For hospital managing nurse Deborah Dawes, juggling her hectic work routine, an aging parent in need of care, and teenage daughters left her with no time for herself. “So, I put my health last and made really bad decisions about what I ate, what I drank. My exercise level, my stress level, everything was wrong,” she remembered.
Worried about her health and wanting to make changes, in 2019 she decided to look for wellness resorts close to her home in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia. “I looked at quite a few different ones around Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, but they were all completely outrageously priced,” she said.
After a lot of research, she found the Sozo Health Retreat, a lifestyle medicine intensive residential program based on scientific evidence, biblical principles, and Ellen White’s book, The Ministry of Healing.
Run by the North New South Wales Conference (NNSW) Health and Wellness Department in a pop-up model — each time in a different location — the program was trialed with Stuarts Point as the first location.
Along with 10 other patients, Dawes spent eight days surrounded by nature and a caring medical team, with a structured routine that included a range of treatments, guided exercise, balanced plant-based meals, and plenty of time to relax.
From the six retreats run so far, she has been to three, including the latest one run in May on the Central Coast, each time stepping further into her healing journey.
“Sozo is a Greek word, and it means complete healing,” NNSW Health and Wellness director Camila Skaf explained. “It is the word often found in the New Testament when Jesus heals someone. The word for healed or saved, that’s sozo,”
Committed to promoting complete healing, the team of licensed health professionals, chefs, physical trainers and more, reviews each patient’s current health, medical history, activity levels, eating habits, sleep patterns, and stress tolerance, creating personalized lifestyle prescriptions.
“The main goal is to help improve their health outcomes long term to not only live longer but to live better,” naturopath, massage therapist, and program coordinator Renee Livingston said.
She explained that trying to change lifestyle habits at home can be challenging for many, and by coming to the retreat, the patients gain a new perspective in an environment designed to empower them.
“At Sozo, they get to see it lived, to see it practiced, to experience how it feels, and also to learn why it is important. So, education is a big component,” she added.
As part of the daily activities in the retreat, the patients also learn from lectures presented by health specialists. In the mornings, a cooking workshop presented by a plant-based chef teaches them to prepare healthy, balanced meals at home.
“I’ve never been on a retreat before, but I didn’t expect so much input, so much information. I think in a lot of retreats, you might have a massage a day, a bit of yoga and meditation, but this here is real learning, real nurturing and empowering,” participant Alison Goodwin said. Goodwin added that she was excited to go back home and put into practice what she learned at the retreat.
A Blueprint for Life
Besides educating and empowering the community, Sozo has also been developed as a model to be implemented by other Adventist conferences in Australia, recently training its first licensee team of eight health professionals from Victoria.
“It was amazing to witness how God is leading the team led by Victorian Conference Health Ministries director Andrew Jasper, and to work together on our latest health retreat program in Avoca Beach, Central Coast,” Skaf said.
After attending the latest retreat as a patient to get a deeper insight into the program, Jasper said he and his team are preparing to launch Sozo in Victoria by November 2021.
“In only a week, the patients can see the difference and the effectiveness not just in physical improvements, but in mental and emotional improvements. I’m a firm believer in the whole-person paradigm, and programs that meet that full need are top of my list,” he said.
With its effectiveness recognized by Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the program will also be used by the Adventist Church in other countries. “They are taking the same model under a different brand to other places around the world,” Skaf said.