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Navigators among Roman Catholics

Summary: This brief article charts the progress of our Catholic ministries from 1985 until such ministries in the US were separately established in 2012. Other countries have participated. Our ministries among Catholics continue to move forward.


Context and Beginnings, 1980s
Rich Cleveland’s Foundational Influence
Pursuing Wider Navigator Involvement among Catholics
Catholic Ministries Outside the US

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
John 17:20-21

 Context and Beginnings, 1980s

The year 1980 was significant in terms of the evolving posture of many evangelicals toward Roman Catholics.

On the one hand, Waldron Scott, who served on loan from The Navigators as General Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance1 (WEA), had to apologize for inviting two Catholic observers2 to the WEA General Assembly. WEA therefore created an Ecumenical Issues Task Force, and, after two years’ work, the eighth general assembly of WEA in June 1986 approved their report.3

On the other hand, the Lausanne Movement published, in 1980, a practical, though by now somewhat dated, booklet titled “Christian Witness to Nominal Christians among Roman Catholics,” in which the variety of evangelical stances and strategies is well illustrated.4

In the US, the Navigator ministry among Catholics started around 1985 in Albuquerque, where Abe and Liz Chavez continue to reach out and disciple friends within and beyond their Parish of Holy Rosary.

Those involved with them in the early years included Henry and Darlene Abeyta, David Kines, and Greg Henderson. This ministry flourished but stayed local, and for some years was not openly linked to The Navigators. It had two language tracks: the Chavez and Abeyta families leading the English track, and Dave Hines, and Cecelia and Gustavo Medina leading the Spanish track.5

Rich Cleveland’s Foundational Influence

In April 1992, Rich Cleveland attended the gathering in Glen Eyrie’s Pink House at which the US Navigators decided to join The CoMission and, as he listened, this helped him conclude that we could no longer ignore the largest US denomination. Perhaps God was also calling him into what was, for us, a unique and strategic people group.6

Meanwhile, Rich was serving as our Church Discipleship Ministry (CDM) director. In this responsibility, he became restless. His entrepreneurial gifting was not conducive to supervising a large national staff program, which CDM had become during Cleveland’s directorship. During this time, he attended an evangelization congress in Chicago, in which the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA) also participated.

Rich was already been discussing with John Eames (NavPress director) how to place the 2:7 Series among Catholics. At this congress in Chicago, he purchased three books on evangelizing blacks, youth, and adults, all published by the PNCEA. As a result, in 1992, he and John flew to Washington, DC to talk with the PNCEA director, Father Kenneth Boyack.7 After a positive meeting with Boyack, Rich began to investigate the Catholic milieu more deeply. He began getting acquainted with Catholic theology and attended a conference featuring the important document “Go and Make Disciples” published by the US Council of Catholic Bishops.8 The Bishops asserted:

Evangelization must always be directly connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the promises, the Kingdom, and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, are not proclaimed.9

It was a very practical document.

Next, Rich and Gail Cleveland participated (the only Protestants among three hundred) in a June 1993 gathering in Phoenix where, again, the focus was on working through the newly published “Go and Make Disciples.”

After studying it, Rich secured in the following month an interview with Bishop Richard Hanifen, who served as the first Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs10 from 1984 to 2003. During the meeting, Cleveland made clear that he was not intending to try to change Catholics into Protestants, but simply desired to help Catholics know Christ as the bishops had expressed in “Go and Make Disciples.”11 This seemed to be just what Bishop Hanifen needed to hear, and he arranged for Rich to meet three local priests whom he thought would be helpful.

In 1995, John Paul II issued the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, “That They May Be One,” the first ever promulgated by a pope on the subject of ecumenism. This topic was explored in an instructive essay by Cardinal Cassidy in First Things.12

Concurrently, Rich and Gail were in a sabbatical year, having received Navigator President Terry Taylor’s backing for ministry among Catholics. Rich began receiving invitations to be a speaker at various events and even led workshops at Catholic conferences.

In 1994, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in English by the Paulist Press. It was the first such official document for many years.13 It was very helpful in clarifying Catholic doctrine and defusing some concerns.

In 1995, Rich gave a workshop at our US staff conference at Estes Park, Colorado on “How to Relate to Catholics.” He recalls that, annually, he would update our US National Leadership Team (NLT) on the progress of his ministry to Catholics.

