On August 13, I traveled with eight women to Americus, Georgia, to spend the night, and to see Jimmy Carter teach Sunday School the next morning at Marantha Baptist Church, in Plains, GA. Susan Crow-Granger initiated the trip, and eight of us responded yes. Traveling in three cars on Saturday, some of us barely knew each other. It was a magical experience.
Once there, we ate a gourmet meal at the Hotel in Americus. Who knew that such a meal was even possible in this remote town in the middle of nowhere?
The next morning, six women left the hotel at 5:05 AM to get in line at Marantha. To attend his class, you must get there early, where you are given a number which you later use to get in line to enter the church. The building barely holds 300 people. On one recent Sunday, 100 were turned away because they arrived too late.
The two women with me were given #40. We tailgated with fruit, bagels, cheese, cream cheese, and more. What we were missing was caffeine, which many lamented. At 7:15, we got in line – kind of. It was more like a big crowd. We waited for what seemed a very long time. Were you aware that the gnat is the state bird of Georgia? Trust me on this. Finally, a short slightly stout woman came outside and began yelling at us. This was “Miss Jan,” as she called herself. We shortly expected that her former career was drill sergeant. She yelled at us to get in a straight line. When we didn’t move fast enough, she yelled more. We were secretly calling her the Parking Lot Nazi. Finally, when the line was straight enough, she began barking orders. No pocketbooks. No baseball hats in her church. No water to be taken in. When we eventually began going in, we were checked well by Secret Service.
Once inside, she gave us instructions. We were to respond politely and loudly to President Carter. We were to yell which state we were from as he moved from section to section. Once one state had been called out, you weren’t to repeat it if you were from the same state. There were people there from all over the country – almost every state was represented along with people from France, Venezuela, the UK, and Barbados. Children and students were in attendance. Miss Jan instructed us on how we were to have our picture taken with the Carters. No touching. No talking. No handshakes. Once you got to them, give your phone to the picture taker, move to the side of one of them, smile, get your phone or camera back and get out. It sounds harsh, but it truly wasn’t. Miss Jan emerged to also be a comedian as she told us stories and let us know what she would and wouldn’t allow.
When President Carter came in the door at the front, you couldn’t hear a pin drop. He asked were many were from, then he told us about where he had been (fishing with Ted Turner in Montana). He told us about his international friendships (he also fishes with Putin in Russia). He gave us information on what is happening in Syria and the important work that The Carter Center is doing. Then he launched into the Sunday School lesson, which was about how to deal with tragedy and loss in your life. My sister recently passed away. I knew immediately why I was there. Everyone cooperated in the picture taking (Miss Jan was watching), and the large group was done in under twenty minutes.
Afterwards, we all agreed that this man is indeed a miracle. Not only is he almost 92 years old, he battled liver and brain cancer last year and lost a grandson, he continues traveling all over the world with The Carter Center, combatting strange illnesses in other countries and assisting with troubled elections. He will head to China in October to accept a major award for his contributions in making other’s lives better, an award that offers more money than the Nobel Peace Prize. He plans to donate it all to The Carter Center.
If you want to be inspired in your life, this is a trip well worth considering. My hat is off to Susan Crow-Grainger for initiating such a trip. I’m inspired.