When Emily Rampellini's parents got divorced, her life went into a dangerous downward spiral that brought her to the point of self-harming and having suicidal thoughts until a chance encounter in a slum gave her new hope.
"I was heading into a downward spiral that I couldn't get out of," Emily tells of her Junior Year, "I started hiding things from my parents, lying to my friends and ditching them for new friends that weren't right for me, dating the wrong people and doing everything that I shouldn't be doing.
"That year was the worst year of my life. I fell behind in everything: my friends, my schoolwork, my faith were shot.
"I thought that God would never forgive me for the things I'd done, let alone accept me in spite of them."
Although Emily came from a family of many and mixed faiths, she had come to believe in the existence of a Creator God when her school teacher explained the complexity and function of the human eye, and Emily realized it could not have come about by chance.
At the instigation of her mom, Emily later got baptized [immersed in water as an outward sign of her inward conversion to Christianity]. But she admits she was in "no way ready to be baptized" and after the event "avoided church like the plague", although she might have found some much-needed stability there in the wake of her parent's divorce.
A year after her life spun out of control so badly, Emily looked around and found that she was alone. "My friends didn't want to speak to me. My parents lost trust in me. I started to doubt myself as a person and was at the point where I started to have suicidal thoughts.
"I honestly thought that no one cared if I lived or died. My boyfriend, at the time, was not a nice person to me at all. He would mentally tear me down and agree with the names I called myself in my mind, as well as trying to make me do things that I wasn't ready for."
She decided to take action. "Like a snake bite I sucked the poison out of my life and looked to rebuild.
"I started to rebuild friendships I had lost. I improved in school and was top of my class again. I wasn't better but I was okay. All was good, except for my faith ... but you never know what God has in store for you."
Emily got an opportunity to go to the Philippines on a mission trip instead of going on a school graduation party at the end of Senior Year.
"I was so excited to make a difference but little did I know that it wasn't what I would do for those people but what those people and God would do for me," she recalls.
In the first week of the program, she was put in a group that visited a slum area.
"At one point I wandered away from my group and stumbled upon this woman who was isolated from the others," Emily relates. "Not quite understanding why, I looked into her house and found pages of a book that were torn up and ripped. That book was the Bible."
The woman explained that she was a Christian but the other people in the area didn't like her faith and had torn up her Bible. Still, she prayed day and night and read the ripped up pages.
"She shared with me a verse: 'For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21-22) and I asked her if she thought she was good enough for heaven and how she could live this way.
"She asked me if I knew what Jesus had done for me. It was in that moment that I broke down. I cried my eyes out, I confessed my sins to her and to God. There, surrounded by garbage in Bacolod, Philippines, I gave my life to Jesus.
"I sat and prayed for ages," Emily recalls.
Then she got up and bought the woman a new Bible.
Emily had realized neither she nor the old woman had to be "good enough" for heaven, because nobody could be, except Jesus. He alone was sinless and made a way for all those who believe in Him to be in relationship with God.
"She didn't want to accept the Bible but I knew it was I who owed her, for she had given me the greatest gift of all time. The gift of Jesus," Emily ends joyfully.
Since then Emily has been on another mission trip – to South Africa – sharing with others the treasure of forgiveness she found in a slum area.•