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May 2021 Newsletter

OF THE MAKING OF BOOKS, THERE IS NO END -The Preacher, Ecclesiastes 12:12
“Reading gives us something to do when we have to stay where we are.” -unknown

During the 13 month “two week” COVID shutdown, I read a dozen or so books written by people I know:
Ron Archer, What Belief Can Do, How God Turned My Pain Into Power and Tragedy Into Triumph
Peter Dunn- Unlikely Entrepreneur, Memoir of Peter Graham Dunn
Lizzie Hershberger- Behind Blue Curtains, A True Crime Memoir of an Amish Woman’s Survival
Dena Schrock- Behind Closed Doors, The Life Of A Swartzentruber Amish Girl
Monroe Miller- This Twisted Path, My Journey Through Abuse and Addiction
Randy Fath- One Solitary Tipi, My Story of Hope and Healing during Three Years Alone
Jacob Byler- Genealogy of Eli Byler (Lydia’s family- this book is probably not too exciting to non Bylers)

I have room on this one page to “review” two of these books:


I met Ron Archer when he spoke at a local event. He is a powerful speaker with a powerful story. He was a “trick baby.” His mother was a prostitute who was was forced by her pimp to have an abortion when she got pregnant with Ron. It was a botched abortion and the baby lived, although with severe medical problems. Ron was abused and bullied by some, he was rejected by his stepfather, he became a stutterer, a bed-wetter, and an overweight kid who banged his head against the wall to knock himself to sleep at night. At age ten, he held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire. Afterward, a schoolteacher and a widowed neighbor stepped in and shared the love of God with him- forever changing his life. In this message-driven memoir, Archer shows readers that regardless of background and experiences, God can transform your PAIN into POWER, and your MISERY into MINISTRY.

My favorite quote of his: “Eat the word of God, for this is the breakfast of CHAMPIONS. Are you a CONTENDER or a PRETENDER; a WINNER or a WHINER; a VICTOR or a VICTIM; a CHAMP or a CHUMP? You can be MORE THAN A CONQUERER!”


Born in China; shipped off to a Canadian boarding school at age 6; hitchhiked all over Canada after high school; married a Kidron girl he met at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta; served in Mennonite Voluntary Service in New York City where he helped troubled girls earn money making wooden plaques; shut down by NY child labor laws; moved to Leanna’s home farm near Kidron where he started what is now the number one supplier of wood décor in the United States- P. Graham Dunn.

Peter Dunn is a loose cannon that is finally firmly bolted down (I think…). He is not afraid to try anything to grow his business and his many failures prove it. He is also not afraid to get back up, brush off his skinned knees (or broken bones) and keep going- he WILL find what works.

Unlikely Entrepreneur is inspiring on several levels:
-Peter overcame the hurt, rejection, bitterness, anger of being torn from his parents to go to boarding school.
-He found forgiveness for the school that mistreated him around graduation time when he was only being honest.
-He wrote this 270 page book in two months during the COVID-19 crisis shutdown. Peter redeemed the time.
-Exhibit “A” of a successful man? Look at his family. The Dunn family is the real evidence of Peter’s legacy.

This Memoir will inspire you.
CAUTION: You may want to fill out an application to work at P. Graham Dunn after reading this book.

The other inspiring biographical books mentioned above are just as good and can be ordered locally (Gospel Book Store in Berlin or Faith View Books, Mt. Hope) or on Amazon. I recommend them. Maybe I can “review” them in the near future.

“Readers are leaders.” -John Kennedy

How The Mighty Have Fallen

April 2021 Newsletter

A man committed suicide some years ago. In addition to the devestation that this caused his family, friends and the community, his widow discovered that he left her with huge debts. Several hundred thousand dollars of debt! She was forced to go to work, not only to survive, but also to pay off the impossible debt. She went from shock to grief to shock again, and then to anger… and then desparation. How could her loving husband leave her in such desparate shape?! I couldn’t imagine how she felt.

