if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things
are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17.
I was the eighth and last child born, as some
would say, out of season! Ophelia, my older sister, was the “last child,” or so
they thought, for 12 years! Then I came, the last and fourth son of Daisy, who
raised me single-handedly, with occasional help from my older sisters. My
father was not a part of my life till I sought him out later in my adult years
and put a closure to years of questions and bitterness.
The rough side of Chicago is what I called
home, growing up on welfare, but this fact did not stop my young mind and heart
from dreaming and aspiring. From an early age I showed potential to the makings
of a professional basketball player, and my coaches drove me to passionate
depths for this sport. This passion paid off in the form of a scholarship to
one of the best private colleges in the state of Iowa.
and White (I Samuel 16:7.)
Prior to my college life, my interaction with
the white population was minimal, and only out of necessity. I had read little
on the slavery and subjugation of the black population, so my opinions and
values were based on what was handed down to me by my people. The college that
sponsored me was an all-white school, with only three black enrollments prior
to my enrollment. Here I was again seemingly out of place; I say seemingly,
because it would be realized later that it was part of a plan.
As is often the case, young people are
formidable forces when energies are channeled right, and very destructive when the
opposite is true. While attending this college, I began to take note of some
obvious disturbing observations. This led me to a search that would have been
disastrous had not intervention stepped in. My college years were years of an
intense internal struggle. I was driven by a desire to excel, not I alone, but
with my black kindred. Marxism, Socialism, Zaoism,
Taoism, Confucianism, Black Panther(ism), Pan-Africanism
and most every other -ism began to run my life.
At about this time, racial tension was rife
in the air, and my passions were right there with it. I had two driving
passions: 1) to make it “big” in professional basketball, and 2) to free the
black population from the stigma that had followed it for hundreds of years. I
saw issues through “black and white” glasses, black being right and white being
It begs to be mentioned that Christianity was
coupled right along with the ills of the white man’s world. I saw it
(Christianity) as a tool to subjugate and oppress the black man, conclusions I
drew after reading writers who perpetuated this theorem.
Scouts were out as usual looking for
draftees, and the NBA was not the only agency looking. The Vietnam War was
brooding in the horizon, and some young patriots were needed. The former I
gladly anticipated, but the army was not a part of my plans at that time. I was
a young man with hot blood flowing through my arteries, ready to conquer it
all. My health was good, apart from an irritating annoyance of some painful
knees I had had from the age of 17. The pains intensified, and the doctors
might as well have given me a death sentence when they told me that I was
suffering from the number one crippling disease in America—arthritis! They also
told me that there was no known cure. However devastating that unwelcome news
was, I knew of one thing. I was determined to beat the pain, so I did all that
I could to control the pain. I even used various nonprescription drugs so that
I could play. The condition was so debilitating that I received the highest
rejection from the army: four F. Through the pain and the struggle, I watched
as, one by one, my dreams faded away to a land beyond my reach! With my pro
basketball career prematurely halted, I slipped into depression for a time.
Absent God (Proverbs 22:6.)
A mother’s words and pleadings may appear
forgotten for a season, but they have a way of showing up when needed the most.
Raised in a Baptist home, my mother often talked about God and His power. All
along, I actually believed that He existed, but He was not interested in the
plight of black people. I picked up an old Bible and began to thumb through it.
What began as a casual perusal led to some life-changing choices. Hope revived, and I started
back on my other dream of elevating my down-trodden people—blacks. I sought to
do this by establishing centers that would lift the black man socially, mentally
and economically to a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. Once again my
vision was black, for blacks, by blacks.
The word of God has power to change a person.
As I continued to study it for answers to life’s problems, I surprisingly found
out that man’s health questions have their answers in the same book! I was in
for a spiritual as well as a physical journey. My battle with arthritis was
about to find its answers—physical as well as spiritual arthritis, the
calcification of the heart and joints.
Ballot, Bullet, Basketball, or Gospel (Romans 1:16.)
While listening to preachers is important and
most assuredly needed, every individual must possess a “Berean
spirit.” Up to this point, most of my values and beliefs were formed from mob
and sometimes prejudiced mentalities. As I read the Bible for myself and had
the Holy Spirit for its expositor, my ten-year battle with crippling arthritis
came to an end by simply adhering to health principles taught in the word of
God! I also came across overwhelming truths that really shook some wrong
foundations that needed tearing down anyway.
God was no longer a white man’s God. One
story in particular that left a deep softening and change of heart was that of
Jesus and Barabbas, as found in the four gospels of the Bible. (See John 18:39,
40.) Briefly recounted, here was Jesus before a people for whom He had done
nothing but good to elevate. His hands had daily fed, healed, soothed and
touched even the untouchables, yet the cry that came out of their mouths at His
time of need was not “Have mercy,” but “Crucify Him.” On the flip, here was
Barabbas, a hardened criminal who thought to liberate by stealing, killing, and
lying. He performed some of the most heinous crimes. His hands were stained
with blood from all the evil done, and the response of, “Release him!” to the
question, “Whom shall I release?” is enough to tear at the most calloused of
hearts! To my now changing heart, this scenario is unfathomable.
