Having struggled with alcoholism for over 30 years, Russell took his last drink on December 23, 2016. He began attending recovery meetings early in his sobriety because they were court-ordered, and he showed little desire to engage in worship, participate in group discussions or even interact much with others. Russell was not a believer and he made it clear there was little interest in our faith-based program of recovery. He had to attend, so he continued. Very few of us were able to connect with him on more than a surface level. But over time we began noticing subtle changes. Russell’s demeanor and attitude appeared different. He began to warm up. He sometimes showed up to meetings a little early and would sit alone reading his Bible. He smiled more often. He shared a little in the men’s chemical dependency group. Faith began to take root in Russell’s heart. He was willing to have conversations about faith and finally surrendered his life to Jesus. He was baptized by two of the men who had loved him so well.
Russell’s life was marked with significant challenges. From a family of alcoholics, Russell suffered physical abuse and began drinking as a young teen. His abuse of alcohol would lead to several DUIs and near imprisonment before he finally decided he had to stop drinking. He also suffered a serious fall and broke his back about three years ago. He lived with constant pain. Less than two weeks after Russell’s baptism in November 2021, his home in Alba burned to the ground leaving him and Janie, his girlfriend of 22 years, with almost nothing. Only a few months later Russell was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was placed on a transplant list but removed later when it was discovered that his cancer had spread to one of his lungs. Hope for recovery began to diminish but Russell continued to attend meetings and remain sober. There were times we were concerned he might return to numbing his pain with alcohol. If anyone had reason to relapse Russell did. But he could see how much he had already overcome and he didn’t want to go back to his old life. He rarely missed a Tuesday night meeting even when the pain was so severe he could hardly make it across the parking lot. He married Janie this past Spring. She said it was peer pressure but I think Russell was simply trying to do the next right thing to be faithful.
Last Thursday we said goodbye to our dear friend, Russel. He had spent the last six years with us nearly every Tuesday evening in Redemption Recovery. Russell’s story is a testimony of what love can do. The love of Christ, the forgiveness of the Father, and the love of God’s children took a cynical man at rock bottom and gave him hope. It was the love of Christ working through God’s people that welcomed him and gave him space to explore who Jesus is. That same love led to shared Thanksgiving meals and conversations at Waffle House with others. Our group rejoiced the evening of Russell’s baptism and the day he and Janie finally married. And we rejoice now knowing he has finished his race and he’s with Jesus.