I thought it was very fitting that we were launching the Challenging the Rhetoric show today at 6pm PST and that also, today is the former President Jimmy Carter’s birthday and he turns 90 years young. His remarkable work towards Peace, Human Rights and Social Justice continues on. So doing this story on him was serendipitous to say the least.
My friend, Michelle had talked to me some time ago about making a road trip and attending a Sunday School class at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia taught by none other than the former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. I thought of all of the great things this man had done for Peace, Human Rights and Social Justice, both during his 4 year term as President and even after he had left office and I thought, WOW — meeting him would be an incredible opportunity to stand next to greatness for a few minutes.
Michelle and I planned for 2 weeks, then packed the car and headed up I-75 through west-central and north Florida for our weekend.
Off to Georgia!
During President Carter’s term in office, he created two cabinet level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He returned the Panama Canal to Panama. His talks with other foreign leaders were more than effective as they held him in high esteem. His writings describe these diverse conversations and various pathways to peace. He touched people everywhere he went!
During the ride to Georgia this past weekend, I had time to reflect about the Habitat for Humanity, one of President Carter’s endeavors, right in my own small rural town and in many others across the country. An organization that provides the ways and means for the poor to acquire homes. See more. And the Carter Center, a non — profit NGO that works to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development” through the work done at the Carter Center.
Arriving at the Sunday School…
After a gorgeous morning drive past farms and fields of blooming cotton, we arrived at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia early on Sunday morning. The Secret Service detail looked sharp and crisp in their uniforms and as we entered the parking lot, one member of the detail circled Michelle’s car a few times with the most beautiful German Shepherd. We parked under the trees and headed up the long walk to the small church. Our bags were searched by the secret service and the scanners waved up and down over our bodies. As we entered, we were told we had the last two seats, up in the loft for the choir. Great, a birds’s eye view, I was very grateful.
The entertainment before the Sunday School Class was Sister Jan, a prior teacher and organizer for the church who also sang in the choir and assisted the Carters for these special events. Well, I must say, she was more than funny, worked her best to “fluff” the crowd while explaining the procedures and the security rules. When President Carter walked in, he did not want people to clap. He did not want to answer a million questions. But he DID want to know where everyone was from. We could take pictures while he was asking the crowd questions. Once the Sunday School started, no more pictures until after the church service.
So while the crowd was “fluffed” by Sister Jan, we laughed, spoke to the travelers sitting next to us, found out who in the church was getting married (there was a big wedding in the extended Carter family that very afternoon), found out where to go to the bathroom and the procedure for picture-taking after the Sunday School and Religious Service. We watched regular local churchgoers file in (who were called out and named by Sister Jan thusly caught off guard), including one of the Carters’ sons. One of the Carters’ grandsons, Jason is running for Governor of Georgia.
Then he appeared. Very humble and sweet Jimmy approached each section in the church and asked people where they were from. The cameras clicked and flashed. Then he sweetened the crowd with a few stories and launched into his lesson from the Bible, Hezekiah’s Pride from the Book of Kings. His calming Southern accent was perfect, the people listened, just amazed to be in the presence of this grandfatherly man who bore no resemblance to anyone we have seen in Washington DC lately, with all of their pomp and attitude. So quiet, one could have heard a pin drop.
After the Sunday School Class, the Carters disappeared for a few minutes and all was chaos as church goers ran to the bathrooms, visited with each other or walked outside with restless children. Within 15 minutes, everyone was back in and in their seats for the service. The next hour was a beautiful time in a small country church where all of the regulars knew each other, one big happy family and love exchanged all around!
The Carters sat up front and Secret Service were at each exit of the church. After the service we had been instructed to file out and then queue up outside and one of the agents would take a picture of the Carters and each group (only group shots so that meant anyone a visitor came with). This was done quickly without conversation except for a few sporadic hellos and thank yous. When our turn came, I handed my camera to the President’s Secret Service agent, “Jill” as we walked up 20 feet, I was on Jimmy’s right and Michelle on Rosalynn’s left. I said in a very low tone, “Thank you for all you have done for peace.” Click — the shot was snapped and my camera was handed back to me. All of us had been instructed to walk to our car and leave immediately after the picture was taken. The line was still pretty long behind us. I would have loved to hang out for a bit but it was not appropriate and against the Secret Service rules.
This is time that President and Rosalynn Carter freely give. They don’t have to, but they do so because they want to be able to “touch” others. And they want others to hear what the Bible has to say and be touched in return. Always staying true to their roots.
President Carter has left us a monumental legacy that still continues today with the most simplest of things, attending Church and creating living history by being there to present the Sunday School to those who want to see him and visit Plains, Georgia. Anyone can attend the Sunday School and Church Service. Check out the website for the Maranatha Baptist Church for upcoming dates.
Take an opportunity to stand near greatness for a time.
Happy 90th Birthday, President Carter!
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