The Navigators: Lasting Influences

The two people in the Navigators that most influenced my life were Michael Ryan and Doug Benshoof. Let me start with Doug Benshoof, the Nav rep. I don’t know why, but he chose me several times to go witnessing with in the Marine barracks. I kept thinking that he was expecting me to follow in his footsteps, but sadly I never did, at least not to his caliber. Doug had a wonderful gift of discernment and a way of piercing right through a person’s arguments to their heart. I remember him telling me one time that when a person is most argumentative and belligerent, he often is the readiest to respond to the gospel. And I, personally, more than once, saw Doug bring a very angry and argumentative person to the point of repentance. I’ve never seen anything like it.

He also had a very commanding and authoritative presence. One time I saw him walk into a break room area in a Marine barracks, where about 20 Marines were sitting and watching television. He went boldly up to the TV, shut it off, and directly told them that he had something much more important to talk to them about. And then he boldly shared his testimony and the gospel. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that he had done that a few times before—he saw opportunities to witness to groups and he knew how to pull it off. I’m guessing that maybe the men thought he was an officer, and even though he was dressed as a civilian, they had better listen to him. Well, Doug was (formerly) a Marine lieutenant, and no doubt God used that experience for His purpose.

But Doug wasn’t only a bold evangelist. He was primarily a disciple maker. I’m not sure what his goals were, but everyone knew who he was discipling. And he would find a new guy to disciple every year it seemed. And it was kind of funny to see it. I mean his disciples would turn out to be almost a copy of himself: having the same drive and goals, and even the same stories. And I remember him telling me how he would go about looking for disciples. He would start with a group. He would gather a group of primarily none-Christians that showed an interest in studying the bible. And he would stay with that group for as long as they were interested. Many of them would become Christians but not all. And he would, at the same time, be looking for one man to spend most of his time with—a man that he thought would be faithful, available, and teachable (FAT).

Doug was the Nav rep with us for about half of the time I was there (about two years), and then the Nav organization (in Colorado, Springs, Co.) sent him to Spain to begin a Navigator ministry there. Obviously, they knew of Doug’s gifts and knew he would be the best man for the job.  I stayed in touch with him for a while. It didn’t take him long to begin bible studies and to find people to disciple. And I think his wife Betty was fully involved too.

Michael Ryan was a lot different than Doug. He was quiet and more introverted—like me. He would probably never look for an opportunity to witness to a group, like Doug did. But he had other gifts. I suppose you could say that Doug was like the Apostle Paul and Mike was more like Timothy. And though I was more impressed with Doug, I think overall, Mike’s ministry to me has made a more lasting impression; one reason why is because he had a way of communicating to me that he was benefiting from our friendship just as much as I was benefiting from him. He regarded us as equals, even though it seemed that he was usually the one to lead the way and take the initiative. I remember when we would meet together every morning to read the word and pray together before we went to work. He would always come over to my apartment, and we would usually sit outside in the fresh air. I don’t think we had any high goals of finding anything new in the word during our times together. I think it was more just establishing the habit of having a quiet time every day—and building a faithfulness to the Lord and to each other. We met almost every day for, I think, over a year, until he decided to move back to his home in Kansas.

I miss those times and I miss Mike. But our faithfulness in meeting together has greatly benefited me and has left in me a lasting legacy. For if there is one thing in my life that I would say I am faithful in, it would be my morning quiet times. And I don’t count it as any great achievement, just as something I’ve grown a custom to, or something that I look forward to.

8th and 9th Grade: The Good and the Bad

After 7th grade, where I lived in Montevideo, we moved again, back to Minneapolis. I think I remember that my dad wasn’t doing too well and spent some time in a mental hospital. Meanwhile, my mom was working full time as a secretary and us kids were fending for ourselves.

