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Overseas Training Corps 1965

Summary: In 1965, American and European Navigators teamed together in an innovative and successful summer program in Europe and the Middle East, during which more than three hundred young people trusted Christ as their Savior. This Overseas Training Corps made a permanent impression on many participants, some of whom later became Navigator missionaries.


A Fruitful Cross-Cultural Initiative
Beginnings in Oslo
Impact beyond Norway

A Fruitful Cross-Cultural Initiative

For The Navigators, a large and fruitful thrust in Europe and the Middle East took place in 1965. The idea originated with Doug Sparks, our Europe director, who promoted this proposal vigorously. Then, after the concept was agreed upon, Leroy Eims wrote to our US staff presenting the purposes of the intended program. He wrote:

1. To teach the Europeans and Middle Easterners personal witnessing
2. To broaden the vision of those who go from the US
3. Through interaction with European students, to recruit some to a lifetime of work with the Navs

Dare I ask for nominations of men who had demonstrated fruitfulness in witnessing and had taught others to witness . . . men who “had been around long enough so that they would not get puffed up with pride who were being selected for this elite corps.1

The following April, as the date approached, Sanny wrote to our staff to express his support.

The Overseas Training Corps this summer should prove to be one of the most significant and productive training programs we have ever held. I am personally very enthusiastic about its possibilities, and we fully expect it to speed considerably the process of recruiting and training men, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yesterday a brochure went out to all those on the Log list presenting this project and describing some of the plans. In Europe the program includes a two-week training session in Oslo and another in Holland, centering around teamwork and personal ministry. Concurrently, international teams of about eight men each will go out in evangelism, as well as joining together for workshops, Bible studies and work projects. OTC’ers will take part in Scandinavian, Dutch, and English conferences, in evangelism among American military men, and a number of other ministry projects. Scotty’s plan for deployment of American-Arab teams includes projects in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, possibly Iraq and Turkey.

Four area Reps went from the States: Russ Johnston, Denny Repko, Gene Soderberg, and Jim White. They were accompanied by twenty-one other North Americans, nearly all in college, with an average age of just under twenty-four. From among them, Jim White is taking Roger Borchard, Bill Cole, Bruce Das, Tom Kotouc, Ben Long, and Ray Rice to Lebanon.

Those assigned to Europe are Jim Baxter, Duane Bundt, Jack Combs, Dave Dawson, Bob Fobes, Bill Gibbs, Don Hankins, Paul Hensley, Ken Klingman, Paul Kolm, Jim Proud, Eddie Scott, Bruce van Wyk, Bob Volle, and Roy Zinn.2

Considerable trans-Atlantic discussion took place in developing plans for this unique program,3 highlighted in correspondence between Doug Sparks (Europe) and Leroy Eims (USA). Two interesting extracts:

Doug observed:4

The greatest tactical need we have right now is to develop teams. Generally speaking, the European puts more importance on theory and precept while the American puts greater importance on the pragmatic working of an idea. . . . We are hoping to emphasize teamwork in both precept and practice throughout the time together.

Leroy suggested:5

I wonder if you don’t want to hold down on the painting of houseboats, the holding of hootenannies and that sort of thing and get involved more directly in things that the Europeans can carry on after we are gone. When Gordy Nordstrom came to live with us in Lincoln, one of the things that was on his heart was to get involved in lots of evangelism. He really developed an evangelistic spirit when he was with us and went away all fired up on witnessing. However, the things that we trained him to do were not the things that he could duplicate in France. I wasn’t smart enough to see this at the time, so I had him involved up to his ears in fraternity evangelism. . . . I’m probably the only Navigator who ever built a showboat and used it for three months, but I do believe that you should give careful thought to developing something that these people can do once the program is over.

Each of the young men6 participating from the US was asked to provide $500 toward his own expenses, and an appeal was made to our US constituency for the estimated $14,000 that would additionally be needed to make the OTC a reality. This was presented in the brochure “Men Fit for the Battle,” illustrated with Greek and Roman soldiers.

Wisely, Doug had arranged that those coming from the US should travel for two weeks in Europe, in order to get used to European ways before the program began.

Beginnings in Oslo

The OTC began in Oslo. Fifteen Americans joined forces with sixty-five other Navigators from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The plan was to spend the mornings in classes and Bible studies, with the afternoons and evenings devoted to ministry. God gave us open doors at the University of Oslo, several nursing schools, and some military bases. One highlight was the coffee bar called The Captain’s Club to which around 150 teenagers came every evening: “It is decorated with old fishnets and some pulleys and other things to give a ship’s atmosphere. Our gang puts on a program every hour. This consists of music, testimonies, and Gospel preaching. We passed out many, many invitations on the streets of Oslo. . . . I have never seen such openness.”7 The Navigators Log8 reported that “140 persons declared for Christ.”

