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, Ga.to 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
- 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
- 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, Pa.to 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.”