I have wanted to go be in President Carter's Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church for as long as I can remember, for as long as I've known it existed, really. For one reason or another, I just never went. In light of the recent health issues he's had and his progressing age, I decided I'd better go NOW. I encourage anybody reading this blog to go, too. Soon. If you want to hear him share God's word in a way that only he can and get your picture made with him and Miss Rosalynn (and that's pronounced ROSALYN not ROZLYN, in case you didn't know), you better try to go in the next coming weeks. His Sunday School schedule is posted at the church's website. September 13 and 27 and then October 4, 18 and 25. Those are all of the dates posted right now. He told us that he is undergoing immunotherapy treatment and with cancer, you just never know when he'll feel up to it. He LOVES it, though. He LOVES us and wants to do this for us. He's quite a remarkable man. But we already knew that.
So. To help the church handle the crowds that are coming, the church came up with a plan. Beginning this week, they started giving out seating arrangement tickets to ensure folks get in. Or at least the first 400 folks. Larry and I drove down there Saturday to be at the church at 1:00 to try to be two of those 400 folks. We arrived a little after 12:00 to find the parking lot of the small gas station next door to the church absolutely packed. They wouldn't let you on the church property until 1:00 sharp. There was already a numbering plan in place to line up to go onto the church property and Larry and I were able to get number 70 for our truck. Now when you have that many people in one place, things start to get a little sticky. I'll just say it was organized chaos and leave it at that. Everybody was desperate to get a ticket. While we waited, we got somebody to snap this picture of us with Jimmy The Peanut, something you pretty much HAVE to do when you're in Plains. Cheesy, maybe. Historic, absolutely. We were all over it. :)
We all lined up best we could and drove onto the church property. Now that was organized! You never even left your vehicle. You drove up to a man (who we now know is George Williams) and he gives you a ticket for every person in your car and then you drive around the church and back out onto the road. Easy peasy. We got numbers 69 and 70! We were so excited!!
We left there and went to the old Plains High School, which now serves as President Carter's main museum and visitors' center. We walked around in there and learned a lot about President Carter that we never knew and were reminded of lots of things that we did. The photos of him and Miss Rosalynn when they were dating and first married made me cry. This Navy photo of him and what he inscribed to her had me squalling. Darling, I love you with all my heart - for all of my life. Jimmy
These are a few of my favorite things from the visitors' center.
This poster. I must have one.
I would totally put this up in our yard. :) There are signs now all over Plains that say "Jimmy Carter for Cancer Survivor". Awesome. His entire family has been cursed by and died from cancer. His daddy, James, Miss Lillian, his sweet mama, his sisters and his brother. Cancer sucks.
These election pins. This is the kind of stuff Larry and I look for at estate sales!
This old schoolroom.
We picked up some goodies in the gift shop. Some cajun peanuts, peanut brittle and post cards. On our way back home, we stopped in Andersonville, went by and visited with Mama and Daddy for a little while and then came home and went to bed early! We had to get up at 4:00 Sunday morning in order to be at the church by 7:00.
We drove down in darkness, getting to Maranatha a little after 6:00. Not knowing what to expect, we wanted to get there early. We lined up in front of the church, by number, just after 7:00.
There was a bunch of us! You can see how the line wraps clean around into the parking lot.
When you go to see President Carter and be part of his Sunday School class, you gotta get through Miss Jan and the Secret Service first! The Secret Service is much nicer. :) "Miss Jan" Williams has been a member of Maranatha Baptist Church since it split from Plains Baptist in 1977. Having been raised a Southern Baptist, I know all about split Baptist churches. Mama, Ami and I were all members of a split split church. Mr. George, the ticket passer-outter, is Miss Jan's husband and all I gotta say about Mr. George is bless his heart. She is a tough old bird but there's a heart of gold underneath all that toughness. And she loves President and Mrs. Carter dearly. She protects them like a mama bear protects her cubs. Miss Jan comes out of the church about 7:30 barking orders -- no bags, no purses, nothing but your camera or phone, your keys and your money if you're tithing. That's it. Then she proceeds to line us all up like second-graders and that was more than a little off-putting but she's been doing this a long, long time so if you decide to go on your own or because of something you read here, just remember that. Go easy on her. Smile at her. Thank her.