Until now. It wasn’t a spouse or a family member. It was a spiritual hero. World renown Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias died last May. What a loss! I wrote my feelings about him in our July CGM Newsletter. His writings and books helped me tremendously. I even bragged that I had breakfast with him once. Now the shock, the grief, the anger, the betrayal…

Accusations emerged that Ravi had sexually molested several women. I didn’t believe it. Many Christian leaders are routinely accused of all kinds of stuff. RZIM hired a law firm to investigate the allegations and clear the air of these rumors. The deeper they got into the investigation, the more evidence emerged that the “rumors” were not rumors. They were true! Ravi had a dark secret of sexual sins! He owned several massage parlors and he routinely went to them for “back problems.” Then he got very friendly with the masseuses. Then he got sexually involved. Then he paid them off to “keep quiet.” It just gets worse. How could Ravi do this to us?!; To his family?!; To the church?!; To the Lord?!

Several thoughts that I can fit on this one page:
-What Ravi said and preached was (is) true.
-What he did was sin.
-Sin always affects more than just the sinner. King David thought his adultery with Bathsheba would be just between the two of them. But then Uriah was murdered to cover the sin. The baby that was born died. David’s son, Amnon, raped his sister. Brother Absalom killed Amnon in revenge. Absalom tried to overthrow his own father, King David, and then was killed by David’s general, Joab. If you follow the path of sin and deceit seemingly started by David’s “private” affair with Bathsheba, it eventually leads to the loss of the Kingdom of Israel! All because of one night of sinful pleasure. I wonder what the fallout will be from Ravi’s secret life? At least King David confessed when he was confronted by Nathan the Prophet. Ravi had that chance when accusations surfaced in 2017, but he lied and denied. I believed him 🙁

I was a classmate of John Hong, a well known professor and evangelist in Korea. In a Bible study he asked the question: “How do you know you will remain faithful?” Six of us stared at each other. How could we know? John’s answer: “Surround yourself with holy men.” In other words, study God’s word AND be accountable to each other. Allow yourself to be questioned, challanged, “sharpened” by friends.

It’s called, “Accountability.” Where was Ravi’s board? Where was his accountability group? Where were the “Holy Men” in his life? Were there no signs of misconduct? Did he not have the bounderies that Billy Graham and Josh McDowell have set up?
– Never be with a woman alone.
– Always travel with a male friend.
– Never drive alone to or from the airport with a woman.

Chuck Colson, Chuck Swindoll and several others (including me) have a series of questions that they allow themselves to be asked every week in their Accountability Group: 1. Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising? 2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity? 3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material? 4. Have you spent adequet time in Bible Study and prayer? 5. Have you given priority time to your family? 6. Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling? 7. Have you just lied to me? These seven questions are still no guarantee that I will not veer off the path, but they sure help.

I want to finish strong. I want to leave a clean legacy. I have every sinful tendency that lured King David and Ravi Zacharias and millions of other men throughout history.

Lord, may I keep myself open to your rebuke by being open to correction by my Accountability Brothers…


March 2021 Newsletter

Some of the Amish around here still cut the ice on their pond to fill an ice house so they have refrigeration all summer. I haven’t seen it for quite a while, but last year I did see a team of horses pulling a wagon load of ice near Fredericksburg, so I know it still happens. And just last week someone posted a picture of ice cutting day on Harrison Road just north of here.

Which reminds me of a story I just read recently: It was ice cutting day and men were on the pond cutting ice while others were loading the wagons and hauling ice to the insulated ice house between the house and the barn. When the day was done and the ice house was filled, one of men who had been in the ice house discovered that he had lost his pocket watch. He went back to look for it along with several other men who could squeeze themselves in the limited space, but after ten minutes they gave up. The only way to find a watch would be to take all the ice out. They weren’t going to do that. They gave up and headed for the house. Then a young boy entered the ice house after they left and in three minutes came out with the watch in his hand!

“How did you find it?!” they asked, astonished.

“I just sat real still until I heard the ticking. Then I reached between some blocks of ice toward the ticking sound and there was the watch!”

Be still and know that I am God…” Ps. 46:10

In our modern fast paced world with meetings and schedules and electronics and so many concerns and distractions, I find myself more like the men who quit looking for the watch than the young boy who sat still until he heard the ticking.

I read through the Bible every year and pray every day, but when it comes to prayer, I seldom hear the “ticking.” I know prayer works, but I am reminded of Elijah when he “ran for his life” from Jezebel (I Kings 19:3) and ended up in a cave. God told him to get out of the cave and “stand on the mountain before the Lord.” A great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but “the Lord was not in the wind;” and after the wind, and earthquake, but “the Lord was not in the earthquake;” and after the earthquake, a fire, but “the Lord was not in the fire;” and after the fire, “a still small voice.”

