The World Was Not Worthy of Them: Dawson Trotman
As we finish our time in the book of Hebrews, we wanted to pause to further be encouraged with the faithful testimonies of saints throughout history. We will spend the remaining time in Hebrews highlighting people whose stories point us heavenward and are part of the complete picture of God’s redemptive story. During our discussion of Hebrews 11, we were reminded that we aren’t the first people to be called to hardship, and that many of these accounts of suffering are far greater, or perhaps far less, than anything we might have endured doesn’t minimize Christ’s work in his people, but empowers us. Let us hear, and believe.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
The following is written by TCGS member, Jim Slice, senior.
By faith, Dawson Trotman lived and died living out the gospel calling to “hold other’s up”.
In the church where I became a believer, we valued spending time with others, believers and non-believers, in pursuits they enjoyed. One night, I spent an evening with some young believers and a non-believing friend … weightlifting. They were pretty seriously into it so, when I met my wife at some friends home for dinner. I walked in, dropped to my knees on the living room floor and laid out flat, not moving for about 30 minutes. Our hostess laughed and encouraged me that I was living out 2nd Cor 1215, “I will gladly spend, and be spent, for your souls”. I smiled in response and continued laid out on the floor.
We say all humor has some truth in it. While we and our friends laughed, it was a truth we were being taught; to give our lives away to others. As with most truth, it was passed down from others. And this is one that be directly traced back to a man named Dawson Trotman.
At Hope Church, we built a good deal of our church life around concepts and principles found in Navigator discipleship training. Dawson Trotman, or Daws, founded the Navigators, building on the principle found in 2nd Tim. 22, The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Daws was born in 1906 in Bisbee, Arizona. His family were nominally Presbyterian. They continued attending off and on after moving to Lomita, California. However, Daws grew up without the church being a significant influence in his life. By the age of 20, his pastimes included bootlegging liquor, hustling pool and lying or stealing, as circumstances demanded. On being stopped by the police while driving drunk, Daws encountered an officer who prompted him to look at his life by asking if this was really the life he wanted. He answered, “No, Sir.” and, after being warned, began a walk down the path to his salvation.
Following a “commitment” to go back to church, he began attending a local young people’s group called Christian Endeavour, where he jumped on the chance to compete in a scripture memory contest, winning the first week by memorizing all 10 verses on salvation. As he worked on the next week’s verses, God opened his eyes to the truth of the Gospel, prompting him through John 524 to ask himself if he truly had “everlasting life”. He prayed there on the sidewalk ask God to give him that life.
Daws became a regular at the Christian Endeavour meetings, where the leaders poured into his life with scripture memory as a foundational concept. The more he memorized, the greater his sense of the Bible’s outline and he began teaching the young people himself. As he learned, he enjoyed the study but felt that it could lead to less action than the Great Commission called for in Matthew 18. He moved on, attending the Bible Institute, but focusing much of his time on action around making disciples. He worked with young converts while working and studying, always focused on making disciples over tallying converts. This eventually led to meeting a young sailor named Les Spencer.
After spending time with Daws and growing in his own knowledge of scripture memory, how to share his testimony and to share the gospel with others, many aboard ship noticed and asked about his changed life. He brought a shipmate to Daws and asked that he teach him what he’d been taught. Daws responded, “You teach him!” From there, this model saw many converts. After a seeing some fall away, Daws was driven to strengthen the discipleship aspect of the model and from there the Navigators were born. With an emphasis on evangelism, pouring into the lives of new converts and seeing them grow to evangelize and disciple others, the organization lived out a biblical model for growing the church.
After similar struggles with seeing new converts fall away, a young evangelist named Billy Graham, sought Daws help in developing follow-up methods to see that new believers making crusade decisions could be connected with and disciple by local believers. The value and investment of life on life relationships to “stimulate one another” was a clear need that Daws and others sought to meet.
After many years of fruitful ministry, impacting countless lives, Daws gave his life for one more. In June of 1956, while teaching at a camp in Schroon Lake, New York, he and a few others went out boating on the lake. Encountering some choppy water, Daws and a young, female student fell from the boat. Daws held her up while she was lifted into the boat. As they reached back for him, Daws slipped beneath the water and was gone.
Throughout his ministry, Dawson Trotman invested in the two things that are eternal, God’s Word and people. As generations of believers have been impacted by principles he learned and followed, the church grows and is strengthened even today. At Daw’s funeral, Billy Graham said,
“He died the way he lived … holding others up.”
The impact of his life “held up” a few weightlifters in 1984. On and on, through the years, others learn and pursue living out that legacy. May God strengthen all of us in “holding others up”, investing in God’s Word and people.
Recommended reading: Daws: The Story of Dawson Trotman, Founder of the Navigator’s Council by: Betty Lee Skinner