I was honored this evening to spend some time in the presence of Jim Downing, Navy Veteran, fellow Missourian, and Pearl Harbor survivor. Jim joined the Navy at the Hannibal recruiting station in 1932. He would spend the next 10 years on the USS West Virginia.
At 103 years old, Jim is still speaking and traveling around the country. His experience of December 7th, 1941 has been captured by LIFE VR in the room-scale virtual reality experience Remembering Pearl Harbor. This week he was in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast, which led to our meeting tonight at a local church where he was speaking. Jim is also an early member of the Navigators, a Christian discipling ministry that helps people grow in Christ as they navigate life. In the 1930’s, Dawson Trotman began teaching high school students and local Sunday Schools in California. Soon, he expanded that ministry to Navy sailors in the area. Before long he was working with Les Spencer, a sailor aboard the USS West Virginia, where Jim also served. Dawson Trotman is often referred to as Navigator #1. Jim is Navigator #6.
After his talk tonight, Jim took questions from the group, which consisted mostly of high school and college students, and Naval Academy midshipmen. One young lady asked a particularly good question, and Jim gave an answer that worth sharing. She asked, “Many people who are much younger than you are retired or talking about retiring. At 103 years old, what keeps you going?”
Jim’s answer struck me because, at its core, it had nothing to do with stamina or health or the typical things you might think a centenarian would talk about. Instead, he talked about a sense of calling, and how it drives him, even now, to continue. And he described four responsibilities that we all have regarding our gifts, responsibilities that he still takes seriously.
- Discover your gifts. Take the time to consider what God has made you passionate about, and how he’s equipped you uniquely.
- Dedicate your gifts. Since God has given you unique talents, resolve now to dedicate them to his service. Make a plan to use them for his glory.
- Develop your gifts. Work hard at becoming the best you can be. This is where determining what you’re passionate about really pays off; a person who has found their calling will find it easy to put in the effort that it takes to develop their talents.
- Deploy your gifts. Get out there and use what you have. Hold nothing back.
Jim continues to live out this philosophy, even the age of 103. He’s an inspiration, and it was a delight to spend even a little time listening to and learning from a man who has been living out his faith for so long.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Jim’s story, he’s recently written a book about his experiences, The Other Side of Infamy: My Journey through Pearl Harbor and the World of War. He is also the author of Living Legacy: Reflections on Dawson Trotman and Lorne Sanny, and Meditation, a practical guide to the Christian life.