Elder Jackson grew up in Ojai, California, “an idyllic little town in the mountains by Santa Barbara.” Due to his parents love of volunteer work, he also did school in Algeria, Honduras and Afghanistan.
Elder Jackson served in the Bolivia La Paz Mission from 1975-1977. When he returned, he met Ann Kesler. It was “love at first sight” for him. He spent the rest of the summer using his missionary skills to help “convert” Sister Jackson! They were sealed later that year in the Los Angeles California Temple.
Elder Jackson attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. He then worked at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, for his medical residency for three years. From there they began their overseas life with the Foreign Service, which lasted 23 years, and included six years serving as an Area Seventy in Asia and the Pacific.
Elder Jackson described their journey around the globe those next two + decades as a “chiasmus.” They began in the Australian Outback, then went to India and to Africa (South Africa), then to Singapore, went back to Africa (Ethiopia), then India before returning to the Outback of Australia. Needless to say they both love to travel and experience new sights and cultures. In all, he has lived in, worked in and visited over 140 countries. Living abroad has provided Elder Jackson with the opportunities to be a Royal Flying Doctor, play professional football and basketball (but NOT in the NFL or NBA!), race camels, climb mountains, meet kings, presidents and Nobel prize winners and grow to love our remarkable Church members all around the world.
During that time, their family grew to a total of 10. Of their eight children, the last three were adopted from India, Nepal and Cambodia.
Immediately upon retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service the Jacksons returned to India, as president and companion of the India New Delhi Mission from 2009 to 2012.
Since returning from their years abroad, Elder Jackson has taught mission prep at BYU and worked at the MTC as a physician, and then moved to the Idaho-Oregon border to care for underprivileged patients before being called as a General Authority Seventy.
MISSIONARY WORK…. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?
Whenever the True Church has been found on the face of the earth there have been missionaries. Indeed, it is a sign of the True Church! Missionary work and “truth” go hand-in-hand. Sharing the “good news,” once received, is a prerequisite of true discipleship and has been expected of believers since the beginning of time. We ARE our “brother’s keeper,” after all. We have been taught that “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81). “Every member a missionary.” In fact, historically, the Lord has been displeased with those of us who fail to do so (D&C 60:2).
Why then, as a people, are we not better at getting the word out? None of us has any problem sharing other “good news.” A fabulous sale at the mall, the latest blockbuster in the theaters (remember those?), a vacation bargain, the latest app for your phone, a new restaurant, etc., these are things that we share with our friends and family in a heartbeat… we don’t want them to miss out! Why aren’t we always the same with the gospel? Clearly, the adversary is hard at work trying to discourage us. He plants seeds of doubt in our minds and supplies us with a bevy of excuses to help us to rationalize and justify why we can’t (or shouldn’t) share the gospel with our acquaintances at this time. He is a master at breaking our confidence. Part of our reluctance can be explained away as “human nature.” Our fears and anxieties are not difficult to understand. We have all “been there, done that.” But our fears are not always based on reality, nor the actual experience of many a missionary. Our fears and concerns may be formidable, in cases, but they are not insurmountable. If we can recognize and identify our concerns, the sources of our doubts, then we can fight them.
Several of the most common concerns (i.e. reasons that we don’t do more sharing) that plague us as prospective member-missionaries include:
1. We don’t have the missionary spirit.
2. We are not qualified to be missionaries.
3. We don’t know HOW to be missionaries.
4. We don’t want to offend or alienate our friends or family members.
These are common concerns shared by many and experienced by most of us at one time or another. But are they legitimate? I believe that, even though they may seem very difficult to overcome, when we look at them honestly and objectively, these concerns become minor obstacles and are easily conquered. All of us can get “the spirit.” We actually are qualified for the work. There is no need to fear. We DO know how to be missionaries (we just sometimes forget that fact!). And, our true friends and family will not be offended.
Let’s take these concerns and fears one at the time.
WE DON’T HAVE THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT.
Many of us feel we just don’t have the desire or yearning to share. But we can get it! In fact, we MUST get it. When we were baptized, we all made covenants with our Father in Heaven to follow the Savior, to do as He did, to be like Him to the best of our abilities. As we become more like the Savior, we will develop the same desire to care for, and love, one another as He did. It’s called empathy, charity and friendship… or, in other words, the missionary spirit! They are one and the same. Shortly after baptism, all of us received the Gift of the Holy Ghost. We “got” the spirit at that time and, as we are worthy, have the right and privilege to benefit from it forever more. It is up to us to keep the spirit strong.
And remember, we can ask for it at any time as we communicate with the Father through prayer.
We are all blessed with the Spirit when we join the Church. Maintaining it strong and healthy, or getting it back if we have lost it, is a matter of obedience. Everyone can (and should) have the missionary spirit. It is a natural byproduct of trying to be like the Savior. It is ours for the taking.
