The faces of my favorite stories of 2021

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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.

The faces of my favorite stories this year

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:

So, now we’re on to 2022. Happy New Year!

My recent stories

How the Church of Jesus Christ is responding to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Provo MTC (Dec. 30)

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.

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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.

Refugee Jouseline Melayer, from Haiti via Chile, holds her baby, Jayden, at the Family Transfer Center in Houston in June 2021.
Refugee Jouseline Melayer, from Haiti through Chile, holds her baby, Jayden, at the Family Transfer Center in Houston on Monday, June 7, 2021. The center provides a temporary respite for families who have been cleared at the U.S. border and need short-term shelter and food. The creation of the Family Transfer Center is the result of a collaboration between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic Charities, the National Association of Christian Churches, YMCA International Services, Texas Adventist Community Services, Houston Responds and The Houston Food Bank. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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