Posts Tagged With: Georgia

A Week with President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter

Last Saturday, April 29, when I arrived in Plains, Georgia, I assumed I would have a chance to meet the Carters. After all, he was teaching Sunday school in the sanctuary and I was preaching there immediately after—for two Sundays.

I’ve never been to this section of Georgia, so I had a couple of places on my “to do” list for the week—Koinonia Farm, the Habitat for Humanity Global Village, and the Andersonville Prison. All three of these were pilgrimages. Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament, was a huge influence on my young life. Greenlawn Baptist Church and I built the first Habitat for Humanity House in Columbia, SC. I said the first cuss word on a South Carolina Habitat site when a nail punctured my flesh in an inconvenient place. Andersonville prison, as someone posted on Facebook, is the saddest place in America and its story needs to be told.

The President Carter component of the week many of you have seen on Facebook was pure serendipity. My boarding house hostess is, it appears to me, the primary source of orientation for the guests at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former Leader of the Free World teaches Sunday school. She talks to the gathered congregation before Sunday school about protocol. She makes sure the Carters’ needs are met and is very protective of their privacy. Between Sunday school and worship, in the seclusion of a church office, she (Jill Stuckey) asked if the Carters might be interested in having a meal with the guest preacher (me) sometime during the week. President Carter answered, “Let’s see how he preaches first.”

That’s an honest man. (I didn’t know this story until later.)

Of course, the Carters and I spoke to one another briefly after worship and after pictures had been taken with everyone else. That was a pleasure and an honor, and I was a happy camper.

President and Mrs. Carter returned to Sunday evening church. That was a surprise. They were good listeners. They seemed to like what I had to say.

Later, Jill told me we’d been invited to dinner at the Carter’s on Monday night. I actually prepared some questions in case we had time for serious conversation. I don’t intend to share details of a private evening, but this is worth repeating:

In response to one question, he said, “Be flexible for changing times, but cling to enduring principles.”

Two Mrs. Carters were at dinner. Billy Carter’s wife, Sybil, joined us for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed her part in table conversation. After dinner, we admired the audacity of a raccoon eating his supper from a bird feeder. He did not seem particularly threatened by the 39th President, but he eventually ambled away.

On Tuesday, I played the tourist, visiting President Carter’s boyhood home and other attractions around Plains. I understand the President was turkey hunting. Sunday school teacher, author, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, hunter, fisherman, peacekeeper, humanitarian, husband, father, artist, furniture-maker, eradicator of diseases (through the Carter Center in Atlanta) and who-knows-what-else? The former President stays busy.

On Wednesday, I visited the POW Museum and the Andersonville Prison about which I blogged earlier this week.

Meanwhile, I discovered the Carters were coming over for Thursday supper as long as I cooked. Landlady Jill claims she’s not a chef, but my Mom taught me how to prepare a meal long ago. Everybody in my family loves breakfast for supper, so I bought sausage, bacon, berries, milk, eggs, coffee and pancake mix and prepared a meal. Folks have asked if I fed the Secret Service. Yes. Sybil Carter and one of the other boarders here also joined us.

Today, Friday, Nelle Ariail, wife of the former pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church, escorted me to Americus and sites of interest there.

There’s a big front porch on the boarding house, and I’ve spent a good hunk of my free time there reading.

Sunday will roll around again, and my plan is simple: Go to Sunday school and hear a good lesson and then preach. After lunch and a nap, I’ll preach again on Sunday night.

“The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16: 6



Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Andersonville Death Camp

Imagine a football stadium, maybe the bottom half of a two-decker. Cram 45,000 people into that arena, then lock the gates. Nobody can leave. Keep the people enclosed there for months, maybe a year. If anyone gets close to an outer wall of the compound, they have entered the Dead Zone and are immediately shot.

No one leaves.

Twenty-five acres total for thousands and thousands of God’s children crowded together. The only water available is a tiny, two-foot wide muddy rivulet that runs through the center of the newly formed camp. The stream serves as drinking water and sewer. Every day is worse than the day before. More men. More disease.

Nobody can leave.

Very little food is available for those within the walls of the stockade.

Nobody can leave.

Andersonville is a Prisoner of War camp. These are not, in spite of my metaphor, sports fans forced to live together in a confined space after a football game for a few hours or a few days, but United States soldiers being held captive in 1864. There’s not enough food or supplies for Southern troops, much less enemy combatants.

These prisoners are not criminals. They fought honorably.

Of the 45,000 imprisoned at Andersonville, 13,000 died. Within months. Dysentery. Starvation. Murder.

