At about 9:15 a.m., the power went out in Maranatha Baptist Church.
Storms had raged through Sumter County all morning and half of the people crammed into the church were drenched.
It didn’t matter.
Jimmy Carter was back.
Less than a month after falling and breaking his hip, the 39th U.S. president and Plains native was back in church doing what he liked best — teaching Sunday school.
The Rev. Tony Lowden, Maranatha’s new pastor, said the moment originally was planned to happen sooner.
Carter was telling everybody who would listen that he was going to teach Sunday school on May 19, less than a week after having hip surgery. That was the plan.
“They sent me in the hospital room to tell him that he could not teach Sunday school,” Lowden told the parishioners before Carter came out for Sunday’s scheduled 10 a.m. lesson.
Carter surprised Lowden at 9:51 a.m.
“Good morning, everybody,” the 94-year-old former president said.
Using a walker, he strolled over to his chair. A custom-powered chair that rises to his command.
Per the president’s order, no one stands or claps when Carter walks into the sanctuary. He is there to teach.
“He has a very clear message of serving others,” said Ricardo Martinez, who drove down from Cumming with his wife, Mercedes, and their children Richardo and Mercedes. “He is a man of peace. He was the most powerful man in the world and he comes back to Plains to teach Sunday school and to teach others to serve.”
As is his tradition, Carter asked each section to call out where they are from.
Someone said Washington, D.C.
“Oh,” Carter said. “I used to live there.”
He also asked pastors to stand up and give their denominations and where they were from.
Glenda Morris-Robinson, a pediatrician from Atlanta, drove down with her daughter, Gabriella, who flew in from New York City just for the occasion. This was their first visit after hearing about the experience from friends.
“We wanted to pay tribute for all of the work he has done,” said Morris-Robinson, who had planned on bringing her 91-year-old mother until the storms came. “It is so wonderful to see a true servant leader. He was remarkable.”
The mother and daughter were among the visitors who started lining up at midnight to see and hear Carter.
At 8 a.m., in the pouring rain, a line wrapped around Maranatha for the 10 a.m. teaching.
By 8:55 a.m., everyone was somewhere in the church, having endured the downpour and the Secret Service. Everyone who got in line after around 3 a.m. had to sit in a classroom.
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SOURCE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ernie Suggs