Doris Jackson's hands moved quickly over the piano keys as she played the traditional version of Amazing Grace. As she wrapped up the song, Doris glanced over her shoulder with a mischievous grin to ask if we wanted to hear her "version." A quick nod of our heads meant we were soon listening to a jazzy variation of the classic hymn.
Born in the parsonage provided by the church her Daddy pastored, Doris said, "God has been a part of our lives, all of our lives."
Growing up in West Texas, young Doris spent time in the cotton fields. She did well in school, and when she graduated, the school asked Doris to come back and help with her younger classmates.
Ministry was a common thread throughout her life — her father and grandfather were both ministers as were several extended family members. So it felt right to marry a man with his own long family heritage of ministry.
When William Jackson, Jr. saw Doris, he knew he had to meet her. He paid a kid ten cents to carry a note asking her for their first date. That was the beginning of a life-long love story. Doris and William married in 1961.
The call to become a pastor came 10 years later and he preached his first sermon in 1972 in Anson, Texas.
Like many preachers in those days, William's pay was pretty small. To help make ends meet, he started his own auto body shop business. He was a hardworking man who believed in education and civic responsibility, and having two jobs didn't keep him from civic activities in the community. Through the years, William served on the local school board and in various other civic organizations. He was one of the founding members of the local Meals on Wheels, for which they honored him in 2014. And he served as a volunteer fireman and policeman.
It was his ministry that had the biggest impact on the community, though. William felt that the youth who came through the church's doors should not go away without being fed both physically and spiritually. For him, these were closely related in reaching their hearts for God. William had a heartbeat for everyone in their community, Doris noted. "He was a teaching pastor who couldn't tell black or white. He loved all people."
William also mentored and encouraged the local youth, spending time at baseball games and other recreational activities. He preached God's word and encouraged hard work and education to them — believing those to be the keys to progress.
Doris said William insisted their own five children all attend college. To demonstrate that education was important at any age, William returned to school and earned a Bachelors in Theology at 59, then finished his Masters in Theology two years later.
Doris also pursued education. Feeling a call to care for God's people before their journey home, she earned a degree in nursing and worked in the local nursing home for many years. She now volunteers there since her retirement in 2006. Many of the residents call her to walk alongside them through doctors' appointments and therapy sessions.
After 42 years in the ministry, 35 years of which were spent at Greater Zion Baptist Church in Sweetwater, Texas, William was called home following a valiant battle with cancer. Doris soldiered on after his loss, but found herself unable to keep up with the financial pressures and reduced income.
Explaining that her financial situation had her against the wall, Doris saw hope when the application from Mission:Dignity arrived. She said, “There have been times I would not have made it without you, but God’s loving heart and tender hands led you my way."
"Mission:Dignity means life. It has eased my pain and filled in spiritually, physically, and financially.”
Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 25. It’s a day to remember and honor retired ministers, workers and their widows living on low retirement incomes. It’s also a time to give generously to help the nearly 1,800 individuals and couples assisted by the ministry. About $7 million is distributed annually, with most of the funding coming from the direct gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes and churches. One hundred percent of gifts provides well-deserved monthly grants with nothing used for operating expenses.
GuideStone has free bulletin inserts, promotional posters and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity. The materials are undated and can be used anytime. Order online and find additional resources at MDSunday.org. If you need help or would like to donate, visit MissionDignity.org.
As for the piano, Doris laughed and said her father traded two pigs for it when she was a child. All of her siblings learned to play and she kept on doing so at the churches where she and William served. Today, she shares her musical talent at the nursing home where she volunteers and it’s one more thread tying her to a life of ministry.