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Top stories of 2020

WORLD Radio - Top stories of 2020


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s December the 31st, New Year’s Eve 2020. 

We’re so glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: saying goodbye to 2020.

Believe it or not, it has only been one year since last December. Although given the amount of news we’ve had this year feels more like a decade!

EICHER: Sure does. But really all the major news events boiled down to three overriding themes: the COVID-19 pandemic, police and race-related protests, and the presidential election.

Who could have predicted last January that a virus invisible to the human eye would change life for almost every person on the planet?

REICHARD: The novel coronavirus first emerged in December in Wuhan, China. It quickly spread to other countries. By the end of January, the virus infected people in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea and came across the Pacific to American shores.

EICHER: In February, the Trump administration restricted travel to and from China and to parts of Europe. And WORLD’S Sarah Schweinsberg reported on March 3rd about how American officials were preparing for the spread of COVID-19. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: U.S. health officials issued a somber warning last week: It’s time to prepare for COVID-19’s advance in the United States.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MESSONNIER: Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of how many people in this country will have severe illness.

SCHWEINSBERG: Messonnier said schools, businesses, and hospitals should prepare for disruption as health officials work to limit the disease’s reach. 

EICHER: As COVID cases spread across the country, that disruption began. Some states issued mandatory lockdowns, closing schools and all businesses the state deemed non-essential. Some states also ordered churches to close… 

REICHARD: Nursing homes and hospitals no longer let outside visitors in. And healthcare workers grappled with how to treat a new and mysterious virus. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown spoke with some of them in April. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: This is Jackie Kleinsasser. She’s an emergency room nurse in South Dakota.

KLEINSASSER: It’s the thing of nightmares. …

But COVID-19 isn’t just something they have to deal with at work. It changes home life, too. Kleinsasser is still living in the same house with her husband and three young daughters, but she’s keeping her distance.

KLEINSASSER: I have my own bathroom. I’m not cooking for them anymore. When I’m around them, I’m trying to wear my mask. Which is pretty alarming to your 3-year-old when you try to tell them that I can’t hug her, I can’t kiss her…She can’t sit on my lap. That things are just different right now.

EICHER: As hospitals in many parts of the country filled, thousands of businesses remained empty. 

Between mandatory state shutdowns and public fear about contracting the virus, restaurants, clothing stores, and small shops struggled to stay open for business. On April 23rd, Senior Correspondent Katie Gaultney reported on small business frustrations.  

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Julie Norine and her husband own Dallas-based photography business Matt & Julie Weddings. They’ve had to cancel or postpone all their photography sessions through May 20th at the earliest. They’re unlikely to make up for lost income later in the year, since every shoot rescheduled means that future date is unavailable to other would-be customers.

NORINE: I would say 50 percent of the yearly income would be a conservative number. 

GAULTNEY: Norine is frustrated because, like Logos, in any other year this would be a busy season for her business, with weddings, senior portraits, and outdoor family photo sessions. 

REICHARD: Churches also struggled under lockdown. They wrestled with the desire to protect congregants from the virus, but they also wanted to fulfill Christ’s command to gather together. And some were concerned with protecting everyone’s constitutional rights that guarantee that freedom.

Even in the summer, as lockdown orders lifted, many pastors still wondered how to proceed. Could churches still gather and yet protect the vulnerable? Senior Correspondent Myrna Brown reported on that dilemma in July. 

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Six hours north of Mobile, a worship team sings from a small wooden platform, surrounded by trees and patches of grass. Families sit 6 feet apart in lawn chairs and on blankets. 

OUTDOOR SERVICE: It seems like one of the things we’re going to be doing for a while is this..

Grace New Hope Church is about an hour northeast of Atlanta. Pastor Randy Rainwater says even after the state of Georgia began reopening at the end of April, he waited an additional two months to offer in-person services.

RAINWATER: We had a member of our church that was 57, in good health, runs four or five days a week, that died in seven days. I feel like we wanted to come up with a plan that we thought was safe, based on what the medical personnel that are a part of our church were telling us in correlation with the CDC. 

EICHER: Typically, the summer months would have also been filled with family vacations to Disney World, mountain towns, beach resorts, or the country’s big cities. Instead many Americans chose to stay home. 

That created more business casualties. In August, Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with people around the world who rely on tourism to earn a living. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: One survey found nearly half of Americans cancelled their summer trips. Those cancellations reverberated around the world. 

Judith Middlemiss is a sheep farmer in rural North Yorkshire, England. To help pay off her land, she rents out three Airbnb units. 

When March lockdowns hit, international and domestic tourists canceled, and her income vanished.

MIDDLEMISS: I had forward bookings of 20,000 pounds, and they just disappeared. 

REICHARD: With so much change this year, many people started experiencing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Long-term isolation and constant uncertainty created more mental-health problems. Sarah Schweinsberg told us about that last month. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a mental health survey. Nearly one-third of American adults reported struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression. That’s more than double what it was in 2019. And about one-tenth of U.S. adults said they’d considered suicide this year. 

Dr. Guthrie says these mental health problems are widespread. 

GUTHRIE: This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. I think it’s affecting individuals across the globe.

EICHER: Although the pandemic dominated 2020’s news cycle, another tragedy grabbed the world’s attention on Memorial Day weekend. On May 25th, a 46-year-old man named George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground during an arrest.

The death of Floyd—and the bystander video of the incident—sparked months of nationwide, sometimes-violent rallies. Protesters focused on racial discrimination and police brutality. And they caused a lot of damage. In June, Anna Johansen Brown reported on a protest turned violent in Chicago.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: Andre Ballard is the pastor of the Orchard Church in Chicago. He and his wife, Leslie, live in the Near West Side neighborhood.