I don’t remember how it all happened, but I got involved with a Christian group called Hi-C Club. It was a Jr. High branch of the Campus Crusade for Christ group in Minneapolis. I remember our first meeting in the home of one of the girls in the group. We all, about a dozen of us, sat in the living room waiting for the leader to arrive. He was about ten minutes late and came huffing and puffing to the door, saying that he had run all the way. Strange guy. He ran everywhere. Anyway, he gave his testimony about how he came to Christ, and he got us all excited about the group and about being Christians. Looking back on it, that group was just what I needed at that time. It was my first introduction to Christianity since I received Christ a year ago at camp.

We not only did bible studies; we did a lot of fun activities and games. And when one of the leaders challenged us to do beach evangelism, I jumped right in. We memorized a booklet called the Four Spiritual Laws, and then we headed for the beach on Lake Calhoun. It was so scary at first, but after a few encounters, me and my buddy Gary really got into it. Of course, the thing that excited us was the few converts we got. People were actually praying to receive Christ!

The junior high school, Jefferson Jr. High, was about ten or twelve blocks away. Instead of taking the bus, for some reason my mom wanted us to walk to school. It took a long time, over half an hour. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to lug my trombone with me all the time, but I had to bring it home because I had to practice.

Playing the trombone was probably the thing I liked best about 8th and 9th grade. I was in the band and the instructor gave all of us free lessons. He was hard on us—on me, but I learned how to play, and I loved playing in the band. The band wasn’t that good, but we sure had fun. One of the things the band instructor would always tell me was that I was playing too loud! But I couldn’t help it. That’s the only way I knew how to play.

At the time, I was going to a Presbyterian church just two blocks away. It was a little different than what I was use to—like free churches, Baptist churches, and even charismatic churches. So, you can imagine that this Presbyterian church was different, more formal or liturgical. But I didn’t mind.

My Sunday School teacher was also the church basketball coach, and I was on the team. I didn’t make too many points, but I was fairly good at defense. And anyway, it didn’t seem to matter that much to the coach. In fact, he had more than just basketball on his mind. He was out to befriend us. I later found out that he was a pervert, or a pedophile. But at the time I really didn’t know what to think of him. A couple of times he had me and another guy (a fellow basketball player) over to his house for the night. For some reason he chose me to share his bed. I had no idea what he was up to until he did it to me. And then I still wasn’t sure what happened. Living on the farm, away from everything, I had really been sheltered, and no one told me anything about sex. I kind of knew that what happened to me was wrong, yet at the same time I wondered if it was normal—if it was just something every boy would go through.

One fall, I think it was in October, the coach took me and this same player for a week long camping trip in Lake of the woods. It would have been so much fun and a great adventure if it hadn’t been spoiled by what he did to me during the night—as before. Again, I asked myself, was this normal? (years later I found out that my brother Mark had been abused by this same guy. He too was in his Sunday School class. And I heard that when my dad found out he was furious. Evidently, he had been doing this to boys for years and getting away with it.)

Well, wouldn’t you know it, a few months later, in the summer time, some kids from our Christian group had a swimming party. I can’t remember all the details of what happened, but, as I remember, the guy I got a ride with couldn’t give me a ride home and said I could ride with these old guys that he knew. Anyway, on the way back they stopped at their place, and they offered me a drink. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure hit me hard. After a while the whole room was spinning around and they were laughing. I couldn’t see straight and I couldn’t walk. And they led me, and sort of dragged me, to a bedroom and forced me down onto a bed. One of them had his way with me and I could hear that the other guy was in the room too. In a way I was kind of thankful to be drugged, because it kept me from knowing exactly what when on—though I remember some of it.

Thank God, it only lasted a couple hours and then they took me home. The next day I went for a long run in an attempt to clean out my system, and I’m sure I was praying along the way. I think I had come to realize that what had happened to me, both with my Sunday School teacher and with these old guys, wasn’t at all right or normal. The devil was after me. He wanted to destroy my life. That’s the last time I was abused by anyone; but it was just the beginning of what Satan had planned for me. Though I was a child of God and eager to serve Him, I could sense that Satan was constantly after me to destroy me in one way or another.