J.D. Downer identifies with the Prodigal Son Jesus teaches about in Luke 15. Returning to the Lord after a season of chasing after the things of the world, he expected to walk a steady and predictable path of Christ-following. But God, who had faithfully and powerfully drawn a wayward J.D. back to Himself, had unexpected plans for J.D. and the Downer family. Read the Downers’ story to see how God has worked in their lives through times of intense difficulty and long stretches of perplexing waiting, and be encouraged by how He has lovingly directed them towards His purposes.
Jenn & J.D. Downer
J.D.: I grew up as a pastor’s kid. I don’t remember a specific day when I accepted Christ as my Savior; believing in Jesus was just always a part of my life. But as I got older, I strayed. I began to feel ashamed of who my parents were, ashamed of the things my family stood for. I started to fight against Christianity, against my upbringing. I kind of rode a roller-coaster during my teen years, until I moved out at 17 and started testing the ways of the world. I ended up living here in Cody, and God was faithful to keep bringing people into my life to challenge me and convict me. Even though I was faithless, God wouldn’t let go of me.
Finally, through the love and tenacity of friends who were wholly abandoned to Christ and refused to give up on J.D., he turned back to Jesus Christ. Jesus drew J.D. into close, personal relationship with Himself, and, for the first time, J.D.’s faith truly became his own. Around the time that J.D. was experiencing this inner revival, he met Jennifer, a Texas rodeo-girl who had come to Cody to barrel race.
Jennifer: I did not have a Christian upbringing. My grandparents took me to church and youth group, and I was saved at the age of 13. The Lord was gracious to put people in my life who kept me on the straight and narrow by encouraging me to live for Him. I was involved in rodeo, and was thankful for the various cowboy church ministries that spurred my faith during that time. I eventually moved to Cody to rodeo, and I met J.D.
Both J.D. and Jennifer were committed to living for Christ. One of the first places J.D. took Jennifer was the home fellowship group he was a part of, a group where accountability and Gospel Truth were paramount. Still, the couple made mistakes. They moved in together, a decision that they were quickly confronted about by their friends in home fellowship.
J.D.: I remember them telling us that we couldn’t be living for God, and willfully living in sin at the same time. They challenged us to be obedient to God’s Word.
Their friends counseled them according to James 4:4, quoting, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” Convicted about their sin, J.D. and Jennifer decided to get married after only a four-month-long courtship.
J.D.: Everybody thought we were crazy and it would never work. Everybody except us and our friends who had told us to obey God and stop sinning. But we knew we were supposed to marry. After a while, we moved to Bozeman. I swore I would never come back to Cody. I hated the wind, and I didn’t love working for my boss. I just wasn’t going to end up back here.
In Bozeman, the Downers settled into a rich community of faith where they grew in grace and were challenged in their personal walks with the Lord.
Jennifer: I was discipled by our pastor’s wife and I really learned that my relationship with God was personal and individual. I started studying on my own, and just growing.
Their family grew in number, as well. Four amazing children were added to the Downer family tree: Jonathan, Cody, Audrey, and Daren. Jennifer homeschooled her growing brood while J.D. worked as a contractor. Then, in 2014, a medical crisis flipped the Downers’ stable world upside down. Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time as the couple sold their home with the intent of returning to Cody to care for J.D.’s grandmother. In the interim between their house sale and their actual move, the Downers lived in a camper at J.D.’s jobsite. Jennifer was homeschooling four kids ages six and up, and she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment while living in a “fishbowl.”
"But, during that time, God really got my attention. There was something so peaceful about having everything in my life just out-of-control."
Jennifer: Those were crazy times. I realize now that I suppressed a lot of my reactions and responses. I was going through everything with an audience because the homeowners lived on the property with us, and I felt like I had to be strong for my kids, and I was exhausted. But, during that time, God really got my attention. There was something so peaceful about having everything in my life just out-of-control. I didn’t know what was happening with my body or my future, but I felt covered by a supernatural peace that was such a gift from God. My soul was quiet in the middle of the turmoil.
Jennifer was still undergoing treatment when the family uprooted themselves from their Montana community and returned to the foothills of Cody. The move turned out to be more stressful and difficult than they had expected. They weren’t needed as caregivers, which left them feeling uncertain as to why God had called them back to Cody – especially since it wasn’t a place they would have ever chosen on their own. They struggled to find a church that “fit,” and plugging into community was difficult.
J.D.: We had been praying about this decision, and we felt like God was clear. Our Bozeman house sold very quickly, which seemed like a confirmation, but then we got here, and our plans and expectations didn’t pan out. We followed the Lord here, but it sure didn’t look like what we’d expected.
Jennifer: I remember lying in the camper and crying and just wondering why we had even come to Cody.
J.D.: We knew God wanted us here, but we didn’t know why for a long time. We just stayed, out of obedience. It became a long growing season where we had to just let God be God, and wait on Him.
Jennifer: We were trusting God to do His work. It sounds funny, but for a lot of that time, I have been on a search to recreate the sense of peace I had during my cancer treatment. To find that place where my soul could just be quiet in the Lord’s presence.
In late 2020, the Downers found Outpost. After years of searching for fellowship and belonging, and then waiting through the isolation of COVID, they suddenly found themselves knit into a community that was exactly what they had prayed for.
J.D.: At Outpost, we have been able to use our gifts, to feel connected, to be really plugged in. We love that everyone at Outpost is called to serve.
J.D. and Jennifer both believe that being a part of Outpost is a big part of why God brought them to Cody seven years ago.
J.D.: I am learning to be careful in how I make plans; I just want to let God plan my steps. But I know that God has me at Outpost to disciple others. So, whatever that looks like in the future, I know discipleship is a big part of that.
Jennifer: Being a part of Re:Generation has been an important part of my journey. It has helped me to see that God created me how He created me. He is molding and shaping me the way He wants me molded and shaped. I am His. It has been really freeing, and it has helped me get back to that place of inner peace where I am living in reliance on God.
During times of hardship and uncertainty, and a drawn-out period of blind waiting, God has been faithful to shape the Downers’ hearts, preparing them for fruitfulness. They are eager and at-peace as they keep waiting on the Lord to day-by-day reveal His plans for their lives.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”