Life & Ministry: Peter Axup

One of the great joys of being connected with the Navigators® is the chance we have to glean wisdom from men and women who have walked with God for decades. We had the chance to sit down for an interview with Oklahoma Navigator Peter Axup before he transitioned to a new phase of life and ministry.

Education and the Air Force

Military life is a large part of Peter’s story. His dad was an Army officer and then an Army civilian, and Peter paid for college with an ROTC scholarship. This combination of a military family background, his interest in flying and technology, and the financial assistance led Peter to join the Air Force. After graduating from M.I.T. with an Electrical Engineering degree, Peter worked in the Air Force as Research & Development Engineer. During this time, God used some faithful Navigators to change Peter’s life and lead him to faith in Christ: “[I was] stationed at my first duty station where Jim Hope and Rob Crombie shared the Gospel with me. The morning after I was saved, Jim brought over a book, Growing in Christ, with 13 Bible studies and memory verses. I knew the Navigators® one hour less than knowing Jesus.”

Even though none of the bases where Peter was stationed had formal Navigator ministries, he continued to learn and grow and walk with God. Peter would find military people with Navigator backgrounds and they would form a ministry team. If there wasn’t the capacity for a team, then Peter would walk alongside other guys in a one-on-one setting, encouraging each other to persevere and follow Jesus. His ministry centered on life-to-life™ relationships. Peter’s fruit had rich depth with a few faithful men as they walked with God together:

“Focus on the individual is the heart of what [the Navigators] do. Our goal in ministry isn’t to get people involved in the “right” activities, but help them meet their maker who wants to have a relationship with them. [God] wants them to know Him, turn to Him, depend on Him, praise Him, and proclaim His name.”

After 24 years of service, including 10 moves, Peter learned a lot about himself and his personal capacity in ministry. He didn’t have a “big” ministry since he was working full-time, but he prioritized investing in at least one guy. “People have their own jobs, others have a wife and kids, grass to mow, et cetera, so often times I was the only guy other people invested in or vice versa.” But Peter used his platform at work to serve and minister to others around him. “The secret to serving is not in the particular things that you can do, but by following Philippians 2:3-4 and looking for other people’s interests and needs. Most of the time people need help with the mundane things, the boring and unimpressive, but that’s what they need help with. So, you help the secretaries. You know the names of the janitors because nobody else calls them by name, you hold the door open for them when they’re taking the trash out of your office because nobody else wants to do it. It’s not so much offering to help with what we are good at, but are we looking out for other people’s best interests? Are we willing to do the unglamorous? I was a Colonel in the Air Force and people had never seen a Colonel hold the door open for the janitor. Seems pretty straight forward to me when they are struggling under a load and cleaning out your office; I don’t want him dropping it right there, so I can hold the door open for him.”

Even with this style of ministry, Peter still has a lot of connections, and although he can’t connect with them regularly, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians inspired him to stay in contact. Paul wonders if he has labored in vain and sends Timothy to find out how they are doing and encourage them. Peter recognized he was in a unique position, as a ‘Thessalonian,’ to encourage the Pauls in his life and let them know through occasional phone calls and letters, that after 40 years he is still walking with Jesus.

After the Air Force

After Peter retired, he realized this was the first time since junior high he had to think about what he wanted to do when he grew up. Peter moved to Oklahoma City to take a sabbatical and decided he wanted to dive in with the Navigators, while working with and caring for John Crawford. Peter met John in 1988 when he was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City and moved back in 2006 to help John, who was blind at the time, with light home maintenance and assist with organizing and leading the annual Key Men’s Invitational conference (KMI). Peter took over as the KMI director in 2009 before John Crawford passed away in 2010.

Peter’s original involvement with the KMI started when he was still in the Air Force and the regular moves that come with military service, made it hard to create community and build deeper friendships. The KMI was a huge part of helping set Peter up for relational community and consistent accountability:

“The conference ministered to men in a way consistent with how God ministered to me and helped me to grow and [be] consistent with what His word [was] teaching. [I ask] guys why they return to KMI and they say consistently, ‘For the fellowship with like-hearted men.’ I thought it was the [conference’s] focus and content, but no, it’s the kindred spirits they find there.”

The unique encouragement the KMI facilitated for so many men, was the reason Peter wanted to serve with the Navigators and lead the conference. “KMI is my ministry to 300 disciple-makers, where I invite 200 men and they invite 100 others, creating an environment where men develop personal relationships with men to help them walk with Jesus for a lifetime. My ministry is to try and come alongside to help those within their ministry, not take over.”

Ministry Focus

Throughout all his years in ministry, Peter has maintained his focus on encouraging men in their walk with Jesus. “When I decided to follow Jesus I saw it this way: whatever it means to follow Jesus, that’s what I want to do…All I have to offer is Jesus, and more Jesus. I help [men] read their Bible, not to get smarter, but because it’s how Jesus decided to reveal Himself. If [a man] wants to know [Jesus] more, then I can help him.”

Another major concern on Peter’s heart is helping people walk with Jesus all the days of their life. When asked about how to help people be excited about finishing well, Peter answered with 5 characteristics of the men who had influenced him in his own walk:

  1. They knew the Bible and applied its stories into their lives. “Watching how New Testament principles play out the Old Testament help[ed] strip away excuses for not obeying. It’s an example problem like in school: start with the theoretical problem, then do an example problem, and [it] helps you eliminate confusion and [to] figure out what is going on.”
  2. They lived open lives with those they were ministering too. “We can’t taste, touch, see, or feel God, so how do you relate to an invisible being? You need somebody else to do that in order to build an idea of what that could look like.”
  3. They used the Bible as a tool. “They were always turning to it for answers to problems, and reading through it to receive instruction from God. I saw how they used it and [they] helped me see it that way too.”
  4. They loved people. “They loved me. They made time for me. As a single guy, they would have me over for Sunday dinner, Thanksgiving dinner, invite me over to help with projects.”
  5. They prayed. “They helped me build a relationship with Jesus and modeled it for me. All of this happened through everyday life. Finishing with Jesus isn’t about size and scope of ministry, it’s about the size and scope of my relationship with Jesus.”

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Peter came to Christ in 1982 and is still excited about Jesus. “I had no idea where I would end up. God has a great vision for what He wants to accomplish, and He’s looking for people who are willing to join Him in that vision. Too often we focus on something that isn’t on His list, and when it’s not going well, we wonder why, and it’s because it’s on our list and not His.”

Peter has handed off the leadership of the KMI to move closer to his parents and be available to care for them when their health declines. He’s continuing to pray about what his ministry looks like moving forward. Whatever the next phase is like, it’s clear that Peter will continue to encourage people to journey with Jesus: “What I hope I’ve accomplished is that I’ve been an encouragement to [people] to continue walking with Jesus. Matthew 11:28-30 inspires my goal to encourage people to persevere in their relationship with Jesus. Rules don’t motivate, they are constraining. No one wins an Olympic medal by not doing a bunch of things, it’s how they work towards what they aspire. If you really notice, God gives us more to aspire to than rules and ‘don’ts’. He wants our heart.”

From the Oklahoma City Navigators, thank you for all your hard work and service Peter. You will be greatly missed, and we wish you all the best in this next phase of life and ministry.

Written By Ricky Ketchum and Cana Radford