LESLIE BALLARD: I could hear all night helicopters just hovering so I knew that something was going on.

BROWN: Looters hit a CVS four blocks away from where the Ballards live. They ransacked jewelry stores, ATMs, cell phone shops. On the northwest side of the city, rioters also hit a small beauty store called Hair Town.

It’s owned by a South Korean couple who immigrated to the United States in 2009. Their daughter-in-law, Jeongwon Yoon, was at her in-laws’ house when the rioters hit. She watched the feed from the security camera and saw someone throw a brick through the store’s front window.

YOON: And the glass door was broken and like a bunch of people came in after that. They destroyed the security camera as well. 

REICHARD: Protesters angry over police shootings called for major changes. Some even suggested “de-funding” the police. But others said a model known as “community policing” would help restore trust in law enforcement. In July, Sarah Schweinsberg reported on one such effort in Pittsburgh.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Diana Bucco is the president of the Buhl Foundation. It works with law enforcement to reform policing in the poorer and racially diverse Northside neighborhoods. 

BUCCO: We’ve got residents and police officers telling us they want the same thing. They want a different relationship that’s anchored in proactive public safety, rather than reactive law enforcement. 

SCHWEINSBERG: So, in 2018, police established a Public Safety Center in a Northside neighborhood. Bucco says the center became a place where both police and the community come together.

BUCCO: So the physical space was designed so that it would invite residents in to solve problems in their lives and see a partnership with the police rather than being considered a police station.

EICHER: Protests against police continued throughout the summer after several other encounters between police officers and African-American suspects. In September, Anna Johansen Brown traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and talked to Pastor Matt Henry about repairing the ruins in broken communities.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: He says press conferences and painting murals and even one-night prayer gatherings won’t fix anything if everyone just goes right back to what they were doing before. Things didn’t get to this point overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight.

HENRY: I think we have to realize that the ruins are there, metaphorically and now literally. And the only way to repair them is to regenerate households that are then being equipped to live out that Biblical worldview.

BROWN: Henry is encouraged by ordinary Christians living well and living out the gospel in their communities. That’s not gonna go viral on Facebook. But, he says, that’s the command.

HENRY: We should never be surprised by evil, but we also know that in Christ, we’re called to be lights in a very dark society. Just keep being faithful.

REICHARD: The pandemic and the summer’s unrest took the nation by surprise. But the country had prepared for years for the last big news story of 2020. Four years, to be exact. 

EICHER: Yes, we are talking about the presidential election. And while, everyone knew it was coming, many states weren’t prepared for how COVID-19 might affect the most important part of an election: the actual casting of ballots. 

Saying they wanted to prevent large crowds from gathering at polls, some states urged Americans to vote by mail. In May, Anna Johansen Brown explained why switching to mail-in-votes was no easy task. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: Kim Wyman has never been so popular. She’s Washington’s secretary of state

Washington is one of a handful of states that has been doing all vote-by-mail elections for years. Now, every other state is calling Wyman to find out how she does it.

WYMAN: I think people started with the point that everybody should just move to vote by mail, that would just be the easiest thing. Close all the polling places and move and, and we kind of said, Yeah, let’s slow down, because you have to put it in place well, for people to believe the results.

BROWN: Wyman says voting by mail is an enormous logistical task.

It takes a lot of manpower, a lot of specialized tech and a lot of printing. Maybe seven to eight times more than a regular election. 

REICHARD: This election year had other distinctions as well. In July, Sarah Schweinsberg reported that more Republican women were running for office than ever before. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: After the 2018 midterms, Republican leaders in the House began strategizing. They needed to flip 17 seats to take back the Speaker’s gavel. 

Party leaders tapped Parker Poling to head the National Republican Congressional Committee. … Poling says the party wants a delegation that more fully represents its demographics: that especially includes women. 

POLING: Recruiting more women, more veterans, more people of color, making sure that they are getting exposure to, you know, the folks in DC, the donors and the small dollar donor community.

SCHWEINSBERG: More than 200 Republican women filed to run for the House this year. That’s up 86 percent from two years ago. And a record number of these women are winning their primaries.

About a third of these winners are also women of color.

EICHER: And while every election year is important, the dawn of a new decade holds special importance for state elections. 2020 is a census year and after a census state lawmakers draw new congressional lines based on that count. Who controls the state legislatures determines how those lines are drawn. 

REICHARD: In October, Sarah Schweinsberg reported on efforts by both parties to create state trifectas. That’s where one party controls the governor’s mansion, the House and the Senate.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Democrats have set their sights on seven states where they made big gains in the 2018 midterms. Those states are Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Chaz Nuttycombe directs CNalysis, a state legislature forecasting group. He says Republicans are mostly focused on warding off Democratic assaults in their trifecta states of Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, and Texas. But they also have a new trifecta opportunity. 

NUTTYCOMBE: If Republicans want to create a trifecta this year, their best opportunity is Montana.

EICHER: The November 3rd election held more than a few surprises. Although Democrats claimed the White House, they lost ground in the U.S. House.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The Democratic reversal of fortunes has led to finger pointing within the ranks.

Garrett Bess is the vice-president at Heritage Action, a conservative policy advocacy group. 

He attributes Republican gains to a combination of voters rejecting far-left policies and high voter turnout.

BESS: I would attribute a lot of that to just the leftward lurch of the Democrat party and Republican voters who maybe aren’t enthusiastic about President Trump, just being terrified of the modern Democrat Party.

REICHARD: Well, that brings us to the end of 2020. What will next year hold? Of course, no one knows. But like every year before and every year to come, we know the truth we proclaim each day on our TV news for students, WORLD Watch: That whatever the news, the purpose of the Lord will stand.


(Photo/AP, iStock)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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