ATLANTA – Jimmy Carter always goes home to Plains, Georgia. The tiny town he calls a "haven" was there when he got out of the Navy, when he left the governor's office and when he lost the 1980 presidential election.
So after telling the world that melanoma that had spread would force him to "dramatically" reduce his humanitarian work, the Nobel Peace Prize winner had only one place to go.
"No matter where we are in the world, we're always looking forward to getting home to Plains," he said at a press conference this week detailing his cancer diagnosis.
Within the tiny town, the Baptist church where Carter teaches Sunday School classes and he and wife Rosalynn are deacons has been at the heart of their life since returning to Georgia in 1981. On Sunday morning, Carter will teach his first lesson since detailing the intravenous drug doses and radiation treatment planned to treat melanoma found in his brain after surgery to remove a tumor from his liver.
The timing has church officials expecting a crowd — beyond the usual draw for people around the world to attend one of Carter's lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church.
Carter joked at Thursday's press conference that the "curiosity of seeing a politician teaching the Bible" brings the crowds in.
The Rev. Jeremy Shoulta, the church's pastor, thinks their motivation is purer.
"He serves and does his work with that token smile we all can picture in our minds," Shoulta said in an interview one day after Carter first revealed on Aug. 12 that he had cancer. "And it's contagious, not just for those of us who know him in Plains, but everyone around the world able to witness that."
Carter has never been reluctant to discuss his faith, saying this week that whatever comes next for him "is in the hands of God, whom I worship." Two of his more than 20 books focus on his faith, and he is scheduled to teach seven more lessons through October. Sunday's lesson title, according to the church's August newsletter, is "When to Walk Away."
Carter also spoke fondly this week of the tiny town where he and Rosalynn grew up, met and later planned their second career after leaving the White House. He acknowledged well wishes from former and current presidents and other dignitaries.
But he said the messages and gestures closest to his heart came from home, including a peach pie.
"My roots are there, and my closest friends are there, and our little church is there, which is very important to me," Carter said. "So Plains has just been the focal point of our life."