Tributes to Jim Downing

Jim Downing was promoted to glory on February 13, 2018 at the age of 104. His life and ministry touched countless people. Below are tributes written by current and former leaders within The Navigators.

Tributes to Jim Downing

Jim was an influence among us for walking with God and having our life’s work flow from our knowledge of the Word and walk with Christ. Jim was always thinking about new ways to do things—particularly his passion for helping the next generation grow spiritually. He was not one to be “stuck” in old ways of doing things. He looked to the future with faith.

Jim has influenced me by being a man who is finishing well—with a spirit of humility and faith, not demanding influence but having influence because all see the character of Jesus in his life. I love the story of Jim engaging a local newsperson in a conversation on spiritual things—while he was being interviewed for a Pearl Harbor story. He calmly and patiently—in a winsome way—led the discussion and ended up meeting with the reporter later on to talk more deeply about walking with God.

I will never forget, a few years ago, seeing Jim walking through the airport—pulling his carry-on bag, toting his large walking stick (more like a shepherd’s staff) working his way patiently down the concourse. He was off to yet another influencing opportunity with a staff group. He has continued to live out his passion for God and investing in the next generation. He is well loved by all.

Doug Nuenke, The Navigators U.S. President

All around the world there are countless Navigators who treasure the opportunity they have had to sit at Jim’s feet. The reason why he is such a hero for so many of us is neither his longevity nor his military exploits. Rather, it is what is described Hebrews 11:13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died.” Jim inspired us to really live, not just occupy space or dwell on old memories. He never quit giving his life away, and God’s life flowed freely through him to others.

Mutua Mahiaini, The Navigators International President

Jim Downing was my personal mentor. Though we never met “one-on-one” we spent lots of time talking about our responsibilities in the corporate and financial affairs of The Navigators. Through those times I came to realize that Jim was one of the wisest persons I ever knew. His wisdom, thought, was not simply human wisdom, but was based solidly on the Word of God. I remember one time he and I were discussing a difficult financial situation that a staff member had unwillingly gotten us into. He asked me if I could think of a Scripture that would speak to that issue. When I mentioned one, he said, “that’s our answer,” and he made a decision that was costly to The Navigators, but honoring to God.

Jim was also my champion. It was through his influence that I was given more and more responsibility in the corporate and financial affairs of The Navigators. He even had a small but critical part in bringing my first wife, Eleanor, and me together.

The non-profit corporate world in which The Navigators operate is far more complex today than it was in the late 1950s and into the 1970s when Jim was responsible for the corporate Navigators. But during those years, Jim, through his God-given wisdom and foresight laid the foundation for the stable non-profit corporation we have today.

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016), best-selling author, 60-year Navigator

Jim continually amazed me. I met him when he turned 100! Imagine! He had the vim and vigor of my 50-something peers—perhaps more. But what struck me more than his zest for life was his daily desire to serve his Lord and Savior in the moment. With nary a thought for tomorrow, he lived, serving God each day, maximizing each breath he took. It was a most certain honor to publish his book “The Other Side of Infamy” and introduce this great Christian citizen to a whole new generation. His character and his deep devotion to his Lord are most certainly a model for us all.

Don Pape, former Publisher, NavPress

Long life does not necessarily equate to a great or good impact, but in Jim Downing’s case his wonderful longevity has meant continuing fruitfulness and the magnifying of the blessing which his life has brought to many people all around the world. Jim was part of the birth of the Navigator movement on the USS West Virginia back in the early 1930s. By the end of his life, he was also among the eldest survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S. fleet in December 1941. In the sovereign purposes of God the combination of these facts created a special interest in Jim’s life and experiences, which ensured that he had a ready audience everywhere, right up to the end of his life. Not only did Jim have an audience, but he also had the life and character to match his message. Jim’s courage, determination, and constant focus on explaining and proclaiming the Word of God made him a very fruitful sower of seed. In every state in the Union and every continent around the world, there are men and women walking with God today because of Jim Downing’s life and witness. May God continue to multiply them and may He give us all the grace to follow Jim’s great example.

