Gary Jackson

Owner, GJAC Exports and

Independent Missionary
Fire and Life International Ministries

“I’ve been an independent missionary with my own registered organization for several years. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Africa, and in 2005 I took a trip to Zimbabwe that was life-changing. After several trips there, I also noticed that there was a niche for bringing back exported handmade goods to the States, and I was able to get into that business.

“I’m working on an associate degree in International Business and Trade at Richland College, and there’s a lot I’ve learned over the past year that applies to how I work and do business internationally. I looked at both two-year and four-year colleges, and Richland was the only one that had a true international business program. Other schools had a business degree with a foreign language component, but that wasn’t really what I wanted.

“The needs of the people in Africa are sometimes so overwhelming, but you do what you can to make a difference in even just a few lives. We started taking over school supplies after seeing one teacher with 12 students under a tree and she was writing with a stick in the dirt to show them their math problems. Last year, my youngest daughter’s school got involved — the kids took up money and supplies, and one of her teachers even went with us on the trip.

“To really work with the people there, though, you do have to learn how to navigate the culture — and my international business classes have really helped me there. The most important thing, without a doubt, is the enormous experience of the teachers in the program.

“In the International Business program, Chip Izard really took the time to mentor me, and Larry Lehman was also outstanding, with his background and experiences such a plus. There are also a lot of students from other countries in the program and at the college, which really does give us an international perspective.”

Through Fire and Life International Ministries, Gary Jackson works with area churches to help supply food, clothing and school supplies to families and children in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, with plans to expand into Liberia, Ghana and South Africa.

In his small-scale import business, GJAC Exports, he takes orders from friends and contacts to bring back handmade items from Africa, and endeavors to expand his business into a larger scale export company.