I love the American National Anthem, I will often get emotional when I hear it. The closing lyrics are: “And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.” And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” I’ve been to the USA twice before, on short trips, and I’ve had a taste of the American lifestyle. But on this trip, I was immersed into all things American. The good the bad & the ugly…
For years we had been dreaming of a family holiday to the USA, at the end of 2022 it finally happened! This article is about some highlights & some lessons learned. I want to honour my amazing wife Carol for organizing so much behind the scenes, it was the trip of a lifetime!
We landed in LA with our teenagers, Josh & Grace on December 8 for an 8-week journey across 10 states! Our first day we caught up with some friends for lunch from New Hope Church Las Vegas, they had just done a mission in Mexico & at The Dream Centre in LA, working on Skid Row (known as the worst street in America.) We met near Skid Row, and straight away we noticed the tents with for the homeless on the sidewalks everywhere. That day the Mayor of LA had announced an emergency homeless crisis & big plans to try and tackle this. We work with people experiencing homelessness, so we are not easily shocked. But we were shocked. It was overwhelming. Heartbreaking. LA, Hollywood, California, when you hear these words you think of celebrities & limousines & success etc. But just around the corner from all this glitz & glamour is 40,000 people living on the streets. This was eye-opening, and a constant reminder wherever we travelled around the USA. They say that when America Sneezes, Australia catches a cold. I also see this as a growing issue here in Australia, and a sign of things to come. It was a wake-up call to me to continue the ministry to the homeless we do in Brisbane. The Bible is very clear about caring for the poor, and thankfully I did see many great ministries in the USA doing just that.
The reason we went on the trip was for Long-Service leave. After 17 years at our Church, we needed a break! So we did do lot’s of fun holiday activities, and I squeezed in some ministry where we could. I preached at a Spanish Church with a translator on that Sunday, it was a beautiful Church! And it turned out the Associate Pastor was a chaplain on Skid Row with a charity called “Rescue Mission.” He shared with me about the amazing work they do rescuing & rehabilitating the last, the least & the lost!
The rest of the week in LA we went to Disneyland & Warner Bros which were both awesome! We also started trialling a long list of take-away food outlets, and supermarkets etc. There was an increase in all of our prayer lives, especially when driving on the right-hand side of the road! It took a while to get used to, and I reckon our guardian angels saved us a number of times!
We went to a concert with 3 awesome Christian Artists & about 40,000 other people! Phil Wickham, Brandon Lake & Anne Wilson. It was a real treat for our son Josh especially, as he’s a massive Phil Wickham fan! There was a lot of talk about how it was great to meet publicly again. Many Churches in the USA have lost members because of Covid, people just didn’t want to go out in public. Many Pastors I spoke with on our trip were struggling because of this.
We loved the drive up to San Luis Obispo, where we stayed with Carol’s step-mum & her husband Tom. Margie moved from Australia to the USA a few years back, it was so great to stay with them & get a tour of their town! Something that inspired me was seeing the Local Mission. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (“Mission”) was the fifth mission to be founded by Father Junipero Serra within Alta California. I was impacted when I realised this missionary had set-up these mission stops which are now thriving towns & Cities. You never know the impact of planting a seed!
After a few wonderful days of reminiscing & enjoying Nana & Tom’s hospitality we journeyed up to San Francisco. We had a great bus tour of the city & I preached in a black Gospel Church on the Sunday night! They were so fired up! When I read my first scripture, they all stood to honour the Word of God! It made me realise how much we need to be passionate about the Lord in our services! The sad thing was, as we left the service we saw several young girls prostituting themselves on the next street over from the Church, it was freezing cold, and they were not wearing much at all. It was a stark contrast from the amazing service we’d just been a part of. This reminded me of the importance of the Church reaching those outside their four walls…
Next stop was Eugene, Oregon for our Christmas week! We stayed at a beautiful Air BnB with a lovely couple who were friends of friends. They were so hospitable! They invited us over for a few meals, including Christmas lunch, and we felt like we’d found family in a foreign land! The other highlight in Eugene was spending time with Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. Wayne is the founder of New Hope International which has about 140 churches around the world! He was previously based in Hawaii, but now leads a Church in Eugene which has grown to 1200 after 2.5 years! We loved their Christmas service, and I was able to do an interview with Wayne & also do devotions with him & his key leaders one morning. He is one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met & it was such a blessing to spend some time together!