Mike Treneer, The Navigators International President Emeritus

I knew Jim Downing for more than 40 years. He was always an example of commitment, consistency, and optimism. His drive to keep growing and ministering was contagious. As my military and Navigator life expanded, his commitment to both spheres liberated me. He was always thinking, observing, and helping to keep our Navigator mission on target and focused. Our many discussions on both his observations and cautions made me a better leader. Lorne Sanny depended on Jim probably more than on any other person as he was thrust unexpectedly into leading The Navigators after Dawson Trotman’s death. Jim was far more than one of the original “7”. He was the one of the 7 who remained inside the Navs for a lifetime. He could always be counted upon to “step into the breech” in whatever need emerged. His stepping into the leadership of Europe, Middle East, and Africa at a time when most retired was an example.

Jim’s reflection and wisdom affected so many of us. His counsel, which was sometimes contrary, was always direct and kind. He told it like it was. Jim came into a time of wide influence in these last two decades, putting on his uniform, representing the multitude of WW2 veterans, using his position as a Pearl Harbor survivor. He always had such a positive witness for Jesus while he was doing good in many unnoticed ways— and in the limelight—made possible by his age, mental clarity, and personal stature. He was relentless to do all that he could in the time that he had left. His life and influence have left an indelible mark on The Navigators. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” And Jim would not want to leave out the next verse: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7,8 NIV). As a fellow military officer, I salute Jim. But more than that, I salute Jesus Christ for giving Jim and Morena to The Navigators. 

Jerry White, Major General, USAF, Ret; The Navigators International President, 1986-2005

I have been deeply challenged by Jim’s example of being a life-long learner. Even in his 90s every time I met him he had something new to share that he was learning. His interests and curiosity seemed to be insatiable and his memory amazing. And it always seemed that when I left a conversation with Jim I was more motivated to examine my Bible and take a fresh look at some passage that he had shared with me. I am deeply grateful for his life, ministry, and personal example.

Tom Yeakley, former member of The Navigators National Leadership Team

Leave Your Own Tribute

We invite you to share your own story of how Jim impacted you in the comment section below.


  1. I had the privilege to meet Jim Downing in New York in June 2011 (invited by Andy & Donna Puleo). He gave me his hand notes after the meeting for a reason I don’t know. But for sure, the encounter with this man of God increased my motivation to share the Good News of Jesus.He was full of wisdom and anchored to discipleship from inside out. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit…” (Rev 14:13)

  2. I heard Mr. Downing speak at a training event once. He told us a story of how he had picked up a hitchhiker who was in a think tank in the wilderness going for supplies whose goal was to “solve the problems of the world”, Jim shared the gospel with him. The man responded, “I knew a Christian once, he was just like me, no power.” That challenged Jim and Jim challenged me with those words m. I put me on a path to seek the scriptures for years to learn where true power comes from and how to obtain it and use it to advance Gods kingdom. Jim Downing was a living example biblical power.

  3. Just today I learned that Jim Downing is safely home having ended his earthly journey well. “I Can Only Imagine” the grand reunion taking place in Heaven as he was reunited with his dear wife and joining again those Navigators who were awaiting his arrival. Through the years, my parents, Lester and Martha Spencer spoke of the joyous times they shared on occasion with Jim and Morena. Several personal encounters with this Godly couple served to encourage my husband and me in our ministry to Native American people. Jim blessed our family by traveling to Portland, OR in 2006 to share many memories at the Memorial Service for our father, Lester Spencer. Jim’s legacy will follow him for many years to come as he has blazed a path for us all to follow.

  4. Janie & I were in our mid-20’s at a Nav conference at Glen Eyrie when we met Jim. He had just accepted the assignment in London. We were able to invest a little money in his ministry at that time. Talk about compound spiritual interest!!!

  5. Jim Downing was a true visionary! He was the only 100+ person I have every known that had his own web site. He was very multi-faceted, leading in the ministry environment, leading in the military environments and he was incredibly networked in the Body of Christ. Few people have been a shining example for those of us who were in our developmental years.

    Can you imagine the reunion that is happening in heaven? Jim Downing-God’s speed!

  6. Jim was such a sweet heart of a mentor while I was at the LDI program at Glen Eyrie. At first I was too “Chicken” to introduce myself and ask if I could spend some time with him. I had read about him in Dawson Trotman’s biography. Then I saw him at Glen Eyrie. I was both scared and intimidated. But once I talked to him. He quickly put me at ease.

