My family and I sat in a Pizza Hut in Sumter County, Georgia and it was dawning on us: This place was different. Throughout this rural, deep South community, blacks and whites related to one another with an ease and friendliness one seldom sees in the North.The Obama effigy is a sad incident and will be sadder still, if not shocking, if it's learned that any residents of an area from which so much Christian good has come, rather than some outsider, were responsible for this shameful act.
We had decided to stop in Sumter County on our way back from Florida, where my daughter had been on a college internship. We’re nuts for presidential history. In Sumter County is the town of Plains, home of our thirty-ninth president, Jimmy Carter. We arrived in Americus, the county seat, late one afternoon and visited Plains the next day.
I was unprepared for how small Plains and Sumter County are. Or how impoverished. According to Nationmaster.com, the average household median income is $30,904, compared to $49,386 here in Clermont County, Ohio. The disparity in the median family income is even greater: $35,379 in Sumter County and $57,032 here. The numbers quantify what we saw with our own eyes.
Plains itself is neat, simple, tiny, and while not boarded-up poor, not overly prosperous either.
Outside of town is Carter’s boyhood home and farm. The house is a small structure. Sometime during his childhood, Jimmy’s father had indoor plumbing installed. The bathroom included a handmade shower: a pipe fitted with two elbows that ran up from the tub and spewed water into a bucket that hung on the pipe. Into the bottom of the bucket Earl Carter pounded a set of nail holes that created the shower as the water drained out.
I marveled that a president had come from such a place, just as I have at the birthplaces or boyhood homes of other chief executives.
But I also marveled that a man from a poor, segregated community became such a fierce advocate of human rights, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, and who as a southern governor, would boldly declare the end of segregation as a way of life.
Standing there on the Carter farm, I began to see a larger picture, though.
You see, Sumter County is also the home of Koinonia Farms, the Christian commune started in 1942 by pastor and writer Clarence Jordan as a place where blacks and whites would work and live together in peace. Jordan and the Koinonia Partners have been a beacon of reconciliation to many in the world for six decades.
Sumter County is also the home of Habitat for Humanity, the Christian movement started by Millard and Linda Fuller, that is building affordable housing for people in need around the world.
How is it possible that such good and notable things that honor God and give hope and help to millions can spring from a seemingly unpromising place?
Jesus once told a parable--a story--about a farmer indiscriminately scattering seeds around his farm. The seeds fell on all sorts of soil and most either failed to take root or quickly died. But some seeds fell on good soil and grew and thrived.
The seeds in Jesus’ story contained the good news of God’s deathless love made available to all who turn from sin and let Jesus be the Center of their lives. The good soil is anyone who lets Jesus into their lives and follows Him.
Even in its segregated past, there were people in Sumter County who were “good soil.” The seeds of God’s love and power entered their lives and like time bombs of goodness, exploded in their souls---in people like Jimmy Carter, Clarence Jordan, Millard and Linda Fuller, and those whose lives they touched. Those soul explosions in turn, helped them to positively impact Sumter County and the world beyond.
God can do wonderful things in our lives when we let Jesus be our Center, God and Boss. Ask God to help you be good soil for His plans and purposes. You don’t know what He might do through you!
Monday, January 04, 2010
The Obama Effigy in Plains, a Sad Report
I was saddened to read the report of an effigy of President Obama being hung in Plains, Georgia, the hometown of former President Carter. In August, 2004, I wrote here about a visit my family and I took to Plains and Sumter County: