The full unabridged story of how we met

MALOU It was in October 1994 that I joined the OM ship MV Doulos in Italy. By February 1995, the vessel was in Mangalore, India. I first caught sight of Gareth on the quayside as he was going in and out of the ship mopping his brow while busily engaged in Christian ministry. I remember thinking at that time that here is a man who loves the Lord. Once, when I went to my cabin, I thought that if I were ever to get married, I would like to marry a man like this who is both committed to the Lord and has a heart for missions. I also used to listen to him speaking at morning devotions and at on-board conferences. Two months later he left the ship at Bombay. Shortly before the ship sailed, people were saying goodbye to him.

While this was happening, I was throwing away some rubbish on the quayside and on returning to my cabin I felt very sad he was going and wept. This was strange as I wasn’t one of those who was saying goodbye and I hadn’t, at that stage, even spoken to him.

GARETH In November 1995, I rejoined the Doulos in Goa for another Indian visit. I had been on board for a short while when there was a knock on my cabin door. I discovered 2 Filipinas standing there, one called Cecilia whom I had met previously and another whom I had never, to my knowledge, seen before. This lady (Malou) was holding out a new ‘T’ shirt for me and said ‘I want to give you this ‘T’ shirt from Mauritius’ (an earlier port she had helped prepare in advance of the ship’s visit). I was very surprised and said ‘Is it for me?’ and she said ‘Yes’ and promptly departed with her friend. I shut the door and had an almost tangible sense of being loved and appreciated; it was as though there was a glow all around me – a reaction which seemed somewhat out of proportion to a small and not unusual act of kindness from a member of the ship’s company. The next day I saw Cecilia and asked her who the other girl was and where she was now. I learned she was Malou Domingo and that she had flown to Port Klang in Malaysia as one of the advanced preparations co-ordinators for a future ship visit there. At that stage I would not have even recognised her if I had met her again. Further, I would not be seeing her again as I was due to leave the ship from the next port of Calcutta – several stops before the Doulos was to arrive in Malaysia. Because of her kindness to me, I began to pray that the Lord would bless and use this lady as a member of the line-up team. Later, during the ship’s weekly prayer night in Calcutta, slides were shown of some of the line-up teams including Port Klang. Suddenly, on the screen and before my eyes was the person who had given me the ‘T’ shirt. When I saw her I was very struck by her beauty. Shortly afterwards the ship’s director shared with me that the departure of some speakers left an urgent need for a replacement. He then asked me if I would be prepared to stay on board for a while. I pointed out that there were two difficulties. Firstly, my return ticket was from Bombay and secondly, I had arranged to fly almost immediately to the other OM ship, Logos II, for ministry. The director said that if my ticket could be re-routed and the director of the other ship was willing for me to postpone my arrival there, would I consider extending my time on board the Doulos. I told him I would.

MALOU The day I gave Gareth the ‘T’ shirt I also left for Malaysia. I had given him the shirt as I was so blessed with his life. While I was in Malaysia, something strange began to happen to me. Every day I found I was thinking about him and, to be honest, I was rather worried by that because I felt I was falling in love and yet did not know him! I asked my Malaysian line-up colleague, Kim Fah, to pray for me about this. I was a little taken aback because she asked God to open the door for us to be together if it was His will. I also found that during my quiet times, God was revealing something to me. I was reading at the time about women in the Bible. I noticed how Ruth went to the field of Boaz (an older man!) and how he liked her. God also spoke powerfully to me through the message of the angel to Mary; ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured’. I knew then that this man would somehow be an important person in my life. I was wondering what was happening to Gareth for if this was from the Lord, surely something would be happening to him as well.

GARETH As the ship berthed in Port Klang, a sense of expectation filled me. I was becoming excited at the thought of seeing this lady who had been on my heart and mind and whose life seemed destined in some way to touch mine. I was looking over the rail on the book exhibition deck to see if she was there and was initially disappointed as I could not spot her at all amongst those on the quayside who were going to board the ship amongst the line up people. It was only later that I was to discover that a group (including her) had got lost and so arrived later. However, I remember so clearly when after many months I saw her for the first time on the quayside below. Our eyes met and I knew immediately from that very brief exchange of glances that there was something undeniably special taking place. She then came on board and moved into her office with the other line up members on the ship.

