Ringing in Hope

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Fourteen-year-old Allison* was in a dark place, a place she’d been for too long. She’d just hung up the phone after breaking up with her boyfriend, and felt the too-familiar heaviness pulling her down like a weight.

Moments later, her phone rang again. This time, a voice of hope was on the other end. It was Allison’s WyldLife leader, Hannah Russell, ​making a phone call she never thought she’d make, with an invitation that would prove life changing.

Russell, now a senior at Miami University, had just been placed as a WyldLife leader at Harrison Junior School in Oxford, Ohio, when she met Allison and her friends in February 2015. Since then, Russell had only interacted with Allison in the crowded cafeteria or in a group at WyldLife club. Now more than a year later, Russell was reaching out to this eighth-grader she hardly knew to invite her to camp, trusting God was working beyond what she could see.

“It’s easy to think you have to build a whole relationship with kids and that there is so much on us as leaders,” Russell said. “But that’s not always true. God is bigger than that. His timing and truth are above any work that I do.”

Answering the Call

While Russell didn’t know Allison well, she did feel a connection with her. Allison was a “good kid” with a smile on her face that betrayed the war in her heart.

“Allison and I have similar backgrounds. I never knew the Lord or understood the gospel growing up,” Russell said. “We were dubbed ‘Christian’ in school because we were good kids. Allison was a gentle spirit and kind beyond belief. While she came off as a happy-go-lucky kind of girl, she was in a battle with depression much deeper than I could see or understand.”

Russell grew close to one of Allison’s best friends, Rachel,* over the school year.

Allison remembers meeting Russell and her invitation to WyldLife club. She said it met an emotional need in her life, temporarily.

“I was struggling with depression and starting to seek out places to channel my emotions,” Allison said. “When Hannah invited us to WyldLife, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try it.’ And I had a really good time. It seemed to really help.”

But in the quiet of her room, her battle still raged. The night she and her boyfriend broke up was pivotal. She had just taken a knife to her room, intent on self-harm or perhaps more.

That same evening, Russell learned there was one open, paid-for spot for camp. They needed a girl to fill it before they left at 6 a.m. the next morning. Russell immediately thought of her young friend, Rachel.

“I vividly remember getting my phone out to call Rachel,” Russell recalled. “And then I had this thought, ‘No, you need to call Allison.’ And so I dialed her number. As the phone was ringing, I remember thinking, ‘Why am I calling Allison instead of Rachel?’ But I decided to roll with it!”

Miraculously, in the midst of her darkest moment, Allison answered. And another miracle: her parents said yes to camp.

Finding Her Savior and Herself

Russell sat beside Allison on the bus the whole way to camp. In their conversation, Allison told Russell about the breakup the night before.

“She made everything sound very positive,” Russell said. “I knew she struggled with depression before, so I asked her about that. She said she was fine and excited to go to camp. So I left it at that.”

Allison tried to keep her chin up, but as the days went by, the talks started to hit home.

“After the cross talk, we talked for two hours,” Russell said. “Allison said, ‘My life is not OK.’ She told me she was contemplating self-harm the night I called. She said she’s not sure she would have made it through the week. Some of what she said was hard to hear. But she said, ‘God put me here for a reason.’”

Allison told Russell, “I’ve been trying really hard to follow all these rules and be good and do what you’re supposed to do for so long. It feels like I have a hole and nothing fixes it. I never knew I didn’t have to do all that.”

They both knew Russell’s phone call that night was no coincidence.

“Allison realized the sin in her life at camp that week. She realized her need for Jesus. She decided she wanted Jesus,” Russell said. “There is so much joy when a kid meets Jesus, when they see He is their only real option. There are no words to describe the beauty.”

“It was like I’d found myself for the first time,” Allison said.

Miracle After Miracle

After camp, Russell and Allison met weekly for Bible study. Then another miracle happened.

“Our second week at Bible study, Allison told me that for the first time in about a year, she had a real conversation with her dad,” Russell said. “This 14-year-old told her father the gospel. And her dad said he finally understood what his life was missing. Her family started reading the Bible together and going to church again.

“One little whisper from the Spirit to call Allison, and within two weeks, her whole family had gained eternity. What a gift. What a miracle.”

Allison said her struggles didn’t instantly subside, but she has been able to walk through them, with Jesus.

“Even after camp I still struggled,” she said. “I was a pretty heavy self-harmer, but I realized things take time. Believing didn’t cure things, but God absolutely changed my life for the better.

“Now I am a way stronger person than I used to be. I used to rely on other people to bring me happiness. I was seeking attention in the wrong ways. Now I accept who I am as a person. And I’m not worried about being alone. I learned that just because I’m by myself doesn’t mean I’m lonely at all. Now I have Someone watching over me. There is Someone I know who cares about me.”