This article was first published as the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox weekly.
Before wishing you a happy new year, let me first share with you some of the favorite stories from 2021.
The strongest feeling I had while reporting a story this year was one that overwhelmed me as I prepared to step out of a warehouse last June in Houston.
The photographer who traveled with me for the story, Jeff Allred, had already gone out into the humid air to load his gear in our rental car when I was stopped inside the door by the strong sense I needed to interview one more person, whose name I didn’t even know.
So I turned around, rounded up a United Way volunteer who spoke Spanish and asked Jouseline Melayer for an interview. She was ready. After just a few questions, she opened up and told her remarkable story of hiking her way through one of the world’s most dangerous places, a notorious jungle in Panama, with her baby boy wrapped to her back. The harrowing, fear-filled, 60-mile hike took four days.
The problem was, she told the story without stopping, going on for 10 to 15 minutes. My makeshift interpreter couldn’t recount it for me. Fortunately, I was able to play my recording of our conversation to Sister Myrna Villarreal, wife of Elder Carlos Villarreal of the Seventy. She patiently stopped it every few sentences to translate Jouseline’s words into English for me.
I quickly formed a sense of gratitude for my impression to turn around and talk to Jouseline.
If you missed her story the first time, please go on the journey with her now and see how the church provided important help.
Among my other favorite stories:
- I definitely enjoyed putting together this story on the Latter-day Saint football players drafted by the NFL last spring, including the oldest player selected.
- On the anniversary of the official declaration of the coronavirus pandemic, I put together a list of 22 times President Russell M. Nelson provided leadership, including examples of how he lifted, comforted and counseled.
- For a story titled “The ‘unbelievable’ story of forgiveness Netflix doesn’t tell in ‘Murder Among the Mormons,’” I interviewed the son of the late famous Utah clothier Mr. Mac and Mark Hofmann’s ex-wife, Dorie Olds. Both graciously filled in the details about a story of redemption.
- Reading the new biography of President Dallin H. Oaks provided the opportunity to share the story about how President Nelson chose President Oaks and President Eyring to be his counselors in the First Presidency.
- A story on Operation MyHometown showed how a neighborhood banded together to leverage the strengths of its city, local churches, volunteers and corporations to revitalize and spruce up the area in powerful and possibly replicable ways.
- At BYU, first Martin Luther King III visited to talk at an official campus forum, then came the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, for whom students stood and cheered in the Marriott Center as he called for a moral march on Washington. Earlier in the year, a Black BYU professor said at a devotional that “racism does not fit a disciple of Christ.” That came months after an official campus committee found that BYU needed to identify and root out racism within its community without delay.
- That capped quite a year for the church and its relationship with its Black members and the American Black community. Genesis celebrated its 50th anniversary as the church’s official group for Black Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake area. President Nelson joined NAACP and UNCF (United Negro College Fund) leaders in announcing $9.25 million in church donations to help Black students attend college and provide humanitarian aid in inner-city America. An NAACP leader responded by calling President Nelson one of the great faith leaders “to be found south of heaven.”
- Readers were very interested to learn that BYU and its sister schools in the church system had rejected hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID-19 stimulus funds.
- Traveling to Bologna, Italy, also was a highlight, as Elder Ronald A. Rasband outlined why the world needs religion to inspire healing acts of service and Sister Sharon Eubank explained that the world’s hunger calamity is spiraling out of control. Earlier in the year, I did a deep dive on how the church is helping around the world.
- Jouseline’s story was just one of many about refugees. Church leaders codified their teachings about refugees and Christ’s gospel by encouraging members in an update to the General Handbook to welcome refugees. They backed up their words by donating millions to refugee resettlement agencies and opening a family transfer center for migrants.
So, now we’re on to 2022. Happy New Year!
My recent stories
What I’m reading
A young Latter-day Saint missionary died in the Ivory Coast.
Studio C’s Jason Gray talks about Jon Heder, Conan O’Brien, spit takes and his new movie.
Take a look at the church-related photos of the year.
The Church News podcast took a look back on 2021 by talking with Deseret News editor Doug Wilks about how connection helped overcome contempt during another difficult year.
I’m sorry this is behind a paywall, but The Athletic recently highlighted one of its most fun stories of the year, about a man who collected baseball cards with his brother as boys, then started a decadeslong project to find a photo of every player to ever play for Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team. He has found photos of 1,916 of the 1,917 players. The only one missing is Shorty Gallagher, who played two games for the team in 1901. The story also generated what in my experience was the funniest comment of the year from a reader: “Normally I praise the journalism of The Athletic, but they are clearly slipping. A quality outlet would have included a photo of Shorty Gallagher to accompany this piece.” ROTFL.
Another year-end roundup uncovered this piece about Ted Koppel’s report on the fictional “Mayberry” of the “Andy Griffith Show,” which he found said a lot about the 1960s and our current age. I found it thought-provoking.
A former NBA CEO who is a Latter-day Saint is now focused on helping his daughter try to win a championship.
The Church News published 14 videos this year. Watch them here.
Behind the scenes
While I interviewed Jouseline, I got to hold a very squirmy and teething Jayden so Jouseline could focus on telling her story to my interpreter and my digital recorder.