Through the years, I’ve often read about and seen at least one documentary concerning the Andersonville Prison. You can find videos on YouTube. I’ve wanted to visit there for the same reason I wanted to see a Nazi Concentration Camp—to be reminded of the horrors of war. I don’t ever want to be complacent about human atrocity. I want to be at least a small voice in the wilderness crying, “Stop. No. Enough.”

It’s strange how many Americans can tell you the names of Buchenwald and Auschwitz but who’ve never heard of Andersonville. It’s always easier to confess someone else’s sins.

I’m not a pacifist. But violence should be a last resort. There are codes of human decency, even during combat. I’d be glad to explain the Just War Theory to anyone who isn’t familiar with it. What happened at Andersonville was not just. It was evil, one of many immoral, criminal, foul results of the belief that some human beings are less human than others.

Attached to the Andersonville Prison site is a Prisoner of War museum. You can see both places in a single morning or an afternoon. But what you see there, I predict, will stay with you for a lifetime.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Football, Health, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia

Here’s the bottom line of this blog: If you’ve never attended Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, to hear President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school, you need to put that on your short term bucket list.

This is a unique experience. One-of-a-kind. Unparalleled. This humble Christian, former President of the most powerful nation on earth and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stands in front of a sanctuary full (about 300 people) of pilgrims to Plains almost every Sunday. He delivers, without notes, his understanding of a selected Bible text.

Maranatha Baptist Church invited me to preach for them today (April 30) and next Sunday (May 7). Home from my four months in Connecticut, I gladly accepted.

Long an admirer of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, I’ve looked forward to being in Plains at the same time as the Carters so I could participate in Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church. My daughter Julie and I attended the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, England, in 2005, and President Carter taught the Sunday school lesson there to a couple thousand of us gathered in a civic arena of some sort. That was a good, but different, experience.

The church members of Maranatha, a small congregation, are the unsung heroes of this ministry. They arrive at the church as early as 5:30 on Sunday morning to begin their hospitality ministry to out-of-town, out-of-state, and out-of-country guests. This morning, worshipers gathered from half a dozen or more countries and twenty or thirty states. The locals are gracious in sharing their church with visitors from afar, as well as with Secret Service agents. Before Sunday school, the church’s guests are given an often-humorous lecture about protocol, what to expect, and what not to expect. No clapping. You don’t clap for your Sunday school teacher, after all, do you? Today, Jill Stuckey gave the speech. She charmed everyone, but she was also clear about appropriate behavior. This is a Baptist church, after all. You can’t be too careful.

After church, members and guests are likely to adjourn to The Cafeteria, a local eatery owned by Jody Monts. I ate supper there Saturday night, pork chops and turnips, and she asked me if I was in town to go to Sunday school. I told her I was preaching. I ate lunch there again today, baked chicken, dressing, collards, and sweet potato pie. There were other choices, but snails were not on the menu if you’re hoping for French food. This is Southern cooking. I’ll weigh four hundred pounds by this time next week.

I’ve not been in Plains for twenty-four hours yet. But I’m enthusiastic about being here. Nearby is Koinonia Farms and I’m going there tomorrow with a church member. I’ll report on the remainder of the week, I’m sure, but I wanted to get this message across:

Plan a trip to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. You’ll thank yourself later!

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Second Blog on Baltic Sea Cruise: Green Spaces and Public Art



In the “These are a few of my favorite things” category are Green Spaces and Public Art in cities. European cities, which have been at it a lot longer than American cities, get it right. Savannah, Georgia, gets it right. I especially like the surprising little gardens that seem to pop out of the cement in unexpected urban settings. As an avid walker, I love both open spaces and accessible outdoor art. In the past month, I have taken walks in Copenhagen (Denmark), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia) and Tallinn (Estonia).



Everybody kids me about the money I find when I am walking, but even better are the park benches, the fountains, the flowerbeds, and architectural surprises.

When nature and humans interact creatively and pleasurably, that is a good thing.


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I believe in travel…


Born in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina, I love the part of the world in which I have lived my entire life.  Every spring I marvel at the glory of the magnificent azaleas, dogwoods and jasmine.  Within a few miles of the house where I live now are enough activities and sites to keep me fascinated for a lifetime. 

I cheer at Saturday afternoon football games with 80,000 other fans in a college football stadium.  I watch the best golfers in the world as they play Amen Corner at the Augusta National.  I have worshiped in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday morning, where a baby being dedicated was lifted up as Kunte Kinte was in Roots, with the pastor saying in a voice that sounded like God, “In this place, we know what a difference one child can make!”  I have rafted down the Chatooga River which divides Georgia and South Carolina.  I have watched the loggerhead hatchlings return to the Atlantic Ocean when I was walking early one morning on Folly Beach, on the coast of South Carolina.  I have eaten mustard-based, ketchup-based and vinegar-based barbeque, all of them local.  I love them all.  I cherish my roots. 

But the point of roots is to sustain a living thriving growing plant.

St. Augustine wrote, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

I was curious about those other pages, those other foods, those other flowers, other religions, even other sports.  Was my brain or my soul so small that I wanted the rest of my life to be limited only to experiences identical to or similar to those I had already enjoyed?  Intellectually, I knew this was a Big World, but how Big is it, really?  How Big could I be? 

About 25 years ago I set the goal of taking one good trip a year.  I left the definition of “good trip” wide open, but somehow, since then, on a middle class salary and budget, I have kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland, snorkeled off the coast of Puerto Rico, prayed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, milked cows on a farm in Canada, walked through the rice fields of Bali, watched a bull fight in Spain, climbed Mayan and Incan ruins, witnessed a moon bow on the Isle of Iona (off the coast of Scotland), and celebrated my wife’s 40th birthday in Paris.  I have crawled through deep caves in Kentucky and lived with Gypsies in Romania.  I have been sprinkled reverently by my hosts in Thailand during their Songkran festival.  I have wept at the remains of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp outside of Weimar, Germany.  I have witnessed a pride of nine lions coming out of the bush at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya.  I have participated in a wedding in the Arab suburbs of Brussels, Belgium.

Mohammed said, “Don’t tell me how educated you are.  Tell me how much you traveled.”

Travel has allowed me to spend time with my wife, with each of my two daughters, with my sons-in –law, with my grandson and with friends. 

True traveling is not about frequent flyer miles.  It is not even about tourism.   Bill Bryson laments people who pay “large sums to be transported to some distant place and then shielded from it.”

“Serendipity” is a word first used by Horace Walpole in 1754.  The concept comes from the tales of Three Princes of Serendip (published in 1557).  These three princes set out on various quests, but engaged in unanticipated escapades along the way, adventures that were completely unexpected.  Travelers encounter the unforeseen and are stretched, which is another word for growth.  My physical body stopped getting taller when I was a young adult, but traveling has kept my mind and my spirit developing, expanding, and maturing.

I am a different person because I have traveled.  I see differently.  I listen more attentively.  My taste buds and my sense of smell have developed.  My mind is more elastic and my spirit has been nurtured. 

I believe in travel.


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday, Quotations, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

My Favorite Travel Writers


“Travel writers” are not limited to non-fiction.  I never had much interest in visiting Russia until I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace last year.  Now St. Petersburg and Moscow are way up there on my bucket list.  If you are going to Greece, read Zorba, the Greek.  No other book will do.  My list includes novelists who make me want to go to some particular location. 


Childhood memories include travelogues such as Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Shangri La


Adolescent reading included Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austin, Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens—Most of their books take place in England and are part of the reason I became a first-rate Anglophile. 


Barbara Kingsolver—I don’t want to go to what was known as the Belgian Congo because of The Poisonwood Bible, but no author gives a better sense of place than Kingsolver does in this novel.


Non-Fiction travel writers I enjoy include:


Bill Bryson

            A Walk in the Woods—about the Appalachian Trail

            In a Sunburned Country—about Australia

            I’m a Stranger Here Myself—about England


Charles Darwin—The Galapagos Islands would have interested no one if not for Darwin.  The Origin of the Species is not a travelogue, per se, but it will make you curious about a very remote part of our planet.


Elizabeth Gilbert—Eat, Love, Pray


Jim Corbett is another author I discovered as a teenager:

Man-eaters of Kumaon

The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag

Jungle Lore


John Berendt—Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil almost singlehandedly revived the city of Savannah, Georgia, my birthplace.  He also wrote a book about Venice, Italy, but it is not worth reading.


Mark Twain

 Huckleberry Finn

Innocents Abroad


Pat Conroy—I finally made it to Dafauskie Island, South Carolina, this past year because thirty years ago, I read The Water is Wide.  Conroy has often told the story of South Carolina, not always flatteringly, in Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini and South of Broad.


Peter Mayle

            A Year in Provence


Tim Cahill

            Jaguars Ripped My Flesh

            Road Fever


Wendell Berry—Everything Wendell Berry writes about Kentucky is worth reading.  Mostly, he writes fiction, but no one gives a sense of place better than Berry.  Try Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter.


Categories: Book Review, Lists/Top Ten, Quotations, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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