In the midst of fresh grief and turmoil unlike any he had ever known, Ron Stimeare prayed to the Lord for strength one morning more than seven years ago.
The day before, Ron’s beloved wife of 32 years, Geri, woke up with leg pain and asked him to call an ambulance. He did, but by late that afternoon, she had died of a rare and undetected disease and was in heaven. At the time, the Stimeares had seen both of their children get married and had just welcomed their first grandchild. After a long career with the United States Army and government – among other titles, he is a retired Army colonel – Ron and his wife thought they could finally settle down in one place and take it easy.
Now, faced with the sudden, terrible loss, Ron, even as a nearly life-long Christian, knew he had to lean on God in a way he never had before. “Lord, You have to step in here,” he remembered praying less than 24 hours after losing his wife. “You have to fill this space that has just been vacated by Geri. I need You.” After he prayed, God gave him a sense of peace. Months later, when spending time in deep prayer with The Lord and asking what was next, he heard God’s quiet whisper: “I’m preparing you. I’m preparing you. I’m preparing you.” And He still is, Ron says now. “If I have learned one thing, (it’s that) God never wastes an experience,” Ron says. “Everything in life can be used to bring Him honor and glory if we just allow Him to use us for his purposes and not our own.”
And he now can see how God has used the last several years “to do a re-start on me and wire-brush me down to bare metal, so He could begin to build me back up, this time on a firm foundation with Jesus Christ as my cornerstone.” That process for the long-time military and business leader, who’s now 60, includes his new degree this past spring from Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School’s DC location. Along with being a new graduate, the eastern Pennsylvania native and Washington D.C.-area resident is a fresh witness to the wonderful work that The Lord can do in the midst of powerful grief. He has retired from his government position, which has included serving as an expert in cyber warfare. But in the years since losing his wife, he has been busier than ever ministering to others facing grief and loss, addictions and other life struggles. He joined and now leads the GriefShare ministry at his church, Grace Community Church in Fulton, Maryland. He also has been active in leading group Bible studies and ministering to inmates individually at two county prisons, to acute-care residents at a local nursing home and to patients in the surgical wing of a nearby hospital faithfully each week. He has been told by others when they learn of his ministry that he is “being a pastor to those who cannot come to church.” Several years ago, he joined a team and then led one the following year to help children of AIDS victims in Uganda on a missions trip. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, instructing at the graduate level on business leadership.
For years, Ron can see now, he often “would rush into things and then ask God to bless what I was doing,” rather than seeking the Lord’s direction first. He has learned to let God lead, and is able to see first-hand how amazing God truly is and that his promises are very real, he says. “What God has shown me is that He wants us to serve Him each and every day. It doesn’t really matter if there’s a paycheck associated with the job or not – I know He just wants me to serve Him,” Ron continues. “He has just taught me to yield to Him each and every day, wake up each day, focus on Him and see how I might best be used by Him. And that has manifested itself in so many wonderful ways over the last seven years.” After his wife died, Ron says, “I had to really ensure I believed what I believed; not what I was taught, or what other people said I had to believe. And that started me on a journey where I truly had to surrender it all to Him.” An outgoing, people-oriented man, Ron, recovering from his loss, also must daily ask himself, “Do I really believe what it is that I share with other people about God’s love for them?”
He grew up near Chester, outside Philadelphia, and his parents (Bob and Lois) came to faith in Christ when Ron was a toddler. Both now 88, his parents insisted on traveling the 130 miles from eastern Pennsylvania to the nation’s capital this past spring to attend their son’s graduation from the Washington, D.C. location of the college. His family, all believers on both his and his late wife’s sides, has played a big part in helping him these last several years, Ron also emphasizes: “I can’t tell you how important that was when my wife passed away. “I guess you don’t appreciate what God has in your life until you really have to depend on it.” He also has leaned more than ever on such Bible verses as Proverbs 3:5-6, along with Luke 9:23. The verse from Luke is when Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Ron met his future wife in high school, and they were married in 1980. When they first met, she was the prettiest girl in their school, he recalls, “high-energy and extremely smart.” It was her independent spirit, sense of hospitality and adaptability, however, that made her such a marvelous officer’s wife for 30 years, he adds. However, his season of struggles has not been limited to losing his wife in early 2012. Every few months for a few years afterward, Ron faced a new family challenge. His daughter was in a head-on auto accident with her infant daughter in the car – thankfully, they both recovered. His new daughter-in-law nearly lost her unborn baby girl. His daughter had two miscarriages. His son lost his job, and his sister was in an auto accident that left her temporarily in a wheelchair. “I wondered, what was God doing in all of that?” he says. But he came to know that “God was retraining me in the midst of those trials and tribulations and giving me the opportunity to first go to Him and lean on Him for everything. “I had to believe it not just in my head, but I had to allow it to seep down into my soul.” He believes his own trials have made him more empathetic in his personal ministry, which also now includes premarital and peer counseling. When you face trials in life, he notes, God can better use you to come alongside others “and almost have a new sense about you, and be drawn to them (hurting individuals), so you can be present with them and extend God’s love to them in the midst of their grief, uncertainty or whatever struggle it happens to be.”
Ron, who has a son, Scott, a daughter, Melissa Popowitch, and three grandchildren (with another on the way), took on a number of military and government leadership roles after earning his bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in 1981. He joined the Army upon graduation, and eventually held various command positions, culminating as a brigade commander in the Middle East at the height of both U.S. wars there, with his units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the Army in 2011, he worked for the Department of Defense in the area of cyber warfare for six years, retiring in 2017. “Retiring” is, however, a relative term for Ron, who earlier had earned master’s degrees in strategic studies and business, respectively, from the U.S. Army War College and Central Michigan University. When Ron felt led by the Lord to continue his studies and seek a Master of Arts in Christian care, along with a subsequent Masters of Divinity degree three or four years ago, the mix of traditional and online classes at LBC | Capital’s location in Washington, D.C. greatly appealed to him. He also cites the help of professors such as Phil Bena in helping him along his academic journey.
“Here I was, after being a leader on various sports teams in high school and college, 30 years as an officer in the military, and the last six years as a senior leader in the government of the United States of America, and the Lord had to now break me so He could teach me to first humble myself before Him, and follow Him, before He would allow me to lead spiritually, so that others might follow, as I then followed my Lord and Savior.” As 2019 winds down, Ron continues to see ministry doors open with amazing opportunities. Shortly, he will be joining a team going to Southeast Asia to help in the struggle against the dark world of human trafficking. He continues to teach at Johns Hopkins, and he intends to complete his chaplaincy training and licensure, as well as continue with the various church and community ministries that God has so graciously been providing to him. “Some to lead, but in all, to follow,” he adds.