Rich found a close friend in Father Paul Wicker, who served at the Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs. Despite warnings from other priests, Father Wicker asked Rich to lead the small Catholic community ministry in Holy Apostles parish before Rich had even become a Catholic! Father Jim Thornton of the Sacred Heart Parish was another supporter.

In August 1995, Terry Taylor and the NLT reaffirmed their comfort with and commitment to Rich’s ministry with Catholics and appointed Rich as Director of Catholic evangelization and discipleship. Though Rich and Gail were actively involved in ministry to Catholics locally, their vision always was toward a larger involvement with Catholics nationally.14

In January 1997, Rich and Gail became Catholics. Understanding the role of an insider, Rich had been careful not to teach Catholics methods of ministry that were not contextual or that would have led them into Protestantism. To do so would cut off spiritual reproduction among Catholics, by Catholics. However, both of them saw becoming a Catholic as an issue of obedience to what God wanted for them, not as a strategy for becoming an insider.

From 1996 onward, Rich wrote three Bible studies that served as a Catholic equivalent to the 2:7 Series. These studies were titled, Journey to Essential Living; Journey to Fruitful Living; and Journey to Focused Living.15 Though in concert with many of the features that had made the 2:7 Series stand out, Rich had to write these new Bible studies from scratch utilizing Catholic language, Catholic support material, and integrating the discipleship materials with Catholic teachings so that it became a normal Bible study attuned to Catholics.

At the same time, Rich was consulting with our staff in Albuquerque, developing an identity and therefore a name for the Catholic thrust. Consequently, a large group of individuals involved with the two Catholic ministries invested a Saturday in May 1997 to discuss their future desires for this ministry. They chose the name Emmaus Journey.16 Subsequently, in September, our NLT affirmed the direction of the Catholic ministry and the name selected.17 Some opposition to a contextual ministry among Catholics continued to come from a very vocal but small group of Navigators, especially in the early 1990s.

Pursuing Wider Navigator Involvement among Catholics

Alan Andrews became US director in September 1997. One of his early moves was to call together a task force on ministering with Catholics to:

  • Look carefully at the Navigator opportunities for ministering among Catholics
  • Help chart the strategic development of this ministry for The Navigators
  • Identify and address significant pitfalls and issues
  • Issue a statement of recommendations and concerns for our NLT to use in leading our work forward

The task force comprised: Henry Abeyta, Donald McGilchrist, Eddie Broussard, Paul Reynoso, Abe Chavez, Rusty Stephens,18 Rich Cleveland, and Michael Timmis19

Alan Andrews and George Sanchez also attended, as special resource people. Six local staff couples participated in one session at their first meeting which took place in Albuquerque during June 20-22, 1997. In subsequent meetings, the task force reviewed current Navigator and Catholic realities, and thoroughly explored the implications and opportunities.

The vision of the task force, issued in October 1999 and influenced by a statement from “Go and Make Disciples,” was, “To stimulate and develop evangelization and discipleship ministry among practicing and non-practicing Catholics, in and through Roman Catholic communities, to bring about in all Catholics who participate such an enthusiasm for Jesus Christ that they live for Him and freely share Him with others:

  • Growing in their commitment to directly study the Scriptures and to participate in small communities focused around Jesus Christ and His Word
  • Laboring to communicate through their life and words the essential Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, to people within their natural environments
  • Presenting the discipleship message of Jesus reigning in the lives of believers as Lord
  • Co-laboring in freedom and unity without concern for Protestant or Catholic distinctives which are not of the essence of the Gospel. ‘In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, but in all things love’ (Augustine)
  • Nurturing laborers and leaders for the world-wide work of evangelism”

Later, Rich launched the Saints Alive! newsletter which proved to be a productive teaching vehicle. He became involved with the National Fellowship of Catholic Men and later served on its board of directors. The organization eventually adopted his brief booklet on “A Vision for Ministry,”20 which became a statement of its calling. Persistently, Rich was advocating the concept of disciple-making.

Rich comments on the difficulty21 he continued to face:

We could find Catholics who were interested in evangelization and formation, but they weren’t Navigator in their orientation. . . . Then we could find some Navigators who were interested in and were ministering to Catholics, but they were doing it as Protestants to Catholics. However, we were looking for people who could be very Catholic.

