An elderly man who had never before heard of Jesus began sobbing as he listened to the preaching of a representative from First Assembly of God in Hermitage.

“He was so taken by the fact someone could love him that much and accept him as he is,” said Amanda Kokoski, one of two adults on a youth mission trip to El Salvador. Ten First Assembly members joined an Ambassadors In Mission national youth ministry team in visiting the Central American country July 24 through Aug. 3.

“We desired to take a trip this year, and this trip fulfilled our desires,” said Pastor Rick Jones of the journey offered by the Assembly of God’s district youth department. The group consisted of 23 in all, and mainly targeted high school students 16 and older.

Convoy of Hope, a national relief ministry through Assembly of God, coordinated the trip.

“The group is usually a first responder in disasters and offers relief of all kinds,” said Pastor Jones, First Assembly’s youth minister. “You’ll see Convoy of Hope trucks in some of the first pictures of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.”

First Assembly joined the Convoy of Hope team and raised $6,000 to purchase one container holding 44,000 pounds of food.

“We were there to feed people both physically and spiritually,” said Pastor Jones. “The food met us down there. We unloaded it and fed 1,700 families mostly in small villages.” They also helped feed a group of refugees who lost their homes in a volcanic eruption, he said.

While the countryside is beautiful, living conditions are substandard. Houses, according to Mrs. Kokoski, were made from tin. The young people also saw the local residents using trees as outhouses.

“We stayed in a dorm setting at first,” said Pastor Jones. “When we started to travel into the countryside, we moved into a motel. After working from the early-morning hours through 1 a.m., we thought it would be good to have a place to go where you could get a hot shower and rest.”

A typical day began at 7 a.m. with breakfast, followed by a drive to a warehouse to load a truck full of food. The group then traveled about an hour to a neighborhood where the students would play with the local children while stands were set up for food distribution.

Before getting back on the bus to travel to another location, they also presented dramas and preached the Gospel.

“The trip allowed God to reach out, through us, to those a whole lot less fortunate,” said Pastor Jones. “It also exceeded our expectations by helping us understand how blessed we are in this country.”

Mrs. Kokoski heard similar statements from young people. “I heard them say things like, ‘Wow, we’re really lucky; we’re really blessed.’ ”

The group gave an offering of $200 while in El Salvador.

“We were told $100 will feed a family of four for about 300 days,” said Pastor Jones. “That shows how far money can go in a third-world country.”

Upon returning home, Pastor Jones said the students had a deeper appreciation for their parents and how they live.

“The next time they’re hungry, they’re going to think of those people who were really hungry,” he said.

“I hope it will be an experience they’ll always have with them,” said Pastor Jones of the trip’s impact on the young people. “Our church gives to ministries and, through this trip, they were able to see how the ministries help others.”

Mrs. Kokoski also saw a change in the students. “They appreciated the fact we hear Jesus’ name everyday and some people down there have never heard it.”

Pastor Jones also found himself benefiting from the trip.

“I just enjoy helping people,” he said. “I look at every day as a mission trip, to be honest. I ask God to point people out I can help today. We were able to show the love of God in a tangible way. The young people recognized there are those in need all around us.”

Pastor Jones said he knows the church will take a similar trip in the future.

Mrs. Kokoski said Jesus never ceases to amaze her. “I would do another trip in a heartbeat,” she said.

In charge of fundraising for the church’s youth ministry, Mrs. Kokoski said anyone is welcome to donate to the church.

“The missionaries called our district and said this was the best team they’ve ever taken anywhere,” said Pastor Jones.

First Assembly was represented by students from Hermitage, Hubbard, Sharpsville and Reynolds schools; and American University in Washington, D.C.; Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.; and Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa.

“We didn’t speak much Spanish and they didn’t speak English, but we spoke through love,” said Mrs. Kokoski.

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