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Unlikely couple finds love at Union Gospel Mission- it all started with a bus advertisement

Vancouver, BC—The first time Elsa Oakley ever laid eyes on her future husband was when she saw his face on a Union Gospel Mission bus advertisement. His handsome smile stayed in the back of her mind when she was given an opportunity to volunteer at UGM with her church group.

John Oakley came to UGM to break free from addiction, to turn his life around and to learn how to love himself. He had no idea that this place would also lead him to the love of his life. 

Only a few short years ago, John thought he would never win his 24-year battle with drug and alcohol addiction. John began drinking at age 10 to help him cope with an unstable home life and an alcoholic father.

After a previously failed attempt at recovery, John says he felt God speak to him, giving him the courage to call a detox centre. After an excruciating ten-day wait and four-day detox period, John enrolled in UGM’s recovery program in July 2008. It helped John get his addiction under control, gain employment at UGM, and eventually led him to his soul mate.

Three years after first meeting, John, 56 and Elsa, 40 are more in love now than ever.  John’s former struggles allow him to truly appreciate the love he has today.

“He doesn’t wait until Valentine’s Day to be romantic,” says Elsa. “That’s what I love about him. I’ll come home some days and there will be a rose or a potted plant sitting on the table with a card saying how much he loves me. That’s a regular thing with him.”

From the moment John and Elsa first met in December of 2010, they had an undeniable connection. Elsa, a veterinarian from Mexico, seemed like an unlikely match for a recovered addict like John. Nonetheless, they bonded over their faith, an interest in UGM, and a big heart for kids. Five months of friendship and three weeks of dating was all the time it took for John to know that he was going to marry this woman.

Shortly after, Elsa had to return to Mexico. After Eighteen months of daily Skype talks, Elsa secured a visa back to Canada just weeks before the scheduled wedding.

On November 17, 2012 surrounded by family, friends, and their UGM family, Elsa and John got married at Coastal Church.

 “I feel blessed for every day that I get to spend with my wife and that UGM brought us together,” says John, who now attends college classes at Christ College in addition to working at UGM.  

In the future, the Oakleys hope to open an orphanage and a small church in Mexico.

“We’ve met with lawyers and Elsa has already looked at land,” says John, who says they’ve already received pledges for their ambitious dream.

For now, the Oakleys are happy spending time together in church, picnicking in Stanley park, or training for an upcoming 21K run.

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, and children for over 70 years. Through its 7 locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counselling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love,
ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To find out more, visit

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