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Servant in Chief

Jimmy Carter's journey from the White House to building houses

On the tourist trail in Plains, Georgia, you can still see the public housing apartment where Jimmy Carter once lived. From those humble roots he ascended in 1976 to become President of the United States. In the wake of Watergate scandals, Americans responded to an ordinary citizen, a peanut farmer with a winsome smile who promised he would never tell a lie.

Jimmy Carter's descent reversed his meteoric rise. After losing the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, he returned to Plains a broken man, scorned by fellow Democrats and named in some polls as the worst President ever. His family business, held in a blind trust during his term, had accumulated a million-dollar debt.

From that shaky platform, Carter began to rebuild. After writing a book to pay off debts, he established the Carter Center in Atlanta to foster programs he believed in. Due mainly to his emphasis on human rights, many developing nations looked to him as a great leader, and Carter responded with visionary projects. A democracy project began monitoring elections all over the world. His support of Habitat for Humanity brought publicity and funding to that fledgling organization. His foundation targeted a handful of major diseases that plague poor nations and mobilized dollars and expert knowledge to address the problems. As a result, both guinea worm and river blindness have been nearly eliminated.

Every weekend he was home, Carter also taught Sunday school. Word got out, and soon tour buses began filling the parking lot of Maranatha Baptist Church. A congregation of 80 to 100 found themselves swamped with 300, 500, even 1,000 visitors on Sundays. CNN donated some used cameras, and the Sunday school class accommodated overflow crowds with a video hookup in another ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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