By Rick Kern
In some circles, it may be a well-manicured Christian cliché that, “One with God is a majority,” but Reverend Phyllis D. Jackson, BS RN, Founder of the Interdenominational Health Ministry Coalition (IHMC) leaves no doubt that it is absolutely true! Created by Reverend Jackson as the IHMC in January, 2013, the group’s tagline reads, “Health is a spiritual matter,” and that just about says it all.
However, long before her Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management was framed, matted, and hung on the wall; before she earned her LPN, her RN, or graduated from Bible School; Phyllis Jackson was simply a child who loved church. “That was my pride and joy,” she explains. “I just loved being in the church. There was something that being in the church ignited in me. I’ve always had this feeling all of my life.” At 12-years old, however, she took it a step further, gave her life to the Lord and was baptized. “When I was 16, I knew the Lord had called me to preach the Gospel,” she adds. “It was confirmed by other people.”
A survivor of both attempted suicide and sexual abuse, Phyllis struggled with depression, and like many young people had her season of sin. However, God, in His faithfulness, brought her safely through the mire and set her on solid rock. “My life spun out of control for a while, but God’s grace and mercy kept me,” explains Jackson. “I had my stint with drugs and lifestyles that were way off the map, but God never left me. I had some issues. I’m a suicide survivor. I suffered with depression for many, many years. God though, delivered me and restored me and made me whole.”
Perhaps powering through such fierce fires of adversity firmed up the sort of resolve Reverend Jackson would need to get the IHMC off the ground. God may have brought her to the Promised Land in moving forward, but like ancient Israel, Phyllis would face her share of giants in teaming up with God to launch the IHMC.
The organization’s launch was ignited when Jackson’s heart was set ablaze by a word from the Lord to use her profession as a nurse to minister to people. “While I was out of work, I was crying and complaining because I wasn’t working,” she recalls, “I always worked!” She adds, “I was just crying and complaining and the Lord said, ‘Use what you have, what’s in your hand.’ I said, ‘I’m just a nurse!’ and God said, ‘Okay, use it.’” Her willingness to obey the Spirit of God released the direction she longed for, “I sat at my kitchen table and God gave me this blueprint for ministering to people about health, using my knowledge to help people in the body of Christ.”
Remarkably, the proposal for the IHMC was penned upon the parchment (as it were) of a vision Reverend Jackson had received in California many years earlier. “I had a vision of a sleeping giant,” she explains. “In my vision, I was walking and a giant was laying down and he was bound.” She continues, “In my vision, I said, ‘What is this?’ The Lord said, ‘It’s a sleeping giant. It’s the body of Christ and I’ve called you to wake him up.’ That tied in when the Lord said, ‘Use what you have.’”
And while the heavenly vision was first given and applied specifically to what she was doing out west, its relevance to her inspiration for Rochester was easy to see. “The sleeping giant, at that time in my ministry in California, it was women in the body of Christ that were bound by so many things, spiritual things, but also physical things,” Jackson remembers. “When God gave me that vision here in Rochester, He brought that back to my memory as a blueprint for a health ministry — that’s how I got it in my head. Then I started doing the work, trying to make that happen.”
While Reverend Jackson went at it with passion and enthusiasm, launching the ministry she had envisioned was an uphill climb that left her frustrated and ultimately dispirited. “I started trying to make all the connections to make this ministry go and it didn’t happen,” she says in retrospect. “I finally threw up my hands and said, ‘God, I’m done! I’ve done everything I could. I’m done.’ I gave up.” It appears to have been something of a classic “death of the vision” moment as all her labors fell in on themselves and imploded, leaving Jackson at the end of herself and her efforts.
At that point the pieces began to fall in place… “Then, God just opened a door and I was able to start a health ministry outreach center,” Jackson recalls. “At the time, it was at Grace United Methodist Church. I started a nursing outreach center there, just like God said it would happen! This was after I had just given up doing my thing then God opened this door.” Subsequently, a group of Christian women from the Finger Lakes Health Agency, who were sponsoring a blood pressure contest, asked Reverend Jackson if she would help and she ran with the ball.
As she began to advocate for the issue throughout local churches, the Lord said to her, “You’ve got to engage them around this thing. Health is a spiritual matter.” She reflects, “When I started going out talking to the churches about it, I told them they should be doing this because it’s a spiritual matter. They were like, ‘Wow!’ They had never been approached in that particular way around health.”
After the project wrapped, Phyllis followed up with the various groups associated with the churches that had been involved, and challenged them to do more. “The Lord just gave me the words,” says Jackson, “and He said, ‘We are our brother’s keeper.’” The response was positive and ultimately the IHMC was born.
Their mission statement reads, “We partner, support, engage, and educate the body of Christ concerning how to live a healthy lifestyle that glorifies God,” and there are a lot of believers that are picking up what the IHMC is putting down! At this point, the group has garnered the interest and support of numerous churches, ministries, and organizations. Members include groups such as: Roberts Wesleyan College School of Nursing, Joint Heirs Kingdom Ministries, Mount Olivet Baptist Church, New Life Fellowship, Women In This Together, and many others.
The IHMC empowers and educates local health ministries to serve as key influencers in the community’s health. Whether it is healthy cooking, conferences, their blood pressure project, or any number of resources, training tools, or other projects, by joining with other dedicated associates in the Rochester faith and health communities, IHMC is making a significant impact on health disparities in the area.
“Growing up in church, I never heard anything about eating healthy or exercise,” explains Reverend Jackson, “We need to take care of this temple, we act like it’s ours and we can do with it what we want, like there are no consequences.” She adds, “We think God is going to fix this because God can do miracles. He still does miracles. He does miraculous healing, but some of us should take the responsibility to create our own miracle.”
For more information about the IHMC visit their website at, www.ihmcroc.org or call them at (585) 436-9397.
“These churches are running with this. I’m not running with this,” continues Jackson. “They are making the difference. They don’t have titles or degrees or any of that stuff. They just have a heart for people. They are the champions and they do it for God.”