It was this “still small voice,” (the ‘ticking’?) that spoke instruction and encouragement to Elijah. He heard the “ticking.”

We need prayer. Our country needs prayer. Last week in the US House of Representatives, Florida Rep., Greg Streube, stood up against the evil Equality Act, saying that transgenderism is contrary to scripture. NY Representative, Jerry Nadler, said, “What any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.”(!) Mr. Nadler, it was a concern of the founding fathers. What has changed? When is the last time we saw one of our leaders kneel in prayer for our country like George Washington did at Valley Forge (in the snow!)?

I (we) need to pray. Until I (we) hear the ticking, the still small voice. I’m concerned about our country, but my main concern should be my own prayer life. “Lord, teach me to pray.” Lk. 11:1

“Pray for great things, expect great things, work for great things, but above all, pray.”

R.A. Torrey


2020 started well: A concert on New Years Eve at Shipshewana; a “birthday bicycle ride” on New Years Day (71 miles); several prison services before heading for Harrisonburg, Va. on the way to Florida; concerts and visiting in Pinecraft, and then four prison services at the Annual We Care Prison Week in Alabama.

After two weeks of events in Ohio we headed back to Florida for our Annual CGM Banquet, concerts, a prison or two, and then I joined The We Care Prison Ministries Banquet Tour: thirteen cities and banquets from Meigs, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas… And then- BOOM! COVID!

We took a basketball team to Grafton Prison on March 16. The next day all Ohio prisons were quarantined. Soon, all prisons in the country were closed. Eleven events and services were cancelled in March and fifteen events were cancelled in April. I didn’t count the total number for the year, but I’m guessing close to 100 events on my calendar were cancelled.

My pastor, John Risner, summed up the year in his sermon on the last Sunday of the year:
The year started out with much hope and excitement. THEN… 1. COVID 2. Toilet paper shortage 3. Zoom Meetings 4. Face Book Live Concerts 5. Schooling from home 6. High School Sports cancelled (while our girls were at the State Tournament!) 7. Study online 8. Quarantine

  1. Travel ban 10. Unemployment 11. Businesses closed 12. Social unrest 13. Financial hardships 14. Riots 15. Prostests 16. Murder hornets 17. Conspiracy theories 18. Outrage everywhere
  2. Anger 20. Public meltdowns 21. A contested presidential election 22. And there was even an Amish political parade (in Fredericksburg)!…

BUT! After a month or so of “nothing” and many cancellations, I was able to do a few things. I sang about once a month at the Walnut Hills Nursing Home on the porch outside. I did some mushroom hunting and found no mushrooms, but I did test positive for Lymes disease. (The Dr. thinks we got it in time.)

In July I fulfilled a bucket list dream of following my great-great-great-great grandfather’s 1812 journey to Wayne Co. from Mingo Bottom, Ohio (now Mingo Junction) to Apple Creek via canoe. He floated down the Ohio River in a 68’ dugout canoe to the mouth of the Muskingum, then up the Muskingum to the Killbuck Creek, then up stream to just north of Holmesville where he unloaded the goods off his canoe near Butler Spring onto four 4 horse wagons and drove overland to Apple Creek, where he lived until his death in 1838. His trip took a month.

On July 5, daughter Amelia and I launched our 17’ aluminum canoe (with a motor) at Mingo Junciton and headed down the Ohio River. In two days we reached the Muskingum where we motored up stream through a series of locks to McConnelsville where Lydia met us and we switched daughters. Katie jumped in the canoe and Amelia went home with Lydia. Altogether there are 11 locks on the Muskingum, which is the longest river that is entirely in Ohio. Katie and I made it Conesville, just south of Coshocton, where we ran aground in the wide and shallow river, so we stopped there and I finished several days later in a kayak! 160 miles total trip! Our Philip Smith II family heritage trip.

After the canoe trip we went to New Wilmington, meet several of Lydia’s cousins for the first time. It’s a long story, but her grandfather came from there around 1918 and that side of the family was basically cut off. Everyone was excited to meet each other and now we are having the Byler Family Reunion in that community this summer.

The rest of the year slowly opened up to churches, banquets, concerts… just about everything but prisons. They are still closed and ultra cautious. COVID in a prison could spreat like wildfire! We did get the opportunity to send in 45,000 cookies, but we could not go in with them. We delivered them to the front gate and left.