MALOU For my part, I had put everything about this relationship into God’s hands and was sure that if God had really spoken to me, I would see confirmation of that on board. When I arrived late on the quayside and looked up, I saw only one person looking down – Gareth! I was so scared at what might happen that after that I sometimes avoided him. When I did meet him, I felt so nervous.

GARETH I was determined to try and find some time to spend alone with Malou. However, ships’ policies and ship life in general both conspired against any such opportunity. Not surprisingly, I found myself frequently going into the line-up office. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long for my wish to be fulfilled. One day, I mentioned my desire to buy a number of things including an international newspaper and felt she might know where I could buy one. The following day was my day off so I would have time to go into town.

MALOU By coincidence, I needed on the following day to buy a train ticket in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, so we decided to go there together. I left a note for the personnel manager informing her that I was going off the ship alone with Gareth. I did this so as not to violate the ship’s rules which state that two singles of the opposite sex cannot leave the ship alone without special permission or supervision. I was both excited and nervous at the prospect of what lay ahead

GARETH The following morning, I awoke and was also very excited. We caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur which took about 1½ hours. We started to get to know each other and shared many things about ourselves. We completed our business and took the train back to the ship. I was on a high the whole time and felt strangely complete with this lady that I hardly knew beside me. During the journey, I gave her a gift from India and all too soon, we were back on the ship.

MALOU As for me, I was amazed at how things were working out – it seemed that God was confirming something. It was such a happy experience.

GARETH The following night will forever remain in my memory. I was in complete turmoil. Was this of God or of me? I cried out for an answer and was met with total silence! I walked endlessly backwards and forwards in my cabin and my emotions were like the waves of the sea – rising and falling alternately. What was happening to me? I finally concluded it was one of four things:- (a) an outbreak of lust (b) a mid-life crisis (c) infatuation (d) the hand of God. I discounted (a) as that had not been in my thinking or outlook. (c) would soon pass if it was not true. (b) seemed a possibility as I had read of men at my age who want to somehow relive their youth. I finally came to the conclusion that I had to stop this relationship (which had never really begun!) from going any further. I had joined the ship to engage in Christian ministry not get side-tracked with romance. I asked Malou a number of times if we could talk together but she was incredibly busy. However we finally managed to get some time one evening after a business dinner had been cancelled. I approached our meeting in fear and trembling as I was determined to stop any further contact between us. I carefully planned what to say so as to do it as quickly and painlessly for her as possible.

MALOU I was wondering what he was going to say to me and I was guessing that it would be the start of a friendship. That evening we met on board in the Forward Dining Room. Gareth was carrying a clip board and pen as though we were going to plan some evangelistic meeting. He told me that he was feeling very depressed and could not understand what was happening to him. He asked if we could write to and pray for each other because he didn’t know if it was the will of God for him to get married or not! And I said I would like to get to know him better. As I see it, that was the start of our special relationship. I went away from that time knowing that I had a friend.

GARETH I was dreading that meeting with Malou in the dining room. I had felt sick all day and had eaten little. I was most concerned not to upset her. I didn’t want to rouse the suspicion of others on the ship so tried to make it look as though it was a formal meeting. I reckoned it would only take about 10 minutes to do what was necessary. I sat down but stayed there for the next 2 hours during which time I said nothing of what I had planned to say; instead we showed each other photographs of ourselves. I left that meeting elated. Far from being the end, in many ways that was really the start! From now on I looked for every possible opportunity and/or excuse to be with this wonderful creature.

MALOU I was looking for about 8 Doulos people to go for a church meeting so I put up a sign up sheet for volunteers with my name at the top. I was asking the Lord to confirm to me once more that if Gareth is the one He was giving me, he would sign up. When I later checked the sheet, there was an extra name – number 9, Gareth P Bolton! On the way to the meeting, I sat beside Gareth in the van and he walked with me to and from the church . I was so happy that night and it worked out very well too as he was the only one of those 9 volunteers who could really give a message. I remember he spoke on the subject of prayer and emphasised that it starts with God, not us. I felt increasingly that Gareth was very special to me.

