Melissa (right) mentors junior Andrea Simmons in an apartment near Michigan State University. photos by Guy Gerrard
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Out of the Depths

After a horrible accident while driving drunk, Melissa learns that there’s more to life.

Melissa & edited by Emilie Vinson

For most of my life, I wanted to be the girl that others were looking at and looking up to. I built my hope on my image, and that because of it I would be accepted by others. Especially when I got to college, I was willing to do whatever it seemed to take to maintain the image I sought to present to the world.

In my sophomore year at Michigan State University, I was upholding the image of the pretty, fun sorority girl as best I could. I was going tanning, wearing dresses and heels nearly every day, flashing a big smile, making friends with everyone I met, and partying a lot.

I thought that as long as I could maintain this ideal image of perfection, my hope would be secure. But I felt ashamed about the way I conducted myself in order to do so.

During Welcome Week in 2008 at the start of my junior year, my friend, Joe, and I went to a party where most everyone was drinking underage. We arranged to have a designated driver, but the plans changed and, because of my compromised ability to make good decisions, I began to drive home.

I merged onto the expressway the wrong way, so I was driving into oncoming traffic. I caused a horrific collision that night, and the people in the other two cars I hit head-on were seriously injured and so was I. But far worse was that my friend, Joe, died because of the collision that night.

My Story: Melissa sidebar photo

I was in a coma for 11 days, and I was in the hospital for a total of seven weeks. I remember it being so hard for me to celebrate any kind of gain that I made, because I just kept thinking, How can I be celebrating the fact that I’m getting better when Joe is dead?

After I came home, I remember so clearly some of the girls I was friends with in the sorority saying, “What’s wrong with you? You’re not fun anymore.”

I just couldn’t be that girl anymore. I couldn’t pretend that the only thing that mattered in life was weighing 110 pounds and wearing an extra small, or going out and drinking all the time, or meeting guys.

I decided I needed a new group of friends. I went on MSU’s website of student organizations and started researching groups to be involved in. I saw Campus Crusade for Christ, and thought, Maybe I’ll look into this.

I didn’t know anything about Christians, really. I sent Shannon Kandt, part of MSU’s Cru staff team, an email and asked if I could come to her study. She came to pick me up for it, and the first study that I went to was on purity.

Afterwards, Shannon took me back to my house and we sat outside my sorority house and had this three-hour super honest discussion. And it was amazing to me how even though I was really closed off at first because it was about purity, how God was able to show me through my conversation with Shannon the much bigger theme of forgiveness.

I was so desperate for it at that time. It was exactly what I knew I needed. So Shannon shared the gospel with me for the first time that night. I was asking questions about everything, because I wanted to really understand what this could mean for me if Jesus died for my sins, and through faith in Him I could be forgiven completely.

It seemed impossible with what I had done, especially knowing that I was responsible for someone else’s death. I simply could not understand how, knowing that’s what I would do, God would still love me so much that he would die in my place for it. But I wanted to believe it so badly.

In April 2009, I decided to go to Spring Retreat. The speaker talked about being truly committed to Jesus and living for him, describing what it means to be a Christian, to give your life to God. It was amazing to learn that God loved me when I had no love for Him. God loved me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die so that I could know God and have a relationship with Him. Jesus suffered, and He understood my pain, but He chose that pain so that I could be forgiven and have everlasting life.

After the morning session, the speaker told us to go and meet with the Lord. I was sitting outside, and it was so serene and quiet and just out in nature. I think that God had been really pursuing my heart for a long time, and that day it was so clear that this really is true, and Jesus really is worth my life. I’m going to trust Him. I’m going to believe in Him, and I’m going to live for Him. If He truly is who He says He is and accomplished what He says He accomplished, then He’s absolutely worthy.

I knew instantly that it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. A little while later, we had some free time in the afternoon and I told Shannon. And then we told everybody! There were floods of people coming around, crying, rejoicing, celebrating. It was just amazing. I think I experienced joy that day for the first time in a long time.

Shortly after making her decision to follow Jesus, Melissa was brought up on criminal charges related to the auto accident and received a prison sentence of 30 months. She was recently released and is now completing her degree at Michigan State University. In addition to taking classes, Melissa disciples a young woman on campus, is co-leading a Bible study in the same dorm where she first learned of the gospel, and works as a pastor’s assistant at her local church.

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