About Us - Spirit In The Desert

We Welcome You

Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center welcomes all people to experience the pure beauty of God’s creation in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The sunsets are breathtaking and the sunrises are announced by the calls of the Cactus Wren and Gambel’s Quail. The gardens around the facilities on the nine-acre campus are filled with natural plants, trees, and many species of Sonoran Desert cacti.  At an altitude of 2,580 feet the campus is somewhat cooler than the Phoenix metro area, especially in the glorious evening and early morning hours.

When you arrive, you will be warmly welcomed by a people-centered staff who will orient you to your surroundings. All bedrooms have private bathrooms, a patio or balcony, most with spectacular mountain views. Our experienced chefs will serve homemade, healthy meals and our heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi are available for your enjoyment and relaxation. Meeting rooms with WiFi and AV support are provided for a successful meeting or retreat.

This oasis in the desert features three walking paths with audio-guided meditation including a Labyrinth, Prayer Path, and Islands of Silence. We also maintain a virtual bookstore, with references to a variety of inspiring and insightful books, many authored by our retreat leaders. And we have a small gift shop with items such as pocket labyrinths, prayer stones, desert artists, etc.

Retreats at Spirit in the Desert are available for participants of all faiths and traditions to experience reconciliation, renewal, healing, and transformation. Churches of all denominations and related organizations can hold meetings for leaders and members in a get-away environment that encourages positive communication and productivity. We also welcome and assist individuals who would like personal retreat for one or more days.

We look forward to seeing you at this special place where people experience hospitality and renewal of their callings in the world.

Click HERE to take a tour of the campus.

About Us - Spirit In The Desert

Make arrangements for your group retreat, organizational meeting, or personal retreat in advance with someone in Guest Services at 480-488-5218, or Email Us

For program information contact Cyndy Warnier, Program and Development Director at 480-488-5218,  ext. 430 or Email Her

Our Staff

Jennifer Braaten, will step into the Interim Executive Director position during this time of transition.

She says, “It is an honor and privilege to be asked to serve as an Interim Director at Spirit In The Desert.  I’ve always loved the sense of sacred space and gracious hospitality that characterizes this special place.  I look forward to working with our remarkable Board of Directors and outstanding staff to further empower and envision an exciting future.

Hopefully there will be many opportunities to meet and partner with friends, pastors, leaders and donors who continue to embrace the mission of Spirit In The Desert.”

Jennifer brings many talents to Spirit in the Desert. Here is a short bio of her incredible life!

Jennifer is an accomplished academic leader, the past president of both Ferrum College (Virginia) and Midland Lutheran College (Nebraska); has successfully completed interim assignments in college president roles, and has served as a search consultant.  She is married to a retired ELCA pastor, Conrad, and the Braaten’s are longtime friends and supporters of Spirit in the Desert.  Jennifer brings to us a broad range of skills that will serve us well in an interim capacity and she is passionate about our continued success.  For a full Bio click here.

From our Chair of the Board of Directors, Dennis Dahlen: “Happy new year from Spirit in the Desert!  We have exciting news to share in the appointment of a new interim Executive Director as we begin the new year.  Pr. Paul Evenson has served tirelessly since last summer and successfully led the retreat center operations in the weeks and months following the loss of our previous Executive Director, Pr. Richard Anderson.  We are tremendously grateful for Paul’s service in our time of need and look forward to his continued contributions on the board of directors.

Jennifer will be focusing on ensuring that we delight our winter visitors and clients, continue our strategic planning for the future, build on the relationships that Richard and Paul have built among our supporters, and support the process of finding our next Executive Director.

We are blessed to have Jennifer join the leadership team at Spirit in the Desert and we’re looking forward to what we can do together.  I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Jennifer to Spirit in the Desert!”

From Our Staff: “Welcome Jennifer. We are excited to be working with you and working together for all the guests that come here to find healing and renewal.”

denise berberichFor many of Spirit in the Desert’s guests, the Retreat Center’s well-known welcoming hospitality begins on the phone or in person with Denise Berberich, Guest Services Director.

“My job starts with identifying what people need for a successful retreat, whether that is a group of 50 people, or an individual, couple, or family wanting a renewal experience. I gather their information and put together a package with all of the details for guest rooms, meals and snacks, meeting rooms, equipment, and special requests. There are many details, and when the guests arrive, the entire staff mobilizes to provide a transforming retreat experience.”

Denise said, “I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota where I learned a strong work ethic and the importance of working together. Denise describes her employment at Spirit in the Desert as a family where everyone pitches in for the common purpose of serving retreat guests. “At the end of the day, I go home feeling that we have made an important difference for our guests. It is ministry for people from many states and countries.”

