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Russell Swan: Barely Surviving Samoa

CBN.com Russell grew up in Pittsburgh. He spent a lot of time with his grandmother. He refers to her as a “surrogate mother.” She took Russell to church.

When Russell was 10 years old he saw God do a miraculous change in his grandmother’s life that would ultimately lay the foundation for him one day. His grandmother developed a personal relationship with the Lord.

“She talked about this man named Jesus she had met. It was clear to me whoever Jesus was she completely changed by meeting him,” shares Russell. The alcohol and bouts of depression were gone from her life.

Russell’s father fell victim to layoffs at a local steel mill and struggled to support his family.  Forced to move into Section 8 housing, his parents eventually divorced in 1981. His lifestyle changed dramatically. He started getting into trouble. Russell decided to “talk to Jesus.” He accepted the Lord as his Savior and was baptized at the age of 13. His life changed for the better.

As an adult, Russell did all the right stuff. He graduated from college, graduate school, and went on to become a lawyer. He met his wife, had a daughter, and a house…he even tithed. “I knew God was there, but it was an intellectual experience. It was ritual. It wasn’t a relationship. I kept Jesus at arm’s length. I was all together. It was all about me and my education,” shares Russell.

SURVIVOR: SAMOA
Russell was chosen to be a contestant on Survivor: Samoa in the 2009 season. He had prayed about being on the show for ten years and sent in 8 applications and videos. He felt being a contestant on the show would be the “ultimate test of mental, physical, and spiritual strength.” In preparation for the show, Russell began to train vigorously lifting weights to strengthen his body for the contest that lay ahead.

On episode six, during one of the show’s grueling physical challenges, Swan passed out from dehydration in what producer Jeff Probst described as “the scariest moment in the show’s history.” He collapsed twice and lay motionless the result of extreme dehydration, exhaustion and malnutrition.

Russell says his body simply gave up. “My body was a machine. The one thing I knew that could not fail me, failed me. I passed out, stood up, thought I was fine, and passed out again. I have vague memories of bright skies. I came close to dying. I had to be taken off the show,” shares Russell.

He got angry with God. “Lord, how could you allow this to happen? You know the hours I spent preparing. You opened the doors and this is the way You are going to allow me to end. I could not believe it. I wept. I was broken. The embarrassment was so great. I almost had rather have been dead than feeling that sense of utter failure,” reveals Russell. He would have rather been voted off than taken off the show for sickness.                                        

RITUAL VS. RELATIONSHIP
Russell came on the show to win a million dollars and make sure his daughter’s education was paid. God’s plans were different. “I felt Him reach way down and pull me out of the pit. I felt His touch. The Lord was merciful. I
was an idiot. I should have died. I understand life and death more differently now. It took that lowest point to realize there is a different strength,” shares Russell.

Russell realized that God was in control of his life. As a result, he now has a relationship with God instead of a ritual. “That relationship now exists and is growing. I know Him for myself. I am nothing special, but God loves me,” says Russell.

Russell sums up his Survivor experience by saying that even when we feel we are completely defeated there is victory with God. Today he uses his fame to tell others about God. “The Lord is still in the blessing business. I know it for myself. He hasn’t downsized, right sized, or shipped overseas. He is alive and well. He loves us and blesses us. He loves you exactly where you are and who you are. I know that all things work for good for those who love Him. In God’s eyes we are all survivors. We just have to learn to lean on Him to figure that out,” shares Russell.

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