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Russell faces temptations but says the Word brought him back

It’s an honor as a journalist when you see people reading and reacting to your stories by taking the time to comment, email or call.

It’s an even bigger honor when one of your stories from two years ago starts recirculating.

That’s what happened Wednesday.

We track our stories in real time to know what our readers are clicking on and how long they’re reading our content. If you walk into our newsroom, you’ll see a data board that shows you exactly that.

Wednesday morning the Easter story I did on my former classmate Blake Russell popped up on our board. And it stayed there all day, meaning there were people reading it throughout the day.

Facebook brings up “memories” on anniversaries of stories you’ve shared, photos you’ve posted, statuses you’ve updated.

Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of that story.

Russell’s story was one we headlined with the word “redemption.” He’s a talented baseball player who early on fell into drugs and went down a dangerous path.

That led to prison, which led to more drugs, which led to gangs.

Which led to Jesus. I first interviewed him four months after he was released from prison.

He was on fire for God and couldn’t tell enough people about His message.

I’ve kept in touch with him. He was a family friend in high school, and although as journalists we’re supposed to separate our emotions from stories, I’ve always been pulling for him.

I knew from social media he’s been involved in many different things. He’s done some modeling and runway work. He’s a fitness trainer at Fitness & Development in Phenix City. He’s posted photos on Instagram that suggest he’s taken up photography.


My perspective is changing with every day, every shutter. #canon #70200mm

A photo posted by Blake Russell (@blakerussell2222) on

In other words, he’s keeping himself busy. That’s a good thing.

But the last six months haven’t been easy.

“Honestly … the last six months have probably been the toughest,” he said.

“When the modeling came, it’s an environment where you have to show immense self-control,” he said. “There’s been struggle and temptation harder than ever. When I’m in Atlanta, people aren’t concerned with my story or sobriety, they’re concerned with how I look.”

And that took time away from street ministry and God’s Word.

“I went further than I would have wanted to go a few times,” he said.

I asked him to explain. Does that mean you’ve done drugs?

No. “There’s been a few times where I’ve sought the approval of man before God.

“The last six months I didn’t touch people the way I wanted to compared to that story (two years ago),” he added.

Russell said he’s been clean now for over 3 1/2 years and doesn’t have the desire to get high but he’s felt “the temptation of the flesh.”

It’s at moments like this that he’s thankful for his 13 months in prison where he was able to “stay in” the Bible.

“The Word that I learned in prison has been what’s brought me back.”