Elder William K. Jackson, who was recently called to serve as a General Authority Seventy, has been witness to the growth of the “developing Church” around the world throughout his life, thanks to a career with the U.S. Foreign Service and various Church callings.
Over the course of 26 years, Elder Jackson and his family “spent most of our time in the developing world, in the branches, the first-generation Church where everybody was brand new, where the second generation was still in Primary. And it was so much fun. We can’t believe how much fun it was.”
Born in Washington, D.C., to E. William and Lois Audrey Jackson, William King Jackson grew up in Ojai, California, which the oldest of six children describes as “an idyllic little town in the mountains by Santa Barbara.” Due to his parents’ volunteer work, he also did schooling in Algeria, Honduras and Afghanistan.
“My parents were phenomenal role models,” he said, sharing how his father was called to serve as president of the Philippines Manila Mission in 1986 and today runs a nonprofit organization that performs life-changing surgeries around the world.
Elder Jackson served in the Bolivia La Paz Mission from 1975-1977. When he returned, he met Ann Kesler, who had come from Idaho to spend the summer in his California hometown with a roommate from BYU-Hawaii.
“It was love at first sight for me,” he said. “I spent the rest of that summer trying to convince her that I was the one. It took a while, but we were married later that year.”
They were married in the Los Angeles California Temple in December 1977.
After attending BYU for three years, Elder Jackson was accepted into medical school and received a doctor of medicine degree from the University of California, San Francisco. He then worked at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, for his medical residency for three years.
“Right after residency, we took a job overseas, and we didn’t come back for 26 years.”
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.
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, respectively.
Working with embassies and consulates through his job with the U.S. Foreign Service meant a lot of traveling across huge swaths of the globe, giving Elder Jackson the opportunity to interact with Latter-day Saints in about 120 countries, particularly in the developing world and what he called “the first-generation Church.”
One of the biggest components of his testimony has been watching the night-and-day difference in the lives of Church members who have found the gospel. “It’s a tangible witness of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the enabling transformative power of the gospel.”
He described the spiritual, physical, economic and educational changes in these members who join the Church, serve missions, marry in the temple and have families of their own.
“We’ve been around long enough now that we’ve seen some of their children grow up and serve missions. Their children are phenomenal. They were raised in the gospel, and what a remarkable difference that makes.”
“With the new members of the Church, their testimonies are so simple and basic,” Sister Jackson said. “And you find that when you attend meetings there, anywhere in the developing Church, that the Spirit is so strong because everything is centered around Jesus Christ.”
Eleven of their 26 years living abroad were spent in India due to both Elder Jackson’s career and his call to serve as president of the India New Delhi Mission. Their time in India serves as an example of one of the first-hand views they’ve been able to take of the growth of the Church.
“When we arrived in India the first time, there were hardly any local Indian members in the Church, and there were no members in Pakistan or Nepal,” he said. When they came back a second time nine years later, many branches had been organized in those countries. “I had the opportunity to work with … [a] very young Church and its leadership for my first four years as an Area Seventy.”
While in the Asia Area, Elder Jackson had opportunities to reach out to others — beyond India and its grassroots Church membership in many countries across the continent.
Sister Jackson recalled how while they were living in New Delhi from 2002 to 2007, Elder Jackson would go into Afghanistan frequently because of his job. He had access that allowed him to minister to American service members as an Area Seventy — something General Authorities weren’t able to do.
“To go to a [military base] conference, they would pick him up in a Blackhawk helicopter to get him there,” she said. “It was just so exciting for the troops to have somebody come and conduct a meeting. … Those were some unique experiences.”
A few years later, when Elder and Sister Jackson came to serve as president and companion of the India New Delhi Mission from 2009 to 2012, the Church had grown substantially. “There were almost three and a half thousand members of the Church in Pakistan. We had seven branches in New Delhi where originally we had the one tiny little branch — mostly Americans. Nepal had a branch and Bangladesh was just starting up. … Soon after we left New Delhi, the Church organized their first stake in northern India, which is just an amazing accomplishment.”
Working with first-generation Church members isn’t always easy due to old habits and traditions, misconceptions or a lack of institutional knowledge.
“I can almost relate to what Joseph Smith must have gone through when he was trying to establish a brand new Church,” he said. Through reading the Doctrine and Covenants and learning about Church history, Elder Jackson empathizes with what Joseph might have felt while dealing with people from a large cross-section of religious society as he worked to unite them in the restored gospel.
“But thank goodness they had those first-generation testimonies, that first-generation zeal. They accomplished miracles,” he said.
By teaching the first-generation members correct doctrine, then supporting and following up with these new members, they become great examples of how ministering can work, he said. “They really did accomplish miracles there. They accomplished things that I would have never thought capable from someone who’d been a member for just two or three years.”
Added Sister Jackson: “They also had the power of the Holy Ghost, which made all the difference. You can do anything with that gift.”
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 Idaho to care for underprivileged patients. Elder Jackson was serving as a YSA bishop at the time of his calling to be a General Authority Seventy.
Elder and Sister Jackson have developed a deep love for the young single adults and first generation members of the Church.
“They have taught us amazing, amazing lessons,” Elder Jackson said. “We are indebted to YSAs all over the world.”