Our Navigators Vision Pushed Us to Look Beyond Our Borders to The Nations
Early in the 1950s, when Dawson Trotman and his newly formed Navigator team prayed over maps of the world, their attention lingered over the Pacific Islands.
Skip forward twenty years to 1970. Fijian student Inoke Kubuabola was reading the newspaper in an Auckland University student lounge when Navigator Richard Flinn started a conversation with him about Jesus. Inoke had no religious background, and he remembers that day when, “my life changed from black to white.” From that point, he says, “The Navigators played a very important part in my life in terms of discipling me and following God.”
One memorable experience occurred for him during a 1971 conference on World Vision. The then National Director Joe Simmons invited Inoke, and Tongan Kelepi Mailau, to pray for nations in the Pacific. When Kelepi was training as a carpenter in Christchurch in 1967 he met Roger Clibborn, who led him to Christ. This intentional input and prayer fueled a purpose in Inoke and Kelepi’s hearts to take the gospel to their home countries.
After Inoke returned to Fiji, he worked with the Bible Society while beginning The Navigators work with Mundy Kumar who he knew from Auckland University. Mundy, who returned to Fiji in 1974, had become a Christian through The Navigators and was guided in his faith through his friendship with Al Shanks. Mundy later became Navigators Associate Staff. Over the following decades, New Zealand Navigators staff visited the Pacific Islands to provide encouragement and strengthening into the fledgling work. Most recently, Graeme Sterne has invested in the Fiji work and served as Interim National Director in 2022.
In neighbouring Tonga, Kelepi and Finamoa Mailau were also labouring to bring the word of Jesus to their people. Kelepi had moved to New Zealand in 1965, initially living in Christchurch and then moving to Wellington in 1969. Finamoa trained as a nurse in Tauranga. She became a Christian through her relationship with Miriam Oliver. She moved to Wellington in 1973 and the couple married in 1976. While in New Zealand, they had a ministry among their relatives and the Tongan community, developing Bible studies, resources, and prayer in Tongan which Finamoa had translated. When they returned to Tonga their vision was clear, described in a 1978 Navigators newsletter. “The Mailaus plan to use opportunities at work, in the hospital, and in schools for evangelism and making disciples. We will start where we are,” Kelepi said.
The purpose of their ministry was strengthened when Kelepi was appointed as Navigators Associate Staff. A 1985 Navigators newsletter affirms that, “The appointment of these self-supporting staff in Fiji and Tonga is a way of giving the ministry an identity so that it might contribute to the Church, as it develops disciple making ministries.” New Zealand’s Navigators role in the Pacific was clearly understood: “The event also underscores the responsibility New Zealand Navigators believe God has given them – to support the vision of disciple-making and spiritual reproduction in Oceania.”
Brian and Amy Wachter are U.S. staff who now serve with The Navigators in Auckland. Having initially had a call to serve with The Navigators in Fiji before moving to New Zealand, they now support ministries in the Pacific.
In the years since its conception, disciple-making and building spiritual generations became a strong distinctive in the Tongan Navigators ministry. Kelepi discipled his employee Palasi Maka and showed him how to share his faith. Palasi led someone to Christ and asked Kelepi to take over, saying, “I would like you to help him, the way you helped me.” To which Kelepi’s answer was, “You help him.”
The impact of this natural but intentional way of sharing faith has been pervasive. When Kelepi first went back to Tonga he asked God to give The Navigators a disciple maker on every island of Tonga. The spiritual generations that came from Kelepi’s life are God’s answer to that prayer.