“When the morning light hits that globe, it starts spinning around, and I want to grab my suitcase and take off again,” he says.
Now 83, Dr. Jackson still has wanderlust in his voice as he reveals an uncomfortable truth: “My traveling days are over. Walmart is about as far as I can go now.” Irene, who completes her husband’s sentences and remembers how the stories end, adds her agreement: “Our horizons are shrinking.”
The Jacksons have retired to Berlin, Ohio (the locals call it BURR-lin), near the home of their daughter Lynne and her husband. Another daughter, Sheryl, is a missionary in Bangladesh. A third daughter, Laurie, lives in Waterloo, Iowa, with her husband. For the Jacksons, keeping track of 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren can seem like a full-time job. But their son, Paul, is never too far from their memory. He died in 2005 after an 18-month bout with cancer; at the time, he was serving as pastor of adult ministries at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, N.C.
Paul was named for Mark’s father, Paul R. Jackson, a noted pastor and former GARBC national representative who also passed away too suddenly.
“Anybody who knew and loved Dad would use one word to describe him: balance,” Dr. Jackson says today. And commenting on his father’s ability to avoid extreme positions in theology or church polity, Dr. Jackson adds, “He was not tipped one way or the other. He had a balance beam somewhere inside that kept him on track.” Paul R. Jackson was also noted for writing RBP’s best-selling book on Baptist polity, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church. First appearing as an adult Sundays School quarterly in 1956, the book went through several revisions and remains in print today.
Somehow Mark inherited his father’s passion for international travel. Paul had been in Jerusalem on the day Mark was born in 1928, traveling with three other preachers through the generosity of a friend. For years, father and son dreamed about visiting the Holy Land together, but their plans were cut short when Paul was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma and died suddenly in 1969. More than 40 years later, Dr. Jackson is not ashamed to weep when recalling the sudden loss: “I feel kind of sweet about Dad when I think of him.”
Dr. Jackson remembers another benefit of growing up in his father’s Ceres, Calif., church—the encouragement and friendship of Cliff Barrows, who would later serve as Billy Graham’s song leader. Charles and Harriet Barrows and their five children were members of First Baptist Church in Ceres, where Cliff led the singing during his high school years. Dr. Jackson refers to Barrows, four years older, as “one of my dream guys,” a model in ministry. When Barrows left for Bob Jones College, Mark Jackson inherited his job as song leader—even learning to play trombone so he could lead just like Barrows did. Barrows, in turn, took his cue from Homer Rodeheaver, who led Billy Sunday campaigns with his trombone. Paul Jackson gave his son a custom-made Olds trombone, one that Mark later gave to a national in Togo, Africa.
Mark Jackson also credits Barrows for teaching another life skill. “He took me out to an irrigation ditch and said, ‘Okay, I’m going to teach you how to swim’—and then he threw me in the ditch!” For those unfamiliar with the irrigation system feeding California’s orange groves, Dr. Jackson adds another detail: “First thing you know, you’d see a dead cow, swimming right along with you. That would make you get out real quick.”
Dr. Jackson enrolled in Baptist Bible Seminary—where his father would serve as president—meeting his wife, Irene, who grew up in Endicott, N.Y. After seminary he would pastor First Baptist Church, Dedham, Mass.; Calvary Baptist Church, Everett, Wash.; Bethel Baptist Church, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Calvary Baptist Church, Muskegon, Mich.; and Walnut Ridge Baptist Church, Waterloo, Iowa. From there he would become the next president of Baptist Bible College and Seminary, the institution his father formerly served. Speaking of his early ministry, Dr. Jackson tends to go into fast-forward, condensing decades into one phrase: “I am a man who is very interested in missions.”
Paul Tassell asked Dr. Jackson to assume a new role in 1986, when Virgil C. (“Mike”) Riley retired as director of Gospel Literature Services. Organized in 1973 as an international literature ministry, GLS distributes Regular Baptist Press resources to missionaries and church planters. But as an unintended consequence, the organization also provided informal connections for many international Baptist associations. Soon after John Greening became national representative, he sought a more formal structure for the growing global partnership. Many of these churches were planted with the assistance of mission agencies partnering with GARBC churches. Other connections were made through Gospel Literature Services. As the network grew, it took on a life of its own, as like-minded churches were discovered in even the remotest areas.
Messengers to the 1999 GARBC Conference in Bellevue, Wash., passed a resolution forming the International Partnership of Fundamental Baptist Ministries. Greening, who had previously served as a youth pastor during Dr. Jackson’s pastorate at Walnut Ridge Baptist Church, then asked his old boss to become the GARBC’s international ministry consultant. The new role involved a similar amount of international travel, with Dr. Jackson serving as a global emissary for the new organization. He would often travel with David Crandall (who then led GLS), along with American pastors, ministry leaders, and mission agency representatives.
The growing network of churches would not meet together for a formal meeting until November 2009, well after Dr. Jackson had retired. Chris Hindal, the GARBC’s director of international ministries, helped arrange a conference near Bangkok, Thailand. Conference organizers invited Dr. Jackson to the event and honored him during the meeting as one of the IPFBM founders. But when he stood up to preach, Dr. Jackson found himself overcome with waves of emotion.