Don't take pictures of the Secret Service OR Miss Jan unless she tells you you can. I took a few before she told us. :) This guy, Dan, looks SO MUCH like Anderson Cooper. He was super sweet, down-to-earth and friendly. They work shifts so Dan may not be there when you go. They're all pretty nice, though. You place everything you own on a table and while one Secret Service guy looks at your camera and stuff, another guy wands you. You clear, pick up your stuff and walk into the church. Just like any other Sunday morning, right?? :)
Just listen to Miss Jan and you'll be just fine. You think I'm joking, don't you? I'm warning you is what I'm doing. Ha!
Inside the church. What a beautiful sanctuary! President Carter made that cross that hangs over the baptismal pool.
After her hour-long instruction period (She's not all bad. She's funny and very entertaining, too.), you have about 10 minutes to go potty and get back before President Carter comes in. Be back in there before he comes in.
He came in so quietly I missed it. I just heard him start talking to us and when I looked up, there he was. Frail, pale, soft-spoken but with that same big smile on his face. He started by telling us he was so glad we were there and he told us a little bit about his cancer and his treatment that he's undergoing. Not chemo right now but immunotherapy, to boost his immune system so that he can fight the cancer better. Peacemaker that he is, he was supposed to go to Ghana this week but had to cancel due to his treatment. After we all told him where we were from and he had a young missionary woman lead us in prayer, he started the lesson. 1 Timothy. Faith. Paul was telling young Timothy to stay there in Ephesus and tell the people to stop teaching false doctrine, for false doctrine is not advancing God's command to love from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. The folks in Ephesus wanted to teach but they had no idea what they were talking about. He spoke some on the importance of women in the Bible, in the church and how Jesus lifted up the women in His life. He didn't mistreat them or treat them as second-class citizens. Jesus loved everybody. It was a great lesson. I hung on his every word. He strayed over to 1 Corinthians 13 once and quoted one of my favorite passages. Verse 13 says, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. How wonderful our world would be if we only loved like Jesus loves.
He finished up his lesson, we had a short break and then morning worship began. President Carter joined Miss Rosalynn on a pew to the right of us and we enjoyed church together. They have a wonderful young preacher who knows his Bible, he's funny and he loves the Lord. You can tell. After worship service was over, the Carters went down front and sat on stools (his doctor told him he could continue to do pictures as long as he sat down to do it). Miss Jan came back out, dictating who goes first and who goes next, taking folks from all over the sanctuary randomly. I guess that works best. She should know. When it was our turn, I went straight to Miss Rosalynn and Larry went to the President's side. It was over in a flash, literally. She said "good morning" to me and I told her how happy I was to see them. We took Larry's phone from the photographer and we marched down the left side and out of the church, just as Miss Jan had instructed us. :)
Not so much in this one but in every single photo I took of President Carter, he has a light all around his head. The lighting in the church is pretty bad but Larry nailed it. God is all over that man.
We left and ate lunch at Mimmie's Diner, along with just about everybody else from the church, including Miss Jan. Good old Sunday dinner country cooking. Baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli casserole, squash casserole, collards and okra, corn bread and biscuits, pecan pie, ice box lemon pie and pumpkin pie. And cold sweet tea. It was delicious!
I'm so happy we went. Nobody knows how long we have so first of all, we should make sure things are good with God, then things are good with others and finally, things are good with ourselves. I encourage everybody reading this to go have this experience for yourselves if you can. It's a little work getting your seating tickets and all but we all know that anything worth having takes a little work.
Sunday School with President Carter is worth having.
***I made a sweet new friend from North Carolina this weekend in Plains, so Julie, if you're reading this, Happy Birthday, girl!!***