At one point, as many as nine staff couples were part of Emmaus Journey. Rich’s ministry team comprised these staff, a few associates who were called “EJ companions,” and friends who were with him in heart but had not felt called to be organizationally connected.22

Rich dreamed of what a major impact we could have in the US if Navigators realized the significance of taking an aggressive ministry approach within the very large Catholic population. We should not think of them as a “minority” as has tended to happen with Hispanic, Asian, or African Americans. Another need was to help our staff understand church history well enough to have a worldview that embraces Catholics and Orthodox, rather than being firmly situated in a certain stream of Protestant evangelicalism.23

In the wider US context, a fruitful project that became known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together had begun in 1992 with a conference occasioned by growing and often violent conflicts between Catholics and evangelical Protestants in Latin America. This informal but influential group initially comprised seven to eight participants from each persuasion. The participants developed and published a series of joint papers as they drew attention to a growing “convergence and cooperation” between Evangelicals and Catholics in many public tasks. They also affirmed agreement on basic articles of Christian faith while recognizing the continuing existence of important differences.24 They published: The Christian Mission in The Third Millenium (1994); The Gift of Salvation (1997); Your Word is Truth (2002); The Communion of Saints (2003); The Call to Holiness (2005); and That They May Have Life (2006).

In due course, Rich realized that as Emmaus Journey spread it would need managerial rather than pioneering leadership. After a careful process, Henry Abeyta succeeded him in January 2012.25

Henry had a national vision for a US Catholic ministry, but a new generation of the NLT came into being who had not lived through the experience of the 1997 task force. Furthermore, the conservative theology of some of our constituents as well as a perceived danger of losing some financial support caused us to hesitate. There were other factors. The outcome was that Emmaus Journey separated from The Navigators by mutual agreement.26 Although this was disappointing, it has given more freedom. And as opportunities arise, Emmaus Journey has remained available to, and involved with, Navigators who minister to Catholics.

Almost concurrently, our Hispanic ministry (Nav Vida) became a network rather than a mission, as a new national structure was put in place for the US Navigators. By definition, networks have no staff. Some of our Hispanic staff thus transferred to the Church Ministry, although several moved to The Nations Within.

Catholic Ministries Outside the US

Our Catholic ministry in Indonesia began around 1999. Pras and Dewi Prasetyo, who were associate staff with The Navigators, took the three EJ books and translated them into Indonesian. Their approach was quite structured. God blessed this as they expanded from a group of twelve until three hundred people were involved, with a graduation ceremony for each cohort at the end of book 3.27

In the archdiocese of Jakarta, Emmaus Journey is now a priority program28 within every parish!

Many of our staff in the Philippines have a Catholic ministry. Those with a Catholic family background were encouraged to go back into the church but, after protests from some Protestant pastors, much of this dissipated.29

We have also seen the beginnings of Catholic ministries in France and the Netherlands. Annually since 2011, Emmaus Journey Catholic young adults, trained in evangelization and discipleship, have traveled to Poland for short-term ministry camps among youth. This ministry began in concert with, and at the invitation of, Malcolm Clegg, our Navigator leader in Poland, and has been enthusiastically endorsed and supported by two Polish Bishops as well as several Polish priests.

As early as 1985, Rob and Elly Kampstra (Dutch staff) had initiated a thrust into Belgium “to raise up laborers and leaders within the Catholic church who would make a contribution to different parts of the Body, both in Belgium and in Zaire.” Their motivating scripture was Isaiah 44:3-4. After several years of travelling ministry from the Netherlands, the Kampstras moved on.30

In Latin America, Sam and Carrie Clark and their sons translated EJ materials into Spanish and ministered to Catholics. Typically, we did not intentionally extract people from Catholicism but nor have we provided practical help in how to flourish spiritually in a Catholic context.

In Canada, a ministry among Catholics has been carried forward by our staff Luch & Rosetta Del Monte. In their early years as Navigators, their mentors did not allow for the possibility of raising up real disciples within the Catholic context, so “extraction” was the way. The Del Montes were not helped creatively to integrate their lives into the faith that they had been given as children. Thus, as Luch writes, “We became Baptists, then brethren, then non-denominational. . . . We did baptize our kids and have them receive the sacraments, but we did it as outsiders pretending to be ‘Catholics.’”31

Now, accepted within The Navigators for what they are, the Del Montes are at home in the Catholic milieu, and as Catholics are relevant and at peace with “church,” with many opportunities for fruitful evangelization.

