PLAINS, Ga. - Former President Jimmy Carter had every intention of being back at Maranatha Baptist Church to teach Sunday school today. not quite a week since the accidental injury that required surgery. It wasn’t until midday Saturday that he let his family know he’d decided to take a little more time to rest.
The Carter Center released a statement Saturday saying Carter would not be able to teach Sunday
Channel 2 Acvtion News was the only news station to travel to Plains as the Carter family stepped in for the former president. Kim Fuller, Carter's niece, taught the lesson for him.
Channel 2's Richard Elliot was at Maranatha Baptist Church when Fuller took the lectern.
“Uncle Jimmy was very upset he could not be here today,” Fuller said. “I really think he was waiting until the last minute, hoping he would feel better, but he just didn't feel good."
Carter, 94, was preparing to go turkey hunting when he fell at his home on May 13. His wife Rosalynn was also hospitalized briefly after she felt faint. Both were released Friday.
Following successful hip surgery, Carter had been recovering at home.
His greatest concern, he said in a statement after the accident, was not being able to bag more birds before turkey hunting season ended.
“He’s so resilient,” Fuller’s sister, Jana Carter, said during welcoming remarks before the lesson began.
Standing over a lectern spilling over with reference materials and a study guide along with her Bible, Fuller mused that her uncle never needs to consult notes while teaching.
“When it comes to his ministry, he’s done so much,” she said. “I can’t count all the things he’s done for the world. Sometimes here in Plains, we take it for granted. We think of them as Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Rosalynn.”
Fuller also talked about her uncle's work on eradicating disease and promoting democracy around the world.
"I know Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Rosalynn want to see these projects finished before God decides that it's time for one of them to rest a little while," Fuller said. "I know that, but think of the work they've been able to do."
Plains residents who see President and Mrs. Carter regularly say they are the very embodiment of unassuming. They blend right in during meetings of the Plains Better Hometown Program, although their U.S. Secret Service retinue does bring presidential pomp to the casual gatherings.
“It’s great that they will come,” said Cindy Williams, who has lived in Plains since she got married a native son nearly 47 years ago. “They listen politely and ask questions.”
World renowned for their work in Guinea worm eradication, mental health awareness and Habitat for Humanity builds, the Carters are active in projects closer to home. Last month, for example, they attended the official grand opening of a Boys & Girls Club facility named in their honor.
“He’s very supportive of the town,” Williams said.
At Maranatha Baptist, the former president is a presence even when he’s not present. An avid woodworker, he crafted the wooden cross that hangs in the sanctuary. The wooden offering plates are his creations as well. Flip them over (not during the offertory, of course) and you can see his carved initials in the bottoms.
Ahead of Fuller’s lesson and during the church service, Savannah vocalist Kim Michael Polote gave several stirring performances.
“I’m so glad he’s home resting,” said Polote, who met Carter years ago at restaurateur and author Paula Deen’s wedding. “I was concerned about his health. He’s a super man but he’s not Superman.”
The sanctuary was not quite full on Sunday, but it was still a pretty good turnout.
“I can’t wait to tell him how many people still came,” the Rev. Tony Lowden said. Ahead of time, he played the voicemail from Carter inviting him to lead the church.
He also gave an encouraging report about how 39, as he calls him, is recovering.
“The day after his surgery, the physical therapist came in. He was jumping up halfway out of the bed saying, ‘Come on let’s get this going!’” Lowden said. “He’s 94. He’s up and walking up and down the hall.”
Amazed as he has been at his parishioner’s spirit and strength, Lowden has no doubt of the source.
“It’s the presence of God inside him that’s challenging him to live for Christ,” he said. “That’s why he wanted to be here so bad. He wanted to tell you about Christ even though he needed rest.”
He lifted up Carter during moments of prayer and during his sermon, but made sure to connect personally with the people in the pews.
“The same God that watches President Carter,” he said, “that’s the same God that watches you.”
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