Then we were off to Seattle! Thankfully I was over the jet lag by then… I didn’t want to be Sleepless in Seattle! (A Joke I used many times… please pray for my family, they are still recovering from my many hilarious, clever, witty dad jokes I delivered on the trip.) In Seattle we caught up with Pastor Phil MacCallum. Phil planted New Hope Brisbane 20 years ago, and handed the Church over to us 17 years ago. So it was another inspirational time of re-connection. Phil’s children & their families were also there, so it was like a family reunion! Their Church has a massive Christmas lights outreach which reaches so many people, it was impressive! Their church also has a big focus on reaching out to others with the Alpha Course, with great success! Phil has also started a ministry where he leads tours in Israel, another connection which is very dear to my heart! When Phil asked me to take over New Hope Brisbane 17 years ago, I would’ve never dreamed of how my life would turn out. Thank God for a man who believed in a young 30 year-old who was pretty rough around the edges!
Our next stop, New York for New Years Eve! There was a million visitors predicted to visit Times Square that week! The crowds were overwhelming at times, but it was worth it! One night we caught the Subway to Harlem to have dinner with my Aussie Mate Simon Mills. Millsy is a publisher, a musician, a radio guy and a top bloke! He also invited the Former Governor of New York David A Paterson! He was Governor from 2008 to 2010. He’s a member of the Democratic party, & was the first legally blind person to be sworn in as governor of a U.S. state, and was the first African American governor of New York. I was able to record an interview with him about the Homelessness crisis & about his new book!
We saw so many famous places in New York, The Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square etc. We did a Bus tour which is a great way to get around. I was blown away by the number of places we recognised from Movies & Tv etc. It goes to show how much the USA has influenced the world with media. On that note, it was fascinating to flick through the so many TV & radio channels. I noted how much Christian content was available. Way more options than Australia. I did love K-Love & Air-1 which are Christian radio stations which have an audience of about 18 million in the USA! Also, there was TBN, Daystar and other Christian TV networks available in most places. I also noticed the political bias on mainstream media. Most channels very clearly leaning to the left, and then there’s Fox & a few others that are conservative. I also noticed that everyone had a very strong opinion about politics. From what I’ve seen, Aussies aren’t as divided on this. For example in Australia, if you have someone close to you with an opposing political view you can still have a rational conversation etc. I think in the USA it’s a bit more of a divisive issue. Now that’s a massive generalization, but it’s something that kept coming up on our trip. Now I’m very Conservative politically, but I also try to connect with & understand those who aren’t. I also found that every state in the USA was like a different country. Some are Red states (Conservative) and some are Blue States (Progressive) and some are Deep Blue states! One thing we found out was that many Conservative Christians had left the Blue states and were moving to Red states like Texas or Florida.
After this we went to see my high school buddy Jared Holsing. I went to the youth group where his dad was the Pastor and in that time, I came to Christ! I have so many great memories of going to youth camps and hanging out with Jared & his family in Coffs Harbour! Jared is married to a lovely lady from Columbia with 2 teenagers. It was great for our wives & kids to connect, and we spent the night reminiscing, laughing & discussing some pretty heavy theological topics all around some good Spanish food!
Next up we spent a couple of days in Washington DC! We saw the White house, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Hill Building and the Bible Museum! The USA didn’t have an elected speaker while we were there, it was all over the news. I was going to offer to step in, but I thought, I’m on holidays, I really should lay low. Lol! I really loved the Bible museum, they have 1,150 items in its permanent collection and 2,000 items on loan from other institutions and collections. I got to meet a Rabbi who is in charge of the Hebrew Scrolls in the Museum, and we loved the Restaurant called Manna that serves Kosher food. Whilst in DC we also caught up with Anna Patricia who is from our Church! She got a job their recently, and it was a teary reunion, so nice to see a familiar face!
Our next stop was a chilled out week in a town called Roanoke, Virginia. We caught up with our friends Brad & Beth Huddleston. Brad is an internationally respected speaker, consultant, teacher, and author on important issues such as technology and culture. We didn’t know this, but it turned out that Brad was born in Roanoke, what a coincidence! We also visited the Elevation Church campus in Roanoke, the worship was beautiful!
One of the main reasons for our trip was to visit the Billy Graham Retreat centre in Asheville North Carolina. I had been in Hobart in 2022 with Will Graham when he was preaching there, and I mentioned we were planning a USA trip. Will graciously offered us a cabin for our trip, and it was one of the confirmations for us that we should go. I have to say at this point, the trip was very expensive, and we had saved up a long time for this trip. But time & time again, we were amazed at the generosity we received from so many people along the way. God is Good! I could write a book about all the miracles that happened! And I should also say the weather was so good wherever we went. There was some terrible weather in the USA at the time, but we seemed to dodge it wherever we went.