We may rejoice, therefore that the Lord has given us thriving ministries among Catholics in several countries.

By Donald McGilchrist
3315 words

See also articles on:
Navigators among the People of God
Our Enabling Global Society
Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry
The Approach to The Core


  1. Then known as World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF).
  2. Ralph Martin and Msgr. Basil Meeking of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian unity. The Italian Alliance withdrew its membership and the Spanish put theirs on hold.
  3. Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective, edited by Paul Schrotenboer, WEF 1987, ninety-five pages.
  4. Occasional paper 10 from COWE Thailand consultation, 1980. Esther Waruiru was a participant.
  5. As of 2014, 21 percent of Americans identify as Catholic, with 34 percent of all Catholics being Hispanic. Source:  Pew Research Center, 2014.
  6. A people group is sociological whereas a people is ethnic. Muslims can be viewed as the world’s largest people group, followed by Roman Catholics.
  7. Ken Boyack had been in a Nav ministry as a Catholic while in the military and had memorized some of the Topical Memory System. He was very open to our approach. He had edited the book The New Catholic Evangelization, Paulist, 1992.
  8. This was published in 1993.
  9. This sentence is a quote from Evangelii Nuntiandi.
  10. Hanifen “emphasized collaboration with the laity, appointing them to leadership positions within the diocese to ease the burden of the clergy. He also supported ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, even co-founding the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue with Rabbi Howard Hirsch.” Source: Wikipedia accessed on January 21, 2016.
  11. Hank Danos and Ralph Gatti served on our CDM council and had Catholic backgrounds.
  12. Issue 69, January 1997. Cassidy was president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
  13. In one sense, it replaced The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
  14. This was a distinction between the ministry here in Colorado Springs and the more local focus of the Albuquerque Catholic team.
  15. The Word Among Us is a Catholic publisher that later condensed these into two studies: One Heart, One Mind and Embracing the Kingdom. Their mailing list of 200,000 introduced Emmaus Journey bible study materials and generated numerous invitations for Rich to speak.
  16. EJ did not become a 501c3 until after Henry Abeyta succeeded Rich.
  17. This name was drawn from Luke 24 where Jesus walked with two disillusioned disciples, opened the Scriptures to them, concerning Himself and, after their eyes were opened, left them in their context. This is what these Catholic-oriented Navigators endeavored to do.
  18. Rusty Stephens, as Alan’s chief of staff, brought clarity and focus to this project which he set in the context of the kingdom of God.
  19. Michael Timmis was chair of the board of Prison Fellowship, and an influential Catholic believer. He served two terms on our US board from August 2002 to August 2005, and from August 2006 to August 2009.
  20. Published by Emmaus Journey, 2007.
  21. Taken from McGilchrist interview with Cleveland on November 21, 2011.
  22. All Emmaus Journey staff were also Nav staff. They were processed more recently through our Metro leadership team. On all of our materials, until the most recent Bible study, Emmaus Journey was shown in fine print as a ministry of The Navigators.
  23. Comments by Rich in November 21, 2011 interview with McGilchrist.
  24. Participants were largely distinguished theologians, convened by Chuck Colson and Father Richard Neuhaus.
  25. Henry had recently retired from the Atomic Energy Commission where his international experience included leading three hundred staff. He had teamed with us since the 1980s and had seen service on the US Navigator board.
  26. The US Navs provided financial support for two years, to help EJ with this transition.
  27. The Indonesian leaders have now taken 1400 people through the EJ books from two churches: St. Monica and St. Laurentia. The priests went through the material themselves and laid hands upon it.
  28. For more on this, see the letter from Antonius Jany to Abeyta and Cleveland.
  29. Also, Jose “Eseng” Victolero spent ten days with Rich and a Filipino group met with the Abeytas and the Chavez.
  30. Their introductory survey in the city of Ghent yielded one hundred requests for further contact. By October 1985, they had started to learn French and were looking for the “oaks of righteousness” promised in Isaiah 61:3.
  31. Del Monte to McGilchrist of June 30, 2016.
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