Nearly 200 single adults gather in a large classroom in the Joseph F. Smith building on the BYU campus every Sunday to participate in services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To a visitor in the Provo 99th Ward of the YSA 16th Stake, the white-haired man sitting in the front of the room may seem like an average singles’ ward bishop.
What they may not see at first glance is a man full of humility, compassion and a desire to help others in every way he possibly can.
William K. Jackson, 59, is a doctor at the BYU Student Health Center and the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. But that isn’t what he considers his career.
Jackson and his family lived for 26 years in Australia, South Africa, Singapore, India and Ethiopia, working with the U.S. Foreign Service.
The U.S. Foreign Service was not part of his original plan but was something Jackson almost accidentally fell into. “Our plan was to move to southern California after residency and go into practice with my father,” Jackson said.
That plan didn’t pan out when Jackson’s father received a phone call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about serving as a mission president in Manila, Philippines. This prompted Dr. E. William Jackson to sell his family practice immediately.
Jackson said his father, Dr. E. William Jackson, has been a great influence in his life. “My father was very much into volunteer work,” Jackson said. “He loved going overseas and volunteering his time. I’m sure that’s where I developed a desire to go overseas.”
Jackson spent time with his father overseas. “I did second grade in Algeria, part of seventh grade in Honduras and spent a high school summer in Afghanistan before all the turmoil there, back when it was a peaceful and amazing country,” Jackson said. “Those things sort of helped pave the way for how our life turned out.”
His love of his father’s work may have been the reason he has always wanted to be a doctor. “I think, like most children, I had my high-in-the-sky dreams,” Jackson said. “At one stage I’m sure I wanted to be a professional baseball player, but that wasn’t going to happen. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a physician.”
Jackson’s father currently runs an international medical charity organization called CharityVision. While living overseas with his family, Jackson had the opportunity to help his father organize and set up new programs.
“It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to watch people’s lives blessed who would otherwise never have access to the kind of surgical help that his organization provides,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he’s not sure he could pick a favorite experience from his time overseas, since he learned and experienced many different things in the various countries.
The first place the U.S. Foreign Service took the Jackson family was Australia. Jackson’s wife Ann said it wasn’t as hard to move to Alice Springs, Australia, since they had already spoken with people who had lived there before. “It wasn’t like we were just blindly going somewhere strange,” Ann Jackson said. “There was a network. In fact, the Church branch knew we were coming way before we got there.”
William said that Australia spoiled them. “It’s an amazing country with fabulous people and everything works,” he said. “There’s almost nothing to complain about.”
During their time in South Africa, the Jacksons said they were able to witness the death of apartheid and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
“In fact, I was at the presidential palace when President Mandela was sworn in,” William said. “It’s such a stunning and varied continent.”
Ethiopia left a distinct impression on the family. Jackson said it was one of the most “heartwarming” places they lived because of the hopefulness of the members of their church branch. “You could just see the light radiate from them,” he said.
For Ann, Ethiopia was the hardest place they lived. “Bill was working and had his thing going, and the kids had school,” Ann said. “I didn’t really have anywhere to go, because in Ethiopia, it’s not like you can go to the mall or something. There’s nowhere really to go.”
She said the family would go to the American center to swim, but she mostly worked on scrapbook projects during their two-year stay. “That was probably the hardest thing, because the kids and Bill all had somewhere to go, but, for me, I had to create it.” Ann said.
India was a beloved place for the Jackson family, especially because they adopted two of their three adopted children there. “The culture and food were colorful and amazing, but it had its drawbacks as well because it was a difficult, very crowded and sort of polluted place where things didn’t work all the time,” William said.
Ann found herself filling her time in India at Mother Teresa’s orphanage for the disabled, which she accounts as one of her favorite experiences. “Going to that orphanage every week brought me so much joy,” she said. “It was just so fulfilling and what I needed to get through that time, because we were there for three years. It was wonderful.”
Most of the family’s experiences are forever etched on their hearts. Andrea Ash, one of Jackson’s eight children, said her life was molded by growing up outside the U.S. Andrea even spent six years in China with her own family, inspired by the time she spent with her parents.
Beyond the work Jackson did overseas, his greatest memories involve his family and the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When Jackson retired, the U.S. Foreign Service asked him to put together a Top-20 list of his experiences, but he had to edit the list a bit since his favorite experiences revolved around his family and the LDS Church.
“Being overseas was a blessing for our family,” Jackson said. “Our kids were almost forced to be each other’s best friends and rely on each other.”
Ann said her husband has always been a quality-time father who spent a lot of time with their children. Andrea said her father has always been her go-to person. “I remember a time when I was about 8 years old,” she said. “I fell off my bunk bed in the middle of the night and he picked me up and stitched me up.”
Coming home seemed to be the biggest adjustment for Jackson. “I had this wanderlust job and then I came back here and put my suitcase away,” William said. “That was tough because every now and then I’d see things on the news and wonder ‘Why am I not there?'”
Jackson said getting into work in the medical field and teaching at BYU helped him to adjust. Having spent his last three years overseas as a Mission President for the India New Delhi Mission for the Church, Jackson wanted to come to Provo to be near the young single adults of the Church.
We’ve worked with the young single adults almost all our lives,” Jackson said. “Most of the developing church are young single adults; that’s just true in every country.”
BYU has been an important part of Jackson’s life; he spent three years at the university before applying early and being accepted into medical school at the University of California, San Francisco.
“When I graduated medical school, they gave me my M.D. of course, but my dean was shocked I had no bachelor’s degree,” Jackson said. “I noticed that with my M.D. was also a bachelor’s of science from U.C. Berkeley.”
“If I follow the excellent example set for me by my own parents and so many other disciples out there, I hope I’ll still be a contributor in the kingdom in some way,” Jackson said. “I don’t worry about the specifics too much, as long as someone’s being benefited or blessed.”