The family experience extends to guests. When people inquire about bringing a group of people for a retreat, Denise invites them to take a tour of the campus. She said, “During the tour the guests are introduced to the beautiful campus and stunning desert scenery. It is exciting to welcome them to their retreat and when they return a year or so later, it is like a family reunion.”

Spirit in the Desert welcomes Eric Simonson!

Eric Simonson, a successful businessman from Phoenix, has been appointed Operations and Finance Director for Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.

Eric’s connection with Spirit in the Desert began in 2016 when, he and his wife Michelle, became re-acquainted Pastor Jim Hanson, Spirit’s Faith Mentor; Jim had been their pastor 20 years earlier. Eric and Michelle regularly attend the Wednesday afternoon Contemplative Communion service conducted by Jim.  He said, “That service has had a profound effect on my spiritual journey.”

Eric began his business career at America West Airlines. After seven years, he joined his family’s business, Sundrella Casual Furniture, a Phoenix company of 100 employees, that sold furniture in the international market. Eric served the company as Director of Sales and Marketing, General Manager, and for 20 years he led the company as its President, including negotiating its sale several years ago.

Eric was raised in Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Phoenix where he was, baptized, confirmed, and married to Michelle, his wife of 35 years. He has served as president of the board of New Covenant Lutheran Church in Scottsdale.

Asked how his new position fits for him, Eric said, “This is an opportunity to use my business experience and my faith to give to an organization that has a unique mission to serve people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

His responsibilities include over-seeing accounting and finance, and managing the departments of facilities and grounds, housekeeping, food service, and guest services.

Both Eric and Michelle enjoy relaxing on their boat in Ventura, CA, that is ten minutes from their daughter, her husband, and their two grandchildren. A second daughter and her husband are both commercial airline pilots based in Minneapolis.

The connection with Spirit in the Desert became stronger in the second half of 2019, when Eric volunteered to assist the retreat center after the death of its Executive Director by managing the food service. Deeply aware of the retreat center’s mission to provide hospitality, Eric said, “We want to do more than feed our guests.” He had a large plaque placed in the kitchen for the workers: “They come to break bread with us.” And, a plaque in the dining room for the guest: “Come break bread with us.”

Cyndy WarnierCyndy Warnier came to work for Spirit in the Desert in 2008, as a part-time guest services person and already had the education, skills, and experiences for her current position of Program and Development Director. Cyndy is a retired paramedic and has degrees in music, dental hygiene, Biblical studies, and graphic arts. With her Biblical and musical skills, she creates and leads retreats and worship events. Cyndy is also an excellent photographer. Her high-resolution photos enhance Spirit in the Desert’s retreat brochures, emails, and website.

Cyndy deeply understands that the foundation of Spirit in the Desert’s relationship with its guests is providing genuine welcoming hospitality and service. She grew up in a family-owned resort business in northern Wisconsin and learned that the family’s livelihood was dependent on every one in the family pitching in and treating their resort guests very well. Cyndy brings that early learning “spirit” to Spirit in the Desert.

Asked to describe the core of her responsibilities, Cyndy said, “My job is to help provide life-changing retreats and to create relationships with people who want to invest in the mission of Spirit in the Desert. I regard my work as ministry because our guests have life-changing experiences; they can be important small changes, and sometimes they are 360 degree turn-a-rounds.”

Cyndy’s energy and enthusiasm seems boundless. Asked what motivates her, she said, “I love to come to work because of my co-workers, the vibrant nature of our campus, and serving guests from around the world.”

saguaro blooms


The mission and viability of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center is guided by its Board of Directors. Eleven talented women and men generously give their time and expertise to support the executive staff and assure the non-profit organization is a sacred place where people experience hospitality and renew their callings in the world.

Click on the “(Story Title)” to read about the Directors

Joel Bjerkestrand, Involved from the Beginning”

Dennis Dahlen, Chair,  “Spirit in the Desert is Consequential”

Bishop Deborah Hutterer,   “This is a Holy Place”

Paul Evenson, Vice-Chair,  “Charitable Funds are Oxygen”

John Kautz, Secretary, Broader and Deeper

Suki Kisling, “Empowering Women”

Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, “Expanding Our Circle of Inclusion”

Nola Mellstrom, Networking to Grow Spirit in the Desert

Dave Schoenbeck, Respect

Glenn Schrader, “Energized for Growth and Leadership for Spirit’s Future”

Paula Sturgeon,   “A Place Where the Spirit Dances”

Bob Ulland, Treasurer, “Margin for Mission”

Wilder, Dave, The Opportunity to Help Others

Yates, Julie, An International Perspective

Doug Yock, “Broadening the Reach of this Wonderful Place”


Mary Wennes,  “Global Citizen and Activist”

Robert Duea, Vice Chair,   “Living the Third Chapter”