A Different Time

By Jess Dager

The passing of Jim Downing and then Billy Graham has stirred up some anxiety in me. Their loss is a bit destabilizing. While they were alive there was a sense that the “grandfathers” of the faith were still here, leading us by their example, passing on their wisdom and counsel. 

I’ve always been a nostalgic person. Years ago The Navs had a video where amazing older Nav guys like Skip Grey, Lorne Sanny, and Jim Downing talked about praying with Daws for generations and I can remember feeling like I was an answer to their prayers. During my collegiate summers I worked at Eagle Lake Camp. Every Sunday we received staff from Headquarters who would come up to speak to us. My favorites were always the old guys who had been around when The Navigators were just forming. 

I have a small collection of vintage Nav training tools which I handle with great care because to me they are a part of my spiritual heritage. They are the same tools I learned from as a student at Illinois State University - the Bridge, the Wheel, the Word Hand, the Prayer Hand, the TMS, the DFD’s. I still love using Lessons on Assurance and making follow-up plans - just like Jim Downing and Dawson Trotman used to do. I feel connected to their passionate faith when I use them and when I pass them on to others. 

Recently a young woman on our staff team led nearly the entire University of Illinois soccer team to Christ using the Bridge illustration. (So exciting!!!!) Now, she’s following them up. We started talking about sharing the Wheel with them as a way of teaching the basics of walking with God. Well, she hit a real speed bump when the first girl she shared it asked what the word “Christ” meant - as in “Christ the center.” 

It dawned on me when she told me about this girl’s question that the Wheel was developed at a time in American culture when the vast majority of people knew the basics of the Bible. Dawson Trotman created the Wheel Illustration to get soldiers who knew a lot of information about Jesus Christ to begin living a lifestyle that reflected that knowledge. That's one of the reasons he changed his initial drawings of a stool into a drawing of a wheel; to encourage movement. But here we were trying to use the same illustration inside of culture that has almost no knowledge of the Bible. This girl didn’t know anything about Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, the way God was going to make His promises to Abraham a reality. The word Christ was one she’d only heard attached to profanity. 

We took a big step back and wondered about using the Wheel illustration at all. I went home stumped. Was it time to set my beloved Wheel aside?

A few weeks have gone by and I can say with a sigh of relief that I think the Wheel is still an amazing tool! It is one I hope every Navigator student sees drawn on a napkin at some point in their collegiate experience. But here’s the thing - we must recognize the holes many of our students have as they interact with it. The concept of Messiah and Christ are largely foreign. The idea of “obedience” is extremely loaded. Even the word “fellowship” can make students feel like we are asking them to judge and reject their non-believing friends.

Perhaps now more than ever before the Wheel is exactly where we need to start with students, but as a way of filling in foundational concepts, rather than adding spiritual practices to an assumed level of Biblical understanding.

It’s been refreshing and rewarding to go back and plug into our Wheel the passages about Jesus as the Christ. Teaching students about the amazing plan of God that stretches from Genesis to Revelation with Jesus as the centerpiece is going to really help these new believers understand exactly who they have given their lives to. It will fill out their understanding and lay a foundation that can hold up like the house built on rock. Jesus has drawn them to Himself, and now we will teach them what we know about who He is. 

We have a unique opportunity as inheritors of these great tools to take them to the next generation. Just like our Navigator for-runners who worked alongside Billy Graham during his Crusades, we are uniquely tasked to build up students to walk with Jesus for a lifetime. The Wheel can still be a wonderful tool in that process.

Jess Dager and her husband Ben have been on collegiate staff for 13 years and currently serve at the University of Illinois. They have kiddos ages 15, 14, and 12. Jess enjoys reading, singing, and laughter. Her favorite part of working with students is watching God at work in their lives.
 


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