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Inspired (Again) By the Carters

I am a Republican who really liked Jimmy Carter (Democrat) when he became President of the United States. I have admired him even more in the years since his time as President.

Last weekend I was in Americus, Georgia on a press trip and visited Plains, GA and sites included in the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, such as Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, and Maranatha Baptist Church on Saturday, November 18, 2023. The very next day shortly after I drove out of town, the death of Rosalynn Carter was announced over the news. She was 96.

Former President Carter is 99 and has been under hospice care for a number of months. He and Rosalynn were married for 77 years. They had 3 sons and 1 daughter and now count 38 people in their immediate family. Next week Rosalynn's life will be remembered and celebrated on several occasions before a quiet service is held at Maranatha Baptist Church and she is buried in her hometown of Plains, GA. I picked up some pecans in front of Maranatha Baptist Church last week and thought about the Carter legacy.

I liked the fact that a Baptist was in the White House -- a Baptist who taught Sunday School, "refused to serve hard liquor" in the White House, and worked tirelessly for peace in the Middle East. I was impressed to learn of the strong influence President Carter's father had on him as he taught about farming, dealing honestly with people, and serving in the church. I liked the fact that Jimmy and Rosalynn were a team. She was his partner in every sense of the word. He listened to her. She gave him good advice, and she worked alongside him to make the world a better place. She helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity and championed the cause of mental health. She was undoubtedly responsible for the highly-recognized big grin on Jimmy's face. Until the Covid pandemic, they were spotted by the townspeople walking from their house to their favorite cafe in downtown Plains for supper every night at 5:30 p.m., always holding hands. The Carters demonstrated integrity in everything they did.

A firsthand account that I heard from Nicole Kirksey, Director of Americus-Sumter County Tourism, inspired me all over again.

In 2017, Nicole and her husband moved to a home right across the highway from the Carter home in Plains. Of course, the Carter property is surrounded by fences and is under careful surveillance by Secret Service personnel, but still, her house was close. A couple of days after Nicole's moving van departed, she got a call from an "Unknown Caller." She thought about not answering, but when she did, it was a member of the Secret Service saying that President Carter would like to come for a visit the following Monday. Talk about motivation for getting all the boxes unpacked!!!!

The house had to be inspected by Secret Service members who noted all the windows and doors, etc. A time was arranged, and Nicole welcomed Mr. Carter (then age 93) into her home. I asked if she made a cake or something. She said she had a few sweets available but when asked, the only thing he wanted was a cup of coffee "if she didn't mind."

President Carter's visit lasted almost three hours, and his MAIN REASON for visiting was to invite Nicole and her husband to Maranatha Baptist Church. He told her all about the church and the town of Plains and specifically wanted her to come the following Sunday morning and sit at the front with him and Mrs. Carter. She told him she was Catholic, but he was undeterred, and she was certainly going to accept his invitation.

The people were warm and welcoming, the sanctuary was packed, and she enjoyed the service (although it was vastly different from what she was used to). President Carter asked if she'd come back that night to a less formal service, so once again, she accepted his invitation.

The night service at Maranatha, as is typical of most Baptist churches who still have evening services, was sparsely attended and much less formal than the morning service. At one point, the group of about 30 stood, formed a circle, and held hands. President Carter looked directly at Nicole and said, "We would love to have you here at Maranatha. Will you join us?" Nicole thanked him and everyone present for the invitation but said that she would not be joining them because she preferred to keep her Catholic faith and traditions. Nicole said President Carter was very nice, but that it was clear "he was not used to being told no."

So Maranatha didn't end up with new members from this situation, but it revealed a lot to me that I have continued to ponder.

1) President Carter was aware and very interested in those who lived around him.

2) At age 93, he had not decided he was "done" with caring about his church, promoting it, and welcoming newcomers. In other words, he wasn't retired from ministry.

3) He made it happen. Yes, there were hoops to jump through. Someone had to find out the names and phone numbers of the newcomers. A call had to be made. A preparatory visit by the Secret Service had to take place. Time was set aside for people he had yet to meet.

4) President Carter might have had important calls to make. He might have needed to help tend to Rosalynn. Perhaps he was in the middle of writing another book. Maybe he was preparing for a speaking engagement or promoting the Carter Center whose stated mission is "to improve lives by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy and preventing diseases." Important indeed. Yet he also considered personal contact with a neighbor important enough to make it a priority.

The Bible has a lot to say about integrity.

Proverbs 10:9

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

Proverbs 28:6

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.

Proverbs 20:7

The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!

2 Corinthians 8:21 For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

Acts 24:16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

Ephesians 6:6

Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

Jimmy Carter's visit to his neighbor Nicole didn't make any newspaper headlines. He certainly didn't anticipate the story being told by a small-time blogger in Alabama. Yet it resonated with me, and I hope it will motivate and encourage you as well.

I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with love and gratitude. I'm thankful for each of you who takes the time to read my thoughts.

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