The year ended with a perfect white Christmas- six inches of snow on Christmas Eve and then it left about three days later!

In FEBRUARY- We plan to finish the We Care Tour (see schedule) and then back to Florida for our Annual CGM Banquet, a concert at Birky Square and then back to Ohio.

Blessings! Pray for us! May God grant us a good year and bring us back to “normal.”


OCT. 2020

Jack Murphy- May 26, 1937- Sept. 16, 2020

Jack Murphy died last week. I worked with him numerous times with Bill Glass Prison Ministries (Champions For Life). He ran me ragged. He spoke at our CGM fundraiser banquets at least three times. He was a friend and a mentor.

The song, The Touch of the Master’s Hand, partly describes his life:

It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it was hardly worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin as he held it up with a smile.
It ain’t worth much, but it’s all we got left, guess we ought to sell it, too.
Now, who’ll start the bid on this old violin, just one more and we’ll be through…

The song goes on to tell how the bidding on an old beat up violin stalled at $3.00. Then someone in the crowd came forward, picked up the bow, tightened the strings, and played a beautiful melody. When the crowd realized the worth of the old instrument, the bidding picked up at $1000… 2000… 3000… and then… SOLD! $3000! Its true worth was recognized.

When I recorded this song 20 years ago, a former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra first chair violinist played the background music! That violinist was Jack Murphy, who also had been a tennis champion, a Barnum & Bailey Circus high diver, a hall of fame surfer, a surf board manufacturer, a Hollywood stunt man, a jewel thief (!), and eventually, part of a crime that took the lives of two people. He ended up in the Florida State Prison with two life sentences! And then (long story), a prison minister with Bill Glass Prison Ministries for more than 30 years.

Jack’s life went from a charmed, successful, adventerous, financially secure life to a “battered and scarred” existence in a maximum security prison. While in an 8×10 solitary confinement cell on death row in the Florida State Prison, he received a letter from a stranger who talked about Jonah in the belly of the whale. Jack began to ask himself, “How did I get here?! From first chair violinist; from training with the U.S Olymic team; from having my own line of surf boards; to a place about as big as the belly of whale. What happened!?”

That day Jack began to realize that something went wrong. Although Christians had written to him and Christian inmates had tried to talk to him, he “wasn’t ready.” One day the new chaplain came on death row and with his South Carolina drawl, he challenged Jack to consider Jesus.

“Get out of here with that garbage. I don’t need that stuff!” was Jack’s answer.

Chaplain Max Jones said, “Well, when you’re done being a tough guy, let me know. Jesus has a better plan for your life than you seem to have. If you’re in prison, you haven’t managed your life very well.”

Jack couldn’t argue that. When he got released from death row into general population he went to the chapel. Some of his tough guy buddys had become Christians while he was in the hole. He went to chapel to see what was going on and after several weeks, he went forward and committed his life to Jesus.

One of the accusations by his unsaved friends was that, “You’re just doing this to feel good.” Jack’s reply was, “DUH! You’re right! Why do you think we drank whisky?! Why do you think we took drugs?! Why did we chase women?! SO WE WOULD FEEL GOOD! I feel better than I ever have! For the first time in years, I sleep all night. The guilt is gone. I can look people in the eye! There is peace! You’re absolutely correct! I gave my life to Jesus so I would feel better!”

Through a series of miracles and people going to bat for this reformed criminal, including the prison wardon(!), Jack was released after serving 20 years of his double life sentence. One of the arguments at the parole hearing was by his ex-convict friend, Frank Constantino. “You call these places ‘corrections,’ or ‘reformatories,’ ‘penitentaries,’ (which comes from the word, “to do penance”). Well, this man is reformed. He is “corrected.” He repented. If you don’t consider his release, then change the name of these institutions to what they really are: warehouses. Don’t give us this balony about corrections.” Frank persuaded the parole board.

There were reporters at the prison gate when Jack was released. “How do we know you’re really reformed?!” was their accusing question. “Watch me,” was Jack’s simple answer.

We watched him for 30 years. Thousands of prison services; thousands of changed lives; NO more crime; thousands of banquets, churches, radio programs, TV shows (including Larry King Live!)… we watched until May 26. Jack is home.

