After I graduated from Coastal Carolina Community College, it seemed right for me to move home to Minnesota, and to reconnect with my mom. Even though I did drive home every Christmas (with my friend Dave Peterson who also lived in Minnesota), I hadn’t been home for any extended time since I graduated from high school. I went from high school right into the Marines and Vietnam; and then after the Marines I stayed in North Carolina with the Navigators for the next four years. I was definitely ready to go home.
My mom was recently divorced, had sold her house, and was now living in an apartment in St. Louis Park. When I got home, I had no plans, so, at first, I was just bumming off of mom. But after a week or so I found a job as a kitchen Stewart at the Radisson Hotel in Bloomington. My job description was a kitchen supervisor, but I actually did a lot more than supervise. Yes, I supervised the dish washers, but I also did scheduling, made coffee for all the parties and events, and made sure there was enough dishes washed for all the events. It was a huge job and I didn’t get paid much more than a dish washer. I didn’t complain much, but now that I think about it, I should have gotten paid twice as much as a dish washer—because of all the responsibility I had. I think I worked there for about four months, until I started asking myself, “Why am I here?” and “What do I rally want in my life?”
The answer to myself, and really to my prayers, were to continue on the same course that I was on with the Navigators—something in Christian ministry. I knew my mom had gone to Northwestern Bible College for a short time, so that seemed like the logical choice. I went right for it. I quit my job at the Radisson, I talked to a counselor at the college, and before I knew it, I was all set up. I was surprised at how fast things were moving. I was accepted almost right away, I had no problem getting a government school loan, and I had an entire year of classes that transferred from my previous college—no problem.
Well, I was going to college again. But this time I felt I had a clearer purpose and a stronger desire.
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.
I knew nothing about the Navigators, but it didn’t take long to find out about them. After the very first Navigator meeting of singing, teaching and fellowship, Dave Kutche, the Nav leader introduced me to Michael Ryan and told us that we should team up together, that we would work well together. I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but Mike did. From that moment on Mike was my mentor: he would be discipling me. And that is what the Navigators are all about—discipleship.
There is so much I want to tell you about how Mike discipled me, but I think I will tell you a little bit about Sargent John first. He was Mikes mentor and close friend. In fact, they lived together in the same Marine barracks. But John was not only Mikes mentor and discipler, he discipled other guys in the barracks as well. He would lead them to the Lord and then take them through Bible studies. And he was also their Sargent. But he wasn’t your typical swearing, hard nose Marine Sargent. He was strict and demanded perfection, but he was also full of joy and compassion. I remember so well how he would often put his arm around another Marine, encouraging him. You hardly ever saw that in a Marine Sargent, but that was Sargent John. And I saw that same compassion in Mike toward others. Mikes attitude and character was obviously passed down from John.
Now at the time that I ran into the Navigators I had about a month left in my enlistment. And Mike and John were also still in the service, but I think they had more time left to serve than I did. Anyway, I remember that at least once a week me and Mike would walk through the barracks, and attempted to talk to Marines about the Lord. I slightly remember how Mike would boldly introduce the gospel. Mike had a very quiet personality, yet when it came to the gospel, he was quite bold and had a knack of getting to the point. My approach was less bold, but I think it was effective. We were a good team, and I often remember how Mike would try to encourage me and tell me that I was helping him as much as he was helping me. That humble attitude was what I really admired about Mike. He never thought he was in any way better than me, and I remember that he often did little things to purposely humble himself.
Another thing that the Navigators have been known for, besides discipleship, is scripture memory. Almost right away Mike was telling me about the importance of scripture memory, and he introduced me to the Navigator’s Topical Memory System and the sixty verses on verse cards that went with it. I immediately started memorizing those verses. I memorized one verse every two days. The first day I would say it over and over until I could say it from memory. And then on the second day I would learn it better and really think about its meaning. I remember that I was so keyed up for scripture memory. It was something that I was ready for and that God had prepared me for. In fact, as I look back on it, the whole Navigator Ministry came to me just at the right time, when I was primed for it. Or let me put it this way: God had put the Navigators—and Mike—into my life just at the right time, at the time when I was most ready to accept them and to benefit the most from their ministry.