The Beginning of a Worldwide Discipling Movement
The Navigators was founded in 1933 by Dawson Trotman. As a result of mentoring United States Navy sailor Lester Spencer aboard USS West Virginia, 135 additional Sailors on Spencer’s ship became Christians before it was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
By the end of World War II, thousands of men on ships and bases around the world were learning the principles of Christian discipleship.
The collegiate chapter of the Navigators was founded in 1951 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The organization was established by a group of students, who along with Trotman, decided to spread the organization onto the college campus.
The collegiate organization of the Navigators has since spread to over fifty different campuses in the US and many more worldwide.
Since WWII, The Navigators has grown into a worldwide organization with representatives in most countries.
Dawson Trotman (right), founder of The Navigators, with evangelist Billy Graham
In 1956, as Kenya was fighting for independence from British rule, the first Navigator missionaries, led by Doug Sparks, stepped on to Kenyan soil and began to minister to Mau Mau freedom fighters, among them the late Dedan Kimathi. In a letter dated 27th December 1956, the latter, appreciating the work God was doing in His life as he studied Navigator Bible study material by correspondence, writes, “I trust you will receive me as your child in Christ and sustain me in all matters and increase in me, efforts to fight a war against sin and I shall conquer, for Jesus is not overcome by sin”.
Doug Sparks in a letter in April 1978 says. “I landed in Kenya the day that Dawson Trotman, (founder of the navigators), died! The promises I was claiming were Isa 43: 1-13 and Gen 22:17,18.”
The emphasis of the Navigators was to try to recruit “Timothy” who would have the vision of spiritual reproduction on a man-to-man and small group basis. The Mau Mau detention camps were used as platform for evangelism and as a launching pad to recruit, train and multiply Kingdom laborers in Kenya.
Navigator presence was established when Missionaries Jim and Jeri White and several others moved to Kenya in 1968 and years following. This marked the beginning of student ministries, which has been the backbone of the Kenyan work in the past years. The first lot of Kenyan disciples began to join the labor force, and work spread from the schools and universities to the community where graduates were now working. The years following saw the work grow in scope and depth and the emergence of national leadership. One remarkable feature of the work has been a great crop of leaders who have led the work with wisdom and understanding and sacrificial courage and whom have been models of godly leadership transition, in sharp contrast to the world around. These men led leadership teams, each making a unique contribution to make the organization what it is today. They deserve our recognition.
Kenya Navigators, by God’s grace, has enjoyed the favor of God way beyond what we deserve. We are deeply grateful to God in honouring us with several firsts. Some of these include beginning of Navigator work in Africa in 1956, the first African Regional Director, Mutua Mahiaini, and the first African and first female International Vice- President, Esther Waruiru. We are further humbled by the fact that Mutua is now serving as the President of the International Navigators work, having served on the International Executive Team (IET) for a number of years. Is this something to be proud about? No, rather as something to glorify God about, and in humility, like a firstborn child, take up the awesome responsibility God seems to have placed on our shoulders.