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Home missionary to teens knows youth problems well

(April 21, 2002)

New Britain, Conn.— David Tralongo used to be a tough guy. When he was 16 he stole cars, dealt drugs and joined in street fights in a volatile section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Today, Tralongo still spends much of his time on the streets, but instead of looking for cars to steal or people to sell drugs to, he is bent on sharing Christ’s message of love and hope as the first Assemblies of God home missionary to teenagers in the United States.

Changed heart: Once a delinquent, David Tralongo now shares Christ with as many youth as possible.

 

Tralongo’s transformation began when he was still a teen. His parents moved from Brooklyn to Long Island’s suburbs in the hope of getting him away from his old neighborhood and negative influences. In the suburbs, Tralongo, then 17, met a pastor who led him to Christ and discipled him.

"That is where my passion to reach teens comes from," says the 36-year-old Tralongo, whose Young Hope Ministries is based in New Britain, Conn. "People reached out to me and that is what gives me hope for these kids."

New Britain, a city of 75,000 located just south of Hartford, has many of the same problems any urban area does. In the city’s housing projects, where Tralongo ministers, there are high pregnancy rates, drug abuse and violence.

Each week Tralongo drives his Speed the Light vehicle into the projects and gathers teens for rides to Calvary Christian Center Assembly of God, pastored by Robert Santeusanio.

"It took us five years to get kids to come to church consistently," says Tralongo, who has worked with the teens since 1995. "We reach out to kids whose parents don’t come to church and those from difficult and dangerous homes."

Paul Drost, director of church planting for the Assemblies of God, realizes the importance of longevity in inner-city ministry. "David has a real heart and is effective in getting kids off the streets and incorporating them into a church," Drost says. "He has dealt with the struggles of the inner city."

One teen who has benefited from Tralongo’s ministry is Debonair Partin, 14.

"Pastor Dave and the kids made me feel so welcome," she says. Tralongo invited her to join the teen choir and has seen her grow spiritually in the past year. Debonair took an A/G AIM trip to Mexico in February.

"I loved traveling outside the United States for the first time so I could tell others what God has done for me."

Besides the teen choir, directed by Tralongo’s wife, Kristi, the ministry offers youth activities on Friday nights. "We take teens to Christian concerts, hold basketball tournaments or fellowship with them at a pizza party," Tralongo says. "We want to give them a positive influence."

On Wednesday nights, the 30 or so attendees of the youth group, combine with a Baptist youth group for praise and worship and Bible study. The biggest stumbling block in teens’ lives, Tralongo says, is an inability to see how important current decisions are to future living. "They don’t build healthy relationships or continue their education," he says. "But when we are able to hang around them long enough and spend time with them, they begin to value our relationship. At that point, they respond."

— Isaac Olivarez

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