First lady Jill Biden was in South Carolina Sunday, and for at least one person it was a big surprise.
Biden flew down from Washington to surprise Robin Jackson, her “prayer partner.” Robin and her husband, Pastor Charles Jackson of Brookland Baptist Church, were celebrating the pastor’s 50th anniversary leading the West Columbia church.
The church held a celebration service for Charles Jackson Sunday, during which Biden sat with the Jacksons.
Biden developed a special bond with Robin Jackson — called the “first lady” of Brookland Baptist — during a visit to the church in May 2019, when now-President Joe Biden made his first campaign swing through South Carolina as a candidate for president in 2020.
Biden told the congregation she isn’t public about her faith, but she always considered it a central part of who see was. But then she watched as cancer claimed the life of her son Beau Biden, who died in 2015.
“I made one last desperate prayer that went unanswered,” Biden said. “I felt betrayed by my faith. Broken. Our pastor would invite me back to worship, but I just couldn’t go. I couldn’t even pray. I wondered if I could ever feel joy again.”
Then Robin Jackson approached her that Sunday at Brookland Baptist and told Biden she wanted to be her “prayer partner,” making frequent prayers for Biden and her family.
The two exchanged numbers, and soon Jackson was texting Biden every week to let her know she was in her prayers. Jackson was impressed that Biden would often respond.
“Robin’s kindness, mercy and grace pushed past the calluses on my heart, and my faith was able to grow once again,” Biden said. “I felt for the first time that there was a path to recovering my faith.”
Noting the many charitable endeavors Brookland Baptist provides to the community, Biden said to Charles Jackson, “If one Sunday can mean so much for Joe and me, imagine the ripples your career has had in our world.”
Jackson grew up attending Brookland Baptist, and took over pastoring the small church when he was only 18 years old. It has since grown into a massive congregation with a sprawling campus on West Columbia’s Sunset Boulevard, which among other things has become a frequent stop for presidential candidates coming through South Carolina.
Biden would stop by Brookland Baptist on other occasions as her husband continued to campaign ahead of South Carolina’s Democratic primary. The president’s victory in the Palmetto State contest is credited with turning around his campaign, ultimately leading to his nomination and victory in the presidential election last November.
After his win, Jackson traveled to Washington to take part in the inaugural prayer service at the National Cathedral.
Others Sunday praised how much Charles Jackson has managed to do in the past half-century.
Wendell Estep, the former pastor of Columbia’s First Baptist Church and a friend of Jackson’s, said, “that little boy from Double Branch Road is now an advisor to world leaders.”
Jackson’s son, Charles Jackson Jr., called his father and Estep a theological “odd couple,” but Estep credited his friendship with Brookland’s pastor with teaching him things he wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Charles Jackson once told him, “’I’ll tell you how a Black man sees it, and then how I see it,” Estep remembered. “Then you tell me how a white man sees it, and then how you see it.”
That was indicative of the reach Jackson has had over the years, Estep said, as he strove to make an impact with as many people as possible.