marily recalls: "You could not even take a car onto the property but there was a little path leading to the river. We saw it an thought, 'Lord, wouldn't that be nice?'"
They bought the property in the summer of 1996. During a number of challenges with construction, legalities and rising costs, the Peels prayed, "Lord if you do not want this, please shut it down."
After they nearly exhausted all their life savings, the Lord stepped in. "This gentleman came to us," remembers Marilyn, "and said he really believed in what we are doing and paid for the whole building and the property - over $400,000."
"Sometimes God makes the miracle so big and so obvious that we know that it is he who did it, so only he can receive the glory," says Marilyn's daughter, Erin Todd.
The people who visit Riverwood come from all walks of life. "We had two ladies who came, really rough looking. One had tattoos all the way up her arm, but God gave us such love for these ladies," says Marilyn. "One of them said 'I feel like a queen.' We all had tears in our eyes when they were leaving."
Riverwood isn't well-known yet in Toronto's AIDS community, so the retreat also hosts people with non-AIDS related terminal illnesses as well as serving as a regular bed and breakfast on occasion.
"We provide a place of peace and love. We are just a very gentle and quiet witness, especially [for] people with AIDS who have been hurt so much by the Christians. They need to see the love of God acted out. As one pastor had told us: 'You may be the only Jesus they will ever see.'"
Original Article Published on May 30, 2000 in Vol. 14 No. 5 of "Christianweek" - Reaching the heart of Canada's Christian community
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