Around 18 months ago Jean was praying about CNI Network and got the word 'America'! America seemed like a long way off and a large place but we believed that if God was indeed saying America then the way would open.
We shared this word with several people and received very negative feedback. One person, who had spent time in the USA working with Christian ministries, told us that American churches didn't like initiatives from overseas and that everything has to be formulated in a certain way. Several people said that CNI Network and its family of projects would never work in America - however we believed that God had given us the word 'America'!
A few months later our friend Ricky Leonard was visiting the UK and stayed with us. One of the first things he said was that his wife Mary and himself were keen to look at starting Street Angels in Wilmington, North Carolina.
We made plans to visit in April 2017 and set to saving up the money for the air-fare. Ricky and Mary shared the vision of Street Angels with churches in the area, and, even though it was Easter and Spring Break, several churches were excited and invited Paul to speak at church services and events.
The first meeting was at Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church where Paul preached at the Palm Sunday service . The theme for the talk, based on the way Jesus used a donkey as the mode of transport into Jerusalem, was 'the ordinary and everyday achieves the profound and world-changing' (click here for the LiveStream of the service) As it was Spring Break people from around the USA were visiting for the weekend and so the story of Street Angels will be shared nationwide.
On Sunday night Paul spoke at a gathering of local Christians and church leaders in Ricky's office. Again the story of crime reduced and communities changed was an inspiration to those gathered who saw the need for the same in local and national USA communities.
Thirty people turned up on Monday night at Myrtle Grove for a Q and A session with Paul and Jean on how to set up a Street and Festival Angels project for Wrightsville Beach, downtown Wilmington and Carolina Beach.
On Tuesday we took a road trip to the neighbouring state of South Carolina and Myrtle Beach - a popular resort in the summer with thousands of tourists and similar issues to some of the resorts in the UK and Europe. We knocked on the doors of 7 churches along the coast road - told the story, answered questions and left web site details. All those we spoke to saw the need and that Street Angels could be the response from the church to that need.
By Wednesday we were at Carolina Coast Vineyard Church where the story of our work in the UK was met with enthusiasm and people seeing the potential for summer around the beach and boardwalk. The BBC Newsnight video of the Street Angels in Magaluf was well received and showed how Street Angels would work in a resort setting. The church had a mural of flip-flops in the foyer with the tagline 'Never Walk Alone' - a fitting image for the way our teams often walk with people in time of need!
On Thursday Paul shared at the FGBMFI dinner with around forty people from across the region. With a mix of humour and stories from the streets, clubs and festivals Paul was able to pray for people following the talk who wanted to engage better with local communities.
Saturday morning saw Paul speak at Wilmington Healing Center. At this gathering was a former police officer who runs a Christian police group and has contact with the leaders of the police. It was also great to hear from other ministries who are working on the streets of Wilmington especially around the homeless problem.
On Easter Sunday Paul spoke at Faith Life Fellowship in Wilmington. It was great to meet a couple from Louisiana who were visiting family and hear how they were now inspired to take our story to their home church.
Monday we met with Pastor Brian from Rock Church. Brian loved the heart, simplicity and vision of our work and could see how it would work in Wilmington. We then met Ron who has connections with various Christian TV stations across the USA and filmed a video with Paul to share with 2 of the biggest global Christian TV shows.
On Monday evening Paul spoke at One Christian Network of Wilmington - a network of many of the Christian based organisations at work in the region. Different ministries offered support to Street/Club/Festival Angels in terms of training and volunteers. It was great to hear of the amount of work that exists including feeding the homeless, supporting those going through divorce, setting up a Cardboard Church on the street and encouraging lawyers to be philanthropists!
The final talk was an interview on Life 90.5FM radio - this will be broadcast as part of an hour long programme but also as a promotion of CNI Network and the new projects about to launch.
God opened many doors! It is exciting to see how work in the UK has inspired Christians across the pond to think about similar projects. This visit was the first of many - we are already planning a road trip to other states and if the doors open to features on Christian TV shows! If you would like to invest in this expansion in the USA and be part of the journey please use the PayPal button below or visit www.cninetwork.org/donate . You can also purchase the Street Angels book to read more.
Thanks to all we met, those who invited us to visit and speak, those who invested into our work financially, those considering volunteering and those who are sharing our story.