Meeting the Navigators (continued)
By Nick Twinamatsiko:
Chuck Colson, one of my favorite contemporary authors, recently passed on. As I read his obituaries, I understood why I had sensed proximity to his mind as I had turned the pages of his book, Kingdoms in Conflict. It turned out that we had cut our spiritual teeth on the same diet – the Navigator Bible Study Series! He had used the resources as he served time in jail in the 70s, after being convicted over his role in the scandals that brought down the Richard Nixon presidency. I used the resources more than 2 decades later, shortly after I had joined Makerere University. They are such powerful tools that I doubt anyone can use them and not have his mind indelibly influenced.
Joseph, who had introduced me to Olga, when I had mentioned that I was predisposed to poetry, mentioned one day that there was a gentleman who was interested in 'helping' someone through a study of the Bible. I was a bit proud, and the idea of being 'helped' wasn't exactly appealing. Who had said that I needed any help anyway? But, as I mentioned in the last article, I was very curious about the Navigators, and this curiosity overruled my pride. I agreed to be 'helped'. So he introduced me to the gentleman, who was called Mick Madden and was at the time serving as country director of Food for the Hungry. I would take his food, even though I didn't feel particularly hungry, just to work out what exactly he was made of.
On the slated day for commencement of the studies, Mick came to campus and walked over to my room. I shared the room with three people, who weren't keen about joining our study. So Mick and I had to find another venue. I was new in the campus and didn't know many places, so we just looked around the compound and, failing to identify a snug spot, I suggested that we sit on the concrete seats protruding from the walls of the foyer of the Hall. Folks usually used the seats to read newspapers or chat, and I didn't see why we couldn't use them for Bible Study.
We must have cut a curious sight as we prayed before commencing the Bible Study; the people passing through the foyer or reposing in it must have thought us a queer duo. As we turned the leaves of Knowing God, the first book in the study series, and the Bible, discussing the ideas raised, some people cast on us curious glances as they walked past. Soon these people found me alone and asked me who the Mzungu was and warned me about cults. But Mick seemed to be a harmless bloke, and I found the studies very stimulating. So I ignored the fellows and their warnings, and Mick and I continued to meet on a weekly basis on the concrete seats in the foyer.
One day, Mick challenged me to consider reading the Bible from cover to cover. I took up the challenge and found the experience immensely rewarding. Many years later, I included in my novel, Jesse's Jewel, a poem on the Bible. The poem's gist is that the Bible is the epitome of Beauty, Truth and Mystery. The Bible turned out to be the magic wand that I had considered it possible Edward knew about when I met him on the steps of the chapel! Its words turned my life round, and gave new shape to my ambitions.
I had always wanted to be a poet and had mentioned it to the Navigators early in my interaction with them. I hadn't realized that the Bible could have anything to do with my literary aspirations. Then, as I seemingly backtracked from literary pursuits to concentrate on the pursuit of God, I found my faith in God and knowledge of Him overflowing as poetry. By my third year, I was quite prolific at poetry. Incidentally, although I didn't realize it at the time, the way I approached poetry is the way a vast bulk of poetry has been approached down the centuries. Tens upon tens of thousands of hymns were overflows from the hearts of men and women who had read and believed the Bible. No book has inspired more poetry than the Bible.
One day, I visited the Navigator library and sought a poetry book in vain. The country director, an American gentleman called Ron Koehler, then took me to his home and gave me (for keeps!) a volume of verse entitled Twelve Poets, and containing poems by Shakespeare, Pope, Donne, Wordsworth, Browning, Dickinson, Housman, Robinson, Keats, Yeats, Frost and Elliot. The Bible and this volume of verse have been invaluable in my growth as a poet. And so, The Navigators set me on course to writing the poetry I wrote in my final two undergraduate years, and which became the content of my first published book.