Rus­sell shares ‘Aunt Mary’s’ story, mean­ing of Christ­mas

Record Observer - - RELIGION - By AN­GELA PRICE bay­[email protected]­times.com

QUEEN­STOWN — Thirty years ago, a 15-minute en­counter with an el­derly Kent Is­land woman changed Neill G. Rus­sell’s life and led him to the true mean­ing of Christ­mas.

It’s a true life Christ­mas story, and Rus­sell has shared it be­fore, but with this be­ing the 30th an­niver­sary of the meet­ing, he was in­spired to share his story again — this time with a much broader au­di­ence through the cre­ation of a web­site, she­gaveme more.com.

Rus­sell met “Aunt Mary” Ri­ley of Batts Neck in 1988, just one week be­fore Christ­mas when he and his son Bill were de­liv­er­ing food bas­kets from Kent Is­land United Methodist Church; it was the last stop on their route. Rus­sell lived in Stevensville then, but has since moved to Queen­stown.

They had trou­ble find­ing the house, he re­called, and had to ask a neigh­bor who di­rected them to a small, wooden house with a tarpa­pered roof — “re­ally a shack,” Rus­sell said.

She wel­comed them, say­ing, “Thank you, Je­sus. God bless. God bless.”

“Aunt Mar y” was a small, el­derly woman crip­pled by arthri­tis and con­fined to a wheel­chair; the ex­tent of mod­ern con­ve­niences in her one-room house were an old ra­dio and her Bi­ble, Rus­sell said.

“She had noth­ing by the world’s stan­dards, but she was the hap­pi­est per­son I ever met,” he re­called. “She changed my life.”

She had the one thing that mat­tered, he said.

“There was such a peace, such a glow about her,” Rus­sell re­called. “I gave her a bas­ket of food, but she gave me so much more. She gave me the true mean­ing of Christ­mas. She gave me Je­sus. With gnarled hands, she opened her Bi­ble and read aloud John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that who­ever be­lieves in Him shall not per­ish, but have eter­nal life.’”

That meet­ing lead Rus­sell to giv­ing his life to Christ a few weeks later.

“What she had is what I have now,” Rus­sell said. “I have to­tal peace. My pas­sion is to take what she had and spread that gift. The Christ­mas present she gave me is Je­sus.”

Rus­sell said he thought about “Aunt Mary” of­ten af­ter that. He read in the Bay Times when a com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment block grant pro­vided a trailer with in­door plumb­ing to re­place her shack. And then he read about her mur­der in the spring of 1990. A neigh­bor boy high on crack co­caine stabbed her to death when she re­fused to give him money to buy more drugs.

Rus­sell at­tended the fu­neral hop­ing to share how “Aunt Mary” touched his life. But she was so loved by the com­mu­nity that the church was over­flow­ing and he had to re­main out­side on the steps.

The Rev. Robert Brown, pas­tor at Ezion United Methodist Church on Batts Neck Road for 22 years, where “Aunt Mary” at­tended, said, “Mary Ri­ley was a gra­cious lady, a beau­ti­ful lady.”

Al­though she died trag­i­cally, Brown said he was sure “Aunt Mary” would have words of for­give­ness for the per­son who took her life.

“She was a very lov­ing, kind per­son, al­ways help­ing. She loved her church,” Brown said.

That De­cem­ber, Rus­sell was moved to write a poem about how his en­counter with “Aunt Mary” had touched his life. It was 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1990. “I sat down and wrote a 600 word poem in about five min­utes,” he said.

He sent the poem to news­pa­pers all over the coun­try. Sev­eral lo­cal news­pa­pers picked it up and wrote about it.

In 2004, Rus­sell daugh­ter Re­nee in­spired him to turn the poem into a song.

Three weeks later, Rus­sell’s song, “She Gave Me More,” ar­ranged and per­formed by Chris­tian record­ing artist, Simeon Am­burgey of Ken­tucky, was played for the first time on an An­napo­lis ra­dio sta­tion. With his song’s pop­u­lar­ity rapidly ris­ing, Rus­sell next asked his friend Michael Fran­cis of Cen­tre­ville, a pro­fes­sional videog­ra­pher, for help in turn­ing the song into a video.

Now the story is be­ing told through a web­site.

“God has given me the abil­ity to make graphics,” he said, and he has put those skills to work in cre­at­ing a web­site to spread “Aunt Mary’s” story and mes­sage of God’s love.

The poem, the song, and the video are all avail­able on the web­site, she­gave­mem­ore.com.

Rus­sell said he was thrilled with the web­site’s re­cep­tion. In just two days, 1,100 hun­dred peo­ple had viewed it and shared it on Face­book for oth­ers to see. “It’s reach­ing the world,” he said.

Rus­sell, a science teacher at An­napo­lis High School, re­cently re­tired af­ter 45 years, and plans to con­tinue writ­ing.

He said next project is putting all the science into Ge­n­e­sis Chap­ter 1, writ­ing as if to an eighth grade science class. And he’s work­ing on a sec­ond health book, hav­ing pub­lished his first last year.

NEILL G. RUS­SELL

MARY RI­LEY

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