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Stephens: Miracles still happen, at times in new ways
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Decades had come and gone, and for Russ McElveen it seemed that there were important people in his family he would never see again. Then came the miracles of the past year or so that brought a son and two sisters back into his life. After 60 years he made contact with two of his sisters and after 45 years he was reconnect with a son. Have you ever thought that someone was gone from your life forever.

Russ and his wife Vicki reside near Mansfield. He grew up in southern California. Times were hard for a single mom with a large family so she gave two of her daughters up for adoption. The girls, Lori and Martha were four and eighteen months of age. Russ went into foster care at the age of five. Part of his early years was spent in a Children’s Home. His mother stayed in contact with him, but he lost any contact with his sisters.

At 16 he left school and began his journey of living on his own. He was the father to a son before meeting his wife Vicki. Russ and Vicki have been married for 43 years and have a family together of four grown children, two daughters Angel and Johnnie, two sons, Russ Jr. and Randy.

Their journey brought them to Georgia where they have lived in the Atlanta area and now near Mansfield. In his heart he longed to find the missing parts of his family, his first son and his sisters.

The first miracle was when Russ’s wife Vicki found Russ’s sister Martha with Twitter which in turn would lead to his other missing sister, Lori. The next time you are frustrated with social media or with technology remember that miracles can happen. The Lord works in mysterious ways and for some of us there is nothing more mysterious than social media and technology. But here they were bringing a family together after sixty years and all the way across the country.

As I sat at lunch the other day at the Mystic Grill with Russ, Vicki, and their daughter Angel McElveen Walton, who is one of the assistant managers at the Grill, I could sense the real joy of getting a second chance with this part of his family but it did not come easy. When they called Martha the sister they had found, there was suspicion and uncertainty on her part. Things had been said about Russ over the years that were false but tended to “poison the well.” For a full year they talked by phone. Slowly they corrected the distortions and built bridges between themselves.

To really open up the process, Angel lived up to her name, and went to California as a “ambassador” for her family to the ones there. It was agreed that Russ and Vicki would come out to California for a visit with both Martha and Lori. This meant a thirty six hour drive, but as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang in the sixties, about the time the separation started, “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough to keep me away from you.”

This visit at the start of 2014 was followed up by visits here. The family spent this time here doing some of the usual “touristy” things such as a visit to Stone Mountain and another to the Varsity. But these activities allowed this family to open up to each other and to begin to reframe the way the see each other.

The story was very similar with the reconnection with his son. The son, Dean Karch, found his dad through Facebook. Again social media and technology played the key parts. Dean and his mother were a part of Russ’s life before he met and married Vickie. Dean’s mother refused to let Russ have anything to do with their son. Even though he offered to be a part of his life and to give financial support she forbid him to ever see his son again and moved away. As the years went by, just as with his sisters, he was afraid that this part of his life was gone as well.

Again the “well was poisoned” as false things were said about Russ to discourage the son from looking for his father. For example Dean was told that his father had died in Vietnam, though Russ never served in Vietnam. He was even given a misspelling of his father’s name so it may the search more difficult. He tried various spellings and finally hit on the one that reached. It was time to hit the road again, this time to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Angel took Russ and Vickie on a twenty four hour trip this time, too complete this year of miracle reunions.

How easy it would have been to have given up many years before. All the doors seemed closed and all bridges burned. But through technology and social media the missing pieces of Russ’ family are being brought back together. Plans are being made now for a reunion for all at the beach at Destin, Florida, for a week following Christmas. What a Christmas this will be!


E. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author, who now resides in Covington