“Duty to God: Building Spiritual Strongholds,” Liahona, Aug. 2006, 16–17
Michael Diaz looks past the long barrel of a heavy cannon and scans the choppy waters of Portobelo, Panama. If an attack on the stronghold and the gold it guarded were to come by sea, the attacking ships would have to survive heavy fire from more than a dozen cannons, and their sailors would have to get past soldiers manning two waterfront forts, including the one where Michael stands. Past battles were fierce and frightening.
Fortunately for Michael, no such battles have taken place in more than 250 years.
A lot has changed since then. But as he paces along the thick stone walls of the ruins, Michael, 15, isn’t thinking about cell phones, the Internet, or men walking on the moon. He and his friends from the Colón Panama Stake are talking about the changes they have seen in themselves thanks to the Duty to God program.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Michael says. The others nod in agreement. “I have more faith in myself. I don’t have to depend spiritually on others so much. I have the courage to talk to others about the Church.”
Built to be strong, the forts stood guard over Portobelo for more than 100 years, and their remains still stand today.
The strength of the Duty to God program, according to these young men, is found in setting and completing goals. Their goals are helping them build spiritual strongholds that will help them stand against whatever they will have to face in life.
“You live in a day of great challenges,” said the First Presidency. “You can strengthen yourself, building faith and testimony, living the gospel while you learn it and share it” (Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God , 4).
Aldo Cardenas of the Puerto Pilon Ward recalls a recent goal to organize a family home evening with his father’s help. “My dad gave me the theme of the priesthood and how important it is to our family. I learned a lot about the priesthood. It’s a great blessing to us and others through us.”
He’s grateful for the way the program works. “Having to follow through with the goals has helped me to be more responsible,” he says.
Narcisso Garay, 17, of the Barriada Kuna Ward decided to set a goal to read the Book of Mormon every day. “My parents suggested that I read the other scriptures too. Now I’ve almost finished the New Testament. At first I thought it was boring, but now I’ve seen what Jesus suffered for us, and I know that we can return to Him.”
Michael’s older brother Isaac says completing the goals he has set in the program has strengthened him spiritually. When Isaac was a teacher, he was the only active member in his quorum. Duty to God has not only helped him; it has also provided opportunities for him to get the three quorum members who didn’t attend regularly to come to some activities, and one of them has attended church.
“I tried to visit the others and invite them to come to church,” Isaac says. “That was my duty to God.”
Perched on top of a long-unused cannon, Michael can easily imagine defending the fort against the fierce attack of an enemy. But as he looks out to sea, he talks about strengthening himself against a different kind of attack—one without cannons and gunpowder.
“My friends at school sometimes make fun of me for belonging to the ‘church of Mormon,’” he says as the sun sets on Portobelo. But he’s not afraid to tell them, “I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”