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It’s midpoint in the Calvin semester, and students (and let’s be honest, the faculty, too) are dragging themselves towards fall break. The weather is colder. The news is dire. And all last week, I subjected one of my classes to Tennyson’s long poem about death and doubt. Good times.

Maybe that’s why one encouraging story really jumped out at me–and I wanted to share it with you.

You see, last week former president Jimmy Carter turned 99. And it turns out that one of his long-held wishes came true: through his vision and the work of his Center, Guinea worm disease is about to be eradicated from the planet. It’s only the 2nd disease ever (after smallpox)!

I didn’t really know anything about the Guinea worm, but turns out it’s a bad, bad parasite. A menace that dates back almost as far as we have recorded history, according to some who identify it by other names in various ancient texts. It’s incredibly painful and debilitating, especially because the human carrier has no symptoms for a year, but then suddenly, the patient develops fever and swelling, and the worms begin to come out through the skin.

Imagine that, in 1986, when Carter began this work, there were 3.5 million cases in the world. 3.5 million people suffering such a horrifying disease.

And how was it eradicated: funding better medical care for those infected and developing and distributing a filtration straw, so that the worm eggs (ugh!) get removed before being ingested. At 90, Carter observed that he hoped he would outlive the guinea worm. Last week, he did just that: the total number of cases had fallen from 3.5 million to 6. Not 6,000 or 600. SIX.

In a time of bombast and self-aggrandizement and destruction, what a different picture this offers us. Indeed, this steadfast, quietly relentless effort is just about the definition of the unglamorous, everyday work to which our faith calls us. George Eliot says it this way: “The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.” But it’s useful to have a few who have lived a life worthy of their calling.

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Stats from The Carter Center

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • RZ says:

    Loved the George Eliot quote but loved the preceding Jennifer Holberg quote even more. “Indeed this steadfast, quietly relentless effort is just about the definition of the unglamorous everyday work to which our faith calls us.”

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    A righteous man. Thanks for this.

  • Jane Brown says:

    Such an uplifting read to start day- spurs us on!

  • Cathy Smith says:

    Thank you, Jennifer. A nourishing narrative! Also, I listened to the podcast about your new book and I bought it! 🙂 Looking forward to reading it.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Luminous! Thanks, Jennifer!

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Thank you for having the eye to capture and articulate this vision.
    I was riding in someone’s car, and I read it out loud. Everyone in the car smiled. We were strengthened by the beauty of your writing.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Wat amazing news. Thank you for telling us.

  • Harvey Kiekover says:

    Amazing—down to SIX!! Wonderfully encouraging! Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this very good news we might not have noted. And, yes, Happy Birthday along with thanks to jimmy Carter.

  • Elizabeth McBride says:

    Thank you so much, Jennifer. This is beautifully written and deeply appreciated. To call attention to selfless service and integrity and to encourage others (by example) to reach out to help where they can, is to continue that same mission. Thank you.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Presidents are powerful. Too many power-hungry. As Prez Mr. Carter knew already or discovered the terrifying limits of the power hungry. As Prez Emeritus, he and Mrs. Carter modelled sacrificial power for goodness. Thank you, Jennifer, for this precious reminder.

  • Willa Brown says:

    Thank you, Jennifer, for this amazing story that reflects the love and relentless support of one of our former presidents. Such goodness in light of all the dire news we have been hearing this week.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Yes. To good news. Which this “down to six” is. Thank you for the balancing shimmer of your writing & teaching. For onward.

  • Jonathan Bradford says:

    President Carter may well have learned from King Josiah. (Jeremiah 22:11-17) Could it be that the 45th US President missed that role model and opted instead for King Shallum?

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thank you, Jennifer. These days we need all the good news that can give us hope.
    Because of Pres. Carter’s vision and accomplished mission, you did that!

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