Following Our Father: Hunting accident leads to ministry for Witt
Published 10:00 am Friday, February 2, 2024
Many Charlotte County residents who encounter Dan Witt may simply see him as their county administrator, not knowing about his journey since a family tragedy claimed his father nearly 50 years ago. The incident led Dan and his brother to eventually form a ministry, “Following Our Father”.
On a snowy December 1974 day in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, Witt and his brother had joined their dad, Walter DeSales Witt, and their maternal grandfather hunting on the last day of buck season. What should have been an enjoyable time together turned tragic when another hunter mistook their movement for that of deer.
That shot that rang through the woods on that Dec. 14, 1974, day forever changed their lives.
Today, the Witt brothers share their journey of faith and their continued love for hunting through their “Following Our Father Ministry.”
A message through a magazine
It was a Dec. 7, 2011 article by writer T. Edward Nickens in “Field & Stream” magazine, entitled “Following our Father,” that led the brothers to begin traveling the country to share the story of their faith in Jesus Christ as they keep their dad’s legacy alive.
In a Friday interview, Witt said this began in 2009 when a newspaper writer was interviewing him while he was Altavista’s town manager.
“And at the end of the interview, I handed him one of my “Mistaken Identity” tracks,” he said, thinking he might be interested in it.
Then several weeks later, the reporter called him back wanting to write a story on the tragedy.
After that piece ran in the Altavista Journal, Witt said he got a call from another writer wanting to tell the brothers’ story.
“I get a phone call and it was Eddie Nickens, who is a freelance writer from “Field of Stream,” he explained. “And he said, ‘Dan, I’ve been trying to write a story for 10 years on a hunting fatality and they’ve always crashed and burned.’ And he went through and told me about all these different people that he had interviewed and when he tried to interview some family about a hunting fatality.”
None of Nickens’ previous attempts to write this worked out.
“And he said, ‘I think this is the story God wants me to tell,’” Witt said. He told the brothers to pray about speaking with him, which they ultimately did.
“It’s the number one story ever in “Field & Stream,” Witt said. He noted the piece won an Ozzie Award, which is one of the most prestigious honors in the publishing community.
Following Our Father, sharing the story
From that point, the brothers have spoken to more than a million people across 32 of the states, sharing the story of the tragedy.
“It’s just been a journey since that article came out in 2011,” Witt said.
Looking at their website, followingourfather.com, a calendar on the main page shows events the Witts will speak at in the coming months. They are set to address the Beast Feast at Liberty Bible Church Eureka, Illinois, Feb. 3, and the Peoria Rescue Mission in Peoria, Illinois, the next day, Feb. 4.
Witt said his younger brother is retired and is now basically a full time evangelist for the ministry.
He said his brother speaks at homeless shelters, schools, Alabama’s largest maximum security prison, hunting and outdoor shows. During these events, he passes out their “Mistaken Identity” track from their website.
“They had a big gang dinner here in Charlotte County at Phenix last year and Mark didn’t come up, but I spoke,” he said noting it was at the fire hall. He has also spoken for former board of supervisors member Tony Reeves at his church.
“He asked me to come and preach for him on a Sunday morning and I did,” he said, noting it was from that that the owner of Red Oak Excavating connected with him to speak at a prayer breakfast.
“God opens the door,” Witt said. “I try to pray about it and make sure it’s what I should be doing. And I take the opportunity to share my faith.”
Making a connection
Witt shared a story about the owner of a bar in his Pennsylvania hometown that shows how one family’s tragedy can change the lives of others.
For years, Witt said he was angry at God because he believed this bar owner named Paul should have been taken, not his father.
When this man died some years later, family members reached out to him to write a message for their father’s funeral.
“His kids contacted us and asked Mark and I to write a eulogy and how our lives had intersected and how all of that happened for a purpose,” he said. This was the first that Witt learned the man sold his bar shortly after his father’s death.
“And here I am for eight or nine years, just absolutely mad at God and angry at God and bitter towards God that he would allow this to happen,” he said. “It was like he said, ‘OK, Dan, I need to show you I still got this,’” Witt recalled.
‘That happened for a purpose’
That day had an effect on his life, he said, knowing that God did have this man and that God still loved him.
“All of that happened for a purpose because Paul sold his tavern when he got saved,” Witt said. “He actually became a pastor at a small church up in Summit Mills and it totally changed his life.”
Witt shared another touching story from a visit that he and his brother made to speak in Morgantown, West Virginia, about three years after the magazine article was published.
“This guy came up. His 16-year-old son got saved that night and made a commitment for salvation,” Witt recalled. As they were introduced, the man was standing there crying.
“He said, ‘I’ve heard your story all my life,” and Mark said, “What do you mean? This just came out in 2011,” Witt said.
They asked how he could have heard their story all his life. The man replied that his dad was on the Myersdale Volunteer Fire Department and helped drive the snowmobile that pulled their dad out of the woods the day he was killed.”
They shared that this traumatized their father, leading him to walk away from the church.
“He turned his back on God and said, God, if you’re really a God, you can’t allow this to happen to this family,” Witt recalled. “He said, we moved away and dad never hunted again.”
This man asked the brothers if they could call and talk to his dad.
They agreed and spoke to him, asking if he would join them at church during their visit in Morgantown.
“He says, ‘Yeah, I’ll come,” he said. “That man was the first man down the aisle on Sunday morning to give his life to Christ.”
‘It’s a true blessing’
On this one weekend, Witt recalls how special it was to see the grandson and his dad saved, and then to bring the man who came to their father’s aid back to God.
Witt noted the events of his life have helped provide perspective in his life.
“God has blessed me so much to have the privilege of being the county administrator here in Charlotte County,” he said. “It’s a true blessing.”
He said it has been a “true blessing” to come to this rural county, which is much like Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where he grew up.
“The county administrator is what I do. It’s not who I am,” Witt said. “I give it my best and I work for a board of seven. I answer to them, but I answer to God for the work that I do here and that’s who I try to honor through my service as a county administrator.”
More information on the Following our Father Ministry is on the website, along with a copy of the “Mistaken Identity” tract, photos of the brothers, a video and endorsements from many of the people their message has touched. The site also has a contact page for booking the Witt brothers to come and share their message.