GARETH All too soon, Malou was to leave the ship again for another line-up and a separation was about to take place that was to become, alas, a frequent feature of our relationship. The night before she left, I invited out her and Cecilia (she was the other Filipina who had originally accompanied Malou when she had given me the ‘T’ shirt). They were expecting a meal but because I only bought them an iced cream they went without their supper; there must have been a miscommunication somewhere! We walked across a bridge to Sentosa, a nearby island and took some photos on the way. Cecilia took one of the two of us together. I can still remember standing with her feeling so complete and so proud at that moment. The next morning I got up early as I had arranged to accompany her in the van to the airport. We sat beside each other in the lounge and talked – I noticed how shy she seemed and realised how little I really knew her. When the time came for her departure from the ship to the next line-up, I felt incredibly sad, particularly because we had not talked so much. Also, there were so many questions I wanted to ask which would, for the time being, have to remain unanswered.

MALOU I felt cared for when Gareth brought me to the airport; he was very thoughtful and helped me with my luggage which was so heavy – he carried it all for me. But I knew this relationship would be tested by time and separation. Would it be just another relationship or would it lead to us being together forever? We said goodbye and I flew to my next line-up in Subic in the Philippines.

GARETH When I returned to the ship, I was convinced that we needed to formalise our relationship along the lines laid out in the ship’s social policy. I immediately went to a number of the ship’s leaders and asked that I might be given social permission. For those foreign to OM’s policies, this means I would be officially granted a period of time in which we could get to know each other better in a healthy and helpful climate. Many of the leaders expressed surprise at my announcement and one asked whether Malou had agreed to this arrangement. I said I hadn’t asked her but knew she would! As this was to be a cross cultural relationship, I realised extra factors would have to be taken into account. I then wrote to the leader of OM Philippines stating my desire to be granted social permission with Malou and seeking his reaction.

MALOU While in Subic, my country leader telephoned me asking if I would agree to have SP with Gareth and I said I would like to get to know him as this is what I believe SP means. Then an invitation came from Gareth in a letter inviting me to spend my break in England; at that point I still wanted further confirmation from the Lord that this was the right thing to do. Another factor is that in my culture, when a man or woman visits the family of their special friend, it means the relationship is getting serious and will lead to marriage. I was therefore a little scared to agree right away to go. Then I prayed to the Lord and that same morning in my regular QT and Bible reading, I read the following words ‘And a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh’. I hadn’t expected that that would be my Bible reading for the day and it seemed as though God was answering me straight away. So I agreed to go to England.

GARETH When I rejoined the Logos II later in the year, Malou was back on the Doulos. One saving grace throughout this long 7 month separation was that both ships had just established communication via email. It was so wonderful being able to write to each other almost every day asking questions and sharing our lives knowing an answer would soon be coming back. Without email, our communication with each other would have been virtually impossible. I really wanted to spend sometime with Malou out of the goldfish bowl environment of the ship and preferably in my own country. I invited her to come to the UK (as she has shared above) but her reply was very slow in coming. In fact in writing to me, she shared that my letter had been on her desk for two weeks before she had replied (for the reasons explained above.)

It was a hard test waiting so long to hear from her. The windfall from the conversion of a building society to a bank in which I had invested some money meant that I had the finance necessary to pay for her fare.

Remarkably, I was free from overseas preaching commitments at the same time as she was having her break at the end of her 2 years with the ship. An official invitation from OM UK was sufficient to grant her a visitor’s visa.

MALOU On November 13th, I flew for 14 hours from Manila to London and Gareth met me with flowers at the airport. I felt a little apprehensive about what I was doing – especially the thought of getting married even though we had never spoken about it at that stage. We went to the Lake District and stayed with Dr Robert and Muriel Strachan who were also on Doulos. I met a lot of Gareth’s friends and relatives as well as those at his church including his pastor. We had much time together and I was very happy; we were getting to know each other in a very relaxed way. This was a time of building our relationship and this was a good place to do it. Finally the time came for us to leave England for the Philippines and Gareth and I flew to Manila. We spent Christmas with my sister and then together rejoined the Doulos.

