President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school

carter_church12jan14This time 2 weeks ago, my family, neighbors, and I were in Plains, Georgia, where former President Jimmy Carter taught us Sunday school. Age 89 and still active around the world, Carter does this every Sunday that he’s home in the southern Georgia town where he was born and has lived most of his life. According to the schedule, another group of congregants sits with him at his Maranatha Baptist Church even as I write this post.

Our mid-January visit began with a 3-1/2-hour Saturday drive across a rainy state, then a lovely overnight and elegant breakfast at a majestic, circa-1892 hotel in Americus. By 8:30 Sunday we’d driven 10 miles west, to Plains, and were waiting in line as visitor-friendly Secret Service agents checked our bags and ushered us into the simple church. There Miss Jan, a retired schoolteacher, delivered a wry primer on the history of Plains and the Carter family.

Right at 10 the Carters arrived. The former First Lady, Rosalynn (“It’s pronounced Rose-lun,” Miss Jan had told us), sat in a pew.  The man who’d served as U.S. President from 1977-1981 stood at front. He wore a striped shirt and grey jacket and sported a bolo tie with a turquoise pendant. Carter asked where everyone was from. Georgia, of course. But also Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington, not to mention Canada, China, Ireland, and Palestine. At that last, Carter interjected,

‘We go there almost every year, and my heart goes out to all the Palestinian people.’

He talked at length about his 28th book, set to be released this March. The subject, he said, is

‘the horrible plight of women and girls around the world.’

As examples, he spoke of genital mutilation, enforced second-class status, lack of educational opportunities, child marriages, sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, and honor killings. Carter’s move to another topic was halted by one word from the audience: “Jimmy,” spoken with a distinct Plains accent. “Jimmy,” Rosalynn continued,

‘You left out what’s happening in our country.’

me_peanut12jan14The former President flashed the smile for which he’s famous – a smile once captured on campaign buttons, and the foremost feature of the statue at right, which stands along the road not far from the Maranatha church. Carter then elaborated on Western countries, citing the still-low percentages of women in positions of government and the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. He concluded his account of the global status of women with these words:

‘I think it’s the worst human rights abuse on earth right now, and I hope this book will bring attention to it.’

Carter then donned glasses and read the Bible passage for the week, an Old Testament account of the gratitude that Hannah, despite hard losses, showed to God. Carter mentioned his own loss that week, of “the best friend I had on earth, Robert Pastor.” Pastor, who died at age 66 from colon cancer, had, among other achievements, helped to secure the Senate’s 2/3 approval of the Panama Canal Treaty – “my hardest political battle,” Carter said. Just weeks earlier, the two had co-authored an op-ed suggesting how peace might be brought to Syria. Pastor, Carter told us, was

‘the wisest person on how to bring peace, on how to solve a complicated problem.’

Pastor’s legacy still in mind, Carter returned to Hannah’s story, urging us to give thanks, as Hannah did, for “another day of life,” for the “blessings of freedom,” for being “able to spread to people around us health and safety.”

The uplift and inspiration of his message lingered long after our journey home.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

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