(Written March, 2023)

I met President Jimmy Carter for the first time in a most unusual place! I was sitting on the back row of a Delta flight that was boarding in Atlanta headed to LaGuardia in New York City. President Carter was one of the very first passengers to board that day for his first class seat. I was among the very first ones to board that day in coach class, sometimes jokingly referred to as “cattle” class. While I was reading my copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there was a tap on my right shoulder. President Carter stuck out his right hand and said, “I am Jimmy Carter.” Needless to say, I was so stunned that I did not know how to respond. When he asked, “Where are you from?” and I answered, “Montgomery, Alabama,” he quickly responded, “WBAM- FM,” as though he had often listened to that popular radio station while he was cultivating his peanut fields in Plains, Georgia. When the President walked away, a Delta flight attendant told me that, oftentimes, when President Carter boarded a plane early, he would walk down one aisle and return to his seat on the other aisle greeting passengers.

I have been thinking about President Carter so much in recent days after he made the decision to celebrate God’s goodness in his life and receive no more heroic measures to extend his life expectancy. In so doing, he expressed once again his deep faith and trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Now his hometown friends in Plains are preparing to say “goodbye” to someone they have known and loved for four decades. They have known him for rea- sons far greater than his having once served as President of the United States. They have seen him in their local café eating breakfast, or enjoying his vanilla ice cream at the nearby ice cream parlor. They have also seen him riding in his golf cart, or teaching a Sunday School lesson at his local church or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity on the edge of town. Just a few days ago, President Carter invited his Secret Service detail to take him on a final tour of Plains so that he could see for one last time the familiar sites that he has loved over the past 98 years. Before the tour ended, he brought back with him some eggs from a chicken coop located in the same general area where he retrieved eggs as a child.

Looking back across his past 98 years, President Carter often said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. My Christian faith demands that I do what- ever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”

In the not too distant future, God will reach down and gently touch President Carter on the shoulder and whisper, “Come on home, Jimmy. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your Master!”

- Karl K. Stegall