Through words and action, Carter teaches humility in Denver

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter (right) and Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford greet home partner Angel Meza, a single mother of four, during the third day of the 2013 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris HaugenFormer first lady Rosalynn Carter (right) and Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford greet home partner Angel Meza, a single mother of four, during the third day of the 2013 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris Haugen

By Soyia Ellison

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter walk with Heather Lafferty, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Denver, to Wednesday morning devotions, where President Carter spoke to the crowd about the Parable of the Laborers. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris HaugenRosalynn and Jimmy Carter walk with Heather Lafferty, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, to Wednesday morning devotions, where President Carter spoke to the crowd about the Parable of the Laborers. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris Haugen

DENVER, Colorado — Nobody is better than anybody else, former President Jimmy Carter told Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project volunteers at an early-morning devotional session Wednesday.

“We are not better because we are blessed,” he said. “In the eyes of God, everyone is equal.”

Carter spoke to the crowd about the Parable of the Laborers, in which Jesus compared the kingdom of Heaven to the story of a vineyard owner who hired laborers at different times of the day but paid them the same, regardless of how long they’d worked.

“What this story does is take perhaps the most serious human sin and gives a subtle lesson condemning it, and that sin is pride,” he said. “It’s a difficult lesson to absorb, because each of us has a human inclination to exalt ourselves at least above somebody.”

For volunteers who might have been surprised to hear a former president leading devotions, Carter explained that he regularly teaches Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.

“This is a very important part of my life,” he said. “I number my lessons, and this past Sunday I taught my 625th lesson.”

The Carters’ church has about 30 members but attracts hundreds of out-of-town guests.

“We have a large number of visitors who come here to see the Sunday school teacher who’s also a past politician,” he said. “On their way to Florida and so forth, they want to stop and hear a politician teaching the Bible, which I guess is one of the curiosities of life.”

Volunteer Ron Glusenkamp, a Lutheran preacher, gave Carter’s devotion his pastoral seal of approval.

“I loved it. It sounded very Lutheran,” he said with a laugh. “Ephesians 2:8 says by grace we are saved through faith. That’s what it’s all about. We are blessed to be a blessing.”

Carter’s reminder that all people are equal — even if some are luckier — struck a chord with many volunteers.

“I thought it was lovely,” Debbie Herrera said. “I thought it was very fitting when we’re all working side by side, and we all have one goal, which is getting people into safe, affordable housing.”

Wednesday’s event was particularly meaningful to Herrera, whose grandfather was a construction worker from Georgia and an enormous fan of President Carter.

“I feel my granddaddy’s spirit is here with me,” she said, eyes welling.

Carter, meanwhile, continued his lesson in humility by grabbing a drill to help build a front porch for Angel Meza, a health care worker with four children, three of them teenagers.

Meza had been looking forward to working with President and Mrs. Carter for some time.

“It’s going to be such an honor,” she said earlier in the week. “And it’s going to be fun celebrating their 30 years of service.”

Meza said homeownership has been a longtime goal.

“I’m the kind of person who makes a five-year plan, and I involve my kids in my plan,” she said. “I feel like this house is going to bring prosperity. My next goal is getting the kids ready for college.”

Even in their current low-income apartment, where space is tight and the surroundings are unsafe, her children are doing well in school.

Rebekah, 16, wants to study business at Harvard University, and 14-year-old Danielle would like to go to Stanford University or the Colorado School of Mines to study engineering. The girls compare grade point averages daily on the Denver school system’s website, Meza said. Christian, 13, is a math and science whiz, and 9-year-old Paris, a competitive horse jumper, wants to be a veterinarian.

Meza wants to make sure she is financially able to help make their dreams come true, and she believes the house will make that possible.

“I feel so excited, so blessed,” she said. “I just have this aura of gratitude pouring out of me.”