You’re religious. But you do nothing for the poor.
It’s a rebuke the children of God in Isaiah’s day might not have expected. Their traditions and formulas were supposed to work for them. Isaiah 58 paints a convicting picture of a body of believers who have forgotten God’s heart.
For Navigators I:58 Director Jeff Dennis and those working with him in this new ministry named after Isaiah 58, this rebuke is a rally cry against apathy. This ministry finds its purpose in discipling among the under-resourced, the broken, the “least of these,” the very people Jesus was—and is—so committed to. Navigators I:58 brings Navigator staff who have been serving among these communities for decades together under one banner.
So far, Navigators in 12 cities have joined Navigators I:58, seeking to walk out their Navigator Calling in the overlap between discipleship and social justice.
Aligning with God’s Heart
After coming to Christ through The Navigators at Ohio University in 1979, Jeff joined Collegiate staff at Ohio State and Kent State. Wherever he was, God seemed to place high school dropouts in his path.
“I had a heart for them,” Jeff says. “I just felt like the Gospel has to work for everybody, or it’s not going to work for anybody. I would end up working on their cars a lot. That was the best time to really get into their hearts and hear their stories.”
Then some of Jeff’s friends moved to inner-city Chicago. He took a group of students from his college ministry to work a construction project there for the summer.
“I just fell in love with the West Side of Chicago,” Jeff says. “There was a lot of poverty, a lot of violence, a lot of drugs, but these kids were just regular kids. We played softball and football with them. We couldn’t play tackle, because there was broken glass in all the fields, but we had a good time. I remember saying ‘I just wish The Navigators did this kind of stuff.’ At the time, we weren’t really working in under-resourced communities.”
God Uses Everyone
It’s been 21 years since Jeff began working with the under-resourced in Chicago. His Breaking Ground ministry began with a focus on youth (75 percent of the kids in his neighborhood drop out of high school), and later shifted to working with men as they seek whole-life change. Through start-up businesses and job-training programs, ex-offenders and others with little hope for a positive future learn to see their worth through their Creator’s eyes.
“These are folks the world just wishes would go away,” Jeff says. “We incarcerate them at an alarming rate, they’re sent to failing schools, there’s even political pressure to push them out of the neighborhood. To me, the folks on the West Side of Chicago are who God is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, where He talks about the lowly and despised being used by God. This passage tells me He wants to do great and mighty things with them, so I want to be around for that.”
Next-door to Everywhere—A Call to Action
Like Breaking Ground in Chicago,Navigators I:58 ministry will be as diverse as the people it reaches, Jeff says. Some staff will run after-school programs and gang intervention. Others will work on housing projects, teach job readiness, start urban farms, and lead prison Bible studies. Staff will work with refugees, the economically poor, gang members, and ex-offenders among all ethnic groups.
“Poverty leads to the same kinds of things no matter where you are—poor education, gangs, drugs, violence, unemployment,” Jeff says. “The solutions are the same, and discipleship is key across the board, we just need to adapt culturally to each situation.”
Regardless of the specific groups Navigators I:58 will serve, Jeff sees a unified ministry.
“God provokes me to ask this question—what is keeping these folks from experiencing wholeness, and how can we work to overcome those things? The promise of Isaiah 58 is that God will hear, protect, and heal those who give themselves for the oppressed.”