WE ARE NOT QUALIFIED TO BE MISSIONARIES
What are these “Qualifications” that seem to elude us so effectively? The Lord himself spelled them out not so many years ago:
“And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him (or her) for the work.
Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” (D&C 4:5-6)
At first glance these attributes seem strikingly similar to the qualifications and characteristics of a true friend! It should not surprise us that they are also the qualities of a good missionary. Being a friend is a key to successful missionary work. It really is that simple, normal and natural.
We don’t have to have a PhD to qualify for the work. We don’t have to be scriptorians, ancient language scholars or even particularly erudite. We don’t need degrees in public speaking or have debate titles to our credit. There is no need to have years of experience in the field or to be direct descendants of Brigham Young! What we NEED, what qualifies us to be effective and competent missionaries, is to possess a testimony of the gospel… and to live it. Being a true friend is the finest kind of missionary work. Which brings us to the next area of concern…
WE DO NOT KNOW HOW TO BE MISSIONARIES
Actually, all of us know how. We just don’t always realize it. There is no need for us to be afraid. Just let the gospel work in our lives! By living the gospel (a recurring theme by now!) we are automatically functioning as missionaries.
The most effective way to be a good missionary is through the power of example. We need to let others see the gospel in action. Let them see what it has done, and is doing, for us in our lives. Our friends and family will see how the gospel works for us and will be eyewitnesses of its “fruit.”
A favorite poem of mine illustrates the power of example:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me then nearly tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil, and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the (ones) who lives their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
So, maybe no soul from you will learn,
Or through you will see the light.
The way you live may not matter at all,
But you never know… it might!
(Edgar A. Guest, “Sermons we see.”)
The Savior taught, “Let your light so shine…” And so it should be. Our lives testify and speak loudly enough about our beliefs and convictions, our discipleship (and its fruits), that sometimes we don’t even have to.
One wonderful way to serve as an example of the gospel is through service itself. Christ, after all, came to serve mankind (through all ages), and to minister, NOT to be ministered to (Matt 20:28). He was the servant of all. We understand that when we are in the service of others, we are only serving God (Mos 2:17). It is one of the highest forms of true friendship. History’s most successful “friends” (or missionaries!) have touched the hearts and won the confidences of those with whom they lived through their great show of love and concern… and through sincere service. As it has been said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Friendship, love, service, example… being a true Christian! THAT is how to do missionary work. There are no secret methods. There exists no special diploma or “official” training course. Sharing with, and serving, others through friendship and example is a natural phenomenon.
How hard is it, really, to smile? Or to greet people who are new or unfamiliar to you at church? How difficult is it to make a phone call to someone who has been on your mind, just to chat, and to let them know you were thinking about them? It is not difficult to invite someone to your home or to an activity or an outing. These would be good times for your friends and family to see the “Saints” in action. Is it a burden to give someone a ride to church, particularly an investigator? How hard would it be to have friends over for a Family Home Evening? Many out there are looking for ways to strengthen their family. Making a visit and providing that ‘personal, human touch’ is not a difficult task. Are we capable of just listening? This is only a short list of simple things that are easy to do. And doing them makes us happy. Do you still have doubts? So did Moses and Enoch! Do you feel imperfect? Are you paralyzed by your mortality or do you feel overly generic and common or small? Recognize that you do not have to be perfect… just be a friend.
We, as members of the restored Church, have a distinct advantage over others in the world that devote their time to “sharing” this, that or the other thing. Ours is true! We can be totally sincere in extolling its virtues, by word and deed. Think about it:
- Our “product” is tried and true, proven through the ages.
- Ours is a good tree which produces excellent fruit. And the fruit is sweet!
- The gospel speaks for itself (John 7:17).
- It changes lives, often in dramatic fashion.
- It strengthens families.
- It offers great support to us at all times of our lives, making us better sons and daughters, men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. There exists no other organization more committed to the well-being and advancement of its members than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- It teaches and trains us.
- It helps us to develop our talents.
- It provides the very best advice that eternity has to offer.
- It endows us with the priesthood power to legitimize our ordinances and with which to bless our families.
- It supplies us with living prophets and their timely counsel.
- It provides us with answers! We know the purpose of life. We have an identity; we know who we are. It is a boost to our self-worth and self-esteem.
- It is true. It works. It is good for us. It sells itself.
How do we do missionary work? Christ gave us a hint:
“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold, I am the light which you shall hold up—that which you have seen me do…” (3 Ne 18:24)
Just live the gospel, love our neighbors and create opportunities for the Spirit to touch another soul. Love, share and invite. Practice what we preach… nothing could, or should, be more natural.
WE DON’T WANT TO OFFEND OR ALIENATE OUR FRIENDS OR FAMILY MEMBERS
Sharing, especially something genuinely special to you, done sincerely, will never offend a true friend.