“Ten minutes into the whole thing, I started to weep. I looked at those guys—I had been to their homes, had preached in their pulpits, and slept in their beds. They are like brothers. I looked out into their faces—and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t preach that message. So instead, I told a story.”
Dr. Jackson told about Helen Warren, a young Boston debutante who was a member of his first church in Dedham, Mass., back in the 1950s. Though she was keenly interested in international missions, she was rejected by her mission board for health reasons. Jackson describes how Warren spent the rest of her ministry working as a nurse on a Navaho reservation in Arizona, “birthing babies, shooting needles in people’s arms, caring for people.” Her ministry tools were simple: a Bible, a pickup truck, a horse, and a German shepherd.
Then Dr. Jackson tells the rest of the story: “She was destined to be wealthy. Her parents left her gobs of money.” Over time, a good deal of that money would be directed toward Gospel Literature Services and the growing international partnership of churches. “Someday I’d like to tell her story, but I’m not sure I can do it justice,” he says now. No one remembers Helen Warren or many others like her, anonymous people in Baptist churches who support the cause of world missions.
Then a year after the Thailand conference, Hindal announced that 10,000 Baptist churches joined the global network.
Years of travel left Dr. Jackson with specific ideas about what local churches should be doing. “If you can get a church enthused about missions—that’s the hardest thing to do today. When I visit a church, the first thing I do is look at their missions board, to see what they are doing. I don’t scold them, but I ask myself, What can I do to get these people stirred up, stoked up for the cause of missions?”
Dr. Jackson, who hosted many American pastors and church members on his trips, wishes he could have done this even more. “If you could just get a boatload of our people, take them over there, sit them down on a muddy floor to listen to one of our pastors preach, . . . they might not understand his language, but they would begin to catch the vision for what God can do.”
This fresh vision would inevitably lead to a greater percentage of giving from U.S. churches. “What many churches give is peanuts compared to what they could be doing,” Dr. Jackson says. And while he recommends that churches establish missionary committees, he also puts responsibility squarely on the pastor’s shoulders. “If the pastor sits on his duff and doesn’t sit down to do some figuring, asking what the budget is and what percentage can be given to missions, . . . well, that’s work, and some pastors don’t want to go to the trouble.
“Take a gong and ring that bell until the whole congregation gets the idea. We’re here soaking up all of this good music and preaching and loving and fellowship, but many in the congregation do not have a clue about what is going on in other parts of the world.”
A storyteller at heart, Dr. Jackson remembers the sights and sounds and smells that drive a narrative forward. The plot is always the same—all of his stories are really testimonies of God’s global work. And he wishes more pastors and missionaries would develop this skill. “Some of these fellows get up in the pulpit and they are Mr. Milquetoast. They don’t know how to tell a story,” Dr. Jackson says. “We need a missionary who has some bubbles in him, and is willing to lay himself open to the people—not ‘this is how much we need your money,’ but ‘this is how much we need your prayers.’ Only then will the church catch the vision.”
Looking back, Dr. Jackson did have some sense that his projects were important. He saved many photos and notes from the experience. “When I would get on a plane in Frankfort or Bangkok or Sydney, I would grab a yellow pad and a pen and write all night, while it was still fresh,” he says. He has recently allowed the GARBC to scan many of his photos and his journals for incorporation in the GARBC archives.
“The Lord put us in the right place at the right time,” Dr. Jackson says as he shows us several decades of photos. “These guys that I met around the world are now some of my best friends. I communicate with them by e-mail. I got a phone call from a pastor in Cameroon the other day. These men have been trained well by our missionaries. They know the Bible. All they need is our encouragement and partnership.”
In the corner behind his rocker, the globe is still spinning.
“So many places. I traveled two million miles during my time with Gospel Literature Services and the international partnership. Almost unbelievable.”
“When I came home from Oberammergau this past year, I had a column of people waiting for me when I got off the airplane,” Dr. Jackson says. He had led one more tour to Germany to see the passion play, accompanied by his son-in-law Ed Miller. As he returned home, his family gathered at the airport to greet him—and to deliver a gentle benediction.
“This is your last flight, and we’re not going to let you go anymore!” is the way Dr. Jackson recalls the conversation. Then his interviewers had to ask the follow-up question, wondering who, exactly, might have delivered that message.
Looking over at Irene, Dr. Jackson says, “I think I must succumb to their wishes. I’d hate to be over in Afghanistan and have a heart attack!”
But he still preaches a bit, as long as the assignments are close to home. Recently he spoke at a local hardware store, where one of the owners had invited him to show his Holy Land photo collection.
“I expected about 50 to show up. When I arrived, they had 350 chairs set up, and as the room filled with Amish farmers, they set up 50 more. I showed my pictures, but I also preached the gospel. When you get right down to it, it is all about the blood of Christ, all about the cross. We cannot rely on our own good works to save us.”
“So I preached Christ.”
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin. Darrell Goemaat is director of photography.