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Matt Axford Interview
Watch video interviews at the end of this article.

I first felt my calling to ministry when I was studying for baptism, at the age of 12 years old. I grew up in an Adventist home, and Adventist kids get baptized at the age of 12. I was really blessed by studying the Bible with my pastor, and I was impressed that here was this guy whose job was to read the Bible and then go tell other people about it. I thought that was a really cool job. I was intimidated by the preaching part, but everything else about being a pastor appealed to me.
A few years later, as a freshman at the the local Adventist high school, I had lost a vibrant, everyday relationship with my Savior. I was a rebellious kid, hanging out with kids who were not a good influence on me. We liked to get into trouble.
It was during this time that I had a very powerful spiritual experience. A revival. We had a great Week of Prayer speaker at my school, there were actually two speakers, a man and his wife, and they had such a powerful testimony, and beautiful music. It was just a very spiritual week for me.
At the end of that week, the Week of Prayer presenters had a concert vespers at one of the local churches. They made a call that I responded to wholeheartedly. I had been primed that whole week, I was ready. I was ready to reinvigorate my relationship with Jesus. I went forward for this call and several of my friends went with me. It was a beautiful, beautiful time for us. We were crying, talking and praying together. We decided we had to do something, make some changes.
We started a prayer group that met before class started each morning. First it was just five of us and then there was 10, and pretty soon it grew to a group of about 30 students.
We started a Friday night vespers program which we led out in. I was very passionate about the Bible, reading it every day and then going to class sharing with my friends. I was just really on fire! The friends who had accepted this newfound spirituality and I developed a special closeness and it was a beautiful time.
It was during this time, that I sensed God speaking to me. He said, “I want you to be a pastor.”
I answered, “You know what, God, that's not for me. I love doing all this stuff as a side gig, but for my main job, I need to be rich and famous. I need to do something else.” I resisted that call, but God kept coming after me.
Eventually I got frustrated with God. I told Him, “You know, if that's all You have to say to me when I read Your Bible and pray, then I'm going to stop reading my Bible and praying to You.” So I stopped my personal devotional life. Once I cut off that daily connection with God, I began slipping—to the point where I was out of the church within a year and a half.
I got involved with some friends who were older than me who liked to party, drink and smoke marijuana on the weekends. It wasn’t long before I realized I was going nowhere—doing nothing with my life.
At the age of 20, needing a sense of purpose, I joined the army. It gives you a sense of purpose, but it's not the best environment. Alcohol is a huge part of the military culture and I just slipped right into that. Alcohol became a huge part of my life.
I deployed to Afghanistan in July of 2009. Our Brigade lost 10 guys in the first three weeks of combat. I was devastated! I questioned whether God existed and if He did, how could He could allow these horrible things to happen.
Yet, God did show me He was with me in several powerful ways. One time in particular, I remember one of our vehicles had been blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED) and then later, another vehicle. We were stuck there for over two days. I witnessed some of the most intense combat that I had seen in my time there; two IEDs, many mortar rounds, AK-47 fire—very, very intense combat. Yet after all of this, we didn't lose a single guy. The worst injuries we had were a couple of guys with minor shrapnel wounds to their arms and legs.
As we traveled back to our base, I sat reflecting on how we all made it out alive—how was that even possible? I then remembered, that before we left the base days before, the platoon leader had prayed to God and said, “God, keep us safe. Bring us all back to the base safely.” I thought, “God answered that guy's prayer.” That guy who I thought was a fool for praying! It was very profound for me. It brought back to mind what I went through as a teenager and the relationship I had had with God. I started thinking about the calling that God had given me—to be a pastor.
I finished out my yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, and when I got home I had to deal with what I had been through. It was easier to push all the bad stuff to the side when I was still focused on my combat mission, but once I got back I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to deal with the nightmares, and being unable to sleep. So I turned to my old friend alcohol. I tried to drink it all away, and obviously that didn't help anything—it just made it worse.
My life became a descending spiral of darkness for several months. Just dark, and futile. Why am I alive? Why did my friends die? Why did I make it back? Was there more I could have done? If I'd done things differently, would they still be alive? All these questions, all these doubts, and  darkness. Darkness like I can't even describe. I got to the point where I just wanted to end it. End everything—end the pain, end the darkness, end myself. In my rock bottom place, God reached out to me.
My contract with the army was up and I was living at my parents' place. They were still good Adventists. I was trying to hide my problems from them, so I wasn't drinking. I was sober for the first time in months and I couldn't sleep. I’m tossing and turning when God puts this overwhelming sensation on me. He said, “You're never going to find peace, you're never going to find happiness on the path that you're going on.”
I wrestled with this thought. God’s was telling me that I’ was on a path of destruction. I didn't want to accept it. I wrestled. I wrestled. I wrestled. Finally, I made a deal with God. “God, all right, fine, I'll read something from Your Bible, but then You've got to leave me alone. You've got to let me sleep.”
I went to to find a Bible but couldn’t find a one. What I did find was the entire set of “Testimonies to the Church”. I grabbed volume one and started reading—it was Ellen White's personal testimony. Our stories were very, very different, and yet her story connected with me. She talked about the darkness she went through after her injury. She talked about questioning her own existence, and then she talked about accepting Jesus into her life and how transformational that was—how everything was better—she had peace—she had joy—the sun shone brighter—the grass was greener,” she wrote. It just resonated with me.
I said, “Everything she is describing there, I need.” I got down on my knees and I prayed, “God, give me this peace, give me this joy, give me this brightness in my life. I need it so bad.” Right then and there I felt peace for the first time in as long as I could remember. I felt happiness. God gave me happiness. I think I'd forgotten what happiness felt like.
As I got up off my knees. I remembered this calling that He'd given me, this calling that I'd run away from, and I knew what I had to do. I got right on my computer, and I looked up the theology department at Walla Walla University. I sent in my application that very night.
I graduated in 2013, and God gave me a call to be pastor of ministry at the Village Church in College Place. Time and time again, God has shown me this is what He wants me to do. He has shown me that He can use my dark past, the pain that I've been through, to help other people.
I'm blessed and thankful that even through my stubbornness, even through my sinfulness, even through my running away from Him, He never stopped chasing me. He kept calling me.
I'm just so thankful that I finally answered that call.
Matt Axford - Short Interview

Matt Axford - Full Interview