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Persevering Through Trials

Despite disabilities and other struggles, Dorice Russell has joy in the Lord.

Adopted at the age of 3 from a Vietnam orphanage, Dorice T. Russell is partially deaf and unable to walk, the aftermath of polio she contracted a few weeks after her birth. Initially, she used crutches to get around, but began using a wheelchair after a subsequent fall damaged her knee beyond repair. Russell, 49, also is a single parent, having fled an abusive home situation with her two preschool-aged sons, Nathanael and Emmanuel, who has high-functioning autism.

Despite her Job-like challenges, Russell’s love for God runs deep.

Raised by a retired Christian Missionary & Alliance pastor, Maurice, 70, and his wife, Dorene, 69, Russell grew up in a Christian home and learned at an early age the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Dorene recalls that Dorice spent her early years in an overcrowded and understaffed orphanage, seldom removed from a crib. When Maurice and Dorene picked up Dorice at the Minneapolis airport, the girl had head lice and scabies.

“We knew our hearts right then that this was the child God had for us to raise,” Dorene says. “We really trusted that the Lord wanted is to bring her home and take care of her.”

Although Dorice suffered through multiple surgeries on her legs, the love of her parents and their commitment to her spiritual, physical, and emotional health served as a buffer against life’s hardships.

“My life is challenging at times, but God has walked me through many difficulties,” says Russell. “My faith has deepened knowing God is there for me, and I focus on His Word.” Her favorite Bible verse is Proverbs 3:5-6, which she memorized as a child and has recited in tough times throughout life: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (NIV).”

While Russell’s faith has grown deeper over the years, she admits there are moments when she gets frustrated with her physical disability. For example, it saddens her that she could not attend her sons’ track and field events because she couldn’t navigate her wheelchair through grassy fields. Although she sometimes struggles with discouragement, Russell soldiers on, trusting God to work out what concerns her.

“A great word that defines Dorice is perseverance,” says Chris A. Pruett, family life pastor at New Life Church in Princeton, Minnesota. “Raising two boys as a single mom is difficult. Having a disability makes it even harder.”

According to Pruett, nothing has stopped Russell from loading her wheelchair in her car and coming to church with her sons. At church, Nate, now 18, and Manny, 17, have connected with several leaders and friends throughout the years. Russell acknowledges raising her sons as a single parent with a physical disability requires a great deal of faith and perseverance. Manny’s autism also presents challenges.

“When Manny was younger, he would outrun me — even if I was in my power wheelchair,” says Russell, laughing. “He required constant supervision so he wouldn’t hurt himself. He definitely kept me praying.”

Although Manny continues to struggle, his warm heart and quick wit help to soften the difficult times.

Manny still requires home and speech therapy, and every other weekend, he is in respite care, similar to when a foster parent receives a break from the challenges associated with supporting someone with special needs. When Manny is away, Russell focuses on spending one-on-one time with Nate.

She admits the challenges sometimes feel overwhelming.

“I have had difficult roads and still will, but God has shown me that I can lean on Him,” says Russell. “God has seen me through it all, from the orphanage to being adopted, until now. He is my refuge and my strength.”

Dorene Russell, who lives 30 miles away from Dorice, says her daughter’s faith always has been “steadfast and immovable.”

Dorice says her suffering has taught her humility and how to work with imperfect situations.

“God often uses people to show His great love,” Pruett says. “If we are willing, He is able to use us. Dorice has been a great example of someone who has been willing.”

Mary J Yerkes

Mary J. Yerkes is a freelance writer based in metro Washington, D.C.