He’s auctioned off cheap to the thankless crowd, much like that old violin.
But then the Master comes and the foolish crowd can never understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the Touch of the Master’s Hand!”


SEPT. 2020

My wife’s grandfather moved from New Wilmington, Pa. to Ohio around 100 years ago (1917?). After renting a farm near Maysville for four years, grandfather Jonathan Byler bought a 160 acre farm just east of Mt. Eaton. He gave $1000 down and the rest was financed by the owner.

The first few years were rough and finally grandpa could not make the payment. At the bank, where grandpa went for a loan, the banker looked at the land contract and whistled.

“The owner expects to get the farm back,” he said.

“How do you know that?” asked Grandpa.

“In the fine print it says that the owner can foreclose if even one payment is missed. No grace period, no nothing! In this poor economy that’s finacial suicide. And this man will do it. Furthermore, we have no money left for real estate loans.”

Grandpa went home very discouraged. What could he do? He decided to write to Frank Thompson, his former employer in Pennsylvania, and see if he would give him a loan. He hated to impose on his friend’s kindness, because Frank had already shipped a fine purebred bull to Ohio for almost nothing, but there seemed to be no other options.

Mr. Thompson was able and very willing to help grandfather. He had not forgotten his former hired hand’s hard work and honesty. He sent a check almost immediately.

When the banker saw the $8500 check, he whistled twice as loud as the first time. That was a lot a money in those days. (Imagine how big of a check it would take to pay off a farm today!) He looked at grandfather in a new light. The owner did, too. When he saw the check and papers to sign the farm off, his face turned white as chalk, but there was nothing he could do but sign the papers. He had expected to get his farm back.

Grandpa Byler died in 1930 leaving grandma Barbara with a mortgage and 9 children. She wrote to Frank Thompson and said that she could not make the payments. Could he just sell her a acre or two off the corner of the farm? Frank didn’t write back. He came personally in his chauffer driven limo and went into the house and said, “Don’t worry Barbara. We will never take your farm.” He even offered her more money if she needed it. Lydia’s Uncle Dan said he had never seen his Amish mother hug anybody, but the Thompsons were hugging and crying and letting her know she could keep the farm even if she never made another payment! (This was during the depression.) She eventually paid the farm off, but for three years she made no payments, and Mr. Thompson cancelled the interest.

That story has been told in the Byler family for almost a century. Wouldn’t it great if we could get ahold of someone in the Frank Thompson family and thank them for the kindness of their ancestor? I called The American Bridge Company several times where Frank had been the comptroller, trying to find descendants or relatives. “Never heard of him,” was the usual reply by a young, non-history minded secretary. Click. Then five years ago, cousin Linda Byler Sortor went online and (long story) got in touch with Tommi Wagner, a great granddaughter of Frank Thompson! After telling her the Thompson/Byler story (she had never heard it) we invited her to our Byler Reunion here in Ohio. She came with her brother and a cousin, Jim Stranahan. It was a great and emotional time of rehashing how their anscestor saved the Byler farm. And the family. There were 200 or so Byler descendants (out of a potential 1000 or so) at the reunion.

Last week we finally accepted Jim Stanahan’s 2 year old invitation to come to New Wilmington. He took us to where grandpa Byler lived and worked on the Thomson farm. We saw the house and the barn. He took us to the oldest Amishman in Lawrence County, where he had gone last week, to see if he had ever heard of a Jonathan B. Byler.

“Jonathan B. Byler was my uncle!” said 85 year old Amos Byler.

“A couple of his grandchildren are coming on August 13,” Jim told Amos.

“How many benches should I have?” asked Amos.

Jim said, “There will be seven of us.”

So, on August 13, 2020, over 100 years after Lydia’s grandfather left that area, we met Amos J. Byler, probably the only living first cousin of Lydia’s dad, Tobe J. Byler. He seemed very pleased to meet us. His four children all took off work to be home when these long lost cousins showed up. It was time of meeting, sharing, story telling, laughing… We can’t call it a reunion because there is no “re.” It was a “union.” The “re-union” will be next time, which is already in the planning.

What if Frank Thompson had not been kind enough to loan money to Jonathan Byler? What would have happened to widow Barbara and her 9 children? Thankfully, we’ll never know. I know this: his kindness will never be forgotten.