When we drove into the Billy Graham Retreat centre, it was like driving into heaven. It was so beautiful! There were deer on the side of the road, everything was so green & lush. And we had a cabin, with such an amazing view! It was so peaceful & tranquil. I got to spend a couple of hours with Will Graham in his office. We talked about his love for Australia (He’s planning a Gold Coast outreach in 2024) We talked about Evangelism, the state of the Church, politics, the local landscape and much more, it was such a blessing! We also visited the head office for Samaritans Purse which has over 700 staff! I’ve been to Cambodia and handed out Shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, it was a life changing trip! It was so good to the heart of the Operation! We spent some time with Hans Mannagren & his wife. Hans was the organiser of the Franklin Graham tour of Australia a few years ago, and has preached at our Church, a great friend! I also spent some time at The Light Fm, the local Christian radio station, I recorded a few Historymakers interviews in their studio, and was also interviewed about my new book! We were so overwhelmed with the continued reach of the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Even after he’s gone to glory, his children and grandchildren and their massive team are still impacting the world with the gospel. What an inspiration! To top it off, it snowed on the last day at Asheville, we had an epic snowball fight and made some great memories!
Next stop was Nashville! Carol knew I’d love it there because of my love for Christian Radio & Christian Music, and she was right! The Lord connected us to the right people at the right time! We popped into Elroy Coffee Co. which we’d heard was owned by Aussies. It turns out the owner just got a job with K-Love the Christian Radio network! Long story short… We did a couple of interviews at the café, and then he organised a tour of K-Love the next day! The tour was with another Aussie friend of mine, Jarrod Graetz, who had just started working there! On the tour I got to meet all the announcers & Micah Tyler (Christian Singer) was there as well! It was my kind of day! Another highlight was taking my wife out to the honky tonk bars! One band was taking requests, and they played “Amazing Grace” for us in the middle of their set!
Our last stop was Hawaii! Our eldest daughter Lydia joined us for the last 10 days, and it was a great time of family bonding on the beach! I had the privilege of preaching at New Hope Hawaii Kai, and we visited New Hope Oahu as well. There’s something about Hawaii that’s like a second home for me. Our Church was planted out of New Hope Oahu 20 years ago, and it feels like Ohana whenever we visit. (Ohana means Family in Hawaii.) There are now 35 New Hope Churches on the islands of Hawaii, all faithfully preaching the gospel. What a great witness for Christ! This was a nice place to enjoy the warmer weather before coming back to Australia. We saw our great friends Robin & Mel & Katie who we’ve stayed with on previous trips. Robin is an Anaesthesiologist, which means we both have the same job, putting people to sleep!
A few closing thoughts… Travelling with our kids had it’s ups & downs. We loved sharing the experience with them, but they did struggle with homesickness, and boredom etc. But it forced us to be closer as a family, and we now have memories that will last forever. Someone said that after a trip like this, you look at the world with fresh eyes. I think we all see the USA with a bit more clarity than we did before.
I love the USA. It’s the most influential Country in the world. It’s political influence, the media, the entertainment industry, the financial sector, the list goes on. It does have a strong Christian foundation, but sadly, she’s turning away from God in many ways. I thank God for the Asbury Revival and the outpouring we are hearing about on many college campuses & churches etc. America needs Revival. If America sees Revival, it will impact the world! I do want to travel back to the USA to do some more ministry in the future, if the Lord wills it.
They love our accent over there! Many times I got strange looks & people saying, “I love your accent!” And many people made comments about Croc Dundee, Steve Irwin, Kangaroos, our massive spiders & Bluey the kids cartoon! My kids did get embarrassed by the number of times I’d declare to anyone, “I’m from Australia!” And that made me want to do it even more! It’s one of the best things about being a dad, seeing the embarrassment on their faces! ☺
It was a great time for evangelism! We saw 17 people come to Christ on our trip, and I handed out many gospel tracts & business cards along the way. We also got to minister to a number of homeless people, and pray for many people as well!
Working in Media, it was a great opportunity to get some compelling content. I was able to post on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube & get great interviews for my radio shows.
To see some interviews from the trip go to our Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-u2Lp7ary4 You can also search up my Interviews at our Youtube channel, including New Hope Las Vegas, Wayne Cordeiro, Phil MacCallum, David A Paterson, Will Graham, David Sams, Mia Fieldes, Jordan Grace and many more!
God Bless you all, And God Bless America!