Denny Repko participated.9 In his report to Sanny, he declared that “The Oslo venture will go down in history as being an all-out learning experience for all involved, staff and conferee alike. God used Doug (Sparks) to get us sharpened to a fine edge for the battle ahead. . . . Pushing us beyond our normal limit. . . . The experience of working as teams10 was very significant: In my case, twelve people from four countries, two of whom could not understand any English. God met us and we really did have a team!”11

The correspondence home from the Americans reveals not only their excitement about Europe but also some cultural discomfort. One participant who shall remain nameless wrote, “Some of these Frenchmen have terrible colds . . . they speak through their nose . . . they have a hard time pronouncing words too.” And another wrote, “Saw my first cricket match in Canterbury today. About as exciting as the average Englishman’s personality.”

Doug Sparks, as he reviewed the Oslo experience, observed that, “Though we in the Navigators are more exhorters than we are teachers, this (follow-up) class was set up to teach, feed, nourish, encourage the babes in Christ. God gave Denny Repko the mind of a spiritual babe and he came up with some very good material and some new ideas to help these babes in Christ. . . . This is the first follow-up class that I’ve ever seen build up consistently instead of dwindle.”12

Impact beyond Norway

The OTC was planned to expand well beyond Norway. Participants took part in Scandinavian, Dutch, and English conferences, in evangelism among American military men and various other ministry projects. Scotty’s plan for deployment of American-Arab teams included projects in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan.

OTC fellows were able to witness in Beirut and Jerusalem. Scotty reported that “Results in both places have been encouraging, particularly here in Beirut where a number of fellows have turned to the Lord. In addition to Armenians and Arabs, three Greek boys from Cyprus and a Finnish army captain have made decisions. We are doing our best to maintain contact with them.” Rod Sargent added that ten or eleven young men had made commitments to Christ. “We have had opportunity to win men and witness to men from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Cyprus, Jordan, Syria, Finland, and of course Lebanon.”13

The Log records: “Highly significant in the Middle East was the cooperation with local churches. The first Sunday in Beirut, the entire morning service of the National Presbyterian Church was given to commissioning the Americans and Arabs to the work of evangelism on behalf of the Arab church in the Middle East.”

Eighteen Americans toured Europe in four groups, then met in Oslo with some of our top Scandinavian contacts for a two-week training session on ministry and teamwork. Around eighty were involved.14 Paul Hensley and Jack Combs continued in Oslo for six months.

Several of those who had been in Oslo repeated the process in the Netherlands. The Dutch thrust set up their Captain’s Club in a small boathouse in the center of the little village of Oud Loosdrecht, with an adjoining tent, so that two or three hundred people could be accommodated. The teams fanned out into three military areas. Others launched our first thrust among nurses in Utrecht at which Joyce Turner spoke. We also showed an evangelistic movie15 in the town of Zeist. Remarkable answers to prayer came every night at the Captain’s Club, in which sixty-five key Dutch contacts participated. We recorded 130 decisions at the two-week training session.

Rod Sargent travelled with each of the teams as Lorne’s representative in this pioneering venture. In addition to taking part in the OTC program, he gave time to public relations projects and collected basic material for a filmstrip on our work in Europe and the Middle East. He also updated himself on the US servicemen’s work in Europe.

The OTC created a warm esprit de corps among those who participated, as well as implanting some valuable lessons on cross-cultural teamwork. A fiftieth anniversary reunion was held at the Glen on May 9, 2015, attended by more than sixty Americans, as well as the Helland-Hansens from Norway, and the Tinggaards from Denmark.

By Donald McGilchrist
1702 words


  1. Source: Eims to US staff on December 24, 1964.
  2. Source: “Dear Gang” letter of April 23, 1965
  3. See extensive details in Eims file “Student Evangelistic Team: Europe 1965.”
  4. Letter of May 13, 1965 to Leroy.
  5. Letter of April 20, 1965 to Doug. Doug had asked earlier for “musical or platform talent.”
  6. Only Russ Johnston traveled with his wife.
  7. Letter: Don Hankins to Pat Nelson, July 9, 1965, Oslo.
  8. Log 107, p. 3.
  9. It was a lengthy absence for our married participants. Denny recalls being in Europe for nine weeks.
  10. Americans based in Europe who participating included Doug Sparks and family, Bob Stephens and family, Roy Rimmer, Joyce Turner, Pat Lawler, Bob Wilbraham from Denmark, Tom & Nancy Heeb and Gordy Strom from Germany, Noel Nelson from Sweden.
  11. Letter: July 28, 1965.
  12. Letter from Doug Sparks. This class ran for 8 evenings: Log 107.
  13. Log 170 records that more than forty received Christ.
  14. See more details in “Dear Gang” letter of July 23, 1965.
  15. Five hundred attended, with 120 signing cards declaring interest in knowing more.
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