GARETH I was very excited about Malou’s coming although a few days before she actually arrived, I began to sense I might be getting ‘cold feet’. The month together in the UK was like a dream – I was on cloud 9 and felt sad as each day seemed to come so quickly to an end. We established a daily routine in our relationship that we have carried into our marriage and, God willing, will carry into the future. Each morning we spend about 1 hour in Bible study and prayer for both our own needs and those of the world. At the end of the month we had arranged to fly back to Manila together. Quite incredibly, even before I really knew Malou, I had accepted an invitation to be one of the speakers during the ship visit to Manila. We were also amazed to read that Malou was to be one of the line-up team for that port. We read her name on a bulletin board on a list of those people for the Manila line-up. We discovered this even before her boss had assigned her for her next line-up. To this day no-one knows why at that stage her name was written there – but we certainly have a good idea! A planned visit by me to New Zealand fell through and so the door opened for me to be with the line-up team in Manila for 2 weeks. Malou, at short notice, arranged a superb set of meetings for me which proved very fruitful. At the last moment I was also able to be a speaker at a camp to which I had frequently been invited but never able to attend. God was arranging things and opening doors without either of us having to manipulate our circumstances or change our schedules.

MALOU After spending so much time together we suddenly needed to revert to ship life and policy. Gareth was busy speaking in conferences and I was preparing for my next line-up in Manila. It was as if a distance came between us but not for long because I rejoined the line-up team in Manila and Gareth came to be with us for 2 weeks. We were so much in love with each other. On February 14 we decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a very big park called Nayong Pilipino. We went for a long walk and then sat down on a rock overlooking a stream. The sun was setting in front of us and Gareth said he wanted to ask me something. He then said ‘If I asked you to marry me you wouldn’t say no, would you?’ Then he said ’Will you marry me?’ I replied by recalling all the circumstances that had brought us together saying I was convinced that he was the right man for me. That is how I answered him but it was neither a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So he asked me the question again and I said ‘yes’. I added that I had expected that he was going to ask me but not quite as soon as that. We then planned to buy our engagement ring and get married 5 months later in July. On our way home we celebrated our engagement by having a candlelit dinner in a fast food take-away! The next day I was getting worried and I started crying and couldn’t control my tears. I felt I shouldn’t have said ‘yes’ so quickly. I should have let him wait for three more months. I was supposed to go by the office to meet Gareth there for dinner but couldn’t go out because my eyes were swollen from the tears but he waited for me and probably was wondering why I was so late. Cecilia went to check where I was and I pretended to be asleep. I washed my face and went down.

GARETH I also was having some serious doubts after asking that momentous question. Early the next morning I awoke at 3am in a state of panic and depression. ‘What have I done?’ I kept asking myself. ‘Do you really want to terminate your 47 years of fulfilled and free singleness?’ We talked about it later and found that we each had the same fears. We prayed about the situation and immediately began to feel better. Two weeks later I left for the UK to attend the Leadership School and then returned to the ship for the visit to Manila. We were both very busy during that time but managed to go by bus one Saturday to the wedding of two of the ship’s company.

MALOU At this wedding I was a bridesmaid and while there, we had a painful but important heart to heart talk. Our relationship seemed to be cooling down a little despite us working together in the same place. The problem seemed to be my difficulty in expressing affection. One of the reasons for this was simply that the pressure of work made it hard for us to spend quality time together. What was painful was that I couldn’t show Gareth my emotions as I didn’t have any to give; I was so empty. Gareth said that he couldn’t go on like this, constantly giving without receiving. It was a poignant moment for both of us. Gareth felt broken and I felt I needed to be honest which was very hard as I didn’t want to hurt him. He needed to know the reason why I was like that. So we talked together and through honesty, pain and prayer, we realised we needed and loved each other and that this was just one of the tests of our relationship.

