The Navigators are about relationships and walking with people through life; the ups, the downs and everything in between. To do ‘Navigator work’ means you are standing ready to go and be a blessing.
I’d like to share with you a story about a Canadian couple, Bernie and Nancy Marshall, who crossed the racial divide of apartheid to love their neighbours. In doing so, they laid the foundation for a ministry that would touch the lives of South Africans with the transformative power of Jesus and the hope of truth and reconciliation.
This story begins in 1988, when the Marshalls went to South Africa on a work assignment with a mining company. Bernie wanted to start a Navigator ministry while they were there, but he wasn’t given permission to. Unlike today, the practice at the time was to launch Navigator ministries through paid staff. This didn’t stop him, however, from launching an unofficial ministry alongside his mining job.
As followers of Jesus, Bernie and Nancy went to South Africa to both work and look for ways to love their neighbours.
The same year, a young man named Manfred Molomo came from a rural village to the city of Johannesburg to begin his freshman university year. He joined a group of other first-year students that met three to four times per week to play soccer.
Top: Original students and soccer players
Below: the growing Navigator community
“I remember distinctly,” Manfred says, “one day in the week, we were playing soccer, and I saw this white man in shorts on the side of the field. He wanted to play with us.”
This man was Bernie Marshall.
Over the next few days, Bernie continued to play soccer with them. After one of the games, he asked them if they wanted to come over to his house for a barbecue. Everyone put their hand up, so they piled into his van and went to his house in a segregated, whites-only neighbourhood. This was the first time any of them had been in a white person’s house.
In 1988, apartheid was at full strength and everything was racialized. “The black people, the Africans, they were fighting a liberation struggle,” Manfred says. “They were arrested and leaders like Nelson Mandela were imprisoned. [There was] mutiny, disgruntlement and insecurity based on the system of apartheid. The 80s was a horrible time.”
In the face of this, as young parents, the Marshalls sought to make their home a welcome place for this group of young men. While taking care of their newborn child, Bernie and Nancy created an environment of love, support and encouragement within the home that strengthened the bond between these young men and their disciplers. They were determined to radically love and involve themselves in the lives of these young black men.
On one occasion, Manfred recalls, “we were about to break for the October semester and Bernie drove three or four of us to our villages. This was about three or four hours of driving to drop us all off.”
Eventually, the Marshalls’ career took them back to Canada. On the day the Marshalls were to return home, the students hosted a celebration to thank them for all they had done. Manfred says he remembers going back to his dorm that night, “kneeling next to my bed, my hands on the bed, and praying to receive Christ.”
When The Navigators launched the South African ministry in 1996, the early leadership came from this group of university students who had played soccer with Bernie, who were now community leaders, teachers and working professionals. Manfred Molomo became the first national director for The Navigators of South Africa. Over the past 25 years, the work has grown to the point where today, they are at work in five cities across the country, led entirely by South African nationals.
The story of the South African Navigators began when Bernie and Nancy, an ordinary Canadian couple, committed themselves to living out the gospel wherever they found themselves. “The ministry of The Navigators in South Africa has a lot to do with Bernie and Nancy’s story,” Manfred says. “They extended Christ’s love to us by serving in ways that made us open to the gospel and broke down barriers of race.” Today, in response to the cultural effects of apartheid, the gospel message Navigators bring to South Africans is focused around reconciliation.
“Reconcile first to God, and then one to another, across races. That’s the full gospel in the South African context,” Manfred says. “When I met the Navigators at university and I began to read the Bible, internalize the truth of the scriptures, open my heart to Christ and allow Him to transform me, that transformation meant I needed to reconcile with all the racial groups in South Africa.”
Bernie and Nancy’s willingness to step into relationship with those they were expected to reject led to radical transformation in the lives of Manfred and his friends. They came as an ordinary working couple on a mission to love their neighbours and live out a gospel message that reflects the dignity and value of every person.
As followers of Jesus, let’s find ways to cross boundaries and love in unexpected ways in the year ahead.
Pictured: Manfred Molomo
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