I saw in these two men, both revolutionists,
the thing that I was trying to bring about to my own society: a revolution. One
sought it (revolution) through the language of love; the other through force.
From this story, I gleaned one principle. Love is the only power that could
bring about true change, heart change. Love is the revolutionary power that
works at the heart. Man’s problem is not a skin problem but a sin problem. Love
was and is the conquering force that brings about any lasting positive change.
The Gospel, as Romans 1:16 states, is the power that changes the heart. It is
not the ballot, the bullet or basketball, but the Gospel as it is in Jesus.
That power changed my life.
A Home and a Divine
Appointment (John 1:6.)
1977 rolled in, and with it more changes. It
saw my lovely wife and me go through three American states, north to south, in
our quest for what we thought God wanted us to do. This journey finally ended
in the state of Tennessee.
In Huntsville, Alabama, a blueprint was laid
down. A training school was in its beginning stages when a man, an ordinary
man, came knocking on my door one day. He was interested in our home, which
happened to be among some of the best homes in the city of Huntsville. His
visits continued, and a friendship developed that led to a series of exciting
What began as a business interest from one
end turned out to be a divine appointment on the other end. God sent a man, Richard Bland, the
founder and president of United Prison Ministries International (UPMI). Richard
took me under his wing and gently but purposefully led me into the Seventh-day
Adventist faith through the reading material he gave me and by watching his
lifestyle. True are the inspired words that “a well-ordered life will have a
powerful influence for good.” Spalding
and Magan’s Unpublished Testimonies, 114. He
became a father-figure to me, and showed me the love of God in the flesh.
Having been born into a Baptist home,
educated in a Catholic school, ordained as a lay Lutheran minister, and having
directed a Methodist community organization, a pattern can be observed here, a
common thread. I had been searching after and for truth. The things I was
studying and learning under Richard were truly strange, yet true. I could not
argue with the truth as it stared me straight in the face. With this new
awakening, tough decisions needed to be made. I knew what I was studying was
the truth, and so I wanted to share these wonderful truths with my queen. I
excitedly told her of what I was learning and embracing. LaVerne,
who today is my bride of 36 years, did not share in my enthusiasm and what she
termed “strange beliefs.”
She had begun to mark the changes, and she
was sure I was losing my mind, but when I announced to her that I was going to
profess my faith by the sign of baptism, she put out an ultimatum. “If you go
ahead with these crazy ideas, then I will divorce you!” Those words shook me to
the core because I loved my wife, and so I sought the Lord in prayer, and He gave
me courage to stand for Him. It is then that I knew that my heart and
priorities had changed. With fear and trepidation I made my choice. For, you
see, I knew that a marriage without God would fail. I had grown to love Jesus,
and I wanted to do all that He asked of me.
I prayed earnestly for my wife, and the God
who made the ear heard my strong supplications and brought about change in my
wife’s heart! Praise God! One warm Alabama spring morning, my wife and I were
buried in the watery grave and rose up new creatures in Christ. That was a
glorious day. That was 31 years ago, and the journey grows sweeter with each new year. As I
meditated on the love of God, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a debt that I
owed. “Oh that men
would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the
children of men!” Psalm 107:8. It was not the sin debt, because I could never
pay for that one—Jesus did it for me—but a service debt. I’ll put it this way:
“I owe, I owe, and off to the mission field I go.”
Appointments to (His) Appointments (Romans 8:28.)
It’s been 20 years now. God has been with us
in the mission field. He founded M.E.E.T. Ministry (1988) on what may have
looked like a poor man with a passion to point others to the Helper, but in truth
He established it on His shoulders, and for these many years He has steered it
aright. My wife and I have been entrusted as stewards of M.E.E.T. Ministry
(Missionary Education and Evangelistic Training) where many (young and old)
have had encounters with the Gospel through the medical missionary training and
work. What may have seemed to be disappointments earlier on in my life,
crippling arthritis, premature ending of a professional basketball career, and
nonstarter for black empowerment schools were really God’s appointments to lead
me on to the path of truth and righteousness. Many more chapters could be
written telling how He has led us, but for now, this, I pray, will suffice.
All my previous energies and passions, and
that which I still have, have been channeled to loving and serving my Savior
for over 30 years. I have traded a basketball for a Bible, and instead of going
up and down a basketball court, God has allowed my wife and me the privilege of
going up and down the earth’s court to spread the everlasting Gospel of Jesus
Christ, and the retirement is out of this world. With the hymn writer [Fanny J.
Crosby] I end with these words:
This is my story,
This is my song,
Praising my Savior …
Because of His Blessed Assurance!
Thomas Jackson is a Health Evangelist
and Director of Missionary Education and Evangelistic Training (M.E.E.T.)
Ministry in Huntingdon, Tennessee. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at: 731-986-3518.