By Chelcey Adami
STILLWATER, Okla. — Leadership changes at River of Life Church this week as Lead Pastors Don and Diane Russell step down and Pastors James and Robin Kitchen arrive from Houston, Texas.
The Russells have been with River of Life for more than 14 years since it began in an old schoolhouse in Vinco.
“River of Life has been a place where we love the people, and they love us in return,” Russell said. “It’s a church with a vision, and we may not be a big church, but where we are, we’ve made a difference.
River of Life is now in a large L-shaped building on eight acres off Highway 177 south of Stillwater.
The church of just over a hundred people provides several spiritual resources including youth services, a food ministry and addictive behavior ministry.
“It’s been his heartbeat,” Russell’s wife Diane said. “Being part of a group of people who want to make a difference in the community.”
Russell and his wife have been married 31 years and live in Stillwater.
While the decision to leave is difficult, the Russells feel it’s the right thing to do at this time. Russell said he prayed about it for about six months before making the decision.
“We can’t explain it, there’s just something,” Diane said. “We’re just feeling the Lord leading us in another direction.”
While they are not sure where they will go next at this time, the Russells say they look forward to spending more time with their four grandchildren and seven grandchildren.
Russell preached his farewell message Jan. 10, and the new pastors will address the church for the first time Sunday.
The Kitchens have been pastors at New Beginning Worship Center in Houston, Texas for the last nine years.
“They feel at this time God is releasing them from this work and calling them to Oklahoma,” River of Life Church Secretary Sharon Gunkel said.
Russell fondly remembered the numerous adventures he had while at River of Life recently with tears often coming to his eyes.
“We’ve seen a lot of changed lives. Outside of the Lord, it would not have happened,” he said. “At River of Life we did not have the money or a large congregation to do what we need to be done, but we built it by faith.”
“We feel like we followed the Lord in coming here,” he said. “The same as the Lord called me into the ministry, he leads us other ways. Hopefully my vision has been the church’s. The first thing is not to fail the Lord, and the second is not to fail people.”
River of Life Church is at 9404 S. Perkins Rd. Call 405-377-8855 between 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, for more information.