Teens find they grow as Christians in Navigator group

Sixteen-year-old Paul Durso had a good time at a party in Columbia the night of the third game of the World Series, hanging out with friends and listening to music.

But it wasn't a typical party for a World Series night. At this bash, known as "Festival of Prayers," 24 teen-agers prayed, read the Bible and sang gospel songs. No one talked about baseball.


Paul and the other teen-gers are members of The Navigators Columbia High School Ministry, which meets on Tuesday nights at founder Richard L. Stum's home on Broken Timber Way to study the Bible and have fun.

"It's a lot of fun," said Paul, of Pasadena, who came to the Howard County group at the invitation of a friend. "Teen-agers get together and talk about God. . . . If I weren't here, I'd probably be home watching TV."


The "Navs," as they are called, are a group of 40 teen-agers from different denominations in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. The group is part of an international network of lay ministries.

By meeting in a comfortable setting with their peers, the young adults say they can make friends while growing as Christians.

Members say they learn Christian values and ways to help themselves and friends avoid trouble.

During one recent two-hour prayer party, the Navs sat on chairs, a sofa and cross-legged on Mr. Stum's tan carpet.

With opened Bibles, they listened attentively as group leader Brian Bixler, 26, of Columbia, questioned them about the Bible and about God.

"What does God do?" Mr. Bixler asked.

"He delivers people from death," one girl responded.

"He watches all of us," another Nav said.


The young people read Isaiah 6:1-8, which describes how Isaiah was purified when he looked at God, and was freed of imperfections. After a brief discussion, Mr. Bixler told the students, "God gives us purpose. He has a plan for each one of us. We're meaningful, there's a reason we're here."

Paul said the lessons are insightful. "It's better than church."

The youth group is rooted in The Navigators, an international Christian group that uses lay people to teach Christianity in 89 countries. There are about 3,300 staff members worldwide.

The organization, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., was formed rTC 60 years ago when lumberyard worker Dawson Trotman taught Christianity to a sailor, who taught another sailor.

A Bible club was formed later aboard the USS West Virginia, and became The Navigators.

After World War II, the ministry expanded to college campuses and other communities.


Howard County has four Navigators ministries. They work with young people, couples and singles.

Yesterday, Mr. Stum's youth group was scheduled to help build a house in Baltimore for Habitat for Humanity, an organization that rehabilitates vacant or rundown houses in low-income neighborhoods. The youth group also plans to donate $25 each month to help an impoverished girl in Peru obtain food, clothing and school supplies.

Mr. Stum, an Atholton High School mathematics teacher, is a former member who formed the Columbia group in 1975 to introduce youngsters to Christianity. "The core of our ministry is Bible study," Mr. Stum said. "We encourage kids to study . . . and use time here to explain how Scriptures relate to life."

Young people sometimes feel no one listens to them or cares about what they think, he said. "We've made a place where people care about what they think."

Jason Gebbia, 15, of Columbia, said friends encouraged him to join the group as a way to meet people and grow as a Christian.

He said he wasn't a dedicated Christian when he joined last year, but that his attitude changed after reading and understanding the Scripture.


"I used to hold grudges a lot, and I try not to do that anymore," the Hammond High School sophomore said. "I try and do what is right and not what I want to do."

Jason said he has developed a strong sense of self-worth, and tries to discourage friends from doing wrong.

"If I'm in a group and people want to do one thing, and I don't want to do it, I'm sure to stand up and say, 'I don't want to do it. I don't think it's right,' " Jason said.

Another Navigator, Carrie Newman, 14, who moved to Columbia from Cumberland recently, said her experience with the group has been positive and fun. "It's like a big family," she said.