For Cole Russo, having his driver’s license and his own vehicle finally meant that he could have the freedom to do more of what he was drawn to. That can mean many different things to teenagers, but for Cole, it meant he could attend three different youth groups in the evenings during the week.
“I wanted to learn more about my religion and be armed with knowledge when asked about being a Christian,” said Cole. “I really want to teach others about Christianity.”
It was through his experience of attending several youth groups, including one held at Scott Fitchett’s home, another at North Summit Church and a third at First Baptist, that led Cole to embark on an adventure of a lifetime this past summer.
Cole, along with 10 others from Sandpoint, traveled to the Czech Republic for two weeks on a mission trip, teaching Czech teenagers English and also sharing with them about what it means to be a Christian. Before they left in July, the group spent several months preparing and bonding as a group. They explored their weaknesses and strengths while learning what gift each of them had to contribute to the experience. “My strength is connecting and talking with others,” said Cole.
He was sponsored in part by North Summit Church and also asked family and friends for contributions. “I sent a letter asking them to give whatever they could, whether it was money or prayers. Every bit helped,” said Cole.
Upon arriving, the group of Americans spent three days in training and acclimating to the time change.
“The country is primarily atheist. Many kids had never met a Christian, and it’s frowned upon in their country. Many see Christianity as a cult,” shared Cole. But after seeing how happy and connected the American group was with one another and with God, it made a significant impact on the more than 50 kids they interacted with.
The leaders, both American and Czech, woke up early each morning and participated in a morning sermon, worship songs and Bible lessons. Afterward, everyone gathered for breakfast. “We then had a three-hour English class,” said Cole. Following lunch there were several activities during the afternoon and also some free time. “And after dinner we had a nightly sermon.”
The groups stayed in a “pension,” similar to a youth hostel, with one American and five Czech students to a room. They would stay up late sharing stories and talking about God. Cole said there were times when he had to really push through, despite being too tired, staying up until 3am some nights sharing his story of Christianity with the kids.
But it wasn’t just the Czech kids who benefited from the experience—Cole did, too. “I grew both personally and spiritually,” he says, adding that he learned to be more patient, one of the weaknesses he had identified in his preparation for the trip.
After the seven days with the kids were over, the American group traveled to Prague. “It’s the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen. The way it is preserved is incredible. It was never bombed during either of the World Wars,” said Cole.
The leaders of the Sandpoint group included Chad Morrison of North Summit Church, someone who Cole says, along with Scott Fitchett, has been most influential on him when it comes to Cole’s spiritual growth.
“Scotty opened up my eyes to look at things differently,” said Cole. “And both Chad and Scotty have been heavily involved in sculpting me to become a Christian—in my own way, not their way.”
This was Cole’s first mission trip, and he said it is definitely an experience that confirmed what he has already set as his career goal.
After graduation in the spring, Cole plans to attend Bethany Global University in Minnesota and receive a master’s in biblical theology. “I would like to be a full-time missionary and eventually start my own church,” said Cole. He explains that the university is a four-year college, with two of the years spent abroad learning all there is to know about being a missionary.
Cole advises that if anyone is considering a mission trip, they should definitely go for it. “You may never get the opportunity again. You will never get to meet the kind of people I did. It’s a big commitment, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
When Cole left the Czech Republic, he left knowing he had made a lasting impression on the youth he had spent his time with. “I was surprised at how accepted we were by the kids. They really opened up to us and many cried when we left,” said Cole, who keeps in contact with a few of the kids. “This was an experience I’d love to have again. Especially by seeing the impact we had on kids in only seven days.”