The heart benevolent and kind most resembles God.” -Robert Burns

Kindness is the golden chain by which the society is bound together.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” James 1:27


August ’20

It’s Sunday. That means Daddy has been drinking, and it’s anybody’s guess what mood he’ll be in. A sober, hard working man during the week, he can transform into a monster after a weekend of drinking. My conscience is clear, so Daddy will have no reason to mete out one of his savage beatings.

As I go in the house, I see Daddy is sitting at the kitchen table, and my heart sinks. I see his bloodshot eyes and the blacksnake whip lying coiled on the table beside him. Sick horror floods through me as he lurches to his feet, grabs my arm without saying a word, and begins savagely beating me with the whip. I’m no stranger to the torture inflicted, but this is different. The stark injustice of the attack freezes me and I don’t dash around the table or struggle to escape as I have in the past. I simply stand in shock as Daddy lashes at me with all his strength. My fury at the unfairness of this unprovoked attack grows into a white-hot rage, and I grit my teeth, determined not to give my father the satisfaction of a response. He is enraged by my indifference and he flails madly until he collapses into his chair, exhausted and panting.
Still seething with rage, with blood trickling down the back of my legs, I shove my face right into his and I hiss between clentched teeth, “If you ever lay a hand on me again, I swear I will kill you!”

That’s the beginning of Bobby Eaton’s book, The Boy In The Window, co-written with Andrew Weaver. I had the privilege of touring with Bobby and his wife, Sharla on a week-long “Sing and Sign” Tour. Bobby and I and The Steve Stutzman Family went to seven different communities from Georgia to Ohio with our songs and our books and presented Christ through song and testimony, mainly Bobby’s story of poverty, abuse, betrayal, prejudice and bullying… and then… redemption and salvation through the kindness and witness of strange new Mennonite neighbors who moved (“swarmed,” according to Bobby) into his poor “white trash” Kentucky community.

One night he was invited to a Mennonite neighbor’s house for supper and couldn’t believe the laughter, love and abundance he saw around the table. It was totally different from the “war zone” and scarcity he was used to at his house. As he returned home that night, he stopped and turned around and looked back at the Mennonite house and said, “Someday, I want to have a family like that.”

Bobby eventually joined this Mennonite group, married one of their girls, was ordained into the ministry, became a missionary to Haiti, came back to the states and is now a very successful buisinessman, building mini barns in North Carolina, and preaching when he is asked. He also has a “family like that,” with eight children who are all married with families of their own. Several of them are in the family mini barn business.

One of the most amazing “miracles” to me in Bobby’s story is that when his abusive, alcoholic father died, they were best friends! Bobby forgave his dad, lead him to Jesus, and helped him to lead a victorious Christian life! A wonderful true story of how Jesus can change the culture of a family!

If this sounds like a book report, you’re partly right. It’s a LIFE report and I am recommending this inspiring story. You can text me for a copy of his book (330-231-1164), or order The Boy In The Window on Amazon, or go to The Gospel Book Store in Berlin or Faith Books, Mt. Hope.

His story will inspire you.

The lifelong flight to escape my destiny as a failure.” – Bobby Eaton



The year was 1348. A ship floated in the busy waters of the harbor of Messina, Italy. It maneuvered in a strange manner as it neared the dock. When the harbor-master boarded the ship after it finally docked, he was met with an appalling sight: Nearly the entire crew was dead! They had strange, black, egg-sized lumps on them that oozed pus and bled prolifically. The ones still alive had high fevers and were vomiting blood, and most of them soon died.

The cargo that this ship carried was destined to change the course of world history. It wasn’t the grain and other goods. It was the rats that came ashore. Even more, it was the fleas on the rats. When the rats died, the fleas looked for other hosts- dogs, cats, horses, pigs… and humans. This ship, with its rats and fleas passed on The Black Death, or as we know it today, The Bubonic Plague.

Within four years the plague killed at least a third of the population of Italy and some reports say one half of the population of Europe! The city of Messina lost 80% of its population! Many men said goodby to a healthy family in the morning only to come home in the evening to find his whole family dead.