We have not been called to convert the whole world, just to share. We have been asked by our Savior to help Him by exposing people to the truth. We create opportunities for the Spirit to influence others, and touch hearts, so that they can make up their own minds. That is how the Savior taught.
And, as members of the restored Church in these latter days, the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, we have so many beautiful teachings to share! The heavens are open again, we have a loving Father who really cares, priesthood power exists and families can be united forever. These are but a few of the positive messages of the gospel.
The Book of Mormon is another wonderful gift (and powerful tool) to share. It is an inspired manuscript and has great potential to impact the lives of the pure in heart. It is part of the “marvelous work and a wonder” spoken of by Isaiah. We believe it is the “most correct of any book, the Keystone of our religion, and that a man (or a woman) may get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” We, as a people, really believe this. Will our friends and family be offended if we share our sincere beliefs with them? My answer is a resounding “NO.”
Let me share a few personal experiences that have helped me to come to this conclusion.
A few years ago, my family was invited to spend Hanukkah with a Jewish rabbi and his family. This very traditional feast involved unusual foods, songs, different clothing, etc. And much of it was in Hebrew! But it was obviously of great importance to this wonderful family, who were not embarrassed in the least that it was strange in nature to us, their visitors. It was important to them. It was part of their belief system and helped to shape who they were. Rabbi Berkowitz and his family were noticeably touched to have us there with them on that most sacred day in their home. It was a wonderful experience. Afterwards, the good Rabbi bid us goodnight and said it had been “an honor” to have us, his friends, in his home to share this most special occasion.
In New Delhi, India, not too long ago, my wife and I were at a Jain temple participating in a charitable eye project. When the chief priest of the temple heard that the Americans who were helping to sponsor the eye camp for his people were present, he rapidly came out to meet us. In keeping with the strictest of Jain teachings, he wore no clothes. Not a stitch of raiment adorned the heavyset holy man! We were somewhat taken by surprise (especially my wife!), but his handshake was firm and his smile genuine, and he welcomed us to his place of worship. He then took us on a quick tour. He shared with us, without reservation, those things that were most precious to him, then took us to a private room, where he explained to us a bit more about his beliefs and the purpose of the temple. After finishing, he reached up onto a shelf and took down a small stone statue of one of his gods and asked me to take it from him, as a special gift, and as a sign of genuine appreciation, for visiting him and his followers. HE thanked US for our time.
I have had similar experiences with Buddhist monks in Bhutan and Tibet, Hindus in Varanasi and in other places throughout the subcontinent, as well as with Christians of various denominations the world over.
As a teenager, I spent several months in Afghanistan. What a fabulous place it was at that time. While there, we had a young Muslim man with us who served as interpreter and guide to our family. We grew very fond of him over the weeks as he shared with us his love for his country and religion. The night before we were to leave Kabul, and begin our journey back to America, this young man, Omar Mohammed Mulakhel, came to our hotel room and said he had something for us. Omar was not a person of great means (we had visited his humble home in Jalalabad) but he had thought long and hard over what he could give us to best express his gratitude and friendship. He reverently took a book from behind his back and held it gently in both hands. It was the Koran, his holy book of scripture. He told us that this was a most prized possession of his and that he wanted us to have it. Before he handed it to my father, he slowly leaned forward and kissed the cover gently, leaving no doubt in any of our minds that this, indeed, was a precious gift, one of very real importance to the giver.
Now, what think ye? Was I, or my family members, offended by these people? Did their sharing with me, those things most dear to them, make me angry? Not in the least! I was flattered. I felt special. A bond was formed that will never be broken. We should take note of their willingness to share with others, not of their faith, and “go and do likewise.” They had no problems sharing of their most valuable possessions, and I love them for it.
Over the years, I have learned that the Book of Mormon is just such a “possession.” It is easy to share. I have watched many of my family do so, and I have been encouraged to do the same, on many occasions. My friends are still my friends. They are not all Mormons, but they are still my friends!
My friends have always been gracious in allowing me to share with them something of value from my life. Some have even wanted to know more.
So, on further inspection (and introspection!) we find that we DO have the missionary spirit (or at least know how to get it back), we ARE qualified for the work, we do indeed know HOW to be missionaries (it’s second nature) and that our true friends and family will NOT be offended by our examples and sincere gestures. I guess that means we are left “without excuse.”
Missionary work… it’s not so hard, or even that scary. It’s just serving and loving those around us. It is being a good friend. It is being Christian and creating opportunities for the Spirit, who has been given the assignment of doing all the heavy lifting. Loving, sharing and inviting in a normal and natural way. It is my prayer that I, and each of us, can be more like those beautiful individuals in my life who have so willingly and lovingly given of their most precious possessions.
With all due respect to that most celebrated of soft drinks, the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the “real thing”… and we have it! It is our obligation, and our great privilege, to share it, in so many different ways.
May we have the courage to do so, trusting in the Lord and the Spirit to help and guide, is my prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.