GARETH For me this was extremely painful. I told Malou it was impossible for me to keep on giving and giving and not getting anything back. I was not like Jesus Christ who could show endless agape love. I sensed I stood at a major cross-roads in my life. I could go in one of two directions. I was helpless and vulnerable standing beside the woman I loved. In tears of brokenness we cried, talked and then prayed together. Looking back, that was to be a major turning point in our relationship.

MALOU On April 18 1997, I was free from all my commitments on the Doulos. For 2½ years I had served on board and the ship’s leaders granted me permission to forgo what would have been my final line-up in Townsville, Australia so that I could go to England and get married to Gareth.

GARETH What had originally seemed as a very real opportunity for meetings in New Zealand evaporated and although I was initially disappointed, it gave me a wonderful chance to fulfil a promise I had made to a former member of the Doulos – I could attend a camp in General Santos City on the island of Mindanao and be one of the speakers. Shortly after securing an ticket, I flew there and was delighted to find a large, well run camp of committed believers. However, the whole camp was overshadowed for me by a period of dark depression bordering on despair. Suddenly it seemed to me that I was making a wrong decision in deciding to marry Malou. It is difficult to describe how I felt in words. The irrational feelings were quite overpowering at times and I couldn’t sleep and, on occasions, didn’t even want to eat. I was plagued with thoughts that I was making a mistake by turning my back on my fulfilled single life; these sentiments were unremitting and something I had never experienced before. I felt dark and very alone and extremely drained. I struggled to find a way through it all. I imagined how I would have to write to all my friends and church leaders back home explaining I had made a mistake and above all how I would have to break the news to Malou. Why was I being assaulted so suddenly and violently by these thoughts? Even with the advantage of hindsight, it is still hard to make sense of that week in my life. It seemed like an eternity at the time. Is it bringing too dramatic an interpretation to it to say that the devil was trying to derail the whole future plan for our lives together? Even writing about it now makes me feel unhappy. The one thing that this experience could not answer, however, was the clear way that God had led us (as this story so far has demonstrated). I had not been desperately searching for a partner nor had either of us needed to manipulate any of the events that had brought us together. As I flew back to Manila, the mental turmoil began to abate. As I came out of the departure lounge, I saw Malou. Suddenly and instantly, all the thoughts and negative feelings disappeared as suddenly as they had come. I was amazed I could ever have thought or contemplated such things. It was certainly a time in my life I never want to experience again.

MALOU I knew nothing of what Gareth had been going through but while he was away for that week, his absence suddenly made me feel very sad. I missed him so much and realised what a nice person he was. I considered all the good things about him and was amazed I had never seen them before; I knew I would never ever find a guy like Gareth as he had become very special to me. I felt I was not taking this relationship as seriously as I should have been; he was so kind to me and the thought crossed my mind as to what would happen if he were to suddenly end it all. I knew that if that were to happen, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. This was the only time I had ever thought this and I was praying that he wouldn’t change in his love towards me. I cried as I counted the days until he came back. It seemed like a very long week to me and I was scared lest these thoughts might come true. I was so excited to see him again in the airport not having the least inkling as to all that he had been going through.

GARETH After a short time together in Ilocus (when we again stayed with Malou’s sister and brother-in-law), I returned to England via Singapore where I took 10 days of meetings. After a brief stay in the UK, I flew to Serbia where I taught in a Bible School and then returned to continue preparations for the wedding and await Malou’s arrival at London Heathrow Airport. The story of our wedding and its preparations will have to wait until another day. On July 12th 1997, we were married in front of 300 people, 250 of whom came to the reception. It was, without doubt, the greatest day of my life, my one regret being that it passed so quickly. As I look to the future, I am encouraged by the past. God has clearly led us step by step and we know His commitment to us is unchanging and that His choice is also always the best. Our daily times of prayer and Bible study can only be successful in an atmosphere of love and trust. After 47 fulfilled and happy years as a single man, I thank God daily for the new and challenging role of partner and spouse. I have been incredibly blessed with a kind, honest and spiritual wife. We enjoy, travelling and ministering together. Any prayers for us as a couple as we journey into the future will be hugely appreciated as will any advice from those who have walked this road before us.