“Helping people get to know God, love Him, and serve Him.” This was Navigator George Sanchez’s personal and ministry goal. Until his death on September 24, 2008, at age 85, George lived out that calling.
George came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord when he was 13 years old. His family had moved from his birthplace of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Los Angeles where George and his sister began attending a neighborhood Mennonite Brethren mission chapel where he accepted Christ.
George’s first contact with The Navigators came in high school. As student body president, he was invited to attend a Bible study led by Navigator founder Dawson Trotman and his colleague Lorne Sanny. George went on to attend Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, became active in the music program, and met another musician, Florine McClellan. In their senior year at Westmont, George and Florine were married on August 25, 1944. To bring in some income, George joined a radio quartet, The King’s Ambassadors Quartet.
Over the next several years George and Florine served God together as George pastored churches, began a boys’ club, and became involved in radio ministries. George discovered his pastoral heart and gift of counseling as he helped people come to know and love God.
George participated in a radio broadcast, “A Challenge to Youth,” which renewed his earlier contact with Dr. Howard Jones of HCJB Radio in Quito, Ecuador. This resulted in George and Florine moving to Ecuador in 1949. There he worked with Jim Elliott and Pete Fleming running a camp in the jungle for junior high and high school aged boys.
In 1952, Dawson Trotman visited missionaries in Quito and recognized George from his high school contact. Dawson challenged George to pour his life into one or two Ecuadorians—who could then do the same to other Ecuadorians. George took that challenge seriously and one-to-one discipleship became part of his ministry wherever he was. George continued to make trips into villages, and places like Cuba and Mexico, but due to Florine’s health struggle with hepatitis, they returned to the States in 1954.
Dawson did not forget his contacts with George and in 1956 George and Florine began working with The Navigators. A year later they left for Costa Rica to open The Navigators’ work in Latin America.
George and Florine had been blessed with three children over the years—Sandra, Stephen, and Thomas. So that the children could complete their education, the Sanchez family returned to Colorado Springs in June of 1961.
George became the Director of Overseas Work and realized that the most rewarding experiences of his ministry were relationships established with missionaries and leaders. Because of his pastoral heart and counseling gifts, their ministry focused for many years on counseling and developing seminars emphasizing biblical principles for the family, communication, and interGeorge teaching in early 1980spersonal relationships. In 1980 he became International Ministries Director.
Long-time Navigator Jim Downing recalls traveling with George and the International Leadership Team. Jim fondly remembers when, at the end of a long day, George would take out his guitar and sing the team members’ favorite songs. Jim would always ask for The Streets of Laredo, which George would sing with great feeling. Jim says George “inspired all who came in contact with him to live richer lives.”
Mike Treneer, The Navigators’ International President, shared the following memory that poignantly describes George’s pastoral heart:
And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose, and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16, RSV).
“This verse has long been a motivational Scripture for my wife, Chris, and for me. David was under great pressure, fleeing from Saul for his life. Jonathan’s visit to him at Horesh was dangerous and difficult. We can only imagine how much Jonathan’s visit encouraged David. The Scripture tells us that he strengthened his hand in God and presumably that insight comes from David’s own recollection.
“In September 1980, Lorne Sanny asked George Sanchez to become the International Ministries Director. One of the first things George did in his new role was to travel with me in Nigeria to visit some of our missionary staff and several of the scattered graduates. The journeys by public transport were trying and the roads dangerous. George’s commitment to be with me in my situation ministered deeply to me. He listened to the challenges I faced and encouraged me to persevere. His visit was so significant that for many years I would become tearful whenever I talked about it. He strengthened my hand in God. The experience marked me to the point that I constantly try to follow George’s example as an ‘alongsider.'”
Another Navigator leader whose life was greatly impacted by George is Donald McGilchrist, who has served many years on the International Leadership Team. He began working closely with George in 1980, and describes that working relationship:
“I was able to observe well how George lived and worked. Among his virtues were diligence, compassion, wisdom, pastoral oversight, willingness to confront, excellence in all things. He was a model from whom I learned much…and enjoyably so. Very simply, we were the best of friends.
“George carried many confidences and knew of many painful circumstances among our leaders around the world. Yet, he was resilient and strong in his confidence in the Lord. He knew how to carry the men and women whom he counseled to the Lord in prayer. ‘Cast your burdens upon the Lord’ (Psalm 55:22), he would tell me…and this is what he practiced. There was always a freshness about his intimacy with his God.
“He was strong in delegating, yet with clear expectations. I marveled at the scope of what he was willing to entrust to me.
“Above all, as I look back, I cherish a friend who practiced the fullness of agape love that Paul described to the Corinthians, a love that ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.'”
George had written down some thoughts on “finishing the race well.” He said, “Don’t focus on the doing, producing, or serving, because those are only by-products of your relationship with Christ. Remember when you can’t ‘do’ anything anymore, you can still praise and honor the Lord.”
George liked the Living Bible paraphrase of his life verse, Psalm 27:4: The one thing I ask from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory.
George fulfilled his life goal of helping people know and serve Jesus, and now he knows the joy of living in His presence and delighting in His glory.
George is survived by his children and their families. Florine passed away just two months prior on July 15, 2008. They were married 64 years.
Great article!I never met George personally but remember him leading music at a Navigator conference at UIUC in the 1970’s. I was saved through the Navigators while at UIUC. I remember George’s enthusiasm in song leading. He would joke, “How about that, Cliff Barrows??”
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