Soon, so many died that there weren’t enough living people left to bury the dead, so the bodies were stacked up like piles of wood or bales of hay! The stench in homes and in the streets was unbearable.
(These first paragraphs are paraphrased from Cathedrals, Castles and Caves pg 63 by Marcus Yoder)

The Bubonic Plague was considered the worst disaster in the history of the world, UNTIL… the “Spanish Flu” of 1918.
“The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than World War I, at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. It was a global disaster.”
-from Molly Billings, June, 1997 modified RDS Feb. 2005

The Spanish Flu spread far and fast because it hit just when the United States entered WWI. One article tells that a soldier in Kansas got the flu and it spread through the army camp. They were deployed to Europe and by the time they landed the whole ship was sick. They disembarked and went to their camps and infected everyone there! The infected soldiers went to the battle field and… there were more dead men in the trenches because of the flu than because of war.

I did a little research (emphsis on little) and learned that there have been many epidemics and pandemics throughout history. One article was entitled, “The 20 Worst Epidemics and Pandemics in History.” Here is the epidemic list with the estimated number of people who died as the last number: China, 3000 BC; Plague of Athens, 430 BC, 100,000 dead; Antonne Plague, 165 AD, 5 million dead; Plague of Cyprian, 250 AD, 5000 a day(!); Plague of Justinian, 541 AD, 10% of world population died; The Black Death, 1348, 25 million; Cocolitzli Epidemic, Mexico, 15 million; American Measles plague, 1500s, wiped out Incas and Aztecs; London Plague, 1665, 100,000; Plague of Marseille, 1720, 100,000; Phiadelphia Yellow Fever, 1793, 5000; Flu Pandemic, Russia, 1889, 1 million; Ameican Polio Epidemic, 1916, 6000; Spanish Flu, 1918, 500 million; Asian Flu, 1957, 1 million; AIDS Epidemic, 1981-present, 35 million; Swine Flu, 2009, 1.4 Billion cases(!), 500,000 dead; Ebola, 2014, 11,000; ZIKA Virus, 2015; Corona Virus, 2020, still counting…

During this current Corona Virus pandemic, I have made some observations. One is that I am beginning to think that some of our leaders and politicians are not totally honest (radical thought, I know). The numbers change. The rules change. The experts change. The experts told us that 2.2 million are going to die. A week later they adjusted it to 200,000. Then to 60,000. I don’t know how many have died, but when I do hear the figure, how do they expect me to believe it?! I also wonder why these “experts” are considered experts? They were wrong by a factor of 36 times!

Another observation: Every pandemic lied about the number of deaths. The Spanish Flu got its name because Spain told the truth about Flu deaths. Germany, Italy, England, Russia, and the US all suppressed the actual numbers so as to not discourage the soldiers or give the enemy the idea that were weak, but since Spain was not involved in the war, they told the truth and the world thought the flu was only in Spain!

The current Corona numbers are also lied about, this time by inflating them, either for political or financial reasons. It seems that anyone who dies is written up as “COVID-19.” Is this pandemic real? Yes! Is it serious? Yes. Should we be careful? Of course. Should we do everything the government tells us to do? Well…

We will get through this (see 20 epidemics, paragraph 7 above). God is not taken by surprise. He is in control. “You shall not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday…” Ps. 91:5,6 Note also: “Fear not” appears 365 times in the Bible. Once for every day of the year.


I was having breakfast at our hotel in Louisville, Ky. when Ravi Zacharias walked by. He was one of the speakers at the convention I was attending (NACIE ‘94). I looked up and said, “Hello,” and he said, “Hello,” and then he paused and chatted a bit and then he sat down at our table and shot the breeze with us for several minutes, as if we were old friends! I couldn’t believe it! He acted as if we were equals!

Ravi Zacharias died this month and the more I heard about him in the eulogies and funeral tributes, the more I realize that he treated us like equals because that is what he believed: we are equals. He didn’t think he was any better than anyone else, even though he was known all over the world as the premiere apologist in the Christian World. The C. S. Lewis of our age. He has spoken in well over 50 countries and was the friend of Kings, Shahs, world leaders, presidents… Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, street kids, University students… he took the message of Jesus to wherever he was invited.

He was a brilliant thinker. His motto: “Helping the Thinker Believe; Helping the Believer Think!”

Ravi was born in 1946 in India. Althought his family was Christian, he was a skeptic. At age 17 he was so hopeless that he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While recovering in the hospital, a friend brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him from John 14. A phrase in verse 19 touched Ravi: “Because I live, you also will live.” He thought, “This may be my only hope: A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of Life.” He committed his life to Christ, praying that “Jesus if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”

Ravi got out of the hospital and kept his promise. He left no stone unturned in his pursuit of Truth. He helped thousands of others to see the validity of the Christian message. The only thing more indisputable than his logic and his intellect was his love for people. He never tried to win an argument; he tried to win people. He realized that behind every question is a person, and behind every person is a soul searching for meaning. He always saw the soul and tried to win the person, not the debate.

