The faces of my favorite stories this year

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Of course some stories are more fun to write than others. Some are more meaningful and memorable. The reason a story rises on any of those measures is almost always because of the people I met and want to share with you.

Here are a few of my favorite stories from 2020:

Watching Misty Pantle walk over and sift through the burned rubble of her home with her three children and her sister was unforgettable. She came to represent the dozens of Latter-day Saint families who lost their homes to a vicious fire in southern Oregon this fall, and she had a tremendous ability to convey their feelings.

After the pandemic began to spread on a dramatic global scale, the church orchestrated a massive global airlift to return some 30,000 missionaries to their native countries. For me, the sandals flying off 13-year-old Bella Steuer’s feet as she ran to meet her returning brother were a symbol of the feelings families had as they welcomed their loved ones safely home again.

The text was short and colorful: “Jell-o Nation.” With that code phrase, the missionaries of the Hong Kong Mission knew that the preceding text ordering them to evacuate to the mission home was real. That tidbit was part of our look at the church’s worldwide response to the pandemic.

Within moments of meeting a 14-year-old Syrian girl on a trip to Europe, I knew she would be the compelling centerpiece of my story on Germany’s response to the refugee crisis. Please meet Hind Al Hammoud and her family and spend some time in their shoes. She is a captivating young woman with a story worthy of your time.

When I started reading the death notices for missionaries in the church’s magazines from 1918, I knew I wanted to write a piece about the parallels between then and now. With the wonderful help of some wise historians who provided deep perspective, we published “200 years later, the story of the Restoration is the story of overcoming adversity.”

The personalities of President Russell M. Nelson, apostles and other church leaders shone through in the footnotes of their October general conference talks, which I mined for lessons about the state of the church around the world and their teachings.

The Kirby family invited me into their home with a photographer to show how Latter-day Saints around the world literally conducted home-centered gospel study after the church shut down all meetings around the world. I also talked to a family in Korea.

The pain remained evident in the men’s voices as I interviewed them 51 years after their college football careers abruptly ended for simply considering a protest during their game with BYU. But I also heard a new and sweet sense of joy and redemption about their remarkable new partnership with the church to bring 180 tons of food to hungry people across the country during the holidays this year.

Readers gobbled up the backstory about how BYU and Boise State football players knelt to pray together at midfield after their game this fall. Then the story grew complicated. First an atheist group threatened Boise State, which responded by restructuring its relationship with the pastor serving the football team. Then the university president paid the pastor’s way to the team’s championship game. In the midst of it all, players on both teams told us what prayer means to them.

Now we’re on to 2021. Happy New Year, everyone!

My Recent Stories

The tsunami hit 16 years ago. Here’s how the world came together to help the victims rebuild their lives (Dec. 26, 2020) 

New York issues citation to commemorate bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Dec. 22, 2020)

What I’m Reading ...

President Nelson became a great-great grandfather earlier this month.

One year into the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple, here is where it stands.

A returned missionary I interviewed for my popular story on the prayer after the BYU-Boise State game this fall was named a first-team All-American this week. That’s the tremendous honor for Brady Christensen. Last month, I shared how he told me that prayer is a huge aspect of his football career and life.

Another returned missionary just set an NBA record in his rookie season. When the Milwaukee Bucks set the record for most 3-pointers made in one game, 29, it was Sam Merrill who hit the record-shattering 28th 3-pointer for them.

Popular Latter-day Saint youth speaker and BYU religion professor Hank Smith lost his brother to COVID-19. This is a tender profile of what happened.

A missionary painted a “Light of the World” (in German) mural on the Berlin Wall.

Here’s our year in review piece about news of the church in 2020.

The most-read stories on the Deseret News website in 2020 included several church-related stories.

Arizona’s Court of Appeals issued a noteworthy ruling recently, overturning a lower court judge’s ruling that “Mormonism does not fall within the confines of Christian faith.” Of course, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worship Jesus Christ. The longstanding issue is whether its doctrine fits within traditional Christianity. The Court of Appeals said the question is inappropriate to consider in a court of law, based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Behind the Scenes

A view of the Salt Lake Temple renovation earlier this month, which marks the end of the first year of work in a four-year project. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints