October 3, 2021

A Widow and a Widower Found Each Other and Discovered New Community through Serving Together

Sixteen years ago, Ron Gadreault was in a dark place. Physically, he was suffering the effects of a work accident that had left him with a broken neck and back. He was also battling Hepatitis C. 

Then, on August 24, 2005, his wife, Debbie, was killed in a tragic car accident that left him sorrowful and lonely. The combination of emotional and physical challenges left him drained and wondering if he’d survive. 

Eventually, he reached a breaking point that brought him to his knees. He surrendered everything to Jesus — his situation, his happiness, his future. In time, he also longed for companionship again. He asked God to bring the right person to him. After using a Seventh-day Adventist dating app without success, he figured it wasn’t in God’s plan. He would stay single for the rest of his life. 

“I said, ‘Lord, it looks like You don’t have anyone for me, so I’m going to delete this app,’ ” Ron said. 

The following day, he saw a message in the app from a woman named Julie. It said, “If God isn’t first in your life, you don’t need to respond to this message.” 

Julie, from southern California, was a widow who had said her own goodbyes: her husband of 35 years, Donald, had been sick for a long time. When he passed to his rest, she felt heartbroken and alone. Now, she too was looking for a new beginning. 

Ron responded to Julie, and it was a match. Soon, he began making regular trips from northern California, where he lived, down to Loma Linda, where Julie lived. As the two dated, they imagined what their future could look like together. Ron brought up Maranatha Volunteers International. He had followed Maranatha for years, even coming to the annual convention in the past. 

One of the things he grew to admire about Julie was how much she loved Jesus and her passion for ministering to others. For 35 years, she had led out in Pathfinders at church, and Ron knew she would relish the opportunity to serve on Maranatha projects too. What if they could live out their calling to serve by going on as many Maranatha mission trips as possible? They could even purchase an RV and travel from project to project while seeing North America. The dream was alluring, but Julie still had a handful of years to go before retirement, so the plan would have to wait.

 

On August 9, 2020, Ron and Julie married at a small outdoor wedding at the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, where Julie was a member. From there, their plan accelerated quickly. After investigating, they realized Julie could take an early retirement. Then they happened to visit family in northern California in October 2020 and fell in love with the town of Grass Valley. They moved there that December, and by February 2021, had their motorhome for Maranatha adventures.

“It was so amazing to see God work, one thing after another,” Ron said. "His leading was miraculous. Everything fell into place, from retirement to finding our home, to our motorhome." Soon, the Gadreaults found themselves on their first Maranatha project, at Milo Adventist Academy in Oregon. The experience was as good as they imagined. 

“Everybody cares about each other and cares about the project, and we work together as a family works together,” Ron said. “We have worship in the morning and at night like a family does. They have become our family. That is how Maranatha seems to be, a family helping others.”

The experience confirmed their desire to serve, not only for how it made them feel but also for the example it sets for those they love the most. “We wanted to be able to show our kids how service is so important. And serving Jesus can be done in so many ways, in your work and daily life, but there are so many needs out there. And without volunteers, it’s hard to get it done. You don’t have to get paid to be satisfied and happy,” Ron said.

As the pair celebrates their one-year anniversary, they realize that volunteering as a couple provides a relational foundation that is not easily replicated. By working hard, side by side, with a shared mission to make a difference, they feel a deepening of their young union. It has also allowed them to create a new community of shared friends — friends who almost seem like family to this new marital unit.

“Serving on these projects brings us into a closer relationship with Jesus,” Ron said. “The friends you make, the relationships you build, you wouldn’t have had them otherwise.... We were able to share, sometimes cry together, and it brought us closer together, but also closer to Jesus by hearing what He did in their lives.” 

For Ron, the past couple of years have been dramatically transformative, from stinging emotional and physical pain to the healing of his body and a new relationship. “It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it, because God has made me fulfilled. He brought me from a really lonely place to happiness that is beyond words,” he said. “God has brought an incredible lady into my life — after I lost my wife, I never thought I’d have [that companionship] again. The peace He has brought me is beyond words.” 

With renewed vigor for life and fulfilling the gospel call, the Gadreaults are thrilled with this new chapter grounded in service. They are planning a North American road trip for 2022 to hit as many Maranatha projects as possible. You might see them on the road next year, along with their cat, Cougar, who travels on the dash of their RV, barreling toward the next Maranatha job site. 

“Making plans for projects is so much fun and doing all of these things together — anticipating the joy of serving God together this way, has brought such a fulfillment into our marriage and a growth that often takes years to build,” Ron said. “I just want to share what God has done with others. Giving our time and efforts is what it’s all about — it is what brings true happiness.”

The original version of this story appeared in the Maranatha Volunteers International magazine The Volunteer.

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