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.
I forgot to mention in my last blog who the next Nav rep was after Doug Benshoof. It was Harvey Cox. Harv didn’t have the same evangelism gift that Doug had. In fact, I don’t think he went to the Marine base at all. His ministry was more to the faithful who were already in the Navs, and he especially worked with married couples. He seemed to have a special gift of rebuke and correction. And, as you can imagine, he wasn’t that well liked. But he was strong in the word. I remember asking him some very specific questions about my future and marriage, and he almost instantly had a verse for me, which I still hang on to: Proverbs 24:27, “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.”
I should tell you about my work experiences, and also college, during my four years with the Navs, from 1971 to 1975. I started working as a common laborer on a construction site. That was hard work, but at times interesting. I remember some of the old guys chewing tobacco, how they would chomp off a big chunk, hold it in their cheeks and keep chewing it all during the day, and every once in a while, spit it out. I tried a little one time. It was kind of tasty and gave me a little high, but it wasn’t for me.
I had another job for a while as a carpenter’s helper. I guess I was lucky to be hired, not really having carpentry skills; but I must have convinced them that I could learn. And I did. I learned very quickly. My main job was working with the carpenters installing all the crown molding and baseboards in all the new apartment rooms being built. It was a great job. I liked it, and loved learning that skill.
Another skilled job that I managed to get was with an engineering company, drafting. Sometimes I worked out in the field doing surveying, but I mainly worked in the office drafting. Most of the time they had me drafting individual lots that were just surveyed; and sometimes I worked on large subdivisions, and also on topographical maps. Those were fun.
I can’t remember how I got that job, but it probably was because of where I was going to college at the time. I was undecided as to what I wanted to do with my life, but I thought I would like drafting. So, I checked out the local community college, Coastal Carolina Community College. The closest program they had to what I wanted was a program they called Surveying Technology. I wasn’t particularly interested in surveying, but I liked the drafting part of it. I didn’t care for the other classes either, and generally, I wasn’t a very good student. But on the positive side, I think all the struggling through the classes helped me. Basically, I think I learned better study habits by just plain will power—mixed with a strong dose of prayer. In the end I received a two-year degree in Surveying Technology—in three years. Sadly, the degree was worthless to me, but the study experience was well worth the effort.
In one year, I would begin going to Northwestern Bible College in Roseville, Minnesota (which is now renamed Northwestern University). There I finely felt that I was in the right place, and all the tireless work that I had put in, in the community college in North Carolina had finely paid off.
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.
It wasn’t long before my enlistment in the Marines came to an end, and I quickly decided to stay with the Navigators. The Nav rep, which was now Doug Benshoof, replacing Dave Kuchee, encouraged me to stick around for more Nav training, so I did. I also remember that my grandpa came to visit me all the way from Minnesota, to find out what I was doing. I think he was a little skeptical of the Navigators and just came to make sure I wasn’t getting into some kind of a cult group. But it turned out that after speaking with Doug, he was assured that everything was up and up. He even seemed quite impressed with Doug and told me so.
So, I guess from that point on I was a full-fledged Navigator. What did that mean? I would find out. I remember moving into a Nav home just a few miles from the Marine base, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. That was good and bad. Good because I was around some great Christians. I loved the fellowship. Bad (just kidding), because of all the rules. It was almost like boot camp all over again. But instead of training for war, our training was to build discipline in the Christian life: like being regular in having a devotional time, a personal bible study, and memorizing verses. And we also had to keep our room clean and other duties. But the thing I really didn’t understand was learning proper table settings, like which side of the plate to put the knife and fork and spoon, etc. And, of course, there was a house leader—or trainer, who enforced the rules. And he happened to be a former lieutenant in the Marines, and was no slouch! If you know what I mean.
Well, even though I didn’t much care for all the house training, I suppose it was good for me. It was good to keep the old man in control. I suppose we all need that because our flesh seems to be always popping up and tempting us to sin.
Another part of the Navigator training was the weekly rallies and also the periodic conferences. The rallies were similar to church services. We had a singing time, a time for a few announcements, and a time when Doug Benshoof was giving teaching from the bible. Doug was always good and I always went away feeling motivated and encouraged.
I especially enjoyed the day-long conferences. There were always 3 or 4 speakers and also times of singing. But the thing I liked best is just walking around between speakers and talking to people and seeing all the smiling faces. The atmosphere was absolutely heavenly. I mean you could just feel the Holy Spirit in that place. It was wonderful! Something that I had never experienced before.
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.
During the day, every day we would be training for war. Even though I just got back from Vietnam and only had six months left of my enlistment, they kept us fit and ready for combat. Because you never know, they told us, when we would be called back again. After all, we were Marines, and a Marine is always ready, “always faithful.”
But after every day of training, my mind was focused on higher things—on what God had in store for me after my enlistment. I remember wanting so badly to saturate my mind with the word of God. I wrote down all the verses that I knew from memory, like John 3:16-17, 1 John 1:9, Matthew 7:7, and a few others. I had about ten verses on my list. I would start with those. It was my plan to review them daily and then to add to them.
I also had a growing desire to meet God in prayer. After it was dark, I went for walks. I found a place way back behind our barracks, through some trees and by a water bay. It was a secret place that only I knew about. There I sought the Lord. I didn’t ask Him much, I just wanted to be in His presence. Now that I think about it, I think He was seeking me more than I was seeking Him. And every day was the same. He kept drawing me to Himself and wanting me to come to Him.
One day, it must have been a Saturday or Sunday, I decided to go for a walk around the Marine base. My mind was on seeking the Lord for Christian fellowship. I thought it would be good to meet some Christians that I could have fellowship with. As I walked, I quoted Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
From that verse I ask Him to show me a church where I would find Christians to fellowship with. I continued to walk, and then I heard what sounded like church bells. So, I said to myself, I’ve got to check this out. I walked toward where I thought the sound was coming from, and then I saw the church. I came up to the doors. They were open so I cautiously entered. The pews were all empty, but then I saw a few guys gathered around in front by the church altar. I boldly walked toward them. An older man, about in his 30’s, was reading to the guys from a little booklet. Soon I recognized that it was a gospel track. He was presenting the gospel to these guys, which I assumed were Marines.
After his presentation the leader approached me with a smile and a handshake. He told me that he knew I was a Christian by my smile. God had answered my prayers according to His word. I asked Him to directed me to Christian fellowship and He did. I sought for it and I found the church. I came to the door of the church and it was open and I walked in—I didn’t even have to knock.
I found out later that the man who was sharing the gospel with the Marines in the church was a representative of a group called the Navigators. I would soon be a part of that group.