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The Navigators: A Christian Ministry - Not the Rowing or Sailing Club
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2 Timothy 2:2: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others."

Does a nautically named Christian ministry sometimes cause confusion on a landlocked college campus?

"Yes," says Munjula Saito, Campus Director & CMDS Associate at the University of Western Ontario. "Some people ask us if we are the rowing club or the sailing club. Sometimes they are disappointed, but sometimes they're not."

The Navigators started in the 1930’s in California when Dawson Trotman's discipleship ministry, based on the verse in 2 Timothy above, expanded to discipling men in the US Navy. Trotman's ministry to, and soon partnership with, a young sailor by the name of Les Spencer lead to thousands of sailors being discipled around the globe. While the ministry is now in over 100 countries, discipleship is still at the core of all that is accomplished.

Chris Barrett (left), current President of the Navigators of Canada with Eric Stolte (right), the outgoing President (photo was taken at a ceremonial passing of the baton) - photo credit to Brendan Danielson'
The concept of long term commitment to discipleship and relationship is evident even in the leadership structure today. Recently, Navigators said farewell to President and National Director Eric Stolte. Stolte served in the role for 10 years, but has served the Navigators faithfully since 1980, coming to the national office from the University of Saskatchewan. His successor is Chris Barrett, who comes to the role after overseeing the Navigators staff team in Ottawa.

"As a work we are involved in a plethora of projects and events," says Barrett. "We do a lot of different things, but fundamentally we are a movement about people. We want the culture of our movement to be one where people are valued and loved above efficiency, task completion and project success. We want this to be especially true for those who are closest to us in our families and relational networks."

Saito, who has 22 years ministering to university students, would tend to agree. "I'm drawn to campus ministry because it is so personal, so relational. We work with whoever is interested and walk with them to help people move towards Christ if they are interested whether they are believers or seekers. Knowing people personally means we can offer things to them so the Navigator materials are timely and relevant.

The Navigators are not simply inward focused, being involved in wider campus life. "We've had a good reputation and relationship with the student government (at Western)" says Saito. "The Navigators exist to benefit the campus as a whole."

"Students are a lot different today than when I started. Many are coming from broken homes, are struggling with addictions, and with mental illness. Many of the students know they are broken, but don't know what to do about it."

Often success in the Christian faith is defined by size. In fact, often a vibrant, God led ministry can attract great numbers, but with a ministry based on individual discipleship, the definition of success can be a bit more elusive.

"It's a difficult question," says Saito. "There are obviously times when we have more students and other times when we have less. If we have more students than we can effectively disciple, are we really being successful? Jesus said, 'Go, and make disciples of all people,' and that has to remain my focus. For example, recently a colleague was struggling with a very real and very difficult situation. We had a long conversation about God's grace and power. Later I found a special tapestry and poem online and emailed it to her, she felt restored and that night was able to minister to another leader facing a tough situation. Teaching people to obey what Jesus taught, that is success to me.

Says Barrett, "We want to help equip the body of Christ to intentionally and incarnationally carry the Gospel with them right where they live, work, and play. We want to help people to apply the Gospel to their lives, and share the Gospel as God leads."