    He radiated with the spirit of Christ in him always.

    On a different note, I remember vividly helping him dig out his basement at his home. I believe he was “ONLY” 72 at the time. An amazing industrious hard working man. I kept wondering if he should just hire a contractor. Sweet memories indeed.

  7. I had the privilege of knowing Jim for the past 20 years. Like many, I met Jim while in college, and was fascinated by this incredibly wise man. I later pursued him to get answers to questions I had about living life and Jim invited me over to their home. I recall one time, after picking his brain for an hour our more, I said to Jim, “I need to get going, but I have more questions!” I will never forget Jim’s response, with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, I guess you’ll have to come back then.” What an example of a giving man who delighted to invest in others.

  8. Jim was a dear friend of ours. We met him while in the Leadership Development Institute (LDI), at Glen Eyrie, in 1987. Jim married us in May 88. That summer I asked Jim about a couple’s study. He invited us to join a couples study they were leading along with two other couples. We remained in that weekly study for the next six years. We still use the ABC Bible study that Jim taught us. What a blessing they have been to our marriage and life together in Christ! Jim’s heart for the lost and for discipleship is an ongoing challenge for us. We were blessed to be able to have a brief visit with Jim last May. One day, perhaps soon, death will be no more! Revelation 21:4 What a glorious day that will be! Until we meet again!

    1. Gary, I too was blessed to be able to spend some time with him. Usually lunches at the Carriage house or time in his home helping a 72 yr. old man (wow!) dig out his basement. What a life he led!

  9. Jim Downing was an amazing man and an amazing Navigator. His perseverance to invest in others was an example to all staff but in these last years especially in the Collegiate Navigators. Jim was always ready to be where either staff or students were gathered…to share of his vast experience and his love of his Lord.
    In his 90’s he spent a week living with Tina and me at a Collegiate Summer Training Program in Indiana. He spent hours asking questions and listening, responding to questions and bringing the Word of God to life to 18-23 year-olds. He had us set up his room so he could easily access his computer. Jim would awaken in the middle of the night and do research. That year he was studying how adults learn. Every year he chose a topic as a learning project. What an example to us of a life-long learner!
    Ken and Tina Larson

  10. God used this man in so many ways in my life. One way was when he came to our house and stayed with us. for several days and spoke on our behalf at a fundraising banquet. We could not believe this wonderful gracious man flew all that way just to help us. In fact Jim insisted on coming early so we could have more time together. Jim and Morena were both so kind and always took the time to talk with us and they were really interested in our ministry. We will miss they both…
    Jean and RJ Fischer

  11. Thank God for Papa Jim`s life. A life of integrity, humility and service to God and man. May we all finish strong and well.

  12. Blessed to have known and spent time with Jim and share his special soul with so many. Forever grateful to God for bringing us together

  13. During my 3 years at Glen Eyrie, I was privileged to meet with Jim for lunch every 2 weeks. I was surprised that he would be so willing to meet and share his insights with me each time. Each time was new information. One of my questions was how he could have such a life long hunger and commitment to studying, reading, memorizing and medicating on God’s Word. After all, he had read the Bible for decades. How did it remain so vital and vibrant to him? His answer was as simple as profound. “I never ran out of questions about life. I always had more questions for Jesus Christ than time to answer them. I determined that that the Bible offered the only place where true encouragement could be discovered. What a lifelong adventure it is!”. Many of his words still challenge me decades later. So very grateful for Jim’s life and willingness to serve Christ by meeting with and discipling people. Well done, good and faithful servant!

  14. Jim will be received in heaven by those that preceded him Dawson, Loren, Cecil and all the others that helped lay the foundation for the Navs. He will be missed here but those in heaven are rejoicing as he joins them.

  15. A little over a year ago I received from Jim Downing an invitation in the mail to learn about and support the navigators. At the time I didn’t know of him or the ministry. I was about to throw it away when I felt the Holy Spirit compelling me to look up the ministry, and in doing so saw the book he had written. I ordered the book and was touched deeply by his life and the Navigators that he was a part of. I thank God for raising up such an awesome ministry and such a faithful servant. Heaven rejoices at his arrival.

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