The Christian World AND the whole world will miss this great man of God. I never can hear him speak without thinking of a hotel breakfast room where this giant walked by and sat down and chatted with us! He was one of us! His ministry (RZIM) will continue to win people to Christ for years to come!

With all the wonderful things that we could be saying about Ravi and his life, here is a thought:

What if that friend would not have brought a Bible to Ravi’s hospital room? What if Ravi have tried suicide again? Would he have recovered and been a good businessman in India so that no one outside of Delhi ever heard of? Would someone else have lead him to Christ?

We’ll never know. But we do know this: That friend DID bring a Bible and Ravi DID commit his life to Christ, and he became the world’s leading apologist for Christ, and I along with thousands of others are better people because that one kind deed allowed a suicidal teenager to recover and reach his potential.

Folks, you never know. You give a Bible, a tract, a kind word… and the world is changed!

May God continue to bless the life and ministry and memory of Ravi Zacharias. And bless that friend who gave a Bible. May you and I be that friend.



I toured with the We Care Prison Ministries Fund Raising Banquet Tour for two weeks.

In each of the 14 banquets ex-inmate, Jeff Tyler, shared his story of being helped by Steve Stoltzfus, one of the We Care chaplains in Alabama. Jeff had messed his life up so completely that he lost everything- his business, his wife, his three daughters, his parents, his siblings- everyone close to him! He wrote to his daughters every week, but they were so traumatized by his abandonment of them (drugs) that they never wrote back. He wanted to give up, but Chaplain Steve encouraged him to keep writing, even if they never respond. They never did.

Now that he is out of prison, he has re-established a relationship with all three daughters! The letters, even though they went unanswered, surely helped.

In each of these banquets I sang Randy Davenport’s song, Mail Call- about a prisoner who went to mail call everyday but never got one letter. Russ shared that at mail call all the inmates gather around the officer and wait for their name to be called. Some never received one letter the whole time that Jeff was in prison. They turn away trying to look tough. BUT, when Jeff heard his name and the officer handed him a letter, he said it was like winning the lottery! Better than a million dollars! He hurried back to his rack and read the letter once, twice, three times… and then he would share it with a friend, and then another friend. Then he would read it again.

One of America’s great poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, has a similar, even more devestating story of unanswered letters. She was born in 1806 into a difficult family. Her tyrannical father was very domineering and for some unknown reason forbid any of his 12 children to ever marry. When Elizabeth ran off and married fellow poet, Robert Browning, her father disowned her.

For the next ten years, Elizabeth tried to mend the relationship with her father. Every week she wrote incredibly crafted, poetic letters to him. She never received a response. Finally, one year before her father’s death, she received a box in the mail from her father. She was ecstatic! Her excitement soon turned to anguish. Every single letter she ever wrote to him was in the box, unopened! She was devastated. How cruel!

Today these letters are published and are considered to be some of the most beautiful classical English literature ever written. What a tragedy that such incredible writings were never seen by the one for whom they were intended. If Elizabeth’s stubborn father would have just opened even one letter, perhaps his heart would have been softened just a little. But he didn’t, and he died a poor, bitter man because of it.

As I think how foolish, bitter and even stupid this was, I am reminded of the beautiful collection of love letters that were sent to me and remained unopened for 23 years of my life. They sat on the shelf, collecting dust. This collection of love letters is called the Bible. God wanted to mend our relationship. He wrote how much He loved me, but I never opened the letter until I was 23!

Now it’s different. I read His letter everyday! Then I read it again. Then I share it with a friend. It’s like winning the lottery. Better than a million dollars!

Do you read God’s love letter to you? Are you like Elizabeth Barrett Browing’s father? Are you like I used to be? Or are you like inmate Jeff Tyler. You read God’s word everyday. You read it again. You share it with a friend. I want to be like Jeff. Realize how precious is a letter from a Friend.

Good news from [the outside] is like cold water to the thirsty man.” Prov. 25:25
“Study [the Bible] to show thyself approved…” 2 Timothy 